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Economic Policy and Global Value Systems (10th Anniversary Edition)

 

By Said E. Dawlabani, Published in Integral Leadership Review Summer 2009. The piece that launched the MEMEnomics Framework  

Introduction

The 2008 financial crisis has humbled the field of economics as a science for its systemic failure to foresee the global danger signs. Even the best and the brightest in President Obama’s elite and highly credentialed team of experts are quickly finding that the largest economic stimulus in history will not be enough to avert an economic disaster. There’s no question that the global economy remains in the eye of the storm awaiting a paradigm shift that will reset it on a course of sustainability and self renewal. No global challenge of this magnitude shall pass without a thorough examination of the thinking that pioneered the institutions that formulate economic policy.

The purpose of this article is not to compete with prevailing schools of thought on economics and various development theories, but rather to provide an invitation to thought leaders to consider the study of the  value systems framework as an integral part of future policy setting. This emerging science of value systems through developmental theories like Spiral Dynamics and the subsequent work of its co-author Dr. Don E. Beck give the objective observer the tools to identify the reasons for failed policies and the dynamics of the clash of cultural value systems leading to their failure. For many years I have worked with Dr. Beck who is a senior advisor for the Center for Human Emergence Mideast and have used Spiral Dynamics and the principles of Natural Design extensively in my business practices. For a detailed description of Spiral Dynamics, Natural Design, their history and field applications you can visit the CHE-Mideast website on the following link: www.humanemergencemiddleeast.org

The History of Current Economic Development Models and What’s Missing

We have all heard the expression “to the victor belong the spoils”. Well, to the victors of WWII belonged the greatest spoils modern humanity had ever experienced; the undisputed mandate to set up a single economic model for the world to insure that human potential is put into productive peaceful pursuits. It was an Anglo-Saxon victory like no other. Thus, the world was divided into 3 camps; the capitalists, the communists and the third world. Based on the ideals of the British father of capitalism Adam Smith, it was strongly believed that a developed world where private ownership of resources with the least amount of regulation and the pursuit of free market ideals will surely make our planet a better and safer place. Europe and Japan were quickly rebuilt with economies based on what England and the US thought were best suited for their own cultural value systems. Communism was left to its own devices as the model and its effect on societal emergence had shown earlier flaws that eventually brought about its own demise. To attract less developed countries into the capitalist camp and away from communism, England and the US created the charter for institutions like the IMF and the World Bank through the Bretton Woods System of Monetary Management to help poor and emerging countries finance this Utopian but arduous journey.

More than sixty years into this experiment and the results are a mixed bag. On one end of the spectrum the free market economy concept worked well for nations that were already developed and had the institutional capacities in place to make the transition to highly industrialized consumer-based economies. The ideals of communism proved detrimental to innovation and human advancement as the world associated central planning and ownership of resources by governments as primary causes of inefficiency and the stifling of individual and institutional relevance. Communist countries under the Soviet umbrella experienced a noticeable downshift in their standard of living, which from a cultural development perspective should have caused the system to either break or cause noticeable social dissonance as it forced human emergence back in time. It is worth noting that although communism contributed to many social ills and wide-spread poverty in Eastern Europe, the region never descended to anarchy or civil war which symbolize the modern struggles of tribal and third world cultures. The belief in the institutions of the state and their ability to reject false value Memes through the existing system was an imbedded belief in the fabric of the Eastern Europe culture. Now that the communist ideals proved unsustainable, formerly communist nations have commenced their cultural emergence from where they left off and find institutions like the IMF and the World Bank ready to help in reviving their human and industrial capacities.

At the other end of the spectrum however, the story is quite different. Lacking the intuitions that have defined cultures for centuries, the less developed world has gotten further behind and is struggling to feed millions of its own people. So, what went wrong? How did the brightest Western minds with hundreds of years of quantifiable scientific measures fail to anticipate the challenges facing the Third World? The answers lie in the developed world’s inability to identify barriers to development from a cultural values perspective.

How Current Economic Policies Arrest the Evolution of Value Systems

At the end of the colonial era imperial powers carved up tribal lands into arbitrary countries with the hope that tribes will be forced to dismiss thousands of years of rivalries for a cause called “Nation”. The promise of industrial prosperity was the carrot at the end of the stick; A concept that worked so well for Europe and Japan but has remained foreign to most places in Africa, the Middle East and many poor places till this day. What the framers of the Bretton Woods architecture ignored was that places that are primarily tribal in nature must build their own indigenous capacities that would eventually transcend tribal existence and propel them into their own unique expression of cultural prosperity. The US, Europe (East and West), Russia, Japan and China have been at this level of social development within their own cultures for centuries. In the case of third world nations which have remained a loose band of tribes, only tribal leaders can find and identify these capacities and the West can help only in the development of what was identified. This calls for a substantial shift from the current UN model which sends its own experts whose thinking is steeped in the egalitarian value system who super-impose  Western development model.

In Beck’s developmental theory, before a tribe can embrace industrial age values, it has to go through an egocentric stage where an individual’s values are imposed over those that make up the collective values of the tribe. Europe went through this evolution over hundreds of years and the results were many bloody wars. The US went through it during the war of independence and the civil war at a cost of millions of lives to get to a stage to say “never again”. The conquest of this egocentric stage should never be underestimated or it will manifest in pathologies that create organizations like Al-Qaeda and the endless number of failed states. The phenomena of failed states has become more common because the post WWII  model for development cannot be substituted for an indigenously designed model that first and foremost takes into account the developmental stages that a country is in. Instead of recognizing the natural evolutionary stages of social emergence and designing to accommodate for the next stage, the Western model imposed a one-solution-fits-all answer designed in the ivory towers of academia and Western think tanks. This rush to move the third world to a world of enterprise without systemic awareness to its consequences caused the rise of power lords to leadership positions who in turn exploited their countries’ resources and oppressed their own people in efforts to protect their power thus halting the natural emergence to the next stage.

Seeing the (indigenous) Trees before the (Western) Forest

What policy makers should have been aware of is that this egocentric stage of social development wouldn’t need to take on the form of bloody warfare. According to the Spiral Dynamics theory and Beck’s own work in South Africa and the West Bank, each cultural value system has a healthy and an unhealthy expression. The unhealthy expression in tribal transition is warfare and the rise of the power lords. The healthy expression, which should be the focus of the UN, is designing for economic prosperity at the tribal level which will blunt any unhealthy desires to start wars with the neighboring tribes. This type of policy setting would have required intimate knowledge of the indigenous life conditions of those tribes and the challenges they face. Based on information gathered from these places, a better informed UN can create the basis for what I call “Stratified Economic Policy”. The concept of micro loans created by Muhammad Yunus is a great example of such highly functional solutions for Bangladesh and places of similar indigenous challenges. Indigenous sustainability in the mind of the locals and in accordance to their relative standards of living ought to be the ultimate goal of any stratified economic policy. The imposition of anything of higher complexity will result in exploitation by the few like the case is often with many UN sponsored programs.

To bring this down to the individual level, one should start by asking (through a local indigenous leader, and never through a Western aid worker) these questions: What will make you happy? What kind of work can you do or hope to learn to help you become happy? All economic policy would focus on then is teaching individuals and cultures the skills to become well adjusted into their relative value system and not that of the West. The key to human emergence is to acknowledge where people and cultures are on the value-systems scale and make sure that much of the resources and efforts are focused on making the expression of that value system healthy. Contrary to much of the prevailing Western thought, it is not that we don’t give people in poor places enough food to eat, it’s that we don’t teach them how to create the habitats based on their own life conditions to create their own indigenous prosperity.

Without the interference of Western designed development programs, the third world would have very likely developed along these lines: In order to move to more advanced developmental stages, capital accumulation earned from hard work within a tribe’s indigenously healthy value system must be applied towards what evolves next and naturally for that tribe. To some it could be acquisition of farm land. To others it could mean sending their first born to a good school, or buying more cattle like the case is with most Central African tribes. Tribal life might be centered on these healthy value systems for centuries before a natural transition takes place to the next stage of emergence which requires the building of national institutions on which  entrepreneurial and strategic values are built. These normal transitions to healthy manifestations of a culture’s uniqueness were halted by the appearances of two phenomena that were the byproducts of the Anglo-Saxon model for development: The West’s insatiable appetite for natural resources and the creation of the IMF.

Into a Tribal World Enter OPEC

After WWII the industrialized world shifted its focus to a consumer-based industrial economy, which required a tremendous amount of resources and raw material. And lo and behold, as if the Gods were testing the West’s true intentions in claiming to help the rest of humanity, most of these raw material were found in third world countries; OPEC for oil and Africa and South America for the rest of the raw material needed for modern day consumption. From Beck’s macro development theory perspective, these non-industrialized countries had never experienced a systemic enforcement of the rule of law at a national level nor had the resources or the complexity to understand the meaning of most of the institutions that the West takes for granted. In describing the reason for the arrested development stage of these countries, a renowned social scientist specializing in South and Central America said these arbitrary nations were formed by colonizing powers and never had the chance to rebel. The discovery of natural resources in tribal cultures had, in essence halted the normal stages of human development within them. Left to their own devices, without having the West extracting their natural resources from the ground, these cultures would have maintained a natural evolutionary process and formed healthier and more cooperative tribes tested and tried by the passage of time to smooth out tribal differences before the idea of “Nation” could crystallize. Life conditions at the time of discovery of oil were such that egocentric warriors had to rise to leadership positions without ever being exposed to concepts such as nationalism, the importance of state institutions, and a real understanding of wealth management. To protect their new-found “loot”, these leaders used tribal warfare tactics in making sure their own tribe prevails. Till this day, if you’re a developer wishing to get a Billion dollar project approved in Saudi Arabia, or Dubai, a poem written just for the occasion that praises the generosity and the greatness of the Sheikh, will improved your odds of success tremendously over someone who’s done extensive research about the market viability of the project and its associated costs.

The cultural pathologies caused by OPEC in a place like Venezuela have taken on a slightly different twist. Populist economic policy has been the tool of choice for tribal leaders in South America. While Western media shows Chavez as a rebel paying lip service to the poor and giving them small stipends for food and sidelining most national institutions, they fail to mention that the rate of poverty in Venezuela has been cut in half since he came to power. This is no endorsement of Chavez who’s known to have stolen billion in oil revenues and set Venezuela back a few decades on its road to progress, it is however an indictment of third world economies that followed the Anglo-Saxon model for development without giving much attention to their own country’s value systems composition and center of gravity. While the entrepreneurial value system flourished in Caracas and other small pockets, the majority of Venezuela remained in the tribal agricultural value system just as it has been for centuries. According to Beck’s theory, the rise of Chavez to power is a natural response to prevalent life conditions as they counteract the unnatural pull created in “skipping” a developmental stage.

Into a World of Poverty and Power Lords Enter the IMF

The story with the IMF is slightly different in the sense that it catered to the same pathologies of exploitation through loans instead of oil revenue. Without ever knowing what Africa needs like Dr. Yunus knew what Bangladesh needs, the IMF, by ignoring the role that value systems play in the development of a culture, is responsible for more death and corruption than any other post WWII institution. One only needs to look at which countries borrow from the IMF. Over 97% of debtor countries prior to the 2008 global financial crisis were ruled by dictators with the blood of thousands of their countrymen on their hands. Rulers like Mugabe and Assad (the father) are on the top of the list. In the absence of a ruthless dictator who would squander most IMF loans and force member countries to renegotiate the debt, the IMF would declare the misuse of funds by a week leader and send in World Bank experts who would force the “privatization” of things like power plants. Such moves ignore the life conditions that required the public ownership of such symbols of progress. These were cultures in transition from tribal existence to early stages of nation formation. When the resources and institutions that are intended to help in that transition are snatched from a development program and given to private power lords , or Western conglomerates represented by local power lords, social and cultural development to the next stage (or to a healthy manifestation of the existing stage) is halted.

A full discussion of IMF policies would require many volumes to expose its shortcomings. Parts of the institution’s initial charter is slowly becoming more aligned with its practices not because of profound changes in its policies toward the developing world, but because the value systems of countries that now need its services (Iceland and Poland are good examples). These counties are more aligned with the value systems of the thinking that created it. As for their dealings with the Third World, their thinking has fallen further behind as they refuse to heed the indigenous needs of these countries. For many Third World counties that continue to struggle to make interest payments on their loans, the IMF is now advocating bankruptcy; a Western tool of mass destruction that will perpetuate the Third World’s dependence on the industrialized world and drive them further away from establishing any indigenous capacities. Meanwhile, IMF and World Bank economists are patting themselves on the back for continuing to perpetuate a culture of debt in their own world thumbing their noses at a collapsing world economy brought to its knees by the same policies of debt financing they’re now advocating for Third World countries.

The road to this Utopian dream that was hatched by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in Bretton Woods, NH has turned out to be the road to Perdition for third world countries rich and poor. If the Group of the 20 richest countries in the world wants to seriously address the causes of poverty and the stalled development of so many regions in the world they first and foremost have to acknowledge the failures of their models for third world development. At the G-20 meeting this past spring, instead of holding a healthy debate about the dangers of what happens when global institutions ignore the need for stratified economic policies informed by local experts, world leaders instead voted to triple the resources of the IMF without implementing meaningful change. Renegotiated Third World debt with higher principal balances is precisely the invitation that the industrialized world needs to fully own the natural resources of these counties, and without developing the habitats for emergence, it will be just a matter of time before they default again.

On the other hand, much of the “Nouveau Riche” countries whose wealth was created by the sudden discovery of natural resources will have to transition from “wealthy tribal cultures” that ignore the needs of the many to “nations with sustainable wealth and faith in institutions” that include the many or face a fate similar to that of Venezuela. The earliest culture to overthrow the Post WWII Western model for development was Iran. The power lords that took power after the fall of the Shah have thumbed their nose at Western development models. They run the country as a theocracy which is now threatening the world with nuclear weapons and continue to demonize Western hegemony. Making Iran, Venezuela and other potential OPEC nations such pariahs could have been prevented if the West had the tools to identify these countries’ unique value systems and the needs for cultural emergence instead of exploiting them for their natural resources.

The flood of oil revenues from industrialized countries and loans with little accountability from the IMF have corrupted tribal values forever and created a pathology that has become very difficult to undo. When oil revenues disappear, most OPEC countries will wake up and realize that in order to prevent future abuse of power and to cater to the welfare of all the citizens in their country, it’s not enough to choose a good tribal leader to lead. Rather, it becomes paramount to establish societal institutions and the rule of law as the absolute base for a sustainable culture that thrives on economic diversity and the value of self reliance. That stage of development came to Europe, the US and Japan after hundreds of years of bloody warfare. To the third world, it would have to come from a perspective of “Stratified Economic Policies” that build capacities commensurate with and informed by the indigenous life conditions on the ground and not by some Western think tank with Ivy League credentials relying on a CIA country profile or an out of touch UN with a dossier of IMF and World Bank reports claiming to know what ails a world at lower stages of development.

 

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Spiral Dynamics and MEMEnomics in Collaboration to Design the Next Global Financial Architecture 

Dr. Don E. Beck and I will be keynote speakers at the 75th Anniversary of the Bretton Woods Financial Conference this July which is taking place at the same center that held the original conference that changed the world. This invitation came about as the organizers of the conference, under the leadership of the late Bernard Lietaer, the co-designer of the Euro, studied my book MEMEnomics. The group then decided to gain a deeper understanding of Spiral Dynamics by studying Dr. Beck’s original book on the theory.  I was fortunate enough to meet Bernard in Boulder, CO in the mid 2000’s when he attended an event led by Dr. Beck. Then as fate would have it, we met again in 2013 in New York as we shared the same media publicist that was promoting our respective books.

The theme of the upcoming conference is Economics at the intersection of Humanity, Technology, Ecology, Governance and Markets. Dr. Beck and I will be the opening speakers on the second full day of this In-conversation-with conference format. The organizers would like our opening (in their words) to be a showcase of Spiral Dynamic to prime participants to start thinking differently about economic systems.

There will be many prominent attendees and speakers  and many organizations represented that include: The IMF, New America, Poverty Action Lab, Council on Foreign Relations, The Buckminster Fuller Institute, National Geographic, CARE, The Nature Conservancy, MIT Innovation Lab, The Financial Times, The Schumacher Center, & The Institute for New Economic Thinking.

The Evolution of Bretton Woods

The original 1944 conference was organized by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt who invited delegates and heads of states from 44 different countries to create a post WWII economic and financial blueprint. John Maynard Keynes, the most prominent economists at the time was the master architect behind the conference that gave the world the current global financial and economic order. This was the event that gave birth to so many institutions born out of a new global paradigm on peaceful trade and development. It made the US the economic superpower it is today. It gave the world the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank, and made the US Dollar the de facto reserve currency for the world. It also gave us a preview of how a resilient Blue system (regulatory structure that understands economics) in government can direct economic policies and nudge a culture towards systemic prosperity by providing smart regulation that anticipates the Orange system’s (free market capitalism) every move and keeps its exploitation in check.

These values, which represent the Patriotic Prosperity Cycle in my book, were with us until the 1970’s when runaway inflation and  budget deficits made it impossible to keep the dollar pegged to the gold standard. That’s when President Nixon allowed the US currency to float and become a fiat currency backed only by the word of our government. The cycle entered the decline phase thereafter as Germany left the Bretton Woods Agreement, and the world was hit by the first Arab oil embargo. Its final entropy phase came during the Carter years when any and all measures of Keynesian economics failed to tame double-digit  inflation and runaway interest rates that were choking any meaningful economic growth.

As Keynesian economics waned in the US, it was replaced, with much fanfare by Monetarism, with Milton Friedman as its ideological father. This is the Orange economic phase I call the Only Money Matters Cycle in my work. Beginning with the Reagan presidency, the institutions created by Bretton Woods shifted from a trade, reconstruction, development and humanitarian mission, to mostly a banking function motivated by profit. Today these same institutions are the main reason why less developed countries remain in a perpetual downward spiral of debt that can never be repaid. (Click here to read my 2009 published piece  about the value systems structures that made this possible).

The push to develop the entire world into this peaceful commerce paradigm went into high gear under the Monetarist ideology and became instrumental in continuing the goal of ending wars against each other. But, as we came together to end wars through the virtues of free markets, and an insatiable appetite for consumption, we collectively and inadvertently waged a slow but deadly war against Mother Nature’s key ecosystems.

This will be the monumental challenge this conference needs to address. It seems that from the diverse list of attendees, speakers and the institutions  represented, this might just be the right place to start work on a new blueprint that reframes human activity as part of the planetary ecosystem. While the conference might not hold the same CAPI* the original conference did 75 years ago,  the hope is that it can inform leaders on the type of institutions we need to design to effectively address the existential threats we as a humanity have collectively created for ourselves and the planet.

Although the event itself is not open to the public, here’s the link to its website for more information. https://www.brettonwoods75.org/

*CAPI stands for Coalescence of Authority, Power and Influence. It’s is an advanced Spiral Dynamics concept adopted from the Adizes Institute. It’s presence as a representation of systemic stakeholders, is an essential ingredient in the design of Large-Scale transformational systems.  

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THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY AND VALUE SYSTEMS

By special guest Michiel Doorn

The Circular Economy is the latest framework that has emerged in the area of “sustainability.” The framework took off about ten years ago, buoyed by the efforts of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and others and builds on Cradle to Cradle, Industrial ecology, Biomimicry and a few other concepts. Several European countries have adopted circular economy goals, as has the European Union, and even some American cities. Recently, it was embraced by the US Chamber of Commerce. This means it is either a true revolutionary breakthrough or yet another greenish bandwagon that organizations can jump on. The quick answer is, of course, both, depending on the perspective one is coming from. So let’s dig a little deeper and see if we can analyze it from a value systems perspective.

What is the Circular Economy? As one might expect, there are now numerous definitions, but sticking with aforementioned Foundation, The Circular Economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits (Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model). It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles: 1) Design out waste and pollution, 2) Keep products and materials in use, 3) Regenerate natural systems.[1]

This is a mouthful and a lot to unpack. What is key is that the Circular Economy is based on ecological principles. In nature there is no waste as all waste becomes food for other organisms. The only source of energy for this process is sunlight. Hence, the inclusion of renewable energy in the definition. Nature is a self-regulating system and the Circular Economy tries to be like nature. This is an excellent concept; first, because we know from observation that nature has been doing really well for eons, as long as stray asteroids or humans don’t mess with it too much. And secondly, many of today’s social, economical, ecological, and other, problems are now so complex that solutions will haveto be crafted  from a systems perspective, as Donella Meadows, Peter Senge and others have been saying for years.

So, what is the opposite of and the precursor to systems thinking? Of course, linear thinking, as well as analytical thinking. the original meaning of the word analysis is to cut problems up into categories that can be dealt with separately. At this point it is helpful to take a look at how our thinking has evolved when it comes to “sustainability,” indicated in Figure 1.[2]

Figure 1 shows that sustainability thinking has evolved over time, and can be correlated to the evolution of our ability to take more complex perspectives as shown on the left.
The figure does not show how outside drivers have also grown in complexity, starting with sewage running down the streets in large cities, all the way up to today’s climate crisis and ecosystem collapse. What the figure does include is a description of potentially matching leadership styles on the right. It is important to note that we can make strategic choices (the double-sided arrow), where we may choose to apply more linear or simple solutions to particular problems, as long as we do so consciously.

Spiral Dynamics buffs will have no problem recognizing hints of the common value systems in the diagram. However, the leap in thinking from linear/categories to systems should not be mistaken for the notorious Leap to Second Tier or Yellow. The Circular Economy is not there yet and seems to be firmly embedded in Orange-Green. This explains why the Chamber of Commerce and many large companies are excited by it. There are several reasons why the Circular Economy, while being complicated to implement, is not as advanced and potent as it may seem.

First, the Circular Economy does not remotely change the eternal economical and financialgrowth model, and we can basically continue what we’ve been doing all along. Second, for large companies that make their money with extractive models that take from nature and return unusable waste to our air, water or soil, there is too much at stake to change. When we look through an ecological lens they are not so hard to spot. Third, on top of the challenges from the current economical-financial-politcal steam roller, less advanced leaders will see the Circular Economy as something that may simply help them save costs or bring new revenue. After all we make meaning from where we are at. However, as Bill McDonough says “less bad is not the same as good,” let alone regenerative.

This is probably why there are still few truly circular success stories. Using our rational minds to design out waste, close the material loops and switch to solar is not enough. We will need to develop new business models that value sharing and leasing as opposed to owning. As the butterfly diagram shows, repair, reuse, refurbish and recycle are all business models that are quite different from what manufacturers are used to today. Advanced leaders (right side of Figure 1) know this but they will still need help. A significant switch to a Circular Economy begs for multistakeholder efforts and a strong support from regulators that get it and are not beholden to the existing powers. Especially important are innovative, tailored financial models for operations and investments.

On a final note, the Circular Economy offers no methods or models to handle our massive environmental problems that already exist (plastic in oceans, fish and our drinking water, omnipresent persistent pollutants, loss of biodiversity, etc.). Yet, the Circular Economy might be the stepping stone toward a value system where context, ie. environment, is becoming fully integrated into our reality and associated leadership. The upper layers in Figure 1 offer some thoughts. There is that one little phrase tagged on at the end, of the definition: “regenerate our natural systems.” I believe we can figure out most of what’s circular, if we really decide to commit and collaborate. But for a regenerative, mutually enhancing relationship with our planet we will have to go further, and deeper. We will have to learn what it means to work with nature, listen to her, and enter into relationship with her. When we are in a relationship, we care. If we don’t care, we risk losing everything.

Michiel Doorn is a sustainability thinker who lives alternately in North Carolina and the Netherlands. He is a founding partner of Circularity Edge (www.circularityedge.com) and has worked with Spiral Dynamics for many years. He is passionate about evolving awareness and associated action through coaching and experiential learning in support of all Life. He can be reached by email: michiel.doorn@circularityedge.com 

 

 

 

 

[1]For a visual, look up Butterfly diagram: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/infographic

[2]Codeveloped with Edwin Janssen, Sustainable Growth Associates.

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Uncovering the Values of a Regenerative Future