One of the most frequently asked questions to me as a professional futurist is, “So what have you gotten right in the past when you’ve been predicting the future?” Now, I don’t sell myself as a predictor, really. In fact I tell people I am more a consumer of those who specialize in predictions, and from that information I try to see the big patterns so that I can help clients most effectively plan to create their own preferred future. Still, when doing a keynote speech, I always say, “here are some future trends, and what they might mean,” so of course, I am rightly subject to the question of whether I get things right, or wrong, in retrospect.
Not long ago I was editing some video, and came across a speech I did for the American Red Cross, on the occasion of their 125th Anniversary Celebration, in 2006. It was one of my all-time favorite speaking events, in Washington DC. I admire the long history and the good work of this volunteer organization. The assignment included not just a 30-minute keynote, but facilitating the whole audience of several hundred in a set of quizzes using electronic polling, as well as moderating a panel that immediately followed my keynote. But in this blog, and in the video, I want to zero in on a 15-minute segment in which I outlined what I considered, in 2006, to be the five major trends and their related challenges for philanthropy in general and the Red Cross specifically as they looked ahead to their next century.
When I look back at this speech, I must say I am pretty proud of how well I was anticipating the next several years. For example, in the speech I say,
It is quite clear that we are living in a time period in which the gap between rich and poor is growing, by most measures. The middle class is being more and more squeezed…that means a growing wealthy class with large amounts of money to give, and therefore the creation of [their own] foundations and significant new large scale programs…but it means a squeeze on workplace giving…As the middle class feels their budget extremely squeezed, and that appears to be the case in the next few years, the likelihood of them increasing their amount of giving diminishes, and therefore the [need] to increase giving means we have to increase participation in giving, more so than the amount of giving, from a squeezed middle class.
This was in 2006 remember, when attention to the growing income gap was generally off the radar, except among a few futurists, economists and other social observers. I also discussed the tremendous impact that the rapidly accumulating public debt would have on public agencies and their ability to spend in the future, some two years before the economic collapse of 2008. All the attention we pay now to public debt did not hit full force until just the past year. This is some of what I said back then:
In terms of public agency trends, what is going on [in 2006 remember] is quite clear. The deficit that we are in the process of creating at a federal level in the United States will, once again, for the next decade or two create a tremendous drag on public agencies to flexibly and creatively respond to the issues of our day. Now we will probably work our way through this again, as we work our way through political elections and changes over the next couple of decades, but for the next two decades this deficit is going to be a tremendous drag.
To summarize all of the five trends that I outlined in 2006..
Demographic Trends, including increasing diversity in the U.S., the aging population, the millennial generation, and on the horizon the impending population decline in parts of the world. There are implications for what the Red Cross looks like, who it serves, and the possibility of a major surge in volunteerism.
Trends in Philanthropy, including the impacts of the rich-poor gap and the squeezed middle class discussed above, and the demand for competency and transparency in large non-profits, driven especially by our “highly interconnected and blogged world.”
Communications and Technology, including the coming dominance of the cell phone world-wide and thus its utility in changing communications during disasters, and the lesser known impact of nanotechnology, specifically the introduction of nano-water filtration. In 2006 1.2 billion people lacked access to clean water, and half of those hospitalized in developing nations were there because of water borne illness. I note the recent, at that time, availability of simple technologies like the Life Straw, that can filter water simply for very low cost, simply by sucking on a straw.
Trends in Public Agencies, primarily the coming issue of public debt, which was completely obvious to me during the second term of the last U.S. President, but was generally off the radar at the time.
Global Warming. This is a term that has lost favor five years later, because it has been effectively politicized rather than left as a scientific issue. But in 2006 I was noting that, for science, global warming was a settled issue, and just months after Hurricane Katrina, the long-term implications for an organization like the Red Cross, were clear to me,
What this means is the potential in our lifetimes, not the next several centuries, but in our lifetimes, of changes to weather patterns on the planet. Wild weather, in other words. As the planet heats up the frequency and intensity of storms is likely to increase…Global warming is real. It means as an organization we are going to have to face wild weather over the next many decades. It’s time to acknowledge it. It’s time to do more than ever to get ready for it, and perhaps it is even time to begin lobbying for everything we can do to reduce the impact of global warming.
Looking back now, five years later, I feel pretty good about that speech and my ability to help an important organization accurately see what was coming.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video producer and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.