In 2015, our chamber colleagues at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives issued a report about the future of chambers. The report was called, Horizon Initiative: Chambers 2025. Here we are – six years later in this ten-year forecast – with an opportunity to look back at how relevant and poignant these issues were. One that I think deserves particular attention is the section titled, “Political and Social Fragmentation.”
The report asserted that the phenomenon was related to, but separate from, increasingly heterogeneous population and the growing division over ideas. It said, “Researchers forecasted more radicalization of politics and segmentation of our society, making consensus and broadly supported initiatives more difficult to achieve.” It also said, “Fragmentation might reach a point where traditional party allegiance might become less important than self-affiliation with more issue-specific causes.” Gosh, is this a pretty accurate picture of where we find ourselves today?
No matter how potentially advantageous a project or an issue may be in our individual communities, there is sure to be fierce opposition to counteract the enthusiasm. As business and association leaders, we find ourselves in a difficult quandary about how to deal with building consensus to move our communities forward. So, now that we realize that most issues that are meaningful and innovative are going to be challenged and fragmented, what is the role of our local associations and chambers going forward?
The report says, “Our associations have the unique ability to envision what the future might look like and help advance meaningful public policy change.” In my opinion, it truly is our responsibility to help our citizens find the “sane middle” wherever possible. It is important that we challenge our local business and industry leaders to join us in helping our community understand the issues that need innovation and restoration. It looks as if social and political fragmentation is likely to continue. There are going to be some issues that, no doubt, will not be resolved and may even cause some to move further away from each other.
In the spirit of leadership, chambers and associations own the right and responsibility to help our communities thoroughly understand issues and vet differences and policies to make sure our communities do not find themselves in a lose-lose environment. We are in a unique position to bring our community, our businesses, and our government leaders together to build social and political agreement. The challenge for myself and my challenge to us as association and chamber leaders is to not shrink back from these issues, but rather, try to understand them more thoroughly to affect forward progress.