It is a privilege to be here with you this weekend; and I am grateful for the invitation to share a few thoughts with you during these final moments as you anxiously await your degrees – and your new “freedoms.”

Ten years ago (2006), only 1 person in 100 – in the world – would have a college degree; thankfully, this number has now jumped to 7 persons in 100[1].

This is the privileged group to whom you graduating classes belong to as of 1 hour from now.

Because of the incredible advances in medical sciences and well-being, most of you will live to be 100 years old. However, it is highly probable that Jesus will have come in your life-times, and you will be part of a generation that will be the first to live forever in His new Kingdom. Choose your life-compass well; navigate carefully. He has laid out a plan for each one of you.

Furthermore, 1% of you will go on to belong to the 1% of the world who owns and controls 85% of its power and wealth. Use this privilege well.

[1] Source:


It was a Monday morning. We had just turned on the radio to listen to the BBC early morning news. Something we did every morning. This time, there was no news, only military marching music. We suspected something was wrong. Eventually a radio announcer came on and advised the listeners to stay tuned to the radio as an important announcement was about to be made. Then more military music that seemed to go on forever. Eventually the announcer returned and told its listeners to pay careful attention to what was about to unfold.

During the next couple of hours, we listened to the birth of a new nation – Biafra. The new self-elected President introduced himself. He read out the new constitution. He described how the new government would function. He described the new currency. He described the role of its cities and declared the new Capital – Enugu. Then the new national anthem was played. And the new name of its national radio channel announced. All in a few hours.

Then it all went dreadfully wrong.

On Tuesday, news reached Biafra – this new break-away nation from Eastern Nigeria, that 10s of thousands of Biafrans had been rounded up in North Nigeria, put on trains to be sent back to East Nigeria – now the independent nation of Biafra – all to be slaughtered and/or dumped out of the trains as they were forced to stop on the bridge over River Niger – where they were thrown to their deaths down below.

On Wednesday, things got worse. Biafra decided to flex its new muscles and retaliated, killing 10s of thousands of innocent North Nigerians living in Biafra.

On Thursday full civil war broke out.

On Friday we managed to escape with our lives – my mother and three of us boys – by a British Military Plane – the last one to leave Biafra, with 2 suitcases – now all of our belongings. All fathers had to stay and find their own way out.

For the next two months, we as a family had no idea if we would ever see our father again. It was a painful time indeed as the civil war raged on. Finally there was a knock on our front door – of the small guesthouse we were staying in – now in the country of Ghana – there stood my father. Imagine the reunion we had.

From that moment on however, my life had changed. It is this event that shaped who I am today and the career in International Development and Disaster Management. I have not regretted this decision and God has blessed me with some amazing experiences and amazing people.

I was later to go through similar experiences again in the Rwanda genocide, in the Balkan genocide, in the Caucuses wars, and again in the 2nd Balkan wars; Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique. And the list could go on.

Before I started college at age 16, I had already set up and run two successful businesses; one was a furniture factory and the other was an electrical engineering firm.

It was with these skills and experience that I paid my way through college and later earned my first professional job which launched me into a successful career in International Development.

Each of you have likely made your career choices, or will be doing so in the coming months. Union College has undoubtedly equipped you with many of the tools you will need as you launch yourselves into a new phase of your lives.

As for me, I have seen and been part of accelerating change for the past 50 years. The world is hardly recognisable. For you, mega-changes will be part of your new norm.

Having said that, my father left me with some advice early on in life that I would like to pass on to you – he said: ‘you have a lifetime to learn….so keep doing that….but if you really want to make a difference to this planet and to people’s lives’, “what you do is much more important than what you know.” He placed a real premium on experience, on hard-work, and the practical.

I have titled my short contribution today “Disruption and Megatrends.

Kindly allow me to frame my comments to you from a global world-view, knowing that what I have to say will manifest itself differently in each context, including of course, here in the United States, and to wherever your next “destination” will be. In many ways, the differences between global and local are disappearing rapidly. We sometimes refer to this as “Glocal.” We are all being impacted at an increasing pace by all this “Glocal” change regardless of where your location or your vocation is – at home or abroad.

Point of View:

In the past 250 years, the world has gone through three main global Industrial Revolutions, and now it is accelerating into its fourth Revolution:

  1. About the year 1780: we find the inventions of – Steam, Water, and Mechanical production equipment
  2. About the year 1870: we discover the introduction of the – Division of Labour, Electricity, and Mass production
  3. About the year 1970: we see the introduction of technological innovations such as – Electronics, IT and Automated production…and
  4. About the year 2000: we have participated in the introduction of – Cyber-Physical Systems

Today’s Transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution, but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one – represented by three main distinctive components: 1) Speed (which is about Velocity); 2) Scale (which is about Scope); and 3) Systems Impact (which is about Technologies). The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every political system and every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of progress and development – including production, management, governance….amongst others.

We need to grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Revolution[1] and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values. To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, spiritual and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.

[1] Source: Foreign Affairs – The Fourth Industrial Revolution – What it means and how to Respond; Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum


It is within this Fourth Age of Transformation, that you – the class of 2016 enters the formal world. You must find new ways to navigate, add value and be relevant. You will need to shape the future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them.

I would like to leave you with THREE sets of key TAKE-AWAYS.


19th and 20th Century approaches are no longer relevant and can no longer compete with these three 21st Century change-attributes of SPEED, SCALE and SYSTEMS Impact. In fact, just these three change-drivers are likely to be the ones that will separate out the winners and losers in the next decade.

Technology is one of the main reasons why incomes and the rise of jobs have stagnated or even decreased for both high and medium income countries. The result is a job market around the world with a strong demand at the high and low ends, but a hollowing out of the middle.[1] Inequality at a level the world has never seen before – as one of the outcomes, represents the greatest societal concern associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Also as part of the 4th Age of Transformation – the physical, digital, and biological worlds will continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure. On the whole, however, governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policymaking, as their central role of conducting policy diminishes owing to new sources of competition and the redistribution and decentralization of power that new technologies make possible.[2]

Watch for example – today’s year of elections – the most disruptive political year in this nation’s history so far, other than our years of revolution, wars and conflict in the 1800s. Witness the disruption going on in the European Union and the Middle-East and its sets of member countries…..particularly driven by economic inequality, un-checked migration, religious polarization, and political ideologies.

The 4th Transformation will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associate with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, our work and careers, skills, people we meet and the relationships we nurture.

[1] Source: Ibid

[2] Source: Ibid


Let me give you a few examples of SCALE, SPEED and SYSTEMS Impact to make this point. These examples are taken from various parts of the world – consider this:

  1. More Chinese have come to Africa in the past ten years than Europeans in the past 400[1];
  2. China poured more concrete in the past two years (2011-2013 figures) than the United States poured during the whole 20th Century;
  3. 40% of Kenya’s total GDP now moves through Digital Cash Platforms – these being achieved in around five years; who would have thought this movement started from developing a simple solution for the unbankables; 82 other countries are following pursuit;
  4. 83% of Latin America’s population now live in Cities – this being achieved in the last 2 decades;
  5. There were only 2 Major Disasters on the books in 1982; by the end of 2014, there were over 350 in that year alone!

It’s almost as though we need a new type of global mathematics – as regular arithmetic doesn’t quite capture these new realities.


The year 2015 – shaped up to be the most pivotal time in the recent history of global progress and development – for all countries. All formal development and humanitarian systems are under full review. These will have deep implications for our work and for our lives. Let me demonstrate by highlighting Five Global Leadership Initiatives all tied to 2015, and being acted upon now in 2016 and beyond:

  1. The UN and the Global Community is taking Leadership: The old 8 MDGs ended; the new 17 SDGs[2] have been finalized and launched by the UN Secretary General; the SDGs will become the common “currency” so to speak for all Stakeholders involved in this new Global Development Framework;
  2. The Religious Community is taking Leadership: The Pope came to NY as part of the Global Commitment to the next 15-Year Development Agenda for Global Progress and Growth; and for the first time in many decades, the role of Faith-Belief-Religion is being recognized as integral to human development well-being and Governments and Multilaterals are calling for the so-called – Faith Based Community – to step up and lead; the Pope himself has already been declaring that Religions and Faith Leaders are complicit by remaining silent on too many complex human and planetary development issues and it is time to become proactive, speak out and engage
  3. Companies are taking Leadership:       for example, in 2015, the CEO of the world’s largest company – APPLE – declared that Climate Change is in fact one of THE MOST Important ISSUES of our times and that the planet MUST deal with it NOW; that it is disrupting and destroying the world and that all the talk must stop and be replaced by bold ACTION if any of our children are going to have a viable future; to prove it’s seriousness, Apple is investing $850M into Solar Power – as its first commitment;
  4. The Rich and the Wealthy are taking Leadership:       Bill and Melinda Gates declared in early 2015 the first Global Citizen Network to harness the powers of the global masses – those who have a passion to work together to form effective movements for change; these are people who care about helping those in the world’s poorest places to improve their lives – both here in our own backyards in the United States and abroad; Over 1000 organizations and 130 countries signed up to this Campaign called “Action/2015”;187 of the most wealthy individuals on the planet – through the Giving Pledge Club – have signed up to give away 51% or more of their personal wealth before they die; this matters because the world has never been so unequal in any time in its history;
  5. City Mayors are taking Leadership: The C40 Group of Mayors met for a major Mayors Forum in Buenos Aires in the 1st quarter of 2015: City Mayors are proclaiming that “it will be the Mayors who rule the world” in the coming decade as this is where most of the world’s population will be living; this matters as most of the world’s population is becoming urbanized; think of it this way, 25 years ago, about ¼ of the world’s population lived in the cities; today that number is about almost 6 out of 10 people, and this percentage will increase; the meaning of “nation” or “state” will have less and less relevance;


Many Megatrends[3] “live together” and when “stacked” can have either huge positive or huge negative impact on human, physical or economic well-being. Generally, all of these manifest themselves most severely in trans-national, cross-border, country clusters, fragile contexts or cities. These are the places and conditions that will be the new drivers for Multi-Dimensional Vulnerability – here in the United States, and of course abroad.

In my viewpoint, there are five Key Megatrends that will have the most immediate impact to our planet and to our work – certainly so in the context of the Global Development landscape:

1) “Rapid Urbanization” (Megatrends: #2, #6)

Rapid Urbanisation – this is about the massive expansion of cities around the world, through a combination of migration and childbirth, with major implications for infrastructure, land use, traffic and transport, employment, quality of life and culture. The 21st century will be the “century of cities”.

It is estimated that in the next several decades, that 90% of the world’s growth in population will be added to its cities – about 2.5B people.[4] In Latin America, already 8 ½ people out of 10 live in their cities.

2) Technological Breakthroughs (Megatrends: #1, #2, #9, #11)

Technological breakthroughs – this is about the transformation of business and everyday life through the development and use of new kinds of digitally enabled innovations in fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, fabrication, cloud computing and the “Internet of Things”[5]. And soon to come – the “Internet of Humans and Living Organisms”.

Intel makes the transistors for this gadget in my hand (hold up phone). They make 600 billion transistors, not per year, but per minute.

3) Shifts in Global Economic Power” (Megatrends:   #1, #2, #7, #9, #10)

Shifts in Global Economic Power – this in particular is about the much-noted expansion of prosperity in emerging economies at faster rates than in the industrialized world, leading to momentous changes in consumption patterns and a rebalancing of international relations and relationships[6]. It is also about new actors entering the Bottom of the Pyramid world – the bottom 3 billion poor earning less than $2/day – where these are now entering the formal marketplace via new products and services offered by the private and public sectors, not through traditional charity or philanthropy, but through adapted and more flexible market-based approaches.

McKinsey Company’s 2014 study on the Role of Business in Global Growth and Development estimates that there are currently 8,000 functional Global Transnational Corporations today, of which 85% focus on the so-called “Global North”; they also point out that by 2025, there will be an additional 7,000 new Transnational Corporations given birth from the “Global South” of which 85% of these new companies will focus on local and regional commerce and trade;

The world’s consumption centre of gravity is shifting East by over 100 miles a year. By 2025, it will be over central India, with strong pulls from South-East Asia, as well as from China and India itself[7];

4) Climate, Resource, Demographic and Social Change (Megatrends: #1, #3, #4, #5, #8)

Demographic and Social Change is about the combination of greater life expectancy, declining birth-rates throughout the world, and unprecedented rates of human migration, accompanied by a gradual increase in the status of women and greater ethnic and social diversity within most countries or contexts.[8] It is also about the massive downward shift of poverty over the past 50 years, but at the same time an unprecedented increase in vulnerability and fragility.[9]

Consider this:

1 in 7 people on this planet are Migrants; (1B people!)

1 in 4 people living in Developed Countries (such as the United States) by 2025 will be 65 to 100 years old;

1 in 4 jobs in the United States will be tied to the Medical Industry…….and I could go on….

Climate change and resource scarcity is about the rapidly increasing demand for energy, food, and water, in a finite world with limited natural resources and even more limited capacity for carbon dioxide and a wide variety of other effluents.[10] Stated another way, it is about managing our “Planetary Boundaries” in completely new ways.

5) “Religious Pluralism and Radical Fundamentalism” (Megatrends: #5)

There will be increasing Religious Pluralism and Radical Fundamentalism across the spectrum of major religions. From a Christian perspective, this megatrend needs to emphasise the shift “from Man’s time to God’s time”, where God takes the long view. Human development is a life-time effort including God’s commitment to each of us – regardless of faith or tradition. Of course, this is not a commonly held view by radicalists or fundamentalists and we are seeing once again in different places around the world a struggle for identity and a clash of ideologies. We need to remember that God works through all people to accomplish His purposes.

We have learned that all of these are important trends and are likely to have a significant impact on Global Progress and Development. We have also concluded that to be most effective in re-positioning ourselves for any future scenarios, we would need to approach “Glocal” change in smaller increments as well as where we believe we can make some early differences. I believe this holds true for each of you in this graduating class in one form or another as you go forward to make a contribution through your careers and lives.


[1] Source: The Economist

[2] SDGs: “The Sustainable Development Goals”; the set of 17 Global Goals to eradicate poverty by the year 2015

[3] WV 11 Megatrends:

  1. The Face of AID is radically Changing
  2. There is an accelerating Rise of Middle Income Countries (MICs)
  3. Climate Change, Food Insecurity and Shocks will continue to drive the largest threats
  4. Much of the world’s population is Ageing and the face of Global Health will radically transform
  5. Religious Polarization will continue to escalate often with divisive effects
  6. Most of the world’s population will be Urbanized and Migration will accelerate
  7. The world is the most Unequal it has ever been and Economic Inequality will persist
  8. Peak Children has been reached yet Vulnerability of Children and Youth in particular will continue to accelerate, especially in Fragile Contexts (both state and city)
  9. Evolving forms of Business Engagement in the Bottom of the Pyramid population will dominate the new global development agenda
  10. Donor Expectations are radically shifting adding increasing demands and new models for development
  11. Global Connectivity and Technologies will radically transform the way the world operates creating unscaled disruption and innovation

[4] Source:

[5] Source: PWC Issue 78, Spring 2015; When Megatrends Collide

[6] Dito

[7] Source: Overseas Development Institute

[8] Source: PWC Issue 78, Spring 2015; When Megatrends Collide

[9] Dito

[10] Source: PWC Issue 78, Spring 2015; When Megatrends Collide


In conclusion

We are experiencing the largest increase in the history of humanity of available goods and services and health care for all people, especially the poor and ultra-poor. We are experiencing the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of humanity.

Positive human wellbeing trends started to accelerate around 1800; this acceleration increased after 1945; and increased again about 2000; and increased again about 2015. Metadata analytics will enable us to learn more about the human body in the next year than in the last 100 years combined; and metadata analytics are being applied to every field of human knowledge. Extreme poverty is now routinely projected to be 3-5% of humanity by 2030, down from 50% in 1980. This is good news.

I believe that these wellbeing trends are primarily signals of something much more significant: The age in which we live is a global to local empowerment age – from closed to open. But it is more than simply an empowerment age, profoundly more.

It is a journey of justice, and this journey is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is what the Messianic text in Isaiah 42 is all about – our Faith journey will always be about disruption – toward right relationships and right and peaceful systems.

Consider this

At the end of the 19th century, the southern portion of Africa was only 3% Christian. Today, 63% of the population is Christian while membership in the churches in Africa is increasing by 34,000 people a day.

In Korea in 1900, there was no Christian church. Today, there are over 7,000 churches in just the city of Seoul.

In India, 14 million of the 140-million members of the untouchable cast have become Christians.

More people in the Islamic world have come to Christ in the last 25 years than in the entire history of Christian missions. In Islamic Indonesia, the percentage of Christians is now so high, about 15%, that the Muslim Government will no longer print statistics.

In China, it is estimated that there are now more self-avowed Disciples of Christ than members of the Communist Party. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that China will soon have more Christians than any other country in the world. It is also projected that by 2030, China will be sending more missionaries across the world, than the rest of the Christian world combined.

Across the planet, followers of Jesus are increasing by more than 80,000 per day adding 510 new churches every day.

Reflecting on these statistics, the writer Daniel Meyer says the following: “The irony is that except for the Middle East where Christianity was born, and Europe and America, to whose civilization it gave birth, Christianity is expanding everywhere today.”

In our world of accelerating complexity, we must recognize that the rapidly changing landscape isn’t the real enemy of aspirational futures, but rather it’s our mental maps that are tuned to a way of thinking and acting that worked in the previous era. What we need now isn’t better teaching on mindsets that were successful in the last economy. We need to shift our models. Businesses, organizations, innovators, and entrepreneurs will need a new platform from which to operate.

The influence of faith

Chris Seiple[1] quotes: “Eight out of every ten people who walk the face of our planet allow for, or believe in, something greater than themselves. As a result, whether as a function of culture or conviction, faith can’t help but influence and impact every sphere of global life, and every sector of a global economy.”

I trust that each of you will take the knowledge, the skills and your Faith and leave this place and go forward and allow God to use you as vehicles to exercise His purposes in your lives.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing.”[2] (Helen Keller)

Ask questions. Then ask some more questions. Then ask more questions again. Continually develop your curiosity muscle. I challenge you, when you come for your 10 year and 20 year reunions, to show how all those developed curiosity muscles have shaped your life and the world. As the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Wow.

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of Him”….and “thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19

“The future always belongs to the new entrant”[3]. Each of you will leave this campus today as one of these new entrants. May I encourage you to make the best of the opportunities God will bring your direction?

God Bless each of you and your families. And to the dedicated faculty and staff of this college, Thank You.


[1] Quote: Chris Seiple, Institute for Global Engagement, WV Roundtable Conversations Roundtable, Washington, DC, January 2015

[2] Source: Hellen Keller

[3] Quote: Steve Jurvetson, DFJ; World Future Society Annual Conference, San Francisco 2015


Lars Gustavsson is Chief Futurist and Co Partnership Leader for the Global Office of Strategy, Collaboration and Innovation.