Cultural Narratives and the Great Civic Awakening

I just returned from a week-long visit to Austria and Germany, where I met with leading thinkers in government, business, and the non-profit sectors. The trip was an amazing experience and I come home with a renewed interest in helping to promote collective action across national borders. 

While in Austria, we visited Salzburg as guests of the Salzburg Seminar’s Annual Board Retreat. This meeting is a gathering of some of the most interesting and influential leaders around the world. We then headed to Berlin to deliver a keynote at the Korber Foundation’s Policy Luncheon.

Here’s an excerpt from my speech:

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In the United States, we know we have big challenges that demand attention. If we are to effectively deal with our broken immigration system, with the rising costs of health care, with our dependence on fossil fuels—we will need a new model for engagement and action.

But we are unable to act. I believe that our failure to act lies in our failure to establish a shared identity. For it is through a shared identity that we can begin to construct shared destinations and shared actions that are designed to get us to those destinations. We are having trouble acting collectively because we do not have a shared destination. We do not have a shared destination because we have too many competing identities. And this problem is getting worse because those of us who wish to see something better are competing against a complex set of narratives that have increased the noise level, added to the complexity of life and left people confused and divided. The United States is not alone. You see this happening around the world.

What we are witnessing today in countries around the world (Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Tunisia, Syria, and even in the United States) are simply modern day versions of an ancient struggle over the proper relationship between public policy and social justice. There is an effort underway, by people in countries all around the world, to redefine that relationship. I have begun to think of it as The Great Civic Awakening of the 21st Century. Citizens—and even those in their respective nations who are not legal citizens—find themselves deeply disappointed by the status quo.


We ended the trip with visits to meet with leaders at BMW Stiftung Herbert-Quandt, stiftung neue verantwortung, and the Hertie School of Governance. It was a great visit. Check out some of the pictures from our trip below.

By | 2017-02-09T09:09:34+00:00 July 16th, 2013|Collective Conversations, Collective Impact, News|0 Comments