About Shirin Elahi

Shirin started her professional career as an architect before applying her practical understanding of the creative process to foresight, using ideas rather than physical materials to build scenarios for the future to inform and support decision-making.

Over more than two decades, Shirin has directed, built and advised many global and regional scenarios for many multilateral, public, academic and corporate organisations. Her work has covered many subjects, including the future of risk and society, interfaith relations, intergenerational futures; the future of the home, allocation of global health funding, AIDS in Africa, diabetes; and the future of London; technology and innovation, industrial production, intellectual property and patenting; global aviation, global maritime shipping, global mobility; global minerals and mining; global food supply; sustainability; carbon pricing, sustainable energy for all, decentralized energy, nuclear safeguards; regulatory systems; the global financial system, personal finance and banking.

Photo of Shirin Elahi

Shirin Elahi

Shirin’s preoccupation is to explore uncertainty, the hidden ‘here be dragons’ that are often airbrushed out as inconvenient truths.

Selected Publications

Paparella, G et al (2023)

Medical and Social Scientists as Strategic Advisors
The Case of GloPID-R in 2021

California Management Review

UNFPA scenarios for three transformative results (2023)

This publication presents four plausible future scenarios that UNFPA and its partners may face on the path to achieving the three transformative results : (a) ending unmet need for family planning; (b) ending preventable maternal deaths; (c) ending gender-based violence and harmful practices.

Four Scenarios for Three Transformative Results is the first time UNFPA has introduced a structured future-informed approach into its strategic planning, as part of a shared response to the turbulent, uncertain, novel and ambiguous conditions we live in. The publication sets out to provide the broad range of UNFPA partners and allies with challenging and relevant stories about the future worlds set in 2050, highlighting their potential implications for the sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights stakeholders, and leaving the scenario users with some critical questions to consider. 

Judge, R and Elahi S (2022)

Beyond the boundaries: characterising situational uncertainty in complex systems. Safer Complex Systems

Engineering X. Royal Academy of Engineering

This case study considers a modern-day equivalent of ‘Terra Incognita’ (unknown territory). How do the decision-makers that manage complex systems recognise and acknowledge when limits of knowledge and methods are being approached? Do they understand the implications of not doing so?

These questions matter. Although established methods for managing system risks are generally effective, they rely on the ability to see (or imagine) the uncertainties involved. These methods address ‘known unknowns’.

Berti C, Elahi S, Catalano P, Bhutta ZA, Krawinkel MB, Parisi F, Agostoni C, Cetin I, Hanson M. (2022)

Obesity, Pregnancy and the Social Contract with Today’s Adolescents

Nutrients 14(17):3550.

Elahi, S. (2019).

Here be dragons: exploring the ‘unknown unknowns’

In Z. Sardar (Ed.), The Postnormal Times Reader (pp. 168–184).

Drenth, G, Elahi, S and König, A (2017)

Exploring alternative futures with scenarios

In König, A and Ravetz, J (Eds.) Sustainability Science: Key Issues. Routledge, Chapter 6.

Elahi, S and De Beer, J, with the Open AIR network (2013)

Knowledge & Innovation in Africa: Scenarios for the Future

Elahi, S (2011)

Here be Dragons…exploring the ‘unknown unknowns’

Futures 43: 196–201

Since ancient times, the phrase ‘Here be Dragons’ has been used to signify dangerous and unexplored territories. While wayfarers of the past realised that lack of knowledge necessitated increased vigilance and caution, today’s ‘Here be Dragons’ generally remain hidden and unwanted. Human psychology, institutional frameworks and scientific convention have removed these unrecognised sources of ignorance from the mental maps of modern society. This omission is critical in today’s interconnected, interdependent world. It is now time to counter current myopia by using the new digital tools available to draw on wider societal framing in conjunction with scenarios methodologies. This process could provide the meta risk analysis suitable to enable the ‘Here be Dragons’ to be identified, monitored and tackled, thereby ensuring that decision-makers and ultimately society become more aware of intractable uncertainty and adaptive in the face of inevitable change.

Elahi, S (2008)

Conceptions of Fairness and Forming the Common Ground

In Ramirez, R, Selsky, J.W and van der Heijden (eds) Business Planning for Turbulent Times. Earthscan, London & Sterling, VA

Elahi, S (2009)

Privacy and Consent in the Digital Era

Information Security Technical Report (ISTR)

In today’s digital era no one has knowledge, access or control of all their available personal information. This makes the very concepts of privacy and consent increasingly illusory and raises questions that are likely to shape not only the future form of cyberspace, but also the political, social and economic interactions within it. The institutions tasked with regulation of the physical world are ill equipped to respond and undertake a similar role in the virtual world; the timescales, dimensions and scope are all materially different. This article sets out five dilemmas that will need to be addressed in the search for solutions.

Karachalios, K and S Elahi (2009)

Transparency, trust, and the patent system

Journal of IP Law & Practice

The health of the patent system is of critical importance to many stakeholders. This article discusses how the different definitions of openness—open v secret, or open v proprietary—might provide some useful thinking on how to restore this sense of inherent openness to the current system. The authors contend that the issue of openness is often a surrogate for societal concerns about trust in the patent system and its institutions. They suggest three questions that the system should address in order to regain public trust and argue that the issues of transparency and trust should be at the heart of any initiatives to reform the patent system and protect its threatened virtue.

Elahi, S et al (2007)

Scenarios for the Future of Intellectual Property and Patenting

European Patent Office, Munich.

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

Lofstedt, R & Elahi, S (2001)

Trust: Building for the Long Term

Elements, p 17-19

Linnerooth-Bayer, J, Quijano-Evans, S, Lofstedt, R & Elahi, S (2001)

TSUNAMI project: The Uninsured Elements of Natural Catastrophe Losses

IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria and University of Surrey, UK

Advisor on these selected publications:

European Commission

Albino Maggio Tine Van Criekinge Jean Paul Malingreau (2015) 

Global Food Security 2030: Assessing trends with a view to guiding future EU policies.

JRC Science and Policy Reports, European Commission

Despite its multifaceted nature, the debate surrounding food security over the last few decades has largely focused on production and on the challenges facing the agricultural system. The JRC Foresight on Global Food Security 2030 brought together a group of experts and stakeholders to develop a vision for food security in 2030. This vision was then challenged in a test of resilience to unexpected occurrences and/or underestimated trends. The entire process was designed to establish a structured and inclusive discussion that could be useful for guiding future EU policies. This report calls for an evolution of present-day policies on food security and beyond into a Common Food Systems Policy in which both the systemic and global dimensions of food security are fully incorporated.

International Monetary Fund

Aidar Abdychev, Cristian Alonso, Emre Alper, Dominique Desruelle, Siddharth Kothari, Yun Liu, Mathilde Perinet, Sidra Rehman, Axel Schimmelpfennig, and Preya Sharma (2018) 

The Future of Work in Sub-Saharan Africa

African Department, International Monetary Fund, Washington DC

Far-reaching changes in technology, climate, and global economic integration are transforming the world of work in ways that we do not yet fully understand. Will the swift technological advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution raise the standards of living for everyone? Or will robots massively displace workers leading to a jobless future where only a few benefit from the fruits of innovation? Will mitigation efforts be able to cushion the adverse effects of climate change, including food shortages and mass migration, which would place extra pressure on urban labor markets? Will countries continue to integrate commercially and financially, fostering growth and employment? Or will trade wars become a norm in a world increasingly fragmented and inward-looking? In sub-Saharan Africa, these uncertainties meet a dramatic increase in population and a rapid expansion in the labor force, which is becoming increasingly urban.

Frauenhofer Institute and the BHBF

Text to come.

Selected Public Speaking Engagements

Make or break: Regulating in a disruptive world: With Jonathan Blamey, Vice president, global solutions design centre of excellence, DHL Supply Chain; Erik Brynjolfsson, director, Stanford Digital Economy Lab; Richard Judge, Director, Bartlett Judge Associates; Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, executive director, APEC Secretariat and Matthew Valencia, Special assignments editor, The Economist. Economist Impact virtual event.

Scenario planning – Anticipating challenges at the Water-Food-Energy Nexus: Public Lecture Series, Science & Citizens meet Challenges of Sustainability, University of Luxembourg, 2018

The future inventive enterprise: IP Revolution? Scenarios for the Future. LESI (Licensing Executives Society International), Paris 2017

Future Foresight: UN-SWAP and its future: Annual global UN-SWAP meeting at WHO/HQ – Geneva: United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and co-hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva 2017

Foresight as a policy tool: “Science – Innovation – Entrepreneurship: Closing the Gender Gap to Meet the SDGs” UNESCO, UN Women and WIPO joint initiative, UN High Level Political Forum, New York 2017


Interviews with distinguished experts including:

Gro Brundlandt, Director General, World Health Organisation

Francis Gurry, Director General, World Intellectual Property Office

Prof. C.S. Holling, Arthur R Marshall Jr. Chair in Ecological Studies, University of Florida

Dr Ramesh Mashelkar, Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India

Sir Andrew Stewart Mackenzie, CEO, BHP Billiton

Prof. Ali Mazrui, Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University

Rajenda K. Pachauri, previously Chairman, International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC)

Dr Marshall C Phelps, previously Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Corporation

Peter Piot, Director General, UNAIDS

Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive, Royal Dutch Shell

Prof. Wang Jingchuan, Commissioner, State Intellectual Property Office, People’s Republic of China

My Mission:

Giving you the insights to help you navigate your own future in a turbulent, uncertain Corset Economy

My “Big Hairy Goal”: 

Creating a movement to loosen the corseting of our global economy and create a more sustainable and equitable future for all