Part V: Amor Mundi

Last weekend, I read the Inge Vervotte’s Easter message with great interest. Her appeal to once again make “Love and responsibility for the world” – Amor Mundi – the norm touched me. If necessary, she wants civil resistance to get things done in these exceptional circumstances. Her ambition and commitment sound like heaven to my ears. Still, I feel a little uncomfortable hearing this from the mouth of a former Minister for Welfare, Public Health and Family.

COVID-19 makes us think about the balance between health and economy. We must weigh up the extent to which we can allow our own personal happiness and self-development go hand in hand with a meaningful relationship with others. The time seems ripe for more “Amor Mundi”, love for the world, as philosopher Hannah Arendt once called it in the post-war 1950s. But how do we interpret that love in a contemporary context?

The current crisis has already uncovered things that have been dormant for a long time. It seems clear to me that the solution is not to refine existing structures and processes for the umpteenth time. After all, the endless pursuit of efficiency, optimisation, scale and growth means we have lost sight of why we do it at all. The virus has been merciless in residential care centres, and this has brought everything painfully to the surface. We all watch helplessly as our beloved (grand) parents are deprived of the right to say goodbye at the end of their lives. 

It is clear that the current social challenge is complex, and that our structures are not designed for this. Our current structures and processes have indeed brought us prosperity in the past. They challenge us to achieve mass production and consumption. In short, they confront us with predictable problems that can be managed from a hierarchy. The face mask saga is a wonderful example of this. By emphasising cost efficiency and optimisation, we outsourced the production of necessary medical equipment to China. Couple this with the fact that we no longer even maintain a strategic stock, and we can see the resulting despair in healthcare today. This pandemic, like the climate problem, is an example of an unpredictable crisis against which the current models cannot sufficiently arm us. Small causes can have significant consequences. Just think of the story of the butterfly in Brazil that causes a hurricane on the other side of the world. It’s what happened with the bat on the wet market in Wuhan.

Today we are confronted with the dynamics of a complex system. The rules of the game have suddenly changed completely. In physics we call this a phase transition, for example when ice becomes water. Not only does the temperature change, but the melting of the ice changes both the structure and the properties completely. The management methods on the one hand, and our current structures and processes on the other, cannot cope with great complexity. On the contrary: everything is geared to efficiency and “just in time”. Complex challenges demand complex organisations, such as networks in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts. For example, you can now see Decathlon staff, who are currently out of their original job, working at de Colruyt supermarkets. Such networking initiatives will be increasingly needed in the future.

Together with our partners and customers, we do business on a human scale at Cronos.  We do this with our network of 500 small-scale tech initiatives. Giving young people opportunities and bringing innovation to the market is ingrained in our DNA; as a result, I am convinced our organisation is built to deal with crises like this. We have every opportunity to play an important role in this social and economic transition to an inclusive society. 

But now back to the challenge in healthcare. For the past eight years, I have been chairman of Sint-Oda and a director of vzw Stijn, a network providing services to people with disabilities. The debate within this non-profit association about the organisational structure and approach for the future has raged since last summer – long before the corona crisis. I myself am convinced that we must view healthcare from the perspective of complexity. In my opinion, existing structures and processes are no longer sufficient to provide answers to the complex question. We have lost sight of why we do it because of the drive for efficiency improvement and optimisation. Why did we think it necessary to convert care institutions for people with disabilities and residential care centres for the elderly into impersonal nursing homes? Isn’t it a better idea to create living and residential areas that are sufficiently framed and supported by hospitals and local medical centres? Because who wants to live in these care centres in the future, especially if they stay as they are today? And who wants to leave their parents there?

Why don’t we give residents more freedom? Why don’t we let them live their lives in small inclusive communities? Why not help those who still can with cooking, washing, ironing, gardening and DIY, as they have done all their lives? Everyone can help at their own pace, and with the support of young people. Why do we let them live in large, impersonal care centres? Should these care centres be run efficiently and be process-driven while continuing to yield financial returns in the bargain? Efficiency devours the trust of the care user, their sense of happiness, the involvement of the staff, etc. In short: efficiency devours the well-being of all involved. I am therefore convinced that small-scale, inclusive forms of living are the model of the future. They provide practicable work activity and contribute to the happiness of the residents. It’s what we all do it for, isn’t it?

Such individual and small-scale forms of housing can easily be supported by technology. Digitalisation, robotics and advances in biotechnology ensure everyone who needs it receives the necessary attention and support at the right times. For example, elderly and vulnerable people will be able to monitor their health via telemedicine. In case of sudden illness, and thanks to the support of AI, they can be treated immediately in the most suitable hospital.

Just as industry has brought the average consumer prosperity through mass production, medicine has brought the average patient health through clinical pathways and uniform standardised treatments.

In the inclusive society of the future, we will receive individual care (personal medicine) that is geared to prevention and to stop the worsening of diseases. This will extend our healthy life expectancy. During our 100-year life, we will actively work with our health data. And this means we will have to work on our own health during the different phases of our lives.

In 2015, the United Nations set the new global sustainable development agenda for 2030 with a lot of Amor Mundi. They defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that form the basis for an inclusive society.

SDG 3: Good health and well-being for people of all ages. A pleasant, full and healthy life for everyone should become the standard. Everyone must have access to personalised and high-quality services. This is guaranteed by the next generation of communication networks, AI-based medical support, and telemedicine. 

I would like to invite everyone to help build an inclusive society. In my view, this is a sustainable environment in which people are central, in which there is room for everyone, and in which we can use technology or other tools. Let’s use this crisis to accelerate the phase transition.

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