Why Should Countries Have Long-Term Strategic Visions? The Next 50

28 min read
A vision starts with some known steps and an unknown future.

Time flies. So does the cliched saying go. The next 50 years will come sooner than we think, especially for many countries.

In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of having a long-term strategic vision for countries. The idea that a country should plan is not new, but few do it and even fewer do it successfully. We will explore some benefits and best practices for long-term strategic visions and the challenges. These will not only apply to countries, but can apply to your organization as well as to you, even to individuals.

Grand visions start in the mind of a single individual.

Quick Summary

  • Successful individuals, organizations, and countries have clear visions of what they consider success.
  • Countries need to plan for the long-term because their actions impact the quality of life of our current and future generations. The children born today will live with the consequences of our decision and actions today.
  • A clear vision has the power of galvanize support.
  • Once there is support and high expectations from the broader public, there will be more pressure for the leadership to achieve the goals set in the vision.
  • Creating the vision is the easy part, implementing it is the hard part that requires continuous support and expertise.
  • There are several successful examples that one can look at for inspiration, ranging from individuals to organizations and countries.
  • When setting out a vision, be bold and ambitious! We only have one chance in history to make a lasting positive impression.

The Tangible Results Define The Success Of A Vision

Let us start with the results. Successful individuals, organizations, and countries have clear visions of what they consider success. Their tangible results are a validation that their ambitious long-term strategies and visions were key in defining success.

Let us look at some examples.

Novak Djokovic (world’s number one tennis player), Harvard (the most renowned university in the world), China (the country that most drastically contributed to reduction in global poverty in the last 40 years), United Arab Emirates (the country that transformed itself from a fishing community to a global hub in the last 40 years), and the European Union (the greatest peace-building project in Europe after WWII that received the Nobel Peace Prize), had defined clear visions for their success before they embarked on their transformative journeys.

During the start of their journey, nobody knew of them or recognized them for their recent successes. Today, they are renowned individuals, organizations, countries, and regional unions that inspire millions around the world.

Novak Djokovic used to be a tennis boy from the little-known Serbia. Harvard started out as a neat pile of bricks and mortar training center for the clergy in the “wilderness” of Massachusetts. China was one of the world’s poorest nations after World War II. The United Arab Emirates was a fishing community about 50 years ago, and now it is one of the largest economic and trading hubs in the world. As little as about 60 years ago, the European Union (EU) was a concept on a paper or just an idea the minds of few people. 

The next 50 years may seem like a long time from now. Unimaginable to some. However, when we started our lives, most of us have had visions for ourselves for the next 50 years. In our teens and twenties, we may have come across conversations with our friends about how we would spend our retirement days. Even if in passing. In those moments, our thoughts have traveled 30, 40, 50 or even 60 years from now.

Yet, many countries forgo long-term planning, or even thinking about their future vision. If we, as individuals, think about our future, why are countries not visioning for the next 50 years?

What do long-term strategic visions have to do with democracy? At Lifestyle Democracy, we believe countries play a critical role in empowering individuals and communities and contributing to continued human and social development.

In this article, we will cover why long-term strategic visions are important, how renowned individuals, organizations and even countries have transformed themselves because of their visions they set decades (or even centuries) ago.  

Why Are Long-Term Strategic Visions Important For Countries?

Visions Set A Direction

Without a direction, we do not know where we are going. Most countries, just like people, are followers. Few are leaders.

A vision sets a course for the country’s development. Each country should strive to ensure the best quality of life for its citizens. A vision helps define the criteria for human, social, and economic development.

A vision for a country means defining the situation we want to live in a future time that is significantly better in various spheres of everyday life than the situation we live in today.

For example, we can all agree that we want to live in an environment with clean air. We can set a direction as a society that in 20 years from now we will breathe the cleanest air in the region or the world. The success of any government in this period, whether from the left or the right political bloc, will be measured by how much they have contributed to increasing (or decreasing) air quality during their term. We can use national and/or internationally recognized indicators for air quality and thus objectively measure the progress towards achieving the vision.

If a country does not have a strategic long-term vision, then they will not know what their priorities are and how to achieve them.

In the absence of a vision, the interest of others (e.g., countries, corporations) will guide the country’s development. Other stakeholders will define the “success” criteria, which may not be what the people of that country want. The country will go through history and waste precious time achieving little for its people. At the end of this section, we will explore in brief the example of Macedonia.

In the absence of a vision, it is the responsibility of the country’s leadership to create a clear vision and work towards fulling it that serves the best interests of its people.

The Length Of A Vision Must Be Proportional To Its Importance

How Long Is Long-Term? Countries should have 50-year visions.

Why 50 Years? Is It Not Too Long? Why Have Such Long-Term Perspective?

A vision must be proportional to its magnitude and the “life expectancy” of the beneficiary.

According to a report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a vision should range between 15-30 years.1LOOKING BEYOND THE HORIZON: Guidelines and Best Practices in Formulating National Visions. United Nations Development Programme: Center for Economic Research, 2014, https://www.undp.org/content/dam/uzbekistan/docs/Publications/economicgovernance/looking-beyond-the-horizon-guidelines-and-best-practices-in-formulating-national-visions/UN_Uzb_Doc_Looking Beyond the Horizon Guidelines and Best Practices in Formulating National Visions_eng.pdf?download. We believe the 15 to 30 year-mark can serve as key intermediary milestones for a longer-term strategic vision. Our recommendation for countries is 50 years.

The “life-time” of a country is longer than that of an individual person. Although many new countries formed in the last 50 years because of the end of colonization, the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Yugoslavia, countries “live” longer than individuals.  

If we take an individual as an example, his or her vision at the beginning of life can be that of 50 years. But, if they are in their fifties, the timeframe can be shorter, 5 to 10 years. Countries have a longer “life expectancy.” 

Countries need to plan for the long-term because their actions impact the quality of life of future generations. Tomorrow, our children will live with the consequences (or benefits) of our decision and actions today. We need to think about the current and future well-being of all generations who live and will live in the country.

Let us put things in perspective.

In many countries, a person needs to work 40 years before they have the right to a full retirement. Considering that most people start work in their early 20s and they reach retirement age between 55 (in Sri Lanka)2Daily Mirror – Pros and cons of extending the retirement age and 70 (in Libya),3HoR increases retirement age to 70 | (libyaherald.com) (in most countries is mid-sixties), therefore, most people around the world will work for about 40 years before they reach retirement age.

In many countries, full-time workers contribute regularly (usually every month) to a pension fund once they start work. Even though they will not have immediate access to the money, they are contributing to their future well-being when they cannot work in the same capacity as they did when they were young.

If an individual plans and visions their life for at least 40 years, why are countries not planning for at least 40 years?

This does not mean that the long-term vision does not have any goalposts. The vision should be broken down into strategic and action plans that measure the immediate (up to a year), mid-term (up to 5 years) and long-term progress (10 or more years).

Strategic Visions Require Major Investments That Take Time To Show Their Full Benefits

Long-term visioning is important because it helps countries avoid being unprepared for things that might happen in the future, such as natural disasters or economic downturns. The citizens of any country will benefit from having stability and predictability that having a clear vision and implementation plan can help.

Many of the projects that a country undertakes to prepare itself for the future will require strategic infrastructure, investments, and projects. The effects of investing in education, science, research, and development usually take a generation (20-30 years)!

For example, if a country introduces a new educational program, it will take about 20-30 years before one generation can feel the full effects of that reform. In 20-30 years’, time, today’s babies will enter the workforce and will have gone through the entire cycle of the new educational system.

For a society to feel the effects of this educational program, we need to allow time for the new generation of workers to implement what they have learned. Assuming the new generation works another 20 to 30 years, the entire cycle would take 40 to 60 years to complete for one generation. Hence, countries should vision for at least the next 50 years.

Unlike individuals who take 30-years mortgages, countries issue bonds for much longer time-horizons. In 2017, Austria issued a 100-year bond.4“A 100-Year Austrian Bond at 1.2%. What Fresh Madness Is This?” Bloomberg.Com, 25 June 2019. www.bloomberg.com, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-06-25/a-100-year-austrian-bond-at-1-2-what-fresh-madness-is-this. This is not unprecedented in history, especially for countries or organizations. A Dutch Water Authority has been paying interest for over 350 years on a perpetual bond it issued to finance dyke repairs.5Cummings, Mike. “Yale’s 367-Year-Old Water Bond Still Pays Interest.” YaleNews, 22 Sept. 2015, https://news.yale.edu/2015/09/22/living-artifact-dutch-golden-age-yale-s-367-year-old-water-bond-still-pays-interest. The Netherlands is a country mostly below or slightly above sea level, so dykes are important to protect its citizens from the devastating effects of floods. Countries have longer “life expectancy” than humans.

I will share the example of my country and how it lacks a clear long-term vision and how it can benefit from having one.

Let Us Look At An Example (Of A Lack Of Clear Vision)

I live in Macedonia, a small country in Southern Europe. Macedonia has been a candidate to join the European Union since 2004. To date (2021), Macedonia has not received an invitation to join the European Union (EU) or start the negotiations process. EU membership has been the strategic priority for every government in Macedonia, practically since it became independent in 1991.

In Macedonia, just like in many parts of the world, the EU is largely seen as a benchmark for quality of life. My country, Macedonia, defines its strategic vision by joining the EU. However, the country has not defined specific measures related to the social, economic, and human development beyond that. The vision is mostly membership.

Joining the EU brings some benefits. The country needs to do many reforms that involve investments and improvements in education, healthcare, working conditions, environmental quality and so forth. However, the economic gaps between the poorest and richest EU members remain large, despite ambitious EU funding aimed at “social cohesion.”

The European Union remains a highly unequal union. The level of human development varies widely, with countries such as Bulgaria and Romania ranking towards the bottom in terms of average salaries and quality of life.

According to Eurostat, Bulgaria and Romania have the lowest average salaries, while Denmark and Luxembourg have the highest in the EU. In 2020/2021, the average net monthly salary in Bulgaria was about €582,6Bulgarian Average Monthly Salaries | National Statistical Institute. https://www.nsi.bg/en/content/6410/total. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021. in Romania €743.7National Institute for Statistics of Romania. CÂŞTIGUL SALARIAL MEDIU BRUT*)PE ECONOMIE ÎN LUNA DECEMBRIE2020A FOST 5906LEI ŞI CEL NET 3620LEI. 11 Feb. 2021, https://insse.ro/cms/sites/default/files/com_presa/com_pdf/cs12r20.pdf. Meanwhile, the average net monthly salary in the same period was about €3,562 in Denmark8Statistics Denmark. https://www.dst.dk/en/. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021. and in Luxembourg €3,573.9Table View – Average Annual Gross Earnings by Economic Activity – Full-Time-Workers (in EUR) 2005 – 2019. https://statistiques.public.lu/stat/TableViewer/tableView.aspx?ReportId=12961&IF_Language=eng&MainTheme=3&FldrName=1&RFPath=30. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021. The average net salary in Macedonia was €458.10State Statistical Office – News Release: Average Monthly Net Wage Paid per Employee ,12.2020. https://www.stat.gov.mk/PrikaziSoopstenie_en.aspx?rbrtxt=40. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021.

The difference between the net average salaries in the EU between the highest and lowest earning countries is over 500%. There is not one EU standard for quality of life. There is Bulgarian, Romanian, Danish, Luxembourgish and so forth. There are 26 EU standards of living at the national levels, and even more so at the regional and local levels. There is vast income inequality between and within member states. 

If we take Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita as a proxy for quality of life (albeit imperfect), the gap between the poorest member states, Bulgaria and Romania, on one hand, and Denmark and Luxembourg, one another hand, has decreased slowly since joining the EU, but not at spectacular rates.

In Bulgaria, the GDP per capita ratio (EU GDP per capita/Bulgarian GDP per capita) decreased from 5.7 to 3.6 between 2007 and 2019.

In Romania, the GDP per capita ratio (EU GDP per capita/Romanian GDP per capita) decreased from 4.0 to 2.9 between 2007 and 2019.

Bulgaria and Romania have been EU members for over 14 years (until 2021), and they have bridged part of the income gap with the EU. However, is EU membership solely responsible for this, or this could have happened on its own?

Despite these improvements, Bulgaria and Romania remain on the bottom of the EU.

As an EU membership aspirant, should Macedonia strive for marginal improvement or a major one in standards of living and average salaries? What is the vision of the EU for its poorer member states? Is it keeping inequalities in place or ambitiously eliminating them?

If Macedonia wants to join the EU, it needs to define a vision with clear goals that will bring a high quality of life for its citizens in the next 50 years. Macedonia should strive to join the EU if its quality of life would improve and would match that of countries such as Luxembourg and Denmark.

Countries Need Long-Term Strategic Visions To Help Them Make Better Decisions Today

A vision for the future is not just about what is coming, it is about the decision and actions that countries must take today.

A 50-year vision is not about waiting half a century before experiencing the positive effects. A 50-year vision is valid for all people who live in the country, whether they are near the end of their lives, whether they are in the middle or they are just starting.

For those who are near the end, the visions serve as hope that the future generations will live better. They may not experience the changes themselves, but it is important to know that today, someone actively thinks, plans and acts to improve the quality of life.

Those who are somewhere in the middle of their life journey should experience changes in the next few years. It is important that countries make progress in a positive direction. Every day, there should be progress towards a better quality of life.

And for those who are at the beginning of their lives, they may experience the results of the vision, but also contribute to its implementation.

Visions Have The Power To Motivate And Mobilize Supporters

A clear vision sets a direction. A clear vision has power. A clear vision can garner support. Successful individuals to renowned organizations, are aware of the power of a vision. Clear visions have helped transform countries through outlining a path for development.

In 2000, the United Nations (UN) mobilized countries and launched the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). By 2015, the extreme poverty rate in developing countries declined from 47% in 1990 to 14% in 2015.11The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015. United Nations, 2015, https://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20rev%20(July%201).pdf. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) superseded the MDGs. Currently, one of SDG priorities is to end poverty “in all its forms, everywhere” by 2030.12“SDG Goal 1: No Poverty.” UNICEF DATA, https://data.unicef.org/sdgs/goal-1-no-poverty/. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021.

The UN Paris Agreement of 2015 united 196 parties to align climate change mitigation actions across the world. The goal of this legally binding agreement is to “…limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.” The agreement operates on 5-year cycles, starting in 2020, where countries share their plans to reduce greenhouse emissions. 

Previously, the 1992 Rio Conference, also known as the “Earth Summit,” saw to reconcile economic development with environmental protection. One of the key takeaways from the conference was that sustainable development is “attainable goal for all the people of the world, regardless of whether they were at the local, national, regional or international level.”13Nations, United. “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3-14 June 1992.” United Nations, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/conferences/environment/rio1992. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021.

A Country’s Long-Term Vision Should Be Realistic And Achievable Over Time

A visionary leadership sets clear expectations of the long-term impact.

Most countries will probably not have robust space programs in 50-years’ time. They may contribute to the development of space exploration through different programs, but it seems unrealistic that smaller countries will develop space explorations programs as comprehensive as those of the United States, the EU, Russia, or China.

The more realistic scenario is that countries will focus on attainable goals such as increasing average salaries, improving life expectancy, reducing poverty, providing high-quality education. Each country will have different visions of where they want to go, based on their starting point.

A Vision Can Be A Way Of Measuring Success Or Failure Over Time

The success of the country’s leadership should be measured by how much they have contributed to the achievement of common goals (or vision).

The Paris Agreement is one example of a long-term strategic vision that is globally aligned where long-term will be measured in 5-year cycles. The pre-industrial temperature levels are known, and we can measure the progress of each country towards achieving this goal.

The first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) aims to eliminate poverty “in all its forms, everywhere” by 2030. Each country has less than a decade to achieve this ambitious yet laudable goal.  

If by 2030, countries still have poverty, then we can compare the numbers and see how far they have moved towards achieving or failing to achieve the goal. Clear and measurable visions are important benchmarks to assess the progress of countries.

What are some examples of successful visions?

A vision starts with a clear vision statement. As Lifestyle Democracy aims to help individuals and organizations, we would also like to share best practices that include individuals. Visions start as ideas in the minds of a single person.

The focus on each of the examples below is the ultimate result that the vision achieved. Critics can point to many inconsistencies (or even heavy price in human suffering paid to achieve this vision), but let us focus on the results that were driven by each vision.

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is the tennis player who, in March 2021, broke the record for being ranked #1 for the most weeks in the history of male tennis. With 18 Grand Slam Titles (until March 2021), the most prestigious title in tennis, Djokovic is regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

At seven (7), Djokovic had an interview:

Interviewer: “What is your goal in tennis?”

He responded: “I want to be #1 in tennis.”14Novak Djokovic – 1st Interview, 7 Years Old, with Translation.M4v. 2011. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdOS0zCsJsg.

This was in 1994.

In another interview he described his dream of winning the Wimbledon Grand Slam Tournament, one of the four most prestigious tennis tournaments played every year.15Novak Djokovic “Dreaming of Wimbledon since I Was 6” /CNN/. 2015. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4fhDbZw1t8. As a child, he would create trophies and visualize winning the tournament. It took about 17 years, but by 2011, he won the tournament. That year, for the first time in his career, he rose to the highly coveted top position in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings. As of March 2021, Djokovic broke the record, spending most time as Number 1 on the global ATP rankings compared to any tennis player in history.16http://www.washingtontimes.com, The Washington Times. “Djokovic Breaks Federer’s Record for Most Weeks as ATP No. 1.” The Washington Times, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/mar/8/djokovic-breaks-federers-record-for-most-weeks-as-/. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021.

Not everyone who has a vision succeeds as greatly as Novak Djokovic in their career. As he rightly recognizes in many of his interviews, it was not possible for him to become the leading tennis player without the support of his family and his hard work, dedication and discipline. Having a clear vision is the first step to transformative success.

Djokovic’s vision statement is clear: “Be number 1 in tennis.” His vision guided his actions.

Harvard University

It is one of the most recognized names in the world. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is nearly 400 years old, founded in 1636.

European colonists to North America founded the university as a learning center for the religious ministries of the colonies. Over the years, the university introduced new programs such as medicine, law, business, engineering, and others. It took the visions of several people over the years to make Harvard be the globally renowned institution it is today.

The biggest push started with John Harvard who gave “his personal library and half his estate” to the university.17A Brief History of Harvard College. handbook.fas.harvard.edu, https://handbook.fas.harvard.edu/book/brief-history-harvard-college. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021. A vision is just a start. It is important to do something about it. John Harvard believed it was worth investing in education in the fledgling colonies. The wager paid off big dividends. It was not enough that John Harvard invested in the university. It required that the subsequent leadership implemented and adjusted the vision to respond to the changing historical contexts.

China

From backwater to economic powerhouse. China has grown its economy, created new jobs, and lifted millions out of poverty, all without going into debt. China exemplifies one of the most successful examples in recent history of a country achieving the main tenets of its long-term vision.

The transformative vision started on December 13, 1978, with Deng Xiaoping’s, a key leader in the Chinese Community Party, speech.18Lahiri, Dan Kopf, Tripti. “The Charts That Show How Deng Xiaoping Unleashed China’s Pent-up Capitalist Energy in 1978.” Quartz, https://qz.com/1498654/the-astonishing-impact-of-chinas-1978-reforms-in-charts/. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021. The speech is deemed as the turning point of China.

“…we need large numbers of pathbreakers who dare to think, explore new ways and generate new ideas. Otherwise, we won’t be able to rid our country of poverty and backwardness or to catch up with — still less surpass — the advanced countries.”19Murphy, B. J. “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth From Facts and Unite As One In Looking to the Future.” The Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, 25 Feb. 2013, https://dengxiaopingworks.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/emancipate-the-mind-seek-truth-from-facts-and-unite-as-one-in-looking-to-the-future/.

Deng Xiaoping’s speech at the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, December 13, 1978

Since setting the vision in 1978, China has reduced extreme poverty from 90% (in 1981) to 2% (2013).20Lahiri, Dan Kopf, Tripti. “The Charts That Show How Deng Xiaoping Unleashed China’s Pent-up Capitalist Energy in 1978.” Quartz, https://qz.com/1498654/the-astonishing-impact-of-chinas-1978-reforms-in-charts/. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021. This journey took less than 50 years since setting the vision. If China could do it, other countries could seek to learn from its experiences.

It is an impressive reduction in extreme poverty, but there are still issues with unequal distribution of income and wealth in the country. There is still a long way to go, but China has a clear vision.

It is beyond this blog to assess the sacrifices and criticisms that one could lay at China’s approach to fighting poverty, i.e. achieving its vision. The aim is to learn from the successes of setting and implementing a long-term vision.  

During the speech, Deng Xiaoping emphasized the importance of changing the mindset of the country’s party, political and economic leadership (emphasis mine):

What shall we learn? … At present most of our cadres need also to apply themselves to three subjects: economics, science and technology, and management

Deng Xiaoping’s speech at the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, December 13, 1978

So long as we unite as one, work in concert, emancipate our minds, use our heads and try to learn what we did not know before, there is no doubt that we will be able to quicken the pace of our new Long March.”21Murphy, B. J. “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth From Facts and Unite As One In Looking to the Future.” The Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, 25 Feb. 2013, https://dengxiaopingworks.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/emancipate-the-mind-seek-truth-from-facts-and-unite-as-one-in-looking-to-the-future/.

China aims to be the world’s leading power by 2049, during the 100-year anniversary of the Communist Party.22Mauldin, John. “China’s Grand Plan To Take Over The World.” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmauldin/2019/11/12/chinas-grand-plan-to-take-over-the-world/. Accessed 21 Mar. 2021. Echoing the 1978 words of Deng Xiaoping, China aims: “… [to] advance courageously to change the backward condition of our country and turn it into a modern and powerful socialist state.”

As in the case of Djokovic, it is important to set a vision and work towards achieving it. Without a vision, a country has no direction. China set one direction in 1978 and continues to adjust it over time.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The UAE is another country that sets ambitious goals. A small, oil-rich country in the Middle East, today, the UAE is most known for the city of Dubai, which is a global transportation and economic hub. It is home to extravagant projects such as Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, the Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest malls, and Dubai Airport, the world’s busiest airport (with most passengers). Despite these mega projects, the UAE has very humble beginnings.

During the founding of the UAE in 1971, the country was known for fishing and pearling.23“United Arab Emirates – History.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/United-Arab-Emirates. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021. There were no extravagant buildings. The economy was small, and most people outside the country have never heard of the UAE, or its most famous city, Dubai. In just a few short decades, the country transformed itself and due to its rapid and intense growth and development, immigrants flocked. Today, the UAE has about 10 million people and nearly 90% expatriates, it is a country of immigrants.24United Arab Emirates – The World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/united-arab-emirates/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.

For some interesting pictures of before and after of the development of Dubai, please check out this website.

The transformation started with a vision.  In 2010, the country set a vision:

“The Vision [2021] aims to make the United Arab Emirates Among The Best Countries In The World By the Golden Jubilee [50th Anniversary] of the Union.”

UAE Vision 2021
UAE has set a bold vision for 2021, but extended it to 2071 to celebrate its Centennial. Its current leaders will most likely not live to see this celebration, but they will leave a lasting legacy (if the vision materializes).

Several years later, the UAE has extended its vision to 2071, to mark the Centennial (100th anniversary) since the founding of the country (emphasis mine):

“We have plans up to 2021, and with UAE Centennial 2071 we will have a vision for generations of the next five decades. It sets a clear map for long-term government work. Future generations will need foundations and pre-set tools that we introduce today, there needs to be an environment for growth, and this is something that we should think about from now.”25United Arab Emirates – The Cabinet. Mohammed Bin Rashid Launches Five-Decade Government Plan “UAE Centennial 2071.” https://uaecabinet.ae/en/details/news/mohammed-bin-rashid-launches-five-decade-government-plan-uae-centennial-2071. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai

The 2071 UAE vision is based on four pillars: 1) future-focused government; 2) excellent education; 3) a diversified knowledge-economy; 4) a happy and cohesive society.26UAE Centennial 2071 – The Official Portal of the UAE Government. https://u.ae/en/about-the-uae/strategies-initiatives-and-awards/federal-governments-strategies-and-plans/uae-centennial-2071. Accessed 23 Feb. 2021.

The 2071 vision is unabashedly ambitious where the country aims to invest “in the future generations, by preparing them with the skills and knowledge needed to face rapid changes and to make the UAE the best country in the world by the next centennial in 2071.” Source: UAE.

This is what Shaikh Mohammad, the Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai had to say at the unveiling of the vent (emphasis mine).

“Brothers and sisters, today we launched the UAE Centennial 2071 project to put in place a vision that extends to five decades and to prepare the nation for future generations27United Arab Emirates – The Cabinet. Mohammed Bin Rashid Launches Five-Decade Government Plan “UAE Centennial 2071.” https://uaecabinet.ae/en/details/news/mohammed-bin-rashid-launches-five-decade-government-plan-uae-centennial-2071. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai

Anybody who has seen the growth and development of the UAE, cannot deny that the UAE is achieving its ambitious visions. Some will argue that this growth is fueled by oil. Other will point out that the UAE relies on underpaid expatriate labor and segregates the blue-collar expatriates, who from the majority from the white-collar expatriates and UAE nationals, who form the minority. These are important considerations.

However, many countries do not leverage resources that are available to them. The UAE invested in educating its people and bringing skilled workforce to help build their country. Natural resources can bring money, but it is important to put these to use. Without a vision for inclusive national socio-economic development, the money will end up building the individual visions of those who secure power.

European Union

Wars have ravaged Europe for centuries. Two World Wars on its continent, millions dead and homeless in the span of about 30 years, made the continent rethink its future. It was time to reconcile the differences between old enemies.

The European Union started as a community of six coal-producing countries in 1952. It brought two bitter continental arch-rivals in a single economic union, Germany, and France (including Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy). Over the years, the community evolved from a coal-producing union to the most advanced social, economic, and political union, the European Union, which numbers 27 member states (as of 2021).

In 2012, the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize for “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”28“The Nobel Peace Prize 2012.” NobelPrize.Org, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2012/eu/facts/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.

On its official website, the European Union recognizes 20 individuals, who it considers the EU pioneers ranging from Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of Federal Germany, to Simone Veil, the first female President of the European Parliament.29From resistance fighters to lawyers and parliamentarians, the EU pioneers were a diverse group of people who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.

Instead of pointing guns across trenches, European Union member states are debating their differences in the European Parliament. The EU has its set of problems, but the visionary thinking of the EU pioneers helped bring peace for over six decades, to a continent that was tired of wars.

Are There Any Guides To Get Started Creating A Vision?

Hopefully, these examples have inspired you to set your own vision for yourself, your organization, your community or even your country. If you would like to learn more, there are two good places for that (apart from this article), one of the sources is in English and the other one is currently only available in Macedonian.

UNDP

IN 2014, the United Nations Development Programme published a document aimed at helping nations to create their own long-term strategic vision. Without going into the details, this is a good place to start about thinking about framing visions for a country.30LOOKING BEYOND THE HORIZON: Guidelines and Best Practices in Formulating National Visions. United Nations Development Programme: Center for Economic Research, 2014, https://www.undp.org/content/dam/uzbekistan/docs/Publications/economicgovernance/looking-beyond-the-horizon-guidelines-and-best-practices-in-formulating-national-visions/UN_Uzb_Doc_Looking Beyond the Horizon Guidelines and Best Practices in Formulating National Visions_eng.pdf?download.

Global Shapers Skopje Hub

Inspired by the examples, as part of the Global Shapers Hub in Skopje, I took part in the drafting of a guide for visions for the next 50 years in my city and country. Our Guide for Visions for Macedonia 2070 comprises 16 key areas where as a country we need to focus, outlining 176 vision statements. Below you will find the list of the categories translated in English. However, the main premise of the vision is that Macedonia ranks in the top 5% by 2070 in all the categories below. It is an ambitious goal given that Macedonia does not rank very high currently in any of these categories:

  1. Well-being and standard of living
  2. Environmental well-being
  3. Law, regulations, and institutions
  4. Spatial planning and infrastructure
  5. Health
  6. Social care
  7. Education, science, research, and innovation
  8. Entrepreneurship, business, and employment
  9. Financial institutions and organizations
  10. International relations, security, and trade
  11. Digital infrastructure
  12. Freedom of expression
  13. tolerance, and activism
  14. Coexistence, culture, art, and identity
  15. Sport, entertainment, and leisure
  16. Tourism

For more information about the Guides for Visions for Skopje and Macedonia in 2070, you can review this link.

The vision for Skopje (capital of the Republic of Macedonia) 2070, currently available only in Macedonian. You can flip through it on Issuu.
The vision for Macedonia 2070, currently available in Macedonian. You can flip through it on Issuu.

A Vision Is Just A Start, Implementation Is The Hard Part

Developing a clear and strategic vision is just the start, implementation is where it gets hard.

In the absence of a vision for our country, we created one. Almost 30 years have passed since the independence of the country and in no period have, we felt Macedonia has a long-term, comprehensive, and strategic vision for its development. The “visions” we have seen are for four years, as long as the regular term of the ruling coalition that won power. After the next elections, the “vision” changes again. Maybe some of these politicians think of the long-term, but only for their material benefit. When it comes to national development, this is short term thinking.

We hope that this vision for Skopje and Macedonia in 2070 will be the start of transformative changes. However, the hard task is ahead for all of us.

Fifty (50) years is a long time. This is why in the case of Macedonia; we propose that the goal is broken down into 10-year milestones, further down into 1 year action plans to assess the progress.

There are several challenges that countries face in implementing their visions and these include:

  • Lack of a coherent vision and no measurable outcomes;
  • No consensus among stakeholders on what should be done in order to achieve the desired outcomes;
  • Lack of skilled experts and negotiators to create a shared vision among stakeholders with different interests.
  • Not enough resources to finance, or expertise to carry out the set visions;
  • Poor prioritization and investing in areas that would generate the least impact;
  • Leaders are often too focused on the short-term (or their personal material benefits), leading to disinterest in planning and taking are of current problems;
  • Loss of enthusiasm

The United States is another example of how visionary leadership resulted in transforming twelve colonies into one of the world’s leading superpowers and spreading ideas about democracy and freedom far beyond its borders. It is a vision of a country founded on immigrants. A country that believes anyone from any background can succeed. All the examples above result from clear visions and dedication to achieving them.

Next Steps

We need to set ambitious long-term strategies. We may fail to achieve them, but, we should hold our countries’ leadership accountable to achieving (or failing) to achieve the visions.

There are many countries and communities that could benefit from bold ambitions.

Instead of waiting until 2070, we should aim to achieve these transformative goals by 2041, at the Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary) since the independence of Macedonia. That is 20 years from now. Our idea with proposing the 2070 is to push our leaders to vision for at least the next 50 years.

To ensure the future growth and sustainable development of our countries and planet it is important that the current and future business leaders and civil society members, along with national governments work together, not just to create national, but also global goals. As a society we need to focus on tackling global environmental issues, inequalities generated by the global economy. This means that our national plans need to be superseded by global long-term strategy and vision.

The economic and environmental sustainability will depend on our joint efforts to vision and work together. Our visions should include objectives such as clean planet, affordable health care, food security, inclusive economic growth, joint infrastructure projects, good governance, and quality education. This constitutes long term planetary thinking. If we continue to focus on technological innovation without thinking about the human and environmental well-being, we will go down in the history books, as the species that had the potential but failed.

The challenges for the world in the next 50 years are interconnected, as the ongoing pandemic has shown the world. Let us take the first steps to make the world a better place.

Actions

  • LEARN: Study the examples of individuals and organizations that inspire you.
  • VISIT: Learn first-hand the transformative power of visions by visiting the organizations or countries that have developed transformative visions in your view. It does not have to be the United States, China, or the EU. It could be your local school or community.
  • JOIN: Join groups or organizations that develop visions.
  • CONTRIBUTE: Share your opinions and thoughts on how to make the vision stronger.
  • PROMOTE: Be an active member and promote visions.
  • INSPIRE: Motivate yourself and others to be bold in their visions, to dream and work towards their dreams. We will not all succeed, but at least we will for sure move farther than we would have imagined.
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