by Kristine A. Schaan, MA, NHA, CPG
I started this series inviting readers to ponder the following: in the context of humanity, what is your future outlook on the world? When you look ahead is your natural inclination that of an optimist or pessimist? Perhaps you lean towards the latter, given the state of overwhelmingly negative news and current events. Perhaps your demeanor is naturally positive, holding resilience that can forge through waves of unfavorable news with resounding hope. Perhaps you find this a difficult or even fanciful question to answer. Or, perhaps the more important, pragmatic question is can we even make the world a better place and if so, how?
While this series comes to a close, I can answer with specificity as to the current status of the world becoming a better place with sustainability at the forefront. The actions taken by a single non-profit organization highlight opportunities for others to take action and contribute to advancing the world. Further, these actions have been translated into an impact study which demonstrates both the quantitative and qualitative influence on the world. The impact has also been translated into the sustainable development goals Cycling Without Age is supporting.
Is the World Actually Getting Better? Global Perception versus Reality
As we wrap up this series on sustainability and impact, an understanding of the current state provides further context on the subject of making the world a better place. I would like to first share the general perception and then discuss how this aligns with reality. Our World in Data recently conducted a survey reflecting 28 countries globally asking this: “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse?” Please take a moment to ask yourself and respond to this very question.
Now, what were the results? Perceptions are overwhelmingly negative, with nearly all respondents reporting a perception which reflects the world is getting worse. In extreme instances, 97% of respondents polled in Australia and France said they thought the world was getting worse. Of the 28 countries surveyed, China had the greatest proportion reporting the world is getting better, yet not even the majority – rather 41% of respondents – stated they thought the world is getting better.
So how does this align with reality? In fact, there is no alignment as data indicates the world is indeed getting better. By way of example, the share of people living in extreme poverty across the world has been declining for 20 years. In addition, child mortality is declining amongst impoverished countries. Other key dimensions that have experienced significant gains include literacy, well-being, and education. 
I bring attention to this for two purposes. First, humans have a tendency to more heavily weight negative experiences and thus any positive gains are more likely to be overshadowed by negativity. This means efforts to highlight the positive require considerably greater investment. Second, and most importantly, knowledge is power. I want to share the good news that the world as a whole is indeed becoming a better place with the hope that further momentum can be built to advance society more rapidly. Moreover, the human brain is wired to work towards a goal where progress is already being made. Optimists serve as the catalysts in mobilizing change.
Demonstrated Impact, Enabling Action
In the preceding articles, we have learned the impact offered through a seemingly simple trishaw ride. We have learned how loneliness and social isolation have been overcome in tandem with improvements seen in outlook on life and social connectedness. We have learned that trishaw rides help to advance social inclusion by breaking down barriers and addressing inequalities. We have learned how these cycling activities help to build sustainable cities and foster partnerships for a shared vision.
Cycling Without Age Singapore (CWA) serves as a great inspiration, not because of its accomplishments, but rather its ability to take action towards a greater cause. It is the ability of the organization to act that also marks CWA’s great success. As a start-up and non-profit facing a range of regulatory, political, cultural and financial barriers similarly faced by other organizations, CWA offers three simple strategies for enabling action.
1) Emphasize relationships. This is the upfront investment in time, manpower and other resources which enables building trust and understanding strengths amongst potential collaborators. CWA Singapore is fortunate to count organizations such as Temasek Foundation and Zendesk as key collaborators with whom there is aligned vision and mission for the community being served.
At CWA, we believe 1+1=3, because two people or organizations working together have the power to impact more than just themselves. ” –Marieke Bink, CEO, CWA Singapore
2) Seize opportunities. And make your own opportunities as well. There is a common phrase I often remind myself of when facing adversity, “you make your own luck.” Which leads me to my next phrase, “80% of success is just showing up.” It’s about taking advantage of every opportunity while also making room to create your own individualized story.
3) Lead by example. Action is stifled when its capacity becomes limited, especially in the context of leadership. Conversely, on any given day of the week you will find a CWA leader or board member on the trishaw, engaging with our senior beneficiaries.
As you have been reading through this series perhaps you are feeling a call to action but don’t know where to start. Perhaps the feeling has been there for some time and in light of the information shared, your desire to contribute has grown stronger. Might I suggest, as a small first step, become trained as a pilot and give your first trishaw ride. For it is in these small steps taken which lead to extraordinary change.
I urge you to start today – because there is no better time than the present to begin to make the world better.” –Marieke Bink, CEO, CWA Singapore
About our partner: CWA Singapore has been engaged with Steward Redqueen throughout the past several months, serving as our industry expert. Steward Redqueen is a specialized consultancy that works across the globe advising organizations on impact and sustainability. Their vision is to make business work for society with a focus on integrating sustainability, quantifying impact, and facilitating change.