Values are what carries us and what we defend in our daily lives, consciously or unconsciously. Where do our values come from? Often they come from family values, then from our education, our religion, our profession, our role in society, etc. Do they serve as reference points for our life? Whether we like it or not, values are acquired like any learning process and we are led to confront them at one time or another, whether we are young or old, through different life experiences.
If we take a look at the world in which the whole planet is immersed these last decades and more recently with the health crisis, we can’t help but wonder what has been missing in our societies. Have we forgotten our values in the face of a world that is moving at a frantic pace, that escapes us? Has technology already taken over human relationships without our being able to intervene? Have we been too passive? Have we put our material needs and comfort first, without questioning how we appropriate these goods and services? Have we not taken the time to question the direction of our respective lives?
A former professor at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, depicted the world that awaits us in the coming decades at the dawn of 2050. At a conference in 2019 organized by the Globethics.net foundation in Geneva for academic representatives from various continents. According to him, the world would change in such a way that we could go to a meeting in Tokyo in the daytime and come back, we would no longer need to wash our clothes because they will be made with nanotechnologies, and that this world of tomorrow would look nothing like what we know today. And, finally, he wondered whether ethics would not be a hindrance at some point to the advancement of research and technology.
This kind of futuristic perspective has indeed revealed a technological advance of which we are not aware if we are not an expert in the field. But it also shows a real gap between two worlds, which are evolving in parallel between the research and the teaching done to students. This has been greatly confirmed in the education sector following the health crisis, leaving a disparity both within a single country and between continents. The lack of materials, equipment and other infrastructure, along with the sudden switch to distance learning, has deprived millions of children and students from continuing their schooling or curriculum in recent months.
This rupture has forced each institution to take stock, as was shared at a Globethics.net conference in March 2021 in Ghana with several representatives of universities and academic organizations. It was clear that ethics is more than a necessity for the survival of the academic world and that the implementation of ethical performance within its institutions is imperative.
Indeed, the health crisis has also highlighted the role of the education sector, but especially of educators in ensuring that our youth are ready to take their place in the economic world and public life with total integrity. Is our education system today prepared for these new challenges? What about our future leaders? Will they live up to our expectations and are we sufficiently informed about the society they want to lead us to? Is it a society of social control, digital identity and surveillance on both the social and medical levels, as the economist Philippe Murer raises? What are their ethical benchmarks as young leaders of this world? From which schools do they come?
All of these questions must be answered to appease society and reassure us about our future. And yet, we thought we had remedied these weaknesses after the biggest financial scandal in 2001 of Arthur Andersen’s fraud, leading to the fall of the firm Enron. We would have thought that the lessons learned from this affair, which rocked America, would have pushed management schools to introduce ethics as a discipline and train a new class of leaders. Which class? The new generation of young leaders was born and we believed in the success of “Young Global Leaders”. And yet, we are very puzzled by the results. There is a mix of gender and a lack of independence where the private is confused with the public…finally, do these young leaders really find themselves in their role as elected officials or as state officials? And are they capable of serving their population free of all influences? Can we still trust them? Is this really what they want to dedicate themselves to and have pledged their allegiance to?
Initiative after initiative, twenty years later, one wonders if things haven’t gotten worse?
More recently, the Austrian chancellor resigned for corruption, while Australia was also in crisis with the Prime Minister of the State of Sydney having to resign for “suspicion” of corruption. It is time to ask the right questions. Do we choose our elected officials for their skills or for their values and commitment to serve or be served?
And yet, nothing has stopped the promotion of laws and instruments to fight against corruption, the protection of whistleblowers, the law on data protection, compliance in the banking sector, the control of financial markets, the law on bioethics, etc. What has come out of all this? Have the implementations been up to the expected results?
The same observation is just as disturbing in the academic world, where large universities have been taken over by large companies and laboratories, leaving little room for their independence, particularly in terms of research, ethical rules or bioethical principles.
This leads us to ask: what is the responsibility of universities in the effective training of tomorrow’s business leaders and executives? Questioning our leaders on their ethics and their independence and being accountable to the citizens is the duty of elected officials and the right of the citizen to demand an answer. No law or state of emergency can justify evading this and should be a primary concern of the citizen. The era of partisanship should be over. Everyone should take responsibility for changing society.
Preparing future leaders requires a rethinking of education in which ethics is an integral part of the curriculum from early childhood through university. If values and ethics are not at the heart of every subject taught, we run the danger of perpetuating a value-free society that is headed for its own demise.
N.B. le 20.11.2021
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