#21interviews: Reimagining a better world without the inequality of ‘normal’

by Louise Burgers. Economist Dr Iraj Abedian says the future has arrived early and new systems will emerge.

by Louise Burgers. Economist Dr Iraj Abedian has co-authored a book about what comes next after this pandemic, called FutureNEXT, with futurist strategist, John Sanei. The book aims to shape consumers’ thinking about the future and what comes after Covid. The book’s payoff line, “The future has arrived early”, says it all, as they believe it is a time for new social and economic systems to shape our world and for that, we need a new way of learning.

FutureNEXT, which launched in November, explores this new reality for us all and our evolving responsibilities as executives, employers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers, to create a more systematically fair and sustainable world. Dr Abedian and Sanei began collaborating on the book in April this year when the shock of lockdown was blended with the learnings this challenging time provided. They rushed out an ebook in three weeks, entitled FutureHOW. “By early June it was apparent that this crisis was more enduring than anyone was talking about; it brought the global economy to a standstill and the impact of the pandemic was far deeper and the implications far reaching. We needed to understand that we are not in a process of incremental reform. We had to look into the next generation of social systems, sub-systems and also economic systems. We are in the ‘Age of Mutating’. We are mutating to a different type of human being who will unlock different capabilities under the hammer of the pandemic and panic,” Abedian told Retailing Africa.

Within their book they look at the issues which are surfaced from a personal and systemic level; and how do we change things. The most important construct, Abedian points out, was to move from asking ‘Why’ this happened as it immobilises people; to asking ‘How’ do we change things. “We need to move from a ‘To Do List’ to a ‘To Be List’. What do I want to be, feel, do? And then ask how we get there. It is very important to transmute to this level. Answering the ‘hows’ will unlock creativity and imagination. For the first time in global history, we are all facing this crisis at the same time – over 90% of the world’s population have been affected by this pandemic. So, we need to move from a negative perspective, to creative, activist solutions to take us from where we are uncomfortable, to where we want to be. We acknowledge that we do not have all the answers.”

The structure of power has changed

What began as a public health crisis, says Abedian, has mutated into a political and socio-economic crisis. “At least a quarter of humanity has been impoverished by this pandemic. In Africa, where there are massive socio-political vulnerabilities; in South Africa where our unemployment is rising, and more people are dependent on social grants… we need to look at what this means for Governments and their ability to fund these systems. The bigger issue now is the socio-political issue. We have to learn as a society to have a different discourse. This is not about lockdown, that is a false dichotomy. It is not an intelligent conversation to have in the midst of a public health crisis. This is an ideological crisis we face. We need to retune our discourse – we can’t be anti ‘this’ or pro ‘that’. The questions we should be asking, is how to get out of this so that the structure of society does not continue to prejudice the most vulnerable, the poor, women, youth, and so on.

“The structure of power has changed for ever. This notion that within society there are Governments and leaders who know better, who we can depend on to take care of the strategic issues of the nation… those days are gone. We need to recognise that society cannot leave the resource allocation to the CEOs. All these power titles we have inherited – these systems will no longer exist going forward. It is an inevitable process. One group of people want to go ‘back to normal’ – especially men in political, economic and military power. This is the past. It was unfair, unsustainable and not humane. On the other side, across the globe, there are people who acknowledge that where we come from was not ‘normal’ at all. This second mindset is emerging in people who don’t want to go back to that ‘new normal’, but are asking how we redefine society to make it more fair, equitable and prosperous for all.”

Our so-called ‘normal’ was unsustainable

Why would we want to go back to an unsustainable society? This is the question that the book ponders. Abedian predicts that the political and economic crisis will deepen because the vaccine is not a panacea for all – it will take several years before vaccines can be rolled out to enough of the world’s population to achieve herd immunity – if that is even possible. The massive shift which affects the stability of society, which Abedian and Sanei discuss in their book, is that trust is lacking in Government structures and nations are not uniting to save humanity, which means the crisis is exacerbated by the lack of global leadership.

“The problems were always there, so this is nothing new. The high likelihood of a global pandemic was raised 15 years ago – but we didn’t want to spoil the party, things were too good for those in power. But in the meantime, the minorities, the most vulnerable, and the environment, suffered. Life went on for the powers that be. COVID-19 has shone a light in the dark corners. And now that we know how unsustainable our ‘normal’ was, we can mobilise. Around the globe there are millions of us who want to find ways to focus on how to get to a better world. They will now speak out.”

These are the conversations that he urges strong leaders to plug into:

  • How do we move to a different way of thinking?
  • How do we create a society to benefit all, not just a few?
  • How do we rethink our social systems and cultural norms?
  • How do we harness technology to bring people together?
  • How do we get people to accept that power structures have changed?
  • How do we move to these new economic and social systems?

Abedian finds this time exciting: “We have gone from denial and ignorance to a very unsustainable situation. Things are not workable. Let’s mobilise our energies. Get involved, whatever your capacity, talents and insights… Get involved and create change. The alternative is paralysis and suffering. Business leaders need to understand that times have changed and it will change more. But this is not the end, it is the beginning. The rate of change will accelerate. Business needs to focus on becoming more humancentric. Those who are committed to change will lead the way and mobilise like-minded people. Those who are willing to listen will embrace change. Those who want to fight it, will fight it to the bitter end.”


For more insights for retail and brand leaders in the #21interviews series publishing 1-21 December 2020, ahead of 2021:


#21interviews LAUNCH: 2021 comes with a disclaimer by Louise Burgers, Publisher & Editor, RetailingAfrica.com

#21interviews: Brands need to get brave says Bozoma Saint John, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Netflix

#21interviews: The power of being purpose-led will drive brand value by Karin Du Chenne, Chief Growth Officer Africa and the Middle East, Kantar

#21interviews: Plan for growth in 2021 says Herman Botha, Group General Manager, PNA Group

#21interviews: Next year will be all about authentic visual immersion by Craig Bellingham, founder & CEO, Studio[K]irmack

#21interviews: Covid has created a brand vulnerability says Elouise Brink, senior marketing manager, Country Road, Woolworths Holdings


Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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