FF Daily #447: Why the year 1769 matters

August 11, 2021: The modern age; An education emergency; Code Red: Innovating for sustainability; Read the fine print

Founding Fuel

[From Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Good morning,

Every once a while we open The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time by Will Durant and the pages always throw nuggets of wisdom. This passage on why the year 1769 matters, from the chapter on vital dates in world history, had our attention last evening.

“Essentially there are only two fundamental and pivotal events in human history: the Agricultural Revolution, in which men passed from hunting to tillage and settled down to build homes, schools, and civilization; and the Industrial Revolution, which threw millions and millions of men, first in England, then in America and Germany, then in Italy and France, then in far away Japan, now in China, the Soviet Union, and India, out of their homes and their farms into cities and factories. It transformed society and government by empowering the owners of machinery and the controllers of commerce beyond the owners of titles and land. It transformed religion by generating science and its persuasive miracles and inducing many men to think in terms of cause and effect and machines. It transformed the mind by substituting novel and varied stimuli, necessitating thought, for the old ancestral and domestic situations to which instinct had been adapted and sufficient. It transformed woman by taking her work from the home and forcing her into the factories to recapture it. It transformed morals by complicating economic life, postponing marriage, multiplying contacts and opportunities, liberating woman, reducing the family, and weakening religious and parental authority and control. And it transformed art by subordinating beauty to use, and subjecting the artist, not to a favoured few with inherited standards of judgment and trained tastes, but to a multitude who judged all things in terms of power and cost and size. 

“All this, incredible as it may seem, is in that single invention of James Watt. All this and more—Capitalism, Socialism, the Imperialism that must come when industrialized nations need foreign markets and foreign food, the wars that must come for these markets, and the revolutions that must come from these wars. Even the Great War, and the vast experiment in Russia, were corollaries of the Industrial Revolution. Seventeen-sixty-nine stands for the whole modern age.”

Stay safe and have a good day.

In this issue,

  • An education emergency 
  • Code Red: Innovating for sustainability
  • Read the fine print

An education emergency

As the central government and state governments discuss whether and how to reopen schools, there is much to be thought through. Children haven’t been to school for at least 16-17 months now. While many children have had access to online schooling, few students have maintained a serious level of study during this period, Anurag Behar told Karan Thapar in a 30-minute conversation broadcast on The Wire. “Education has never faced a crisis of this kind,” Behar said.

How are we to deal with this? Behar, vice chancellor of Azim Premji University, has given the theme much thought and suggested two ways to go about it. 

“First, schools could require every child re-joining after a gap of over a year to go back and repeat the class they were in before schools closed. This would, however, mean a loss of one full academic year or more for a whole generation of students. He indicated that some state governments and schools were aware this was one way of handling the problem but they are very worried about the lost year.

“A second way of responding to the problem is for schools or, rather, the country’s education system, to create and implement the concept of ‘a learning recovery term’. This could last up to six months and the period would be used primarily, if not entirely, to recover the learning students have lost.”

Behar pointed out though that adopting these is not a panacea to everything we are staring at. There is much else to grapple with.

Dig deeper

Code Red: Innovating for sustainability

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made the world sit up, and recognize that the crisis we face will not end with the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the climate crisis will not only be a bigger crisis, it will also be bigger than we feared it was even a decade ago. There will be much debate on what exactly we should be doing, but there is no doubt that we have to accelerate on the solutions. 

Can innovation help? 

Incidentally, we came across an interesting interview of Procter & Gamble (P&G) CEO David Taylor in Strategy+Business. In that, the P&G veteran discussed a range of themes around making business more sustainable—from water use, energy efficiency, waste management, driven by, among other things, changing customer preferences and expectations. 

“What has changed from, say, ten years ago is that the consumer now wants to know the values of the companies behind the brands they buy. That’s becoming increasingly important, especially for younger consumers. Moreover, what you need to do to be considered ‘good’ at ESG [environmental, social, and governance] has changed dramatically. Expectations are changing when it comes to plastic and water usage and just overall carbon footprint. Companies like ours need to have ambitious plans.

“There is a lot of momentum externally to reach net zero by 2050. But there are many challenges we have to work through to get there. Many other companies are out there committing to things that they do not know how to deliver. You talk to them and they say, “Well, in 30 years, it’ll probably be figured out.”

Earlier in the interview, he mentions a new approach P&G has adopted—‘built in, not bolted on’. He says, “we’re very close to converting some of our plastic packaging in some categories to paper. The concept we have now is ‘built in, not bolted on.’ Instead of making something and then trying to reduce the waste, you design from the outset to reduce waste—even going down, in some cases, to the molecular level. In other words, part of the design brief, along with product performance, is the environmental impact. In an ideal world, first you reduce waste, then you go to no waste. And then the vision for many of us is to get to regenerative solutions, which means using life-cycle analysis to find solutions that are much more holistic than just the task at hand that we typically would design a product for.”

Dig deeper

Read the fine print

(Via WhatsApp)

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And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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