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The past year has been devastating for many but now, after many faltering stops and starts, the conversation has decisively shifted. It’s no longer a question of will this ever end – but when. And people are betting on that being just a matter of months.

This means that there’s going to be a sort of back- to-school moment for many adults this summer as their offices fully reopen, travel restarts, trade fairs are rescheduled (and then happen) and the world reconnects. Most of us are ready for a more dynamic life where ideas and hopes are shared face-to-face and the video-call screen fades for a final time. Because, let’s be clear: home education has ripped the life chances from too many children, remote working has dented young careers and denuded once-vibrant company cultures, and the loss of restaurants, bars and nightlife has left people isolated and mentally battered. And, while we are on the subject, businesses that too lightly let go of their office leases will suffer in the coming months. For instance, why would a person starting out on their career elect to work from their kitchen table when they could be in a rival compa-ny’s great office, surrounded by interesting people? Still, going back to school does come with some trepidation. Who will be your best friend? Will you be able to get out of doing sport? OK, that’s what I used to fret about.

Across the past year, as monocle has charted all the twisting news, we have also tried to track the gradual shifts in sentiment. That’s why this month we wanted to meet people who, in very different fields, are already making huge efforts to change how we live, how we are governed, how we get our news, how we make our homes and even how we dress. They are people who show us how, with determination and new thinking, you can trig-ger miracles big and small. They have stories that inspire at this pivotal time as we prepare to head back out.

In Beirut we asked our correspondent Leila Molana- Allen to return to the streets that were ruined in last August’s devastating blast, which was triggered when a vast store of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port. Although people in the city are exhausted and have been forced by the failure of central government to take on the task of rebuilding their homes, Molana-Allen discovers a story of such resistance and generosity that it makes the daily challenges that the rest of us face seem pale.

We also speak to the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, who reveals why he now has hope that the world is back on track (and we quiz him on how China can be allowed a seat on the Human Rights Council). We talk to Tony Blair about vaccines and co-operation; to Elena Kostyuchenko, the journalist spotlighting the failures of Putin’s Russia; and to Ivor Prickett, the photographer who continues to document the conflicts that many governments would like to keep in the shadows.

There’s plenty of joy on the following pages too, from the design brands such as Ikea that are altering their out- looks, to Mahmood, the Italian-Egyptian singer offering a new beat to Italian pop. We also focus on the fashion designers who have discovered a new sense of purpose, and the food pioneers of Brisbane. We hope that this is an issue that helps to mark another moment in our journey through the pandemic; one in which we get to take the best parts of the past year and let the rest fade.

And monocle? By now you know our belief in the power of coming together and in real-world interactions for the health of our cities, businesses and friends. So we are eyeing dates for a series of events and looking forward to seeing more of you in the coming months as restrictions hopefully ease. As always, thank you for your support and feel free to drop me a line at at@monocle.com

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