Reimagining the future: Aligning digital development with human dignity
As a leadership coach that understands the increasingly complex and volatile landscape we live in, Futures Studies is a field that excites Martha Tzellios to help develop leaders while understanding the forces and trends that shape the future. She recently graduated with her MPhil in Futures Studies (cum laude) and was named the top student in her class.
About her master’s journey, she says: “I felt it is important to explore a pressing issue of our time and to find practical ways to bring fresh thinking into the workplace.” Her research, titled “Exploring the influence of the internet on human dignity: Implications of digital governance pathways towards 2035”, explores the influence of digital technologies on the four pillars of human dignity: freedom, autonomy, equality and privacy.
“Contrary to popular belief, good governance, although essential, is insufficient in combating the internet’s malignant effects. In an increasingly uncertain world where governments can no longer be relied on to provide protection, it is incumbent on all system stakeholders to simultaneously negotiate moving parts, drive ethical considerations and reorientate the system toward accountability, transparency, and inclusivity,” she explains.
A notable idea emerging from her study is that human identity is essentially under review because humans can no longer claim cognitive intelligence as a unique defining feature. “Perhaps moral and spiritual intelligence more accurately describe what it means to be human in the digital age and provide valid reasons to continue safeguarding human status. There is a narrowing window of opportunity to align digital development with human well-being. A viable future relies on the human family cooperating to co-create it,” she summarises her research.
Responsible leadership for positive change
Martha enrolled at Stellenbosch Business School, the only tertiary institution in Africa (and only a few globally) that offers Futures Studies as a postgraduate degree. “Futures Studies is a novel approach to knowledge development that will, or at least should, become more mainstream because the methods taught develop preparedness to navigate a complex and uncertain world,” she says.
I speak from experience when I say that responsible leadership is a powerful leverage point for positive change in any system.
Responsible leadership development is a key differentiator of the business school’s programmes. As a professional coach primarily focusing on developing leadership capacity, she says: “I speak from experience when I say responsible leadership is a powerful leverage point for positive change in any system.”
She believes responsible leadership has ethical and relational dimensions. “Responsible leaders develop fertile conditions for people to collaborate to create shared value according to clear principles within a broader ethical framework. They describe reality exactly as it is (aka - consistently tell the truth), build trust, remain faithful to the requirements of their role (versus privileging personal interests) and don’t orphan their failures. They actively course correct as they gather more information,” she says.
Dealing with crises
Martha faced several challenges during her studies. She contracted Covid-19 severely and missed half of her first year as a result. In that time, she lost her father, two dear friends and her classmate to Covid-19.
“My difficulties were not unique. Some classmates also struggled through health crises and lost loved ones. I’ve come to believe that when life’s challenges are overwhelming, ‘we’ don’t overcome them. Grace mercifully carries us,” she says.
It’s not about achievements or recognition but instead wholeheartedly participating in the opportunities that life has to offer.
When asked about achievements, she says “it’s not about achievements or recognition but instead wholeheartedly participating in the opportunities that life has to offer”. Her words of encouragement to new students comes from her late father, who motivated his daughters to always persevere through the difficulties that life throws at you with the following: “A good captain reveals herself in very stormy seas”.