SEN: Revelation and collaboration

It doesn’t take long for new arrivals in New Haven to realize that this city is dangerously divided. For those lucky enough to be a part of it, Yale is a feast for the body and mind. But fear and despair stalk many of the streets that lie just beyond the campus.

Look a little further, and you see bickering politicians in Washington, D.C., who brought the government to a standstill for the sake of a few partisan brownie points. Not too long ago, the financial crisis and the misery it brought to ordinary Americans as well as people around the world was a brutal reminder that in the age of globalization most problems in one town or country have a cause or effect in another. It is clear that if this new world is to work better, the old ways of doing things must change.

History teaches us that change works best when it involves the many and not just the few. As our problems become shared, so must our pursuit of the solutions. But this job is too important to be left to governments alone, or the private sector or even the not-for-profit world. It needs all of them to work together. And that’s where the Yale World Fellows program comes in.

Every fall semester, Yale brings together a dozen or so accomplished mid-career practitioners and professionals from different countries and walks of life for an intense four-month leadership boot camp: the World Fellows program. The goal is to transform the capacity of the Fellows to make the world a better place in their own unique ways. By throwing open the doors to every department at Yale, letting ideas and imagination roam free, and by kneading a bunch of strangers into a close-knit family within a few weeks, the program turns the Fellows into collaborative catalysts for change — all of whom are enriched not just by their shared experience of lectures and seminars at Yale but also by the University’s commitment to the liberal arts ethos.

In a seminar with the World Fellows, Rodrigo Canales, professor at the School of Management, said that the private sector can do everything except the forbidden. The state, on the other hand, can do only what it has been sanctioned to do, he said. It is a no-brainer, therefore, that to solve some of the biggest challenges the world faces, all of us — states and markets, countries and communities, institutions and individuals — will have to work a little more collaboratively with each other.

Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science, mentioned in one of his classes the other day that we might be living in an “age of moderate scarcity.” What he meant, I believe, is that the world may have enough to meet the needs of all its inhabitants but not enough to meet all their wants. Should that be true, the West and the rest will have to collaborate more and compete less to make the best use of the world’s finite resources.

Last weekend, while bicycling to the Sleeping Giant woods in Hamden with the World Fellow from China, I was struck by an epiphany of sorts: What were the odds of someone from India teaming up with a person from China to go cycling? Leaving aside the World Fellows program, I would wager that the odds are one in 2.5 billion — the combined population of the two most populous countries in the world. But if more Chinese and Indians could cycle together, it might just make the difference between a catastrophic future and a more sustainable one for us all.

During that bicycle trip, I was reminded of what professor Charles Hill had said in his lecture the previous day on lux et veritas, or light and truth, and the role both of those terms play in our lives. Light is reason, which can be taught in the classroom or learned from a book. Truth is more akin to revelation, he said, which often unfolds through shared experience. Sometimes as Yale students. Sometimes as a team of Nobel Prize-winning researchers. And sometimes as Yale World Fellows.

Abhik Sen is a 2013 Yale World Fellow and a Managing Editor with The Economist Group. Contact him at abhik.sen@yale.edu.

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