Portals to Beautiful Futures: Trends to Watch in 2021 and Beyond

By David T. Hsu, Exploration & Future Sensing, Omidyar Network

The PORTALS report, in collaboration with Guild of Future Architects, flows from a yearlong process of imagining futures beyond the pandemic. Download the full report here.

It’s a warm spring day. Clouds hover over the horizon. The San Gabriel foothills smell of sage and soil after the rain. I feel my muscles begin to relax for the first time in a while.

I’m not alone. Though serious hurdles remain in the United States and globally, increasing numbers of American adults see hope on the horizon. A recurring Axios poll shows “hopeful” taking the lead over “stressed” and “frustrated” for the first time since the pandemic began. Roughly one-third of US adults have been vaccinated; the rest will be eligible by the end of April. Recent jobs reports show signs of an economy waking from hibernation. The American Rescue Plan and proposed American Jobs Plan would invest a combined $4 trillion in recovery and infrastructure.

These new possibilities bring a rush of questions. What does life look like after the pandemic for my community; my generation? How will we juggle work, education, and care to make ends meet? Whose lives and livelihoods are valued? After a year of isolation, where will we find belonging?

When we look back on 2020, will we remember it as the year everything changed?

“Disasters are extraordinarily generative,” Rebecca Solnit writes, but “there is no simple formula for what arises: it has everything to do with who or what individuals or communities were before the disaster.”

Our new PORTALS report imagines possible futures arising out of today’s disasters. It is the latest installment of the annual Trends to Watch series, curated by our Exploration and Future Sensing team to support Omidyar Network’s mission of reimagining systems to build more inclusive and equitable societies. Across our focus areas of Reimagining Capitalism, Responsible Technology, and Building Cultures of Belonging, the work of “reimagining” requires that we interrogate our own assumptions about how systems need to change by listening to diverse viewpoints.

Created in collaboration with Guild of Future Architects, the 2021 report distills four open-ended provocations, designed to stir imagination and action, from a yearlong process of collective foresight. Between November 2019 and February 2021, the Guild invited 1,000 people to participate in a series of virtual sessions asking how systems that shape our daily lives could become more just and inclusive by 2036. A critical part of looking ahead was also looking back at how we arrived at today’s social, economic, and political realities.

Here are the provocations:

  1. What if shared well-being became the standard of success for our nations?
  2. Are we ready to move from an era that rewards extraction to one that prioritizes regeneration?
  3. How will we move from an era of destabilizing information into an age of trusted wisdom?
  4. Can we dismantle industrial-age silos between work, home, education, play, and community?

Each one pairs with a “Spectrum of Possibility” exercise to stir your own thinking about how imagined futures could become reality. Taken together, we hope that these provocations offer useful foundations for people working now to build tomorrow’s systems.

Download the full report here.

The PORTALS report is a collaboration between Omidyar Network and the Guild of Future Architects. It was envisioned and written by a diverse group of fellows, employees, and consultants, based upon foresight sessions convened by the Guild throughout 2020 involving 1,000+ participants.

Guild of Future Architects contributors include Sharon Chang, Kamal Sinclair, Rachel Yezbick, Sheena Matheiken, Jessica Clark, Tony Patrick, Amelia Winger-Bearskin, and Robert Sinclair.

Omidyar Network’s Exploration and Future Sensing team includes Eshanthi Ranasinghe, David Hsu, Julia Solano, and Nicole Allred. We welcome your feedback at [email protected].