A University for our Common Sustainable Future
Today’s society faces a broad array of interconnected and systemic challenges. In the fast paced technological age, society is attempting to build social equity, cultural enlightenment and economic development, all for a growing population, and with a overwhelming need to protect and restore our natural environment. Indonesia feels these tensions intensely, as it is home to the world’s fourth largest national population. Indonesia has a wealth of cultural diversity with over 655 ethnic groups spread across distributed habitats and infrastructures in the world largest archipelagic nation of 17,000 islands. Indonesia is also cradle to the world’s richest marine biodiversity and boasts the largest natural capital in the form of irrecoverable carbon stocks in its rainforests, peatlands, mangroves and oceans.
We believe that a university can have significant impacts on these issues, as well as other stakeholder needs. Our approach is to create a new campus in Bali, a world class destination for education, innovation, wellness, ecology, and recreation. The campus will host our own programs and use the convening power of Bali to attract talents as we co-create programs with others. The campus will be surrounded by a TechPark with the full ecosystem of entrepreneurship and industry. It will also build on the culture of Bali, including its artistic and spiritual tradition. Our campus is already host to the Tsinghua Southeast Asia Center, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network for Southeast Asia, the Tri Hita Karana Forum and Global Blended Finance Institute for Sustainable Development.
Our focus is on society and sustainability. We ask: what would a university look like if it were designed to address these issues? It would certainly be a creative place, chartered to develop new solutions by catalyzing innovation. It would also be a systems place, seeking broad solutions to interconnected issues, recognizing its own porous boundaries. Initially, its main outcomes would be talented graduates who are empowered by learning to solve real world challenges. We imagine a rapid progression from professional education to advanced specialty degrees offered with our university partners, to graduate degrees offered by the Campus. The Campus is not just one more university – Indonesia and the world already have many. The Campus will be a special kind of higher educational institution, united in diversity. Its outcomes will include graduate who are open in their mindsets to absorb insights, open in their hearts to collaborate across multi stakeholders, and also open in their willingness to co-create and contribute to the solutions of society’s pressing challenges.
The goals of this campus will only be met with your help. We need your interest, counsel and support. We need initial partnerships with government, industry and other universities. And we need the committed support of like-minded scholars and activists, who are interested in coming to Bali. We particularly invite Indonesians abroad to return and work with us. Together this diverse set of thinkers and doers will build a new type of academic institution, and make significant contributions to social, economic and cultural development, as well as environmental protection and regeneration.
Universities, like most organizations, can be viewed from the perspectives of culture, strategy and governance. The culture of UIDBC is largely established. It is derived from the 17 years of work by the United In Diversity (UID) Foundation, the umbrella organization of UIDBC.
The central notion of the culture is Happiness. This derives from the local Balinese tradition of Tri Hita Karana, the three pathways to happiness, which calls for harmony – harmony with society, harmony with nature and harmony with spirit. This inspiration is from Bali, the home of the campus, a place of spirit, and a partner in taking on and solving local challenges.
Otto Scharmer of MIT casts Tri Hita Karana as the basis for solving complex problems, seeking solutions that cross the three divides: “the ecological divide between self and nature; the social divide between self and others; and the spiritual-cultural divide between our current self and our emerging future ‘self ’. These three divides mark our current global crisis and are an expression of the required next step in evolving our institutions of government, business and civil society.”
This culture can be expressed as principles that will guide the culture of Happiness:
The mission and goals of UIDBC are highly aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). In fact they map surprisingly well to the three aspects of the Tri Hita Karana, as shown in the figure.
To nurture trust in society, promote environmental sustainability and regeneration, and drive inclusive economic development in Bali, Indonesia and beyond
By employing system thinking, bridging leadership and transformational change to educate creative individuals, make research discoveries and create technologies, innovations and policies,
Using an array of tri-sector professional and postgraduate educational, research and innovation programs offered on our open platform campus, uniting diverse stakeholders and sectors.
Society faces many issues, some verging on crises. Central to these is the need to build a sustainable natural ecosystem and sustainable civil societies. This mission of UIDBC is well aligned with the UNSDGs. Of the 17 SDGs, we aspire to have long term impact on the first five that can be viewed as fundamental human rights: no poverty, zero hunger, good health, quality education and gender equality. We proactively address element of the next five that also touch on human needs: water, energy, work, innovation and reduced inequality.
The next five, which the Tri Hita Karana calls harmony with nature, are the primary focus of our programs: cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, and life below water and on land. Our actions are guided by the harmony with spirit and culture, represented in the SDGs by peace and partnerships for humanity’s common fate.
The outcomes and contributions focus on creative approaches to these goals. Like all universities, our primary outcome is talented learners, fellows, and graduates who are empowered to understand these goals and help to make changes for good. They learn to engage their minds, hands and hearts. A strength of UIDBC is our ability to facilitate learning through reflective and contemplative methods. We also work on use-inspired fundamental research, and the development of creations: methods, artifacts, approaches, technologies and systems that never existed and are synthesized at UIDBC.
UIDBC does not start from zero. It builds on the highly successful programs of the umbrella organization, United In Diversity (UID). These include professional programs such as IDEAS (Innovative Dynamic Education and Action for Sustainability) with scholars from the MIT Sloan School of Management. These have evolved the teaching of system thinking, Bridging Leadership and Theory U.
Incorporating system thinking and system dynamics (traceable to Jay Forester at MIT) will give UIDBC a systems perspective in all its activities. Thus UIDBC will be a system university, integrating Asian and European views of systems. This is in contrast with most modern universities that focus on a reductionist approach, not a system approach. The university itself must be recognized as a system, with individuals, organizations and initiatives which must work together. UIDBC is on an island, but it cannot be an intellectual island. We must have porous boundaries with interactions with partners that evolve over time.
UID programs have also built on the model for Bridging Leadership (evolved by Peggy Dulany’s Synergos Foundation), which builds tri-sector relationships of trust and openness among leaders of government, private sector, and civil society organizations.
Last but not least, the programs build heavily on Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, a model for transformation in individuals and groups. Scharmer writes that “the essence of this approach can be summarized with a single sentence: the quality of our results in a system is a function of the awareness from which the people in that system operate.”
At UIDBC we value a unique blend of ways of thinking, doing and believing. Of course critical thinking is central to all learning. In addition, our community will employ four other C’s:
The outlines of a UIDBC program can now be inferred. A signature program would have sustainability and innovation content guided by the SDGs: including context, knowledge, skills and know-how. It would be conveyed through a blend of course-work and real project-based learning. Running across these programs are a core of system thinking, Bridging Leadership and Theory U, that propel the learner to have direct impact in government, industry and civil society (see box). This program would be taught by a team of instructors – scholars, practitioners and those skilled in the education of system thinkers, leaders, and agents of transformation. The campus itself is both a real and virtual platform, with in-person and distance components of typical programs.
The programs we might consider are first and foremost aligned with the culture, mission and strategy of UIDBC, supporting the SDGs. Possible topics might include:
Happy Digital cities, digital nations – how can life in cities and the services of national government services be improved through application of resident centered design and digital technology?
Social and environmental techno-preneurship – how do we empower awareness-based technology and nurture a generation of businesses and awareness-based entrepreneurs addressing societal and environmental needs through a better business better world approach?
Law for sustainability and innovation – how can the legal framework evolve so that sustainable actions are protected and unsustainable actions prevented or penalized?
Blended finance for sustainable development – how can private sector funds be blended with government and philanthropy funding, multi stakeholders impact measurements and financial accounting systems to recognize natural capital and provide recognition of actions that support sustainability?
Infrastructure and energy for distributed customers – how does infrastructure over thousands of islands provide power, fiber, and cell coverage for a set of distributed customers?
Blue agriculture and engineering – how to manage and maintain the rich abundant biodiversity of the coast and ocean, and to regenerate it as an asset for the future?
Green agriculture and engineering – how do we protect and regenerate the terrestrial bio-diversity of Indonesia and use it as an asset for the sustainable future?
There will be various approaches to building programs in these topics. All will build on the approaches to system thinking, leadership and change that UID has developed. The first activity is likely a founding summit that brings together domain superstars and those broadly aware of needs. This may be linked to the launch of a super-adapter which brings together young leaders of government, industry and civil society with domain experts. They meet multiple times over six to nine months to develop go-forward plans. These might include proposals for research and innovation programs, launching “summer schools” and degree programs, and eventually the creation on the campus of a center for research, education and innovation.
The priority of these potential programs will be evolve, and depends on several factors:
The needs of key stakeholders that the program outcomes fulfills
The unique intellectual contribution that UIDBC brings
The ability to attract leading international caliber thinkers and doers to the project
The willingness of a partner to contribute intellectual, financial and other resources
These new programs will leverage existing capabilities of UID, and could become home to some ongoing programs. These include the Policy Lab (which helps to prepare more effective civil servants), the Enterprise Lab (working with industry and business organizations) and the Social Lab, building capacity in the indigenous community.
Like all institutions, each of which has a culture and strategy, actions are actually implemented by a system of governance. Universities have a complexity associated with governance – there are university leaders, who generally have governance responsibility, but the prerogative to act lies largely in the scholarly community.
A university will be effective when it has what is called unity of the faculty, that is there are no barriers among scholars and programs, and there is flexible reallocation of resources to meet new opportunities.
For a new institution is important to have a spirit of excellence and limited objectives – focus on those things where we can be most effective or can uniquely contribute.
Some universities have a tradition of decision making by consensus or voting – and a resulting a slow pace of change. Ambitious universities that hope to evolve at the pace of society must be able to make open, transparent and timely decisions. We plan to empower individual decision makers to make prompt decision. The appropriate decision maker identifies a decision, solicits input, and makes a decision based on evidence and the consideration of peer input.
There should be a system of shared governance, where decision-making is rationally devolved. Scholars make decisions on topics they best understand, like educational design. The university leadership makes decisions on things they are responsible for, like allocation of space. Faculty and leadership work transparently and collectively on decisions in the overlap, like size of the student body.
Finally progress is enhanced by the intellectual continuum. The university should be a meritocracy, with all participants recognized for their contributions. The continuum starts with the student, and progresses through post-doctoral associates, junior and senior faculty. All must be free to interact as peers, to contribute, and to be recognized for their contribution.
This project will require the Intellectual resources or many participants. The stakes are high – the equity of society and the survival of the natural ecosystem. This is an invitation – join us – a community of engaged scholars and practitioners who want to get things done. If you are currently in Indonesia, or an Indonesian abroad, please consider this for your nation. If you are an international scholar interested in a sustainable common future, consider joining us through a flexible appointment as a Founding Faculty Fellow. These Fellows do not leave their home institution permanently, but join us for a summer or sabbatical. Finally, if you are a digital nomad living in Bali, or considering moving here, contact us to discuss how you can help.