Ethics Explainer: Longtermism

Longtermism argues that we should prioritise the interests of the vast number of people who might live in the distant future rather that the relatively few people who do live today.

Do we have a responsibility to care for the welfare of people in future generations? Given the tremendous efforts people are making to prevent dangerous climate change today, it seems that many people do feel some responsibility to consider how their actions impact those who are yet to be born. 

But if you take this responsibility seriously, it could have profound implications. These implications are maximally embraced by an ethical stance called ‘longtermism,’ which argues we must consider how our actions affect the long-term future of humanity and that we should prioritise actions that will have the greatest positive impact on future generations, even if they come at a high cost today. 

Longtermism is a view that emerged from the effective altruism movement, which seeks to find the best ways to make a positive impact on the world. But where effective altruism focuses on making the current or near-future world as good as it can be, longtermism takes a much broader perspective. 

Billions and billions

The longtermist argument starts by asserting that the welfare of someone living a thousand years from now is no less important than the welfare of someone living today. This is similar to Peter Singer’s argument that the welfare of someone living on the other side of the world is no less ethically important than the welfare of your family, friends or local community. We might have a stronger emotional connection to those nearer to us, but we have no reason to preference their welfare over that of people more spatially or temporally removed from us. 

Longtermists then urge us to consider that there will likely be many more people in the future than there are alive today. Indeed, humanity might persist for many thousands or even millions of years, perhaps even colonising other planets. This means there could be hundreds of billions of people, not to mention other sentient species or artificial intelligences that also experience pain or happiness, throughout the lifetime of the universe.  

The numbers escalate quickly, so if there’s even a 0.1% chance that our species colonises the galaxy and persists for a billion years, then that means the expected number of future people could number in the hundreds of trillions.  

The longtermism argument concludes that if we believe we have some responsibility to future people, and if there are many times more future people than there are people alive today, then we ought to prioritise the interests of future generations over the interests of those alive today.  

This is no trivial conclusion. It implies that we should make whatever sacrifices necessary today to benefit those who might live many thousands of years in the future. This means doing everything we can to eliminate existential threats that might snuff out humanity, which would not only be a tragedy for those who die as a result of that event but also a tragedy for the many more people who were denied an opportunity to be born. It also means we should invest everything we can in developing technology and infrastructure to benefit future generations, even if that means our own welfare is diminished today. 

Not without cost

Longtermism has captured the attention and support of some very wealthy and influential individuals, such as Skype c0-founder Jaan Tallinn and Dustin Moskovitz, who co-founded Facebook. Organisations such as 80,000 Hours also use longtermism as a framework to help guide career decisions for people looking to do the most good over their lifetime.  

However, it also has its detractors, who warn about it distracting us from present and near-term suffering and threats like climate change, or accelerating the development of technologies that could end up being more harmful than beneficial, like superintelligent AI.  

Even supporters of longtermism have debated its plausibility as an ethical theory. Some argue that it might promote ‘fanaticism,’ where we end up prioritising actions that have a very low chance of benefiting a very high number of people in the distant future rather than focusing on achievable actions that could reliably benefit people living today. 

Others question the idea that we can reliably predict the impacts of our actions on the distant future. It might be that even our most ardent efforts today ‘wash out’ into historical insignificance only a few centuries from now and have no impact on people living a thousand or a million years hence. Thus, we ought to focus on the near-term rather than the long-term. 

Longtermism is an ethical theory with real impact. It redirects our attention from those alive today to those who might live in the distant future. Some of the implications are relatively uncontroversial, such as suggesting we should work hard to prevent existential threats. But its bolder conclusions might be cold comfort for those who see suffering and injustice in the world today and would rather focus on correcting that than helping build a world for people who may or may not live a million years from now. 

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Are we responsible for future generations?

Ethics on your bookshelf

Ever wondered what we’re reading over at The Ethics Centre? Well here’s your chance! We asked some of our thought leaders for their best ethical reads this year.


She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

To take a break from reading so much non-fiction in prep for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, our FODI Festival Director, Danielle Harvey returns to her first love – fantasy. This re-imagining of the rise to power of the Hongwu Emperor in 14th century China combines gender, rebellion, power and faith in a powerful and fun novel.


Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Our Senior Philosopher, Dr Tim Dean recommends this startling collection of science-fiction short stories, which is as philosophically stimulating as it is deeply engaging. Chiang is one of those precious few writers who genuinely groks both science and philosophy, and does both of them justice without compromising creativity or narrative. His ‘what if’ worlds are plausible and provocative, exploring themes like freedom, fate, existentialism, memory and moral responsibility.


How to be Perfect by Michael Schur

Whether you’re a philosophy buff or you have no idea who Plato is, our Youth Coordinator and philosopher, Daniel Finlay says Schur’s writing will have you laughing, learning, thinking and reflecting all at once. This is an engaging and entertaining introduction into lots of aspects of moral philosophy, with plenty of anecdotes and comparisons to keep you from feeling like you’re in school.


Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

Making decisions we can be proud of means that sometimes we need to do things we don’t want to or have the patience for. After reading Johann Hari’s Stolen Focus, our Director of the Ethics Alliance and the BFO, Cris Parker realised how easily we can be distracted, how desperately we can crave reward and that how the technology we take for granted is contributing to this. Stolen Focus identifies the ways we can lose our capacity to make choices and provides techniques to change that. The challenge for us now is actually implementing them!


The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman

Our Executive Director, Dr Simon Longstaff says in exploring some of the worst decisions made in human history, The March of Folly reveals the root cause that lies in one of the great enemies of ethics – the baleful effects of unthinking custom. In this historical survey, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Barbara W. Tuchman grapples with the pervasive presence through the ages, of failure, mismanagement, and delusion in government.


John AshberyCollected Poems 1991-2000 

Philosopher and Ethics Centre Fellow, Joseph Earp doesn’t think that ethical education is complete without poetry, nor is poetry complete without John Ashbery. Ashbery is a strange, elliptical writer, who fosters attention, and shows us the rewards of paying attention. Which is where the ethics of it all comes in – what is the ethical life, if not one where we pay attention?

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Sir Geoff Mulgan on what makes a good leader

Sir Geoff Mulgan has had a world of careers. Currently Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London, Mulgan discusses trust, power and what makes a good leader.

“There’s a risk in any relationship of power that it can amplify your vices as well as your virtues – vices of vindictiveness or meanness, of spirit or dishonesty. And I’m sure there’s some of that in me, probably because of my character faced by pressures and threats I’d be more likely just to run away and resign, rather than to become a sort of evil Adolf Hitler in the bunker type but you certainly see this in many other people.”

Geoff Mulgan has spent his entire career musing over the question: what makes a good leader? And not only that, but how you cultivate those skills and that mindset without becoming …a psychopath. This thinking prompted Geoff to write a book on this subject, in which he critiques the strong traditions within Christianity and Chinese philosophy. He explores the idea that what constitutes a good leader essentially depends on the ethics of the individual – that, if only you could find the right person for the right job everything would go swimmingly… through his vast research and experience, Geoff says this is completely wrong.  

“We are creatures of our context. We are far more likely to be good leaders if there are constraints and pressures, if what we do is visible, if there are balancing forces and many people. Even apparently quite good people, if they can get away with things, will get away with those and they may start quite good. But five, ten, let alone 15 years later, if they’re still in power, they become evil monsters and again and again we see that at the global level.

Are leaders scared of wisdom?

It’s in a leader’s interest to elicit a sense of awe and respect in their followers. They should be in possession of higher knowledge that can justify to those who work for them that they are worthy of that position. According to Geoff, that is why no leader can ever be completely transparent as they need to maintain this sense of mystery about their workings.  

“As a leader I think you have to maintain an opacity, a sort of mystery about your knowledge and wisdom. You see it very clearly in how people talk about Putin or Modi or Xi. They wanted to project onto them this sort of genius, brilliant tactical, strategic genius, which we couldn’t understand. It’s sort of beyond comprehension, but we just sit back and admire it.

And Geoff sees this behaviour amongst business leaders all the time – “the hagiographic magazine articles and books trying to cultivate an aura, a mysterious magical genius around their insights… which then suddenly collapses when the share price drops.”

Declining trust in institutions

When Geoff was working within the British government he said one of the biggest concerns internally was wavering trust in public institutions.  As a result, he lead a large scale project under former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair asking the question: what could be learnt from how public institutions had lost and regained trust? He found the learnings for rebuilding trust were simple: 

  • Publicly acknowledge and apologise when something has gone wrong 
  • Articulate your moral purpose 
  • Perform your core function competently 

The key positive that Geoff took away from this research was that: the problem of trust and trustworthiness is actually a fixable problem if you acknowledge it clearly and if you have the courage to really deal with it on these three key dimensions.  

Is it possible to lead without getting your hands dirty?

“One of the weird things about leadership is you need a dual mind all the time of apparently opposite qualities –  arrogance and humility, toughness and sensitivity, which need constantly replenishing and keeping in a balance… And if you drift too far in either direction, you won’t function very well.

Geoff set up a young leadership training program in the UK, called “Uprising” and he explains the two dualities that he endeavoured to instil in the course which are:  

  • You have to be tough and have a thick skin. You’ll need to do things that are unpopular and unpleasant like firing people and closing things down and you need to be psychologically prepared to do that.  
  • On the flip side you also need to maintain your sensitivity, and not allow the aforementioned thick skin to destroy your ability to be kind and virtuous.  

The second duality is: arrogance and humility 

  • Anyone becoming a leader needs to have a sense of arrogance, they need to believe that they are genuinely better than a million other people who could fill the role. Arrogance isn’t a bad thing, it’s a necessary thing to overcome setbacks, the personal attacks, the social media trolling and everything else that comes with being a public figure. 
  • But you also need to be humble. The humility to constantly learn and be open to new ideas. 

In his experience, it is the young leaders who can manage to keep both of these sets of dualities in harmony who are the most successful.  

The leaders of the future

We have a difficult few decades ahead of us, one that will be characterised by the accelerating climate crisis, widening inequality, austerity, and increasing inflation. Geoff believes that we will need to elevate the best people into positions of power if we are to emerge from the other side of this tumultuous time unscathed. His biggest fear is that, over the next few years the sorts of individuals who would make excellent leaders will shy away from the job because it’s too risky or too damaging to their private life, or just too difficult, and so we must persuade and elevate these individuals who possess that duality of arrogance and humility to put themselves forward and act.  

“At the very heart of leadership is some sense  of obligation and service to the whole community you are part of, realising almost everything you have has been given to you by others… Very little is created by yourself. And that gift requires a gift back.”

AUDIO: Listen to the full podcast discussion above


Sir Geoff Mulgan is Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy & Social Innovation at University College London (UCL). He was CEO of Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation from 2011-2019. From 1997-2004 Geoff had roles in UK government including director of the Government’s Strategy Unit and head of policy in the Prime Minister’s office. Geoff advises many governments, businesses, NGOs and foundations around the world.  He has been a reporter on BBC TV and radio and was the founder/cofounder of many organisations, including Demos, Uprising, the Social Innovation Exchange and Action for Happiness.  He has a PhD in telecommunications and has been visiting professor at LSE and Melbourne University, and senior visiting scholar at Harvard University. 


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Is it possible to lead without getting your hands dirty?

Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz on diversity and urban sustainability

Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz is the CEO of Mirvac, one of Australia’s largest and most respected property groups. Driven by the company’s purpose, to Reimagine Urban Life, Susan talks about how we can redefine the landscape and create more sustainable, connected and vibrant urban environments, leaving a legacy for generations to come.

“When you’re in high school you can only imagine doing the jobs you can see – you can think about being a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer because those jobs exist. But I always say to my own children that the jobs that they’re going to do don’t even exist yet.”

Susan’s parents took a huge risk when they migrated from Belfast in Northern Ireland to Australia, during the Winter of Discontent in 1978 which was characterised by widespread strikes in the public and private sector. At the time she didn’t think much of it, but upon reflection admires the sacrifices her parents made to give her a better life. First in her family to attend university, Susan completed an undergraduate law degree, but upon completion the notion of being a full time lawyer didn’t appeal to her. Deciding to study urban geography, completing a thesis on the migration of Icelanders to Australia, she says it was this rather left field thesis that set her on the path to become the CEO of Mirvac.

“In one of those moments of serendipity I called my university supervisor and  said “what does someone like me do for a job?” And he said he’d had a call that very day from Knight Frank, who were looking for a researcher. And I thought, I don’t know the first thing about real estate, but I can analyse, I can write, so why not? And I jumped into real estate and 30 plus years later I’m still in the industry, having worked all around the world for iconic companies. And it was all just that one moment, one phone call to my supervisor launched me off in this direction.” 

Striving for a more diverse workplace 

“At Mirvac I have tried very hard to ensure we are as gender diverse as possible, and not just gender diversity, gender is just one element of it – we have a full diversity and inclusion effort going on all the time.”

The academic research into diversity is clear: diverse groups make better decisions than homogeneous ones. It’s proven across cultures, across times and across industries. Susan believes that business leaders must be absolutely conscious at all times about diversity within their work force, because if you don’t play close attention, people default to the practice of hiring those most like them. The problem is, that while some elements of diversity are easily marked, diversity of ideas and thought is a lot harder to measure, she says, “it’s not just about having 50% females at the table, it’s a lot deeper than that. You can only measure the things that are obvious, like cultural background or sexual orientation or gender. You can measure those things, and just hope that they all bring some diversity of thought.”  

“I’m very, very proud that at Mirvac we have a zero like for like gender pay gap and have maintained that for six years. And it is very hard to maintain if you if you take your eye off for one minute, the gender pay gap, with all the best intentioned in the world comes creeping back into the organisation.”

What keeps Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz up at night?

“The pace of house price growth is simply unsustainable, many multiples of times greater than wage inflation, which is very anaemic. So it is something that does need urgently to be addressed.

Housing affordability is one of the most important challenges of our time, and Susan believes the problem lies with supply, “We simply don’t do enough dwellings for the growth of household formation in this country. It is a very serious problem and better or worse in different parts of Australia. When thinking about solutions to the housing crisis and how we might build the cities of the future, Susan has proven that she thinks very much outside the box, conceiving of the idea of “a house with no bills”. “Imagine if you could live in a house and never pay another energy or water bill. Wouldn’t it be transformational for millions of people. What if we could design a different way of building homes so that we were creating no waste?”  

A shift towards a more sustainable future

“The business of business is not just business. It is a lot broader than that. People sign up for a noble mission.

Ten years ago when Mirvac launched the “This Changes Everything” sustainability strategy, with the goal of being net positive in waste water energy by 2030 (without yet having the technology to do so) people thought she was mad. “senior members of industry said you should never set targets that you don’t know how to meet”. Despite the opposition, Susan doggedly pushed on, and fast forward to 2022, Mirvac is now net positive in scope one, and in scope two emissions are 9 years ahead of schedule. She speaks about how rapidly the notion of sustainability is changing at every level of business from the C-suite to the consumer, “our residential customers who ten years ago, if you were talking to them about sustainability upgrades in their home or apartment, they would hear corporate spin and greenwash. And now they buy sustainability upgrades because they have a desire to live in a more impactful way and with a better impact on the planet.”  

“Mirvac people generally don’t wake up in the morning and think, I’m going to go generate some earnings per share today. But they do get up in the morning and think about the legacy that they’re going to leave, how they’re going to push forward design and how they’re going to think about how we can design out our waste from our sites. Those are the things that get Mirvac people motivated, and they’re an extremely passionate group of people dedicated to leaving the world a better place than when we found it.”


AUDIO: Listen to the full podcast discussion above


Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz was appointed Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director in August 2012 and a Director of Mirvac Board in November 2012. Prior to this Susan was Managing Director at LaSalle Investment Management. Susan has also held senior executive positions at MGPA, Macquarie Group and Lend Lease Corporation, working in Australia, the US and Europe. 

Susan is a Director of the Business Council of Australia, member of the NSW Public Service Commission Advisory Board, a member of the INSEAD Global Board, a Trustee of the Australian Museum Foundation, and the immediate past Chair of the Green Building Council of Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) from the University of Sydney and an MBA (Distinction) from INSEAD (France).  


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How can we enable a sustainable future for generations to come?

Tim Walker on finding the right leader

Tim Walker was Former Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra for over twenty years. Balancing its long and distinguished history with a reputation as one of the UK’s most adventurous and forward-looking orchestras, Walker discusses what it takes to grow a profitable business and find the right leader.

Tim Walker was nine when he started learning how to play the piano, and it was only upon attending his very first orchestra, that he realised how much more fun it was to play with other people. So that night, when he arrived home Tim promptly begged his parents to let him start learning the violin too. As a child, Tim was part of the youth orchestra at school, but after a while found it wasn’t really for him… but it was the notion of managing an orchestra, a job which still had that sense of creativity and community which had stolen his heart.  

Finding the right leader

“Yes the conductor holds the musicians together but he or she is also using his or her knowledge and intellect to take the written note of the composer and turn it into something that communicates with us in the audience in a very visceral sense, I would say, because it’s not only something that should hit the heart, I think it also needs to hit the head as well.

While the musicians in the London Philharmonic Orchestra are some of the most talented in the world, it’s the addition of the right conductor that really helps the players shine. The conductor’s role is to unify all the players to one single interpretation of the music, and while the experience of being in a symphony is entirely collaborative, someone needs to ensure everything is flowing seamlessly. But finding the right person for the job hasn’t always been easy. Traditionally in the 19th and 20th centuries, it wasn’t uncommon for a conductor to lead with an iron fist, however as times have changed, so too have conductor styles.   

Growing a profitable business

“Interestingly, the London Philharmonic is one of the few orchestras in the world that actually made money from international touring.”

Before Tim joined the London Philharmonic, the company was solely focused on pursuing profit – the board justified each decision by demonstrating how it would contribute to the bottom line. According to Tim, many people make the mistake of thinking just because the individual elements of an enterprise can pay for themselves, then the sum total will be a sustainable enterprise. However, Tim says there are some avenues that need to be pursued not because they generate profit, but rather because doing those things positions the orchestra for the future. As a result, under Tim’s guidance the London Philharmonic recorded all the national anthems for the London Olympics and played at the Queen’s jubilee, not because they were profitable – but because they intrinsically felt like the right thing to do.  

Do people still care about orchestras?

“I think, the people do take for granted a lot of the music in their lives as being sort of like wallpaper. I remember when I was talking to somebody who may not know the London Philharmonic, but as soon as I say we recorded all the soundtracks for The Lord of the Rings, suddenly they understand… But they don’t really.”

Over Tim’s twenty year tenure as Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the London Philharmonic, he reveals the hardest part of the job was just keeping everything going. The dilemma is though some would argue that enjoying art is a necessity, music is not the equivalent of food and basic services, so the purchasing of a concert ticket is something that in times of financial stress slows or stops altogether. “You can’t let the institution die on your watch… you’re responsible for 150 full time and 75 part time employees all dependent on ensuring that they can pay their mortgages and put bread on the table.”

Tim highlights that these last few years with COVID-19 have been particularly challenging as audiences are not flocking back as they had hoped.  

 Tim believes the way to forge a path out of the pandemic is to remind audiences that real people are making this music. The need for live music will never go away, but when you have 200 people whose livelihoods rely on ticket sales, then large orchestras won’t be around for a long time unless we start buying tickets.  

“When you care for something, you’ve also got to care for how it’s maintained. So there needs to be a cost to care. And the care for orchestras is in people making the effort to actually go to concerts and appreciate what they have.”

AUDIO: Listen to the full podcast discussion above


Timothy Walker CBE AM Hon RCM was Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He was formerly the founder and Chief Executive of World Orchestras and prior General Manager of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Mr Walker was on the Board of the International Society for the Performing Arts and was Chair of the Association of British Orchestras.   

He was an inaugural member of the Australian International Cultural Council, and has served as a director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Henry Wood Hall Trust and the Rachmaninoff Foundation.   

Mr Walker has an honours degree in Arts, a Diploma of Music and a Diploma of Education from the University of Tasmania and a Diploma of Financial Management from the University of New England. He has been a consultant to the Australia Council, Create NSW, Creative Victoria, The Australian Ballet, the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Orcquestra Sinfonica do Estado de Sao Paulo. 


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How do you choose the right leader?

Roshni Hegerman on creativity and constructing an empowered culture

Roshni Hegerman is one of the most awarded strategic thinkers globally. Currently JPAC Market Maker and Experience Director across sustainability and people with Oracle, she discusses creativity, psychological safety and how to construct an empowered culture.

When Roshni was a little girl growing up in India, she didn’t have dreams of being an executive or a director, she had much more humble aspirations to be a social worker. Though her parents didn’t feel it was a career path that could support a family long term, Roshni had her heart set on working with people at a local level.  

With this in mind, she studied sociology and psychology in college, but then drifted into journalism and communications, which is where her marketing and communications career really begun. Although, she never did realise the goal of becoming a social worker, the ethos of social work and community has informed all of her decision making she says, “I get realy excited by the power of ideas and how they can connect with people and actually drive either a shift in perception or a shift in behaviour or give people a different lens to kind of view the world through that they wouldn’t have typically viewed it through.”  

Be a radiator, not a drain

“I think that the traditional sense of creativity probably isn’t as valued as it could be. I think the use of creativity is to innovate and to do things differently and to think about how you’re going to connect in and change things in a positive way. So from that perspective, I actually think that creative thinking is the only thing that cannot be automated.”

Roshni believes that in the modern workplace, as we shift full speed into the world of automation, creativity and the capacity to think outside the box will actually be the most important skill set for young leaders and changemakers of the future.  

One of the things that has stuck with her throughout her professional career is to “be a radiator not a drain”. Rather than be a drain she says, sucking the energy out of the room by sticking to the rules and following traditions, we should be radiators – empowering others, generating ideas, and inspiring new ways of thinking. “I think people are starting to realise that if you’re going to continue to do the same thing and get the same result, and the end and it’s not a positive one, then something has to change.”  

Roshni often reflects on her professional practice asking a few key questions:  

  • How can I use my influence to be more of a radiator?  
  • Is there a more interesting or different direction we could consider?  
  • What’s stopping us from being more passionate about a project?  
  • How can I generate enthusiasm in my team?  
  • Embrace new and innovative ideas 

She suggests that if you can be more of a radiator in your workplace, then people will naturally gravitate towards you, there will be less resistance to your ideas. 

People who feel safe have the best ideas

“It’s when you feel like you have to meet a quota and you have to get something done that you tend to revert back to what you know and you don’t feel safe to kind of go out of that box and try something different. It’s when you have an organisation where employees feel safe to kind of give something a go and they’re empowered to be able to do that.”

In order to truly embrace one’s inner radiator, one must feel safe and confident within their team to share their ideas without fear of criticism.  

Throughout her career, Roshni has explored the idea of psychological safety in the workplace environment. She suggests as leaders it’s important to create a space of safety in the workplace that allows people to feel more open to being more vulnerable whilst confident enough to have their ideas challenged.  

She says, “I think it is very important to create an environment where where you don’t feel threatened by the ideas that you have. There needs to be an environment that allows you to feel at ease with sharing kind of a strong point of view, regardless of which direction you come from.”

Roshi works hard to identity the natural unconscious biases that stop team members from being curious because they believe they already know the answer. She emphasises that it’s important to consciously ask pointed questions and embed curiosity and innovation into every element of organisational structure and process in order to force people to look at things from a different perspective.  

“I think it helps create a culture of discovery, empathy, curiosity, and opens up different possibilities of pathways that could be considered. So that’s one of the things I feel really excited by is going, ‘how do we consciously think about these things and what can we do to ask the right questions so that we are having the right conversations so that we can engage people’s curious mind to think about things differently?”

 Contributing to a better world

“You need to be willing to have a lived experience. You can’t just say that you care about indigenous people or homeless people. You need to see it from their perspective and understand what they’re going through in order to be able to help in the way that they need you to help them, not how you want to help them.”

Despite diverting from the pathway to a career in social work all those years ago, Roshni maintains that the notion of caring for others and celebrating a sense of community has never left her. It’s important to consider the lived experience of different people, rather than assume what people need, you should strive to constantly be out in different communities and speaking to people directly in order to enrich your own perspective.  

Roshni suggests it all comes down to realising that at the end of the day, we are all humans who want to be treated with dignity and respect. She believes in giving those who are underrepresented a voice, and a platform so they can get the help that they need. Her advice for the business leaders of the future is:  It’s important to understand that it’s not all about you, that the world is about others, that you occupy it with. So how can you actually help make things better, not just for yourself, but for the people around you?


AUDIO: Listen to the full podcast discussion above


Roshni Hegerman is a force of nature with an unstoppable passion to move businesses and people, creating positive impact and change. Roshni currently is JAPAC Market Maker, Experience Director, with Oracle across Sustainability and People; and is founder of her own strategic creative consultancy, PinchofMasla. Roshni is global citizen unafraid of traversing new and unchartered terrain, in fact she relishes in it – working and thriving in United States, China, India and now Australia – with three beautiful children in tow. Roshni helped launch the iPhone in China, start-up BBH and BBDO in India; grow Coca-Cola’s footprint across Asia. 

Roshni is a champion for diversity and inclusion and one of the most awarded strategic creative thinkers globally. She has started her own Women in Leadership networking group – “Ladies that Lunch,” to bring like-minded female leaders together to make meaningful change and collaborates closely with Igniting Change and Campfire X, tiny but meaningful organisations that spark big positive change. Roshni launched “Creating Meaningful Change” while at McCann Australia, a 365-day initiative, that puts conscious inclusion at the centre of the agency’s strategic and creative operating system. 

Roshni believes that magic is found in the intersection of humanity, creativity and technology. 


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How can we enable a sustainable future for generations to come?

Sylvie Barbier and Rufus Pollock on failure and fostering a wiser culture

Sylvie Barbier and Rufus Pollock are the partners in business and life who strive to build wiser future through culture, space and community. With a unique and innovative approach to business, the pair uncover the realities of being a leader, the importance of failure and fostering a wiser culture.

As a performer, Sylvie Barbier has a real passion for community. Her work is a tenacious exploration of the idea of “art as a conversation” and it’s these thematics of life, discussion, and unity which has equipped her to establish the Life Itself initiative. Together with her partner Rufus, a creative technologist and economist, the two have built a collective based in the half way space between Silicon Valley and the Plum Village in the South of France, which is engaged with creating a weller and wiser world.  

On defining leadership

“There is an incredible thirst for leadership, not necessarily leaders – but for leadership.”

The world is in a moment of transition. There is an impending climate crisis, widening inequality as well as a huge amount of disunity and civil unrest, and Rufus believes that we must harness this specific moment in time to interrupt our current archaic notions of what constitutes a leader to craft something new and innovative. He suggests, “we are at a cultural moment where leadership is badly needed, but hugely undermined in part because of these past traumas that we are healing from.”  

The reality of being leaders

“There’s always going to be a problem, you’re either not doing enough, or you’re doing too much and being oppressive.”

Having led multiple different initiatives through tech, art and community, both Sylvie and Rufus have learnt a lot about the process of leading. Now that they jointly lead Life Itself, they are encountering a whole new suite of hurdles and challenges as part of running the collaborative residency programs. The programs bring a collection of thinkers, creators, technologists and spiritualists together over an extended period to time to debate and engage with the challenges of the modern world.  

Rufus says the hardest part is finding the balance as a leader, “invariably after three months there is some sort of crisis – someone is imposing too many rules, someone has to cook too often – and ultimately you are trying to facilitate the group to engage in a transformation and face these issues, what people must learn is that we need to engage with failure. We have an allergy to failure, but it’s these breakdowns which are the most valuable.” 

When leaders fail

Capitalist culture dictates that when a company has some major failing – it is generally the CEO who must hand in their resignation. That the decks must be cleared for fresh blood and new ideas to flush out the old. However Rufus fears we may have gone too far, suggesting that we’ve descended into conducting “ritualised executions” when we decide someone needs to take the blame – just because the leader has left their position doesn’t mean the company will be any better off. Rufus suggests that it’s important to identify the source of the problem, and to think about the duties and responsibilities of leaders more holistically.

In reflecting on their own careers both Rufus and Sylvie acknowledge that they have made some mistakes, and at times mismanaged things. As he continues to learn about leadership, Rufus has let go of trying to achieve everything himself, saying, “leadership is about creating a space in which other people can flourish. I think more and more for myself, based on a huge number of errors, it is the act of creating space versus doing it myself which is central.” 

Sylvie agrees, adding her biggest obstacle was she had a tendency to pursue ideals without being grounded in the reality of the world and the reality of who she is. She explores her issues with reconciling these two ideas, “sometimes I felt that the vision I had almost became a burden because it was my responsibility to make it happen. And if it doesn’t happen it’s my fault.”

In the past she was characterised by the ruthless pursuit of intangible goals, but found she was ultimately dissatisfied with this way of leading because when she achieved these goals she would immediately need to move on to something else and it felt particularly dissatisfying.  

She concludes, “the world is already perfect the way it is, it doesn’t need to be any different than the way it is right now. And in a moment of radical acceptance, I realised I was already in paradise.” 


AUDIO: Listen to the full podcast discussion above


Sylvie ‘Shiwei’ Barbier is a French-Taiwanese performance artist, entrepreneur and educator. Her work synthesizes Eastern and Western philosophies and aesthetics. She co-founded Life Itself to build a wiser future through culture, space and community. Her performance art pieces are contemporary rituals, where the audience is invited to take an active and interactive role. She uses language such as Koans as a bridge for the mind into the spiritual realm, by pushing us beyond the bounds of the intellect into a space of greater wholeness and connection.

Rufus Pollock is a technologist, entrepreneur, writer and long-term zen practitioner. He is the founder of Open Knowledge, an award-winning international digital non-profit. Formerly a Shuttleworth Fellow, Ashoka Fellow and a Mead Fellow in Economics at Cambridge University. His book the Open Revolution sets out a vision for a open, free and free information economy and has been translated into multiple languages. As a co-founder of Life Itself he brings curiosity and rigour to ongoing inquiry into how we can create a radically wiser, weller world for all.


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How do you choose the right leader?

Ethics Explainer: Truth & Honesty

How do we know we’re telling the truth? If someone asks you for the time, do you ever consider the accuracy of your response? 

In everyday life, truth is often thought of as a simple concept. Something is factual, false, or unknown. Similarly, honesty is usually seen as the difference between ‘telling the truth’ and lying (with some grey areas like white lies or equivocations in between). ‘Telling the truth’ is somewhat of a misnomer, though. Since honesty is mostly about sincerity, people can be honest without being accurate about the truth. 

In philosophy, truth is anything but simple and weaves itself into a host of other areas. In epistemology, for example, philosophers interrogate the nature of truth by looking at it through the lens of knowledge.  

After all, if we want to be truthful, we need to know what is true. 

Figuring that out can be hard, not just practically, but metaphysically.  

Theories of Truth

There are several competing theories that attempt to explain what truth is, the most popular of which is the correspondence theory. Correspondence refers to the way our minds relate to reality. In it, truth is a belief or statement that corresponds to how the world ‘really’ is independent of our minds or perceptions of it. As popular as this theory is, it does prompt the question: how do we know what the world is like outside of our experience of it? 

Many people, especially scientists and philosophers, have to grapple with the idea that we are limited in our ability to understand reality. For every new discovery, there seems to be another question left unanswered. This being the case, the correspondence theory leads us to a problem of not being able to speak about things being true because we don’t have an accurate understanding of reality. 

Another theory of truth is the coherence theory. This states that truth is a matter of coherence within and between systems of beliefs. Rather than the truth of our beliefs relying on a relation to the external world, it relies on their consistency with other beliefs within a system.  

The strength of this theory is that it doesn’t depend on us having an accurate understanding of reality in order for us to speak about something being true. The weakness is that we can imagine there being several different comprehensive and cohesive system of beliefs that, and thus different people having different ‘true’ beliefs that are impossible to adjudicate between. 

Yet another theory of truth is pragmatist, although there are a couple of varieties, as with pragmatism in general. Broadly, we can think of pragmatist truth as a more lenient and practical correspondence theory.  

For pragmatists, what the world is ‘really’ like only matters as far as it impacts the usefulness of our beliefs in practice.  

So, pragmatist truth is in a sense malleable; it, like the scientific method it’s closely linked with, sees truth as a useful tool for understanding the world, but recognises that with new information and experiment the ‘truth’ will change. 

Ethical aspects of truth and honesty 

Regardless of the theory of truth that you subscribe to, there are practical applications of truth that have a significant impact on how to behave ethically. One of these applications is honesty.  

Honesty, in a simple sense, is speaking what we wholeheartedly believe to be true.  

Honesty comes up a lot in classical ethical frameworks and, as with lots of ethical concepts, isn’t as straightforward as it seems. 

In Aristotelian virtue ethics, honesty permeates many other virtues, like friendship, but is also a virtue in itself that lies between habitual lying and boastfulness or callousness. So, a virtue ethicist might say a severe lack of honesty would result in someone who is untrustworthy or misleading, while too much honesty might result in someone who says unnecessary truthful things at the expense of people’s feelings. 

A classic example is a friend who asks you for your opinion on what they’re wearing. Let’s say you don’t think what they’re wearing is nice or flattering. You could be overly honest and hurt their feelings, you could lie and potentially embarrass them, or you could frame your honesty in a way that is moderate and constructive, like “I think this other colour/fit suits you better”.  

This middle ground is also often where consequentialism lands on these kinds of interpersonal truth dynamics because of its focus on consequences. Broadly, the truth is important for social cohesion, but consequentialism might tell us to act with a bit more or a bit less honesty depending on the individual situations and outcomes, like if the truth would cause significant harm. 

Deontology, on the other hand, following in the footsteps of Immanuel Kant, holds honesty as an absolute moral obligation. Kant was known to say that honesty was imperative even if a murderer was at your door asking where your friend was! 

Outside of the general moral frameworks, there are some interesting ethical questions we can ask about the nature of our obligations to truth. Do certain people or relations have a stronger right to the truth? For example, many people find it acceptable and even useful to lie to children, especially when they’re young. Does this imply age or maturity has an impact on our right to the truth? If the answer to this is that it’s okay in a paternalistic capacity, then why doesn’t that usually fly with adults?  

What about if we compare strangers to friends and family? Why do we intuitively feel that our close friends or family ‘deserve’ the truth from us, while someone off the street doesn’t?  

If we do have a moral obligation towards the truth, does this also imply an obligation to keep ourselves well-informed so that we can be truthful in a meaningful way? 

The nature of truth remains elusive, yet the way we treat it in our interpersonal lives is still as relevant as ever. Honesty is a useful and easier way of framing lots of conversations about truth, although it has its own complexities to be aware of, like the limits of its virtue. 

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Why is truth so elusive?

The sponsorship dilemma: How to decide if the money is worth it

More sporting and arts bodies are thinking hard about whom they’re willing to accept funding or sponsorship deals from. But how are they to weigh the competing interests of their organisations, players and artists, and the general public?

When First Nations netballer Donnell Wallam spoke out to seek an exemption from wearing the logo of major sponsor, Hancock Prospecting, she sparked a national conversation around the role of sponsorship in sport, and what voice players ought to have in choosing which sponsors they accept and which logos they wear on their jerseys.

In the case of Wallam, Netball Australia had just signed at $15 million sponsorship deal with Hancock Prospecting, run by Gina Reinhart, the daughter of the founder, Lang Hancock. This was seen by Netball Australia as a much-needed injection of funding to compensate for the multi-million dollar debt the sport’s governing body had accrued during years of COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. 

But Wallam saw something else. Front of mind for her were comments made by Lang Hancock in a 1984 documentary where he advocated that any Indigenous peoples who had not been assimilated ought to be rounded up and sterilised.  

After a weeks of debate and negotiation, Hancock Prospecting withdrew from the sponsorship deal, offering short-term funding until the sporting body could find a new sponsor. In a parting shot, the company released a statement saying “it is unnecessary for sports organisations to be used as the vehicle for social or political causes” and that “there are more targeted and genuine ways to progress social or political causes without virtue signalling or for self-publicity”. 

However, there is good reason to believe that Wallam and Netball Australia’s actions were more than a ‘virtue signalling’ exercise, but rather part of an increasing trend of sporting bodies and other organisations thinking carefully about whom they accept funding from and which industries they are willing to be associated with.

In recent times, a group of high-profile Freemantle Dockers players and supporters have called for the club to drop oil and gas company Woodside Energy over concerns about climate change. Australian test cricket captain, Pat Cummins, has also declined to appear in any promotional material for Cricket Australia sponsor Alinta Energy, a move backed by former Wallabies captain, and ACT senator, David Pockock. 

Arts organisations have been wrestling with similar questions for some years, prompted by incidents such as the Sydney Biennale in 2014 severing its relationship with Transfield, which operated immigration detention centres, after an artist boycott, and the Sydney Festival in 2022 deciding to suspend all funding agreements with foreign governments after an artist boycott due to a sponsorship agreement with the Israeli embassy. 

So how should businesses and other organisations, including sporting and arts bodies, decide whom to accept money from? How should they weigh the interests of players, artists, supporters and the wider public with their financial needs and their organisational values? How do they avoid making rash decisions that themselves trigger a backlash? 

How to decide

These are difficult questions to answer, which is why The Ethics Centre has developed a specialised decision-making approach, Decision Lab, to help businesses and other organisations navigate difficult ethical terrain and make better decisions. 

The Decision Lab process is designed to bring implicit thinking and buried assumptions to the surface so they can be discussed and debated in the open, providing tools to evaluate decisions before they are committed to so that key considerations are not overlooked. 

The foundation of the Decision Lab is gaining a deeper understanding of the organisation’s foundational purpose for being, its values and the principles that guide it. These ought to be the starting point of any big decision, but published mission statements and codes of ethics are often overwhelmed in practice by the organisation’s Shadow Values, which are woven into the unspoken culture. The Decision Lab seeks to bring these values to the surface so they can scrutinised, revised and applied as needed. 

The Decision Lab also employs a decision-making model that follows a step-by-step process that covers all the elements necessary to make a comprehensive and defendable decision. This includes factoring in what is known, unknown and assumed, such as how the funding might positively or negatively impact the community, or how it might help to promote a cause that the organisation doesn’t believe in.  

It also considers the impacts of a decision on all stakeholders, including the wider community and future generations, and not just those who are closely connected to the decision.  

The process also teases out the specific clash of values and principles around a particular decision, which is useful because many dilemmas follow a similar form. So if an organisation has an existing solution to one problem, it might find it already has the necessary reasoning and jusification to respond to another situation that follows the same pattern. 

Finally, the Decision Lab applies a ‘no regrets’ test to ensure that nothing has been overlooked. This helps avoid situations where a decision is made yet it runs into problems that could have been forseen if the organisation had applied a more rigorous decision making process, such as a counter-backlash by other segments of their community. 

The Decision Lab supports the executive team to align their decisions with the organisation’s ethics framework and helps to communicate with all the key stakeholders the rationale for decisions. By applying a more rigorous decision-making process, an organisation is better able to balance competing interests, resulting in more ethical decisions aligned to its purpose, values and principles that will hold up in the face of scrutiny.  

The Ethics Centre is a thought leader in assessing organisational cultural health and building leadership capability to make good ethical decisions.
To find our more about Decision Lab, or arrange a confidential conversation contact the team at Visit our consulting page to learn more. 

Image by Nigel Owen / Action Plus Sports Images / Alamy

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How do organisations weigh up their values with competing interests?

Big Thinker: Kimberlé Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw (1959-present) is one of the most influential feminist philosophers of our time. She is known for her advocacy for American civil rights, being a leading scholar of critical race theory, and pioneering what we now know as the third wave of feminism.

Crenshaw was born in Ohio, US in 1959. As a child, she grew up through the US civil rights and second wave feminist movements, both which occured throughout the 1960s and 70s. This time of revolutionary movements towards equality influenced how Crenshaw was raised. 

“My mom was a little bit more radical and confrontational and my father was a little bit more Martin Luther King and ‘find common ground’. Which is probably why there are strains of both of those in my work.”

In 1984, Crenshaw graduated from Harvard Law School. At this time, there was only one woman and one Black professor of the 60 who were tenured. She is now a tenured professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and splits her time there with the Columbia School of Law in NYC. 

Where do race and gender meet?

“I argue that Black women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race and gender.”

Crenshaw is most notable for coining the term “intersectionality,” which refers to the idea that when someone has multiple identities, it causes them to experience different and compounded forms of oppression. Rather than oppression being additive across multiple identities, intersectionality tells us that the experience of oppression will be multiplied. For example, a Black woman will experience discrimination because she is Black, because she is a woman, and also because she is a Black woman – which is a different kind of discrimination altogether. 

“Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”

In the academic world, the term intersectionality debuted in Crenshaw’s 1989 paper Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. Many scholars would say that the publishing of this paper catalysed the third wave of feminism, which is characterised by advocates demanding a more wholistic type of equality for people of all genders, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities, ages, and in all countries. 

Two years after the paper was published, Crenshaw assisted Professor Anita Hill’s legal team during Judge Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing to the US Supreme Court in October of 1991. In an interview with the Guardian, she reflects that the experience cemented the need for an intersectional theory of social justice. It was clear that “race was playing a role in making some women vulnerable to heightened patterns of sexual abuse [a]nd … anti-racism wasn’t very good at dealing with that issue.” 

Intersectionality finally appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015, where it is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”

A founder of critical race theory

“You can’t fix a problem you can’t name.”

Crenshaw has also spent a large part of her academic career developing and writing about what is now known as critical race theory. In its purest form, critical race theory is a 40-year-old academic framework that concerns itself with defining and understanding the plethora of ways that race impacts American institutions and systems, and how American institutions and culture uphold racist ideals. Crenshaw’s own definition, however, is more of a verb than a noun. For her, critical race theory is “a way of seeing, attending to, accounting for, tracing and analysing the ways that race is produced.” 

One of the big cultural issues in the 21st century in America has been whether to teach critical race theory in public schools across the country. Parents and politicians across America have fought to remove what they think critical race theory is out of children’s education. They have argued that CRT is racist and teaches kids to “hate their own country.” Crenshaw now says she sees her work “as talking back against those who would normalise and neutralise intolerable conditions in our lives.” 

Where to now?

Crenshaw continues to educate and inspire the next generation by teaching classes in Advanced Critical Race Theory, Civil Rights, Intersectional Perspectives on Race, Gender and the Criminalization of Women & Girls, and Race, Law and Representation at UCLA. At Columbia, she continues to work on the AAPF and through the forum, co-authored a paper in 2015 with Andrea Richie entitled Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women

She regularly writes for a number of publications and provides commentary for the new outlets MSNBC and NPR. Crenshaw also hosts her own podcast Intersectionality Matters

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