News - February 11, 2010

'Unreasonable people will save the world'

Joris Tielens

John Elkington, the British guru of the social responsibility movement, was the guest-of-honour at the opening of the new Centre for Development Innovation (CDI) on Tuesday 9 February. Sixty employees who used to give courses and supervise projects in developing countries under Wageningen International now come under this centre.

Storyteller Francesco Melita at the opening of the CDI. At front left is director Jim Woodhill. At right, seated, is John Elkington, and to his right is Anne van den Ban.
John Elkington expects new phoenixes to rise from the ashes of the old economy:  young entrepreneurs who set up sustainable companies which not only make profits, but also bring forth social development and improve the environment. This progress can only be made by unreasonable people, as stated in his book The power of unreasonable people. 'The reasonable person adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable person keeps trying to get the world to adapt to him. Unreasonable people are crazily ambitious, driven by emotions and think they know the future', says Elkington.
And it is precisely such people who will solve the multitude of global problems, such as lack of clean drinking water, climate change, hunger, loss of bio-diversity and ocean acidification. Elkington's faith in the UN has dwindled after the failure of the climate change conference in Copenhagen. 'We have to look to the CEO's in the management offices of big companies, and find out what they think about such major problems.'
Jim Woodhill, director of the new Centre for Development innovation, said at its opening that global problems require another approach to reach cooperation among people, and a new and creative cooperation among the government and the private sector. 'We have to become better students in a real-life learning society.' The CDI can play a role in this, he added. That learning and listening are important abilities for CDI employees was beautifully and clearly expressed by storyteller Francesco Melita. He told a story about a white Wageningen aid worker who in the course of many years changes from a smart alec to someone who is able to listen and to appreciate the diversity before his eyes.
Name boards
The CDI is the successor of the International Agricultural Centre, which was incorporated into the Capacity Development and Institutional Change Programme at Wageningen International a few years ago.  Those under this programme now come under the CDI, which in turn falls under the Social Sciences Group.  However, this is more than just a re-positioning of name boards, says Woodhill. 'We're going to work closer with social scientists. We will also be more involved in innovations than before, by bringing people together. For example, we can bring together NestlĂ©, developing organizations and farmers in Niger to produce dried onions in a sustainable way.'