The Race To Save Cultural And Intellectual Diversity

Camera lenses come in many different shapes and sizes: wide-angled, zoom, fish-eye. Each lens lets the viewer look at the world from slightly different perspectives, and lets the photographer make visible that which can be hidden to the human eye.

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But no amount of technology can create a work of art in the way that Ansel Adams managed to, with his compelling pictures of great American wilderness. Adams last photographic assistant was Chris Rainier, who in the early 1980’s helped Adams amplify the use of Art Photography as a social tool, helping to preserve National Parks threatened by “development”.

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Readers of National Geographic will most likely have encountered the work of Rainier as he spent much of his career documenting endangered cultures and traditional languages around world. He spent 10 years living amongst some of the last remaining tribes of New Guinea, people with “one foot in the stone age”, and bringing his striking images of their lives back to us in his award winning book and museum tour, “where masks still dance”. 

Working with his partner Olivia McKendrick, a former lawyer at Linklaters, a leading, global law firm, the pair founded The Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation, aimed at the preserving cultural diversity of the planet. Of the 7000 languages spoken on earth today, the vast majority are oral and undocumented: each time a language dies out, part of mankind’s cultural and intellectual diversity is lost for ever.

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So the work of Chris and Olivia is enormously important to us and our families in general. They remind us of our heritage and roots, and the responsibilities that this brings. But it is also important to us as leaders, by highlighting the power of using the perspectives of traditional communities to look at topics many of us wrestle with in the world of business. Topics like sustainable resource management; decision-making that balances the short and long term (Native Americans plan in terms of the impact of decisions on the 7th generation); and co-creating solutions that strengthen relationships with partners over time, as is the practice in Bhutan. 

I believe strongly that cognitive diversity is key to solving many of the most significant challenges we face today, and if we fail to address these challenges, future generations will inherit the consequences. Preserving diversity in all its forms enables us to take advantage of useful wisdom hiding in plain sight.  

Enjoy listening to my interview with Chris and Olivia here.

Mark Bidwell

Mark Bidwell

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