19 People around the World Share How They Prepare for a Post-COVID-19 World

Since its founding in 2015, impactmania always turns to the people who drive cultural, social, and economic impact. We now need their inspiration more than ever. We asked 19 impact makers how they are preparing for the new realities of a post-COVID-19 world.

Yanling Duan is a serial entrepreneur, curating urban intervention, community empowerment and planetary leadership. Her mission is reviving holistic systematic design principles. She does this with timeless wisdom such as Taoist philosophy and Earth healing practice. Duan has been awarded one of “China’s top 10 design influencers” and is twice winner of “Design Figure of the Year.” Duan is also one of China’s earliest media personalities advocating mindful design and social art movement in her national TV programs and design publications as producer, writer, and presenter. 

Over the years, Duan founded and designed Beijing’s first co-creative hub Niwotata which still hosts Open Heart Design Alliance, a community collaborative platform dedicated to accelerating personal healing and planetary culture among creatives and entrepreneurs. 

Today, Duan serves as Trustee and Vision Architect of Davos BlockBase in Switzerland, that incubates global network of networks of eco-system innovators across conscious tech, social art, and social investment communities with Planetary Supernode Gathering.

Duan also serves as a member of an expert advisory panel in the International Center for Creativity and Sustainable Development (Beijing) under the auspices of UNESCO, Wisdom Council member for Africa 2.0 Ubuntu Foundation, and is the Davos2020 Chairperson for SDG Convergence Association. 

April 23, 2020

Vivian Song in New York City spoke with Yanling Duan in Davos, Switzerland.

Where are you and how you are holding up during this challenging time?

I’m sitting in Davos facing The Mountain that inspired the novel by Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Thomas Mann, in Switzerland. I spend most of the day in a more listening and contemplating mode. Multiple realities are brought into my living room through these Zoom window screens — from global summits to family virtual dinner-portals… surreal and amusing. I am surprised how fast I am adapting to this new normal. 

What’s your advice to people stuck at home at this period of time?

Train both the intelligence muscles and intuition tissues.

The “lock down/full stop” living sparks the fundamental question among many of us. We race through life like this for GDPs. What for if personal and planetary wellbeing are at risk? 

The system is doomed yet what would be the next “practical” model?  At the same time, many spiritual seekers and practitioners are excited to interpret this phenomenon as the trigger point of global “change,” “awakening,” and “ascension,” which was prophesied as a part of pre-written human history. I invite us to remain humble and witness the ebb and flow in a hybrid mode: in VUCA [Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity] time, embrace the changes that are happening now require skills and intelligence to seek clarity and make immediate decisions necessary, YANG quality, yet embody higher sensory.

Knowing beyond mind-pattern-seeking limitation, trust in the emergence based on the natural law of organic development in the bigger design blue map. It is important competence for living in the new normal, YINtitution. Balance and co-working with both is the key. Entrepreneurship and leadership today are mainly run by action and result-oriented principles. But if we come to consensus that it is an interdependent system we are living in, then nurturing, supporting and cross-pollinating efforts should naturally be the new norm.

Take daily action to heal the trauma of money fear and love-replacement consumerism.  

The fear and worry of personal financial situations during and after the lockdown is real. Loneliness is real. Reality bites, but the world didn’t change overnight; it simply was exposed by a magnified mirror. 

Just like CTM treats the root cause of the troubles rather than symptoms, viewing a health issue is not dealing with one situation, but fundamentally cultivating a viable and balanced living system. It is time for us to question deeply how healthy this debt and interests-based and greed-driven economy is in relation to the future of the planet and our life. This is the true cause of our social consensus on the meaning of success and reward, which in turn tainted all our concept of value and nature of relationships. It is unrealistic to ask everyone to abandon comfort and convenience, but it is time to remind us how inhumane the reality of plastic beauty and success truly is. It is time to ask, shall I still participate or at least take conscious distance? Do I really need it or do I want it to impress?

These three steps are almost in dialogues. 1. Looking forward by looking back. 2. We won’t be going back, normal is a dynamic state, change is permanent. 3. Rethinking the nature of money. You have a diverse cultural and life background. How does your Asian roots shape your thinking?

Besides a general hunger for Eastern philosophy, I am also an ordained Taoist master of ceremony, which is “surprising” for many since I wear this Western-educated innovator/urbanista persona. I see no difference in theory and practice of systematic thinking with Taoist perspective  in today’s context. 

The essential premise of ancient Taoist science is the understanding how the entire universe is our body. Our body is a miniature inner universe. Our psychosomatic organism aligns and comes into harmony with the movements of time and space. It is the fundamental topic that a Taoist practitioner is expected to embrace first hand. In other words, being in alignment with Tao means embodying living in systematic thinking. Inner reflects outer, micro speaks macro, everything is in everything.

When an event like this breaks out, in our framework of thinking, it is firstly ACCEPTED as a force of nature catalyzing changes. It appears to be a catastrophe but it carries a message serving as a blessing in disguise. So have no fear and be alert. By acknowledging that a bigger force is at work and everything is alive, in a part of a living organism, we can seek a solution that’s most preferable in the holistic view.

For instance, I often joke about my second home country Sweden is a Taoist-inspired country: the love for nature, the Lagom (not too much, not too little — balance) principle and the minimalist lifestyle…This time, Sweden choose to go its own way, not acting on total lockdown. It is very much in line with the traditional Chinese strategic approach when facing difficult choices — 两害取其轻. Try to evaluate all possible aspects and long-term impacts. Among options, choose the least damaging way. It does not mean it will be proven to be the right way. Following what everyone else is doing and acting out of fear is certainly no better. 

How could Eastern philosophy contribute to the world crisis we are in…

Many starting questioning “globalization” tainted with the flavor of cultural and commercial colonization. I believe it is the time that Daodejing becomes the new system-design bible sharing the wisdom of collaboration for unity by balancing forces of opposites. 

Members of the global conscious community are deeply influenced by Indian spiritual practices, ancient Egyptian’s myth, and South-American’s Shamanic traditions. All of which are invaluable treasures of our ancestral human heritage for expansion and awakening of individual consciousness. When we are seeking a more systematic approach, especially in forming complex collaboration within the ever-shifting web of life in this VUCA time, I suggest diving into Daodejing and Iching, anew. Yes, Traditionally Tao is supposed to be understood only by royals guided by their Taoist strategists. I believe it could serve “commoners’ in the era of self-leadership and self-realization. 

The crisis betrayed people so entrenched in the old system. It’s a moment for people who feel lost and betrayed to be thinking about how to gain sovereignty for themselves after the crisis.

It is unconformable living in the unknown. Some choose to stay in the old and safe/familiar for the time being and some invite the challenges as initiation. The hybrid and old-new coexistence is only natural at this moment for the majority. In the short term, building a bridge to move between the two is still essential, that is what I consider my work mainly entails. 

What does BlockBase do and how could it be at service in creating the future?

Which version of the future are you believing in?

For me, I live in a life-learning society, where the only job you have to do is to become who you are, discover your full potential and be of service to the balance of earth and prosperity of your community. Then what do you need? Maybe sharpen your competence, strengthen your emotional resilience, and then support the healing and growth of our world?

BlockBase follows an intuitive business plan for a vision of the future of such. As for today, it serves as an ecosystem toolbox and acts as an incubator for a collective of systematic unicorns for global transition knowledge and a sustainable future.  

Where are the key acupuncture points to tackle current issues rather than disruptive changes? How to generate collective synergy for action? That’s what BlockBase’s approach is. I would like to think of it as a system-change acupuncture — with a guided mission of bridging the global brain with planetary heart for the purpose of economic paradigm shift.

We are in the process of taking the temperature, feeling the pulse of the ecosystem, evaluating the prospects, and planting the seeds of planetary consciousness among world leaders. it is yet to be seen. Many have experienced some flavor of BlockBase in Davos economic forum week, which is the tip of the iceberg to unfold.

What’s your piece of the new post-COVID story? We are asking everyone this question, believing each of us hold a piece to the future. By collecting these pieces, we patch a new way for the future. 

I have been looking for a medium, a language to communicate a balanced sense of harmony, transforming life and work, mind and heart, little-me and the colossal world into a comprehensive fellowship that has driven my entrepreneurial ventures and spiritual learning all along the way. It taught me that I am a futurist by nature and all my ventures have always been a decade or a few years “too early.” Now everything is accelerating and more and more allies are converging on the deeply common vision. It truly entrusts me with faith and hope that we are doing the work on the right track. Post-virus time I will be stepping out and speaking out more on the business-unusual: respect business for what value it brings to the people and the planet and support its growth according to the natural rhythm. Everything is alive and takes its due time. We should treat leadership development and sustainable business as such as well.


impactmania’s past interviews and programs have been featured in international media, a number of universities, the UN, US Consulates, and have been cited by Harvard Business School, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, and Duke University Press. impactmania’s Women of Impact program was awarded the U.S. Embassy Public Diplomacy grant (2019).