The Future Force Conference

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Future Force Conference at the World Forum in the Hague. As a rapporteur working on behalf of the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, I was part of a team of volunteers that sat in on the various break-out sessions taking rigorous notes on the current challenges, lessons learned, best practices and future opportunities in implementing an ecosystem approach to building a safer and more secure world. The conference brought together professionals from all over the world, from both the public and private sector, as well as academia and international non-profit/governmental organisations. The conference was organised by the Dutch Ministry of Defence, and hosted by General Tom Middendorp. Keynote speakers included the Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and the European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans.

What I found most surprising about this conference was how diverse the topics of discussion were. I have to be honest, I was a little presumptuous in how I thought this conference would turn out. I assumed that because the conference was organised by the Ministry of Defence that the discussion would, in short, centre around more securitisation, violence and war. Obviously, I was wrong. And, thankfully so. The first break-out session I attended was organised by WO=MEN, Europe’s largest gender equality network. It focused on breaking down gender stereotypes, and thinking of ways to include men and women equally in conflict prevention, resolution, peacebuilding, relief and recovery. I often find that discussions like this only involve women, but to my surprise, there were a number of male representatives present both from the military and other organisations and everyone was actively engaged in the topic and seemed genuinely interested and concerned. It’s a clear sign that we’re taking steps in the right direction, and it’s comforting to know that traditionally rigid structures like the military are looking for ways to transform the way they carry out their missions abroad.

Another break-out sessions I attended was organised by Deloitte, and focused on how to successfully implement an organisational ecosystem approach. This again, was a very interactive and engaging session. And what made it particularly interesting was the fact that the speakers were able to provide examples of successful case studies that truly engaged stakeholders across different sectors bridging business, education and social impact. But not only that, they also shared with the audience that failure to implement an ecosystem approach often comes down to the fact that organisations fail to answer basic questions like i) what is the objective and why?; ii) will this contribute to your organisation, and if so , how?; iii) what will this ecosystem look like?; and iv) how can each actor within this ecosystem contribute to the main objective? Without answering these fundamental questions, organisations are likely to lose momentum and fail to bring different actors together successfully. Also, in bringing together actors that are natural competitors you need to establish different themes within the ecosystem. This way, companies that would otherwise be competitors of one another, can still work together but each can focus on their own area of expertise.

What I also really liked about this conference was the fact that Ana Saldarriaga, former CEO and President of AIESEC – the world’s largest youth led organisation dedicated to providing global leadership experiences – was invited to address the entire conference on the importance of involving young people in global discussions. I think the importance of this is often underestimated at large international conferences like this by only focusing on the world’s existing professionals, while forgetting that there’s a huge resource pool of innovative ideas within the young and upcoming generation.
So overall very interesting conference. Now we just have to see whether the big ideas that were shared and the connections that were made over the course of the two days will translate into transformative action.

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