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Giving Future Generations a Voice

Jakob von Uexkull, founder of the World Future Council, to take part in the 2013 Global Media Forum.

Der Initiator des World Future Councils (Weltzukunftsrat), Jakob von Uexküll, aufgenommen am 22.05.2008 während einer Pressekonferenz im Rahmen des Weltzukunftsrates im Rathaus von Hamburg. Foto: Jens Ressing +++(c) dpa - Report+++

Jakob von Uexkull is the founding heart and mind behind the World Future Council, a global network to secure future well-being. He recently traveled from his home in London to the foundation's headquarters in Hamburg. Though there are few staff there, their work has significant impact.

In the name of sustainable development

"It is our mission to give future generations a voice," says Jakob von Uexkull. Originally from Uppsala, Sweden, he has campaigned for sustainability, justice and peace since the 1970s, driven by a vision to shape a world fit for future generations.

His wholehearted devotion to this endeavor, he says, stems from his upbringing. "I grew up in a family that didn't simply resign itself to accepting problems. We always looked for solutions and usually we found some." In matters of sustainability, von Uexkull was determined to be taken seriously. The Nobel Foundation seemed to be the right port of call. He proposed they create a new award for ecology and sustainability. "You have to move with the times. That was the idea," he says. "Focusing only on economics and science was too imbalanced in my opinion." He was even willing to invest the money he'd made dealing in rare postage stamps. But the Nobel people in Stockholm turned him down. So von Uexkull sold his stamp collection for $1 million to create the Right Livelihood Award, which in many parts of the world has come to be known as the "alternative Nobel prize".

That was in 1980. "It worried the establishment initially," von Uexkull recalls. "But they were forced to face the challenge and reflect on the Nobel Prize's priorities. Now our award is equally established. It is even presented in the Swedish parliament."

Best practice and best policies

The Right Livelihood Award recognizes people who have found solutions. "It acknowledges best practices, provides support and backing to the recipients, and gives them more publicity," says von Uexkull. Some years later he realized something else. "If we want sustainability to spread and establish itself, we also need 'best policies'." So in 2007 he founded the World Future Council, a foundation whose advisory council consists of 50 outstanding figures from academia, business, politics and civil society, who advocate policies around the globe in the interest of future generations. "It's not enough to have visions. You need a roadmap," says von Uexkull. "We are keen to spread good laws from country to country. Voluntary agreements aren't enough. The foundation provides expertise and capacities," for instance in shaping economic systems built for sustainability. Von Uexkull says this requires a mental shift. "If we continue exploiting the environment so severely, resource shortages will lead to conflicts and wars." But as a man always on the lookout for solutions, von Uexkull is still hopeful. "It's not too late," he says. "I don't know of a single area that doesn't already have alternatives that could become mainstream options." For von Uexkull, the world needs nothing less than an ecological restructuring of industrial society, "because any rational person knows that there can be no infinite growth on a finite planet".