Jan Eliasson, a retired Swedish diplomat, former government minister, and Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, said recently on a Swedish state television (SVT) debate about this year’s Nobel Prizes, that he is optimistic about the future. Well, he added that he might say he is a ‘worried optimist’, because things will not happen unless people discuss, find and implement the right ways and actions, all the time.

Eliasson listed four reasons for his optimism. First, women are finally getting more of their fair share and opportunity to make decisions, for the first time in history. He suggested that in twenty years or so, we will see more of the effects of that. Secondly, he said the role and possibilities of young people will be essential. Thirdly, the world has more knowledge and also easier access to it than ever, making it possible to find better solutions to problems. Fourthly, he said he believed that the international and local cooperation is advanced and that we have better organisations and institutions than ever. Yet, there are also people and even countries who say they believe that less cooperation can give more independence.

Eliasson did not say it, but one could add that the point about less cooperation would be a typical populist argument, and true, there may be cases when less cooperation is better, for example, that small groups of people, or small countries, might otherwise be overrun and swallowed by the big ones. That was an argument in my home country Norway when we opted for staying outside the European Union in two referendums, in 1972 and in 1994. But then, Norway is a wealthy country (due to competence, oil and other natural resources) and Norway has agreements with the EU close to being a full member. In addition, Norway is an ‘internationalist country’, a founder member of the United Nations and having had its first secretary general, a founder member of NATO with the current second-term secretary general, and a member of the Council of Europe, again with the current second-term secretary general, and Norway is a leading country in development aid and more. So, staying out of EU is not staying away from cooperation.

It is obvious that cooperation in and between countries is needed, as Eliasson said. In the fields of water management and climate change few results can be achieved unless there is cooperation. In our sub-region, there is indeed need for better cooperation in these fields. Water should be seen as the life-giving resource of blessing that it is, to be shared and managed fairly so that it can give prosperity. Clean water is essential for health and a good life for all.

Eliasson and the other panellists on the TV programme I mentioned (which can be seen on svtplay.se) stressed the importance of fighting hopelessness. It is when we are hopeful and optimistic that we can best be successful. This was underlined by all panellists, namely Garry White, talking about ‘water equity’, Beatrice Fihn from ICAN, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize last year for mobilising grassroots support against nuclear weapons, and Maude Barlow, a distinguished Canadian who chaired the conversation. The panellists wanted examples of success to be publicised, as we often do the opposite in the traditional media. Maybe the social media can focus more on successes? But when we tell success stories, they must not be naive either, but real and true stories, not hiding interest and class struggles. There are many great stories to tell, also from ‘Naya Pakistan’.

The panellists all emphasised the importance of people from the grassroots playing key roles, without which there is no democracy, and without that, there will be no positive change. The private sector should play greater democratic roles. Politicians need people’s inputs, their ideas and support, their criticism and questions, their proposals for how to prioritize and when to implement policies and plans. Often, dialogue is needed, to included politicians, bureaucrats, experts, activists, capitalists and socialists, and others with passionate hearts and cool minds. Then right decisions can be made.

In future, with people of all ages, indeed the young and highly educated, we can re-vitalise democracies, improve political parties, groups of parties, movements, activist and expert groups, and the private sector. We must also include writers, artists and cultural workers of all kinds, and ordinary people, as we say. The wisdom is at all levels, not only at the ivory towers of science and politics.

The day before yesterday, Ingrid Eide, a retired top Norwegian politician in education, and a university teacher in sociology, sent me an email with thoughts about 2018 and the year ahead. She had read most of my columns throughout the year, and at about 80 years or so, she was grateful for having learnt more about Pakistan and the world a bit away from Norway. She suggested that in 2019, I should take also a more critical look at Norway and the other small and successful Scandinavian countries. She said that to rule those small countries with 5-10 million people is a quite different story than to sort out things in a country like Pakistan with over 200 million people. We should be impressed by all the fantastic work that politicians, preachers and teachers, and everyday men and women do in Pakistan. True, change is needed in many fields, but aren’t we on the way? I think so; indeed in the underlying thinking about fairness, justice, sharing, and more, from which foundations follow the work in the sub-sectors, with new policies, programmes and projects.

We should get into the positive and optimistic mood that is required for success. We should formulate goals for where we want to go and never feel it is impossible. We should involve more and more people in societal analysis and action, what I in earlier articles about education have called ‘campaigns’. Everyone must help carry the burden, enjoy the struggle and shine in the results. I believe Pakistan can do this and that the government of ‘Naya Pakistan’ has set the agenda with both President and Prime Minister having their heart set for ambitious change, humbly and boldly at the same time. Everyone is needed to contribute, and as Jan Elisson suggested in the TV debate I referred to above, we should place much hope in women and youth. He said, we should build on the wealth of knowledge, skills and competence, and we should cooperate for the good solutions.

The roads to success and prosperity that developing countries need to follow are not entirely different from the approaches that the West, too, needs to follow. In many ways, the world today is more similar, more equal in the sense that nobody can boast of having the only and definite solutions for how to go about change, and also how to consolidate and keep the results that have been achieved. Earlier, the West had, or felt they had, the final answers; not so any more, not for itself and not for the rest of the world.

The West can also borrow lessons from developing countries, and developing countries must look at how the West developed. For example, the West has much of the right principles and basic thinking about development; yet, people in the developing countries also have experience from how to live peacefully with meagre resources. In future, the West must realise that their relative share of the resources and influence will be less as many developing countries develop. We should all be glad for the growth and development in ‘new countries’. We should at the same time expect that the West, with the enormous material and non-material resources it possesses, can shoulder the change it needs to implement for immigrants and prosperity for all, and contribute to the future thinking worldwide. To share analyses and interpretations in a cooperative will bring better results for all.

There is need for greater equality within all countries. I am not so optimistic that we have yet been willing to find the right prescriptions for that. Many good actions will hopefully take place in many fields in 2019, yet, for improved real equality, I think it takes longer, even 2020 onwards. But we can’t wait much longer either. With the contributions of each of us, individually and collectively, with agreements and disagreements, it will indeed happen – never hopelessness, always in faith, right priorities and daily efforts.

Dear reader, I wish you a Happy New Year.


The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.