At The Performance Theatre in Lisbon last year we were challenged in our final act to imagine looking back from the end of our lives, to judge if our time had been well spent. This struck such a powerful chord that this year, in London, we continued the thread, challenging our participants to envision the future to examine and understand the world we are creating today.
Our ambition for The Performance Theatre this year was to draw on the Theatre’s unique blend of drama, creating thinking, reflection and action to consider the current state of the world and the likely futures that it represents, imagine optimistic new possibilities, and then see how our views of the present may have changed.
Throughout, we sought to stay true to our mission: to inspire the leadership required to reinvent growth that works with and not against nature, benefits the many as well as the few and maintains the dynamism of the immediate whilst delivering value over the longer term.
Reimagining our legacy: from time future to time present
Taking our inspiration from theatre, our programme took the form of five Acts.
After a dramatic opening curated by director Michael Attenborough, Act One, ‘The state of the nations’ reflected on some of the powerful, systemic challenges that the world currently faces. We heard from Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard, Ali Babacan, former deputy prime minister for economic and financial affairs, Republic of Turkey, president Felipe Calderón, chair, Global Commissin on the Economy and Climate Change and former president of Mexico, Ronnie C Chain, chairman, Hang Lung Properies and Jude Kelly, artistic director of Southbank Centre.
Act Two showcased examples of ‘achieving the impossible’. With the help of panellists including: Joe Cerrell, managing director, global policy and advocacy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Jeremy Heimans, co-founder and CEO, Purpose, Dr Mo Ibrahim, founder and chair, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies, Columbia University, Cathy Zoi, CEO, Axess Energy, we explored examples from the worlds of business, politics and civil society in which leaders are successfully imagining, and then creating, apparently impossible futures – and thereby changing their legacies.
With the help of our friends at RADA in Business, Act Three brought ‘The London Dialogues’, which provided the participants to project themselves into radically different futures. Each ‘future’ addressed large interconnected themes that were framed by the central mission of The Performance Theatre: how we can reinvent growth to work with and not against nature, benefit the many as well as the few and maintain the dynamism of the immediate whilst delivering value over the longer term. The participants were split into groups and asked the question: what would be the world be like in 20-30 years if….(Dialogue One)…the genders were truly equal; (Dialogue Two)…there was no more organised crime; (Dialogue Three)…there was universal access to employment; (Dialogue Four)…energy was abundant, cheap and clean; (Dialogue Five)…every citizen became an actor.
To close the first day of our Theatre we were very fortunate to welcome Barbara Hendricks, internationally renowned opera singer and the longest standing goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Barbara’s moving performance challenged us to remember the millions of people who are currently looking to find a home again.
Act Four brought the participants ‘back from the future’. The panellists – Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO, Dow Chemical Company, Lois Quam, former COO, The Nature Conservancy, Antonio Simoes, CEO, HSBC Bank and Robert Swannell, chairman, Marks & Spencer – considered our current pathways in the light of the futures that the participants envisioned.
Act Five rounded off the Theatre with a break-out ‘walk and talk’, where participants were paired up to swap impressions about what struck them during The Performance Theatre 2016 and how this might affect their leadership in the future. We then returned to plenary for a discussion on building a legacy with Sam Pitroda, former advisor to the Prime Minister, Government of India, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Yves Daccord, director-general, International Committee of the Red Cross and Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever. This was followed by the presentation of the Inspired Leadership Award to Arunachalam Muruganantham and the formal close of the Theatre with a rousing collective rendition of ‘Do you hear the people sing?’