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Can the world be made safe through democracy?

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 15, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Craig Perry, a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the possibility of making a safer world by means of democracy. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

From a realist perspective, international relations amounts to little more than a power struggle among states, each of which acts essentially the same, regardless of its particular nature. Like billiard balls ricocheting off one another in an anarchic game of realpolitik, states amount to “black boxes” whose external behavior reveals nothing about their internal workings—or so the theory goes. But a growing body of empirical evidence suggests democracies can behave quite differently than other states, with profound implications for the future of warfare.

The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant was first to recognize that a world of constitutional republics might someday bring perpetual peace, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that liberal democracy became widespread enough to put his hypothesis to the test. Since then, study after study has found that wars between mature democracies are indeed less common than conflicts involving other kinds of states. Kant anticipated this phenomenon would come about because citizens who bear the human and financial costs of war would naturally be cautious if empowered to authorize hostilities. Furthermore, democratic political norms favoring compromise and respect for human rights tend to make republics a bit less bellicose—at least when dealing with states similarly governed.

This democratic peace theory comes with a caveat, however: When confronted by autocracies, democracies are just as likely to wage war as any other state. Aggressive imperialist, fascist, and communist regimes repeatedly learned this lesson during the 20th century, often finding that their democratic rivals could mobilize superior political and economic resources when provoked. On the other hand, autocratic regimes that transitioned to democracy—such as Germany and Japan following World War II— became much less threatening to their neighbors, as Kant’s hypothesis predicted.  

Given these developments, it’s not surprising that the United States and its democratic allies came to view the promotion of democracy around the world as a matter of self-interest. Whether inspired by liberal ideals or neoconservative concerns, “making the world safe for democracy” became synonymous in many Western circles with making the world safe through democracy—that is, pressuring autocratic regimes to adopt democratic reforms, by force if necessary, for the sake of both national security and human rights. Sadly, American diplomatic and military efforts since 9/11 to spread democracy at gunpoint ended in disaster, arguably making the world less safe.

Compounding this trend is the troubling decline, after decades of almost uninterrupted progress, in the number of fully functioning democracies around the world. Illiberal regimes have come to power in Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, and elsewhere around the world, and the erosion of democratic norms in the United States has undermined America’s soft-power appeal and claims to leadership of the so-called “free world.” Nevertheless, reports of democracy’s death are greatly exaggerated; for all its flaws, the social, economic, and, yes, security benefits of this form of government still greatly outweigh any alternatives, and it is likely to further spread in the future.

Although democracy has undoubtedly reduced warfare among its practitioners, it is unlikely to diminish the potential for great-power conflict anytime soon. On the contrary, Western democracy-promotion efforts have exacerbated tensions with Moscow, which blames Washington for the “color revolutions” that overthrew friendly regimes in Ukraine, Georgia, and across the Arab world, while Beijing is wary of any political liberalization that might undermine the Community Party’s hold on power. Consequently, Russia and China have emerged as exemplars of authoritarian governance, undemocratic alternatives to the United States in a multipolar world. Meanwhile, America’s emergence as a great power actually led to its war-making deliberations becoming less democratic. Congress has gradually ceded its constitutional authority over national security issues to the president, while the voting public has largely lost interest in military matters since the end of mass conscription and the advent of an all-volunteer force. Under such circumstances, great-power behavior can often bear a striking resemblance to billiard balls after all.

© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  democracy  liberal democracy  soft-power 

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What visions of society from the Global South can we learn from?

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 12, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Daniel Riveong has written his sixth post in our Emerging Fellows program. He examines globalization through African and Islamic approaches to social values and economic thought. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

While globalization recalibrates the relationship between the West and the Rest, our discussions of socio-economic systems are too often dominated by Western sources. More specifically, our choices seem to be either neoliberal capitalism or socialism. This both marginalizes the full diversity of human thought and also deprives us of new ways of imagining socio-economic systems. We should look towards other traditions and consider what we can learn from African and Islamic approach to social values and economic thought, as a way expand our options on building new socio-economic systems and also helping us revisit Western thought.

African social-economic concepts are deeply rooted in communalism, such as in ujaama (familyhood), ubuntu (“I am because we are”), masakhane (“let us build together”), and others. Tanzania’s first president promoted ujaama is an African approach to socio-economics. Ujaama draws upon the idea of an extended family. The individual is deemphasized in favor of communal land ownership, communal labor, and village self-sufficiency. The primary difference from socialism and capitalism is that ujaama, as an economic plan, sought to regenerate the socio-economic systems of communal African villages.

While the ujamaa socio-economic plan ultimately failed, the idea of a more communal system of governance and economics continues in Africa, as represented by Desmond Tutu’s promotion of ubuntu and Tony Elumelu’s Afri-Capitalism. These African concepts emphasize reciprocity over selfishness, collaboration over competition, and reconciliation over punishment. While these concepts arise from the African context, they share similarities with the ideas of conscious capitalism and inclusive capitalism.

In contrast to African guiding socio-economic philosophies, Islamic thought has long sought specific guidelines over wealth and trade. Islamic jurisprudence on economics, called muamalat, encourages trade and wealth. Yet in Islam wealth and trade comes with its limits: profits must be earned responsibility and spending must have a social benefit. There are guidelines on how wealth can be earned, how much profit can be attained, and how it is to be used.

Islamic economic guidelines state that profits must come from being productive, fair, and socially responsible. For this reason, making money from money is prohibited; thus, charging interest, selling uncertainties, and gambling is off-limits. The absolute prohibition on interest was common in the Christian tradition as well, until debates in the 15th century helped to differentiate between interest and usury.

Eleventh-century Islamic scholar Al-Ghazali prohibited excessive profits, warning against attaining more than 10% profit margins or more than 5% for essential goods. (In comparison, in 2016 companies like Apple achieved margins of 21% and John & Johnson 23%.) Echoing today’s socially responsible investing movement (SRI), Shariah-compliant funds have long prohibited investing in socially harmful companies, such as in tobacco, defense industry, etc.

While there is much to learn from rethinking socio-economic systems within the context of communitarian values (such as in ujamaa) or social responsibilities (as outlined in muamalat), such thinking does also exist in the West. We should revisit these similarities in traditions and reinterpret older Western concepts such as “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (what does brotherhood mean today?) and the Roman law of res communis (how can we rethink the Roman concept of the commons?). We should treat these times of uncertainty about capitalism and neoliberalism as an opportunity to revisit the moral basics. Even Adam Smith, the figurehead of capitalism, warned against selfishness and ignoring the poor. What would he say about where we are today?

© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  Africa  globalization  social value 

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Polymer Graduating Class of 2028; Social Impacts and Human Coexistence

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Maggie Greyson, a member of our Emerging Fellows program travels to next 10 years and imagines the alternative futures of plastic industry in her third post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

(Graduation Speech from the Dean of the Plastics Better Alternatives Now Institute)

We are here today to celebrate the polymer students of the Plastics Better Alternatives Now Institute Graduating Class of 2028. Your social impact work is changing our world and we have special awards given exclusively for plastics that are compostable, derived from renewables and are 100% biodegradable. Congratulations!  

(Pause for applause)

We started this Institute in response to the Plastics Better Alternatives Now (BAN) List 2.0 of 2017. Dozens of countries around the world started to eliminate single-use plastic in the 2010’s. In response, we convened a Board of Advisors with global experts in science, design, climate change and human factors, to advise us on new forms of

Grads, social impact work is in your synthetic makeup. Thank you for your contribution this year reminding us that the Tupperware Party changed the paradigm for women after WW2. It is hard to imagine a time when keeping food fresher longer was a social innovation but less time spent preparing food meant more time to develop other skills, like entrepreneurship. One of the best projects to come out of the Social Innovation class this year was the Tupperware Roadshow Festival. This group of students adapted fully biodegradable (PHB), food safe plastic for 3D printers to make customized reusable containers for remote regions.  

In your first semester, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Business Management class teamed you with The Seabin Project. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this project, a Seabin is plastic bucket that floats on the surface of the water and vacuums up plastic debris, microplastics, and microfibres without harming the wildlife. This entrepreneurial student group created a business plan with a DIY design that inspired participants of the 2028 World Economic Forum to create tens of thousands of jobs for humans in plastic collecting technologies.

Remember when Kenya banned single-use plastic bags outright in 2017, and the cascade effect which lead to job loss when factories were shut down? The Single-Use Disruptor class was challenged to find an equilibrium between environmental destruction and social well-being. The class globalized an existing job-sharing model that provided new income streams for women who replaced bags of convenience with straw baskets and to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags.

We give our enduring gratitude to the Ecoalf Foundation for their renewed sponsorship of the PETA Competition for Ethical Fashion. We recall that our sponsor had humble beginnings as makers of top quality, fashionable clothing, and shoes made from recycled materials. Ten long years ago they worked with just 3,000 fishermen collecting only 250 tons of plastic from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. This year’s award goes to the collaboration that created the most PETA-Approved Vegan leather. Students in the Global Trade Route course aided 400,000 fishermen who lost their jobs in last year’s overfishing crisis to gain employment in a partnership that also restored the Italian fashion economy. Brava!

Again, congratulations to the Polymer Graduating Class of 2028 and especially those receiving their PHB stamp of approval. You have matured in your abilities to support humans for better outcomes. We hope that as alumni you continue with your commitment to clinical trials of the genetically modified bacteria. We will eventually turn PET plastic back into its original components for recycling with the world’s most valuable mutant bacteria. Good luck and stay in touch as we develop a post-grad degree, Nanotechnologies in the Food Packaging Industry.

© Maggie Greyson 2018

Tags:  design  industry  packaging 

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Looking for Unicorns

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 8, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Maggie Greyson has written her second post in our Emerging Fellows program. She envisions the future through the metaphor of unicorn. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The alluring and untamable unicorn is a cultural symbol of purity and grace, wealth and prosperity, or love and independence. It is said that this extremely rare, wild creature would rather die than be captured. This fantastic beast appears in the history of many civilizations yet there has never been any evidence of a metaphysical existence.

Bigfoot is the name of an Ape Man that lives deep in the forests of North America. Governments in both Canada and the US are currently being sued by believers for not protecting this hairy 800-pound legend. In retaliation, the government of British Columbia is calling the group’s leader Todd Standish a “vexatious litigant” tying up valuable court resources defending a folklore. What if the courts prove a bipedal primate with feet 24 inches long does not exist? Who wins if the Sasquatch habitat is not protected from a deforestation rate of 6,000 acres of open space each day? What is really going on here?

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People only see what they are prepared to see.” The future is envisioned for us every day by traditional media and social media. At best we have a blurry fragmented image of the future punctuated by dystopian tales that outnumber utopian ones. Unfortunately, a positive ending is like the elusive Sasquatch, invisible to the untrained eye.

Ralph Waldo Emerson also said, “We become what we think about all day long.” For example, headlines in mainstream media about the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report released September 18, 2018, say that AI will cause 75 million people to be out of a job by 2022. Words like warning, displace, loss, and “robots taking over jobs” often accompany announcements like this. Fewer people will ever read that report but it also says that in the same time frame, “133 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.” We cannot yet imagine what all of the jobs are going to be. If we think about the 75 million lost jobs conventional logic might suggest that the future looks like mass unemployment of the Great Depression. Collectively we need to spend time preparing to see something we have never seen before, which is more nuanced than haves/ have-nots.

In 2014, Wired Magazine reported that about 100,000 people were content moderators paid a meager sum to remove objectionable content such as beheadings, child porn, and hate speech in people’s newsfeeds. Seeing the most egregious acts of humanity hundreds of times a day caused emotional breakdowns with symptoms similar to PTSD. In the last four years, developments in AI and fact-checking tools replaced many of these toxic jobs and offensive materials are removed more efficiently. Before the elections in Mexico, over 60 publishers, universities and civil society organizations collaborated on a platform called Verificado 2018 to help reveal hoaxes faster. Verificado spread news literacy videos to help close the gap between what can be detected by their platform and what memes are being shared quickly through social media without critical thinking. From day one, they set the expectations that the technological solution will work better if critically thinking humans participate.

Humans have special powers of ingenuity, imagination, and the ability to interpret nuance. What if we don’t look for the unicorn, but seek inspiration from it. Humans have always demonstrated that when we believe, we don’t need evidence to overcome. How might we help people think the unthinkable? What examples will prepare to us see the future as anything other than blurry, menacing and unknowable?

© Maggie Greyson 2018

Tags:  civilization  human  metaphor 

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Transitioning to a New Form of Innovation

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Adam Cowart has written his tenth post in our Emerging Fellows program. He unfolds some aspects of innovation in the light of CLA method. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

For those frustrated with the traditional tools and challenges of transformational innovation in a complex world, focus has turned to systems innovation. But does systems innovation address the underlying problem of sub optimization? Using the oft-quoted Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

What lies beneath our systems? Causal Layer Analysis, or CLA, provides some insight. For those unfamiliar with this concept, a brief example of the futures technique. At the top is what is known as the Litany. Imagine a headline in the newspaper: “Lawmakers Punished at the Ballot Box for Proposing Tax Increases”. In essence, tax increases are almost never popular despite some fairly substantial benefits. Litany is the noise at the top.

Below Litany is the Pattern level, in which we see tax trends (typically, decreases, especially in the corporate world). Beneath the Pattern level is the System/Structural level, in which political parties, nominations, lobbying groups, political donations, tax laws, etc., exist that shape the patterns of decreasing taxation. We would typically stop here in the more “woke” realms of innovation, system innovation. But in the CLA model, there are 2 more layers.

Underneath our tax systems, we have Worldviews. For our example, we will adopt a Modernist worldview: “Work hard and your life will get better”. And, underpinning all of this is the Myth or Organizing Metaphor. In this case, let us go with the American Dream: “Anyone can succeed.”

So, to play this all back: The organizing metaphor of the American Dream manifests in the modernist worldview of hard work and progress, which crystallizes into the political and financial systems, which create patterns of ever decreasing taxes (because we work hard for our money and if you have no money you must be lazy), which flare up into an event where a small group of pitiful politicians actually tries to do something about it.

How do we overcome sub optimization at the systems level? Narrative Innovation. By digging to the deepest layers of our collective existence. Not in the way that narrative innovation has perhaps been used before; using stories to generate new innovation. But rather the inverse: innovating the stories. Our underlying archetypal stories need to change in order to create true “systems wide” innovation.

This change is not merely a reworking of plot points, but a re-conception of the structure of our archetypal narratives. The French philosopher Deleuze asserts that we have moved from a moral existence to an aesthetic one. Within this move, there are Five Dualities, one of which is the move from Idea to Image. Much has been written about “images of the future”, and, perhaps, before we had images of the future we had ideas of the future. But as Fred Polak noted more than 50 years ago, our images are in decline. While we have focused some energy on regenerating our images to guide us towards a new future, perhaps it is too late? Perhaps images are no longer the vehicles, the beacons of our future? Perhaps we have moved into a new form of existence? From moral to aesthetic to something else altogether. And our underlying organizing metaphors must also evolve, must also be innovated. From ideas of the future to images of the future to (you fill in the blank).

© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  CLA  innovation  narrative innovation 

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Can international institutions constrain great-power conflict?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Craig Perry has written his ninth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece asks whether international institutions can constrain great-power conflict. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Since at least the time of Thucydides, realism has dominated the study of international relations, explaining the propensity for great-power conflict in terms of human nature and systemic anarchy. But what accounts for cooperation among states? Liberalism emerged from the Enlightenment as a competing school of thought, emphasizing the importance of international institutions, free trade, and the spread of democracy in mitigating conflict—and positing a theory of change promising a more peaceful future.

For all the talk of anarchy in international relations, states do tend to cooperate on a myriad of issues. Unlike the classic “prisoner’s dilemma” that rewards defection, states have to live with the lasting consequences of their iterative foreign policy choices, making mutual cooperation an eminently rational choice. As their interests converge in a given area, states routinely enter into arrangements with one another, from informal consultations to binding treaties and international organizations, that more efficiently and productively manage their interactions. In practice, such cooperative regimes produce far more “win-win” outcomes than zero-sum solutions.

The 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which famously introduced the modern concept of state sovereignty, also inaugurated the use of multinational gatherings to resolve international disputes. Such ad hoc conferences became a recurring feature of European diplomacy following the 1815 Congress of Vienna—which also established the world’s first intergovernmental organization, to manage navigation on the Rhine—and it wasn’t long before international conventions in Geneva and The Hague began codifying laws of war.

Founded following World War I, the League of Nations was the first international organization focused on maintaining world peace, and it failed miserably owing in part to poor institutional design and lack of U.S. membership. However, this idealistic experiment paved the way for the United Nations, which has successfully resolved numerous conflicts since the Second World War through diplomacy, economic sanctions, peacekeeping operations, and even the use of military force. Nowadays, most countries insist on UN Security Council authorization before going to war, and even the great powers pay lip service to this influential institution as a forum for registering their foreign policy positions.

Beyond the UN, the United States championed a variety of multilateral regimes to promote global economic growth and regional integration in the wake of World War II, including the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, NATO military alliance, and the European Union. These institutions not coincidentally served as bulwarks against Soviet expansion during the Cold War, and were instrumental in the transition of Eastern Europe to “Western” democracy and capitalism after the collapse of the USSR. They have unquestionably contributed to making Europe whole, free, and at peace.

Regional integration has been much less successful in Asia, however, where U.S. influence has been exercised primarily through bilateral arrangements among mutually mistrustful partners that only recently began to fear a rising China. Since taking up its UNSC seat in 1971, Beijing has proven itself more adept than Moscow at playing well with others in multilateral forums, joining Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the WTO before its northern neighbor and establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a potential rival to the World Bank and IMF. With the launch of its massive Belt and Road Initiative and the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, China is institutionalizing its regional hegemony—and challenging U.S. leadership—in ways Russia must envy.

While the proliferation of cooperative international regimes has certainly bound most states together in ways that makes war among them less likely, it puts far fewer constraints on the great powers, who jealously guard their privileged positions atop the international system. Beijing rejected arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea over its South China Sea claims; Moscow annexed Crimea in contravention of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances; and Washington routinely engages in bombing campaigns with the flimsiest of legal pretexts.

Moreover, the future of international cooperation seems increasingly uncertain. The current American president disdains the very multilateralism that for generations enhanced U.S. power and prosperity; China is promoting alternative arrangements that promise far less transparency and accountability; and Russia is intent on undermining NATO and the EU at any cost. The less committed these great powers become to prevailing security regimes, the more likely they are to disregard longstanding norms of international cooperation and multilateral conflict resolution—which could be a very dangerous development, indeed.

Ultimately, international institutions can constrain conflict—but only insofar as the great powers play along. And for Beijing, Moscow, and Washington, it’s an anarchic world after all.

© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  conflict  multilateralism  power 

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The Make Belief Economy: The Performative Nature of Scarcity

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Adam Cowart is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is his ninth article written for the program. In it, he explores the performative nature of scarcity. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the APF or its members.
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote “The essence of reality is scarcity. There isn’t enough love in the world, enough food, enough justice, enough time in life. To gain any sense of satisfaction in our life we must go in to heady conflict with the forces of scarcity.”

Our recent writing has explored the future of the real economy from a number of perspectives. We now turn to a key ingredient of the real economy, probably the most fundamental tenant of modern economics: scarcity. Or, put another way, supply and demand. Seen through this lens supply and demand can be reconfigured as the tension between the real and the unreal. Supply can be real or unreal. Ditto for demand. In the absence of perfect information we are left with an elaborate economic performance.
Performance studies, an interdisciplinary discipline that uses the frame of performance to view the world, classifies the blurring of the real and unreal, between reality and performance, as “Make belief”. Put another way, we create belief through performance. One example is the ways in which we “perform” stereotypical roles of ourselves. We come to embody ways of being that aren’t really our true selves, but a blending of who we really are with the make belief societal perceptions of who we ought to be.

In the post-scarcity world, forecasted sometime in the next 50 years, competitive advantage becomes a “make belief” process by which conventional rules of scarcity can still be applied. Where a “post-scarcity” economy would appear to be a desired future goal there is nothing to suggest that our penchant for performances of scarcity won’t simply prompt us to create ever evolving and elaborate domains of scarcity. As self-replication becomes ubiquitous, human desires could turn to that which defies self-replication. We want what everyone else has until we’ve got it – then we want something else. Where the bulk of business activities today focus on overcoming some form or another of scarcity (not enough cheap labour, not enough materials, etc.) in the future, there could be a far more concerted effort to stimulate scarcity. Scarcity = real, and real = profit. Simply being “real” will have its own market cache. In a post-scarcity economy, the performance of scarcity will become the de facto marketing campaign for any business.

Evidence of this shift is already well underway. Witness the plethora of food movements, most of which fit broadly under the category of “real food”. Organic, local, Non-GMO. In short, food that is typically scarcer and therefore more “real” than other, abundant foods.

There is a danger that the ongoing performance of scarcity beguiles us into seeing scarce goods as better than non-scarce goods. Our culture of consumption and rituals to colonize and monetize show few signs of faltering. If we want to move beyond the real economy, beyond scarcity, the technology we focus on will only get us halfway to our goal. Unfortunately, we still have to change our habits, how we act, and move into a new form of capitalist culture. It will still be an elaborate performance of make belief, but at least it will be sustainable and equitable.

© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  belief  economics  scarcity 

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Social Entrepreneurs – Fashion or Future?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Polina Silakova‘s eighth post in our Emerging Fellows program continues to explore social entrepreneurs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Previously we have discussed the potential of social entrepreneurship to make a shift in social values and to address wicked problems through social innovation. What changes in public and private sectors are needed for social entrepreneurship to become future-proof in the capitalistic world?

Government is starting to play an enabling role in the development of the sector. Initiatives like social enterprise strategies, social procurement or social impact investment start to reshape institutional and cultural frameworks of the past. Procuring services from a social enterprise or from a traditional vendor might make no difference in terms of the services received. But it does make a difference for people from disadvantaged groups who get the job or for those from vulnerable groups who benefit from the redistributed profit. Yet, a significant maturity of legislation is still required to better define this sector and to help other players understand what a social enterprise is and what it is not.

Another legislative change needed is about the behaviour that gets incentivised. What if governments would support businesses which are driven not by the desire to maximise profit, but which put community first? This step might seem counterintuitive in the market economy, but it turns out that a government operating based on the principles of commons already exists.

Municipalists, such as Barcelona en Comú – a new movement, independent from political parties – challenge the current understanding of democracy by putting the common goals of city residents in the heart of their policy-making. Despite conservative politicians initially criticising them for being naive, lacking understanding where city money comes from and even tagging them “the democratic mistake”, en Comú proved they were fit to serve the community in just a couple of years.

By focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable population, they:
•do business only with hotels that agree to pay a living wage
•create new affordable housing, many of which were previously vacant bank-owned units
•looking at extending store opening hours to address economy of care – mostly female part of the population whose primary labor is caring for others
•and even launched a publicly held energy company.

According to the Mayor Ada Colau, they are “prioritising people and common objectives above any other vested interest and any other type of power”. This would not turn any enterprise in a social enterprise, but is it a good enough shake-up for businesses to realise that the rules of the game are changing?

And what about businesses? Here as well we see emerging partnerships between corporates and social entrepreneurs. IKEA, for example, employs local artisans in vulnerable communities around the world. Through limited edition collections handcrafted by women from these communities, the company attempts to tackle social challenges: alleviate poverty, empower women and integrate refugees into a new to them society. They call it “business for good, for everyone”. PR or an active social agenda? It does not matter. Remember Erick Jantsch’s theory of social change? Once this initial change in behaviour, introduced by innovators, becomes a norm, a change in social values will follow.

And the process has started already. Australia’s GoodCompany has announced its annual rating of Top 40 Best Workplaces to Give Back. Corporates compete to get on the list by providing pro bono work, sponsorship or volunteering. Is this a natural trajectory of evolution – from maximising shareholders value (and sometimes actively doing harm) to understanding that this approach is not sustainable? Can we reach the other side of the scale, where maximising the value for the community will be essential to remain competitive? While social entrepreneurs are learning from corporations how to do business, can corporations learn from social entrepreneurs how to make business good-for-all?

© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  economics  entrepreneurship  society 

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Will infrastructures become monopolised and, if so, who will own them?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Daniel Bonin has written his seventh installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, he explores infrastructures in the light of monopolies. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Monopolies have a long and varied history. As regulators start to fear the misuse of market power by monopolistic companies they develop policy tools to regulate and unbundle markets. Still different types of monopolies like natural or geographic monopolies continue to exist. What will their future look like and could it be that new infrastructure monopolies and even outright state monopolies emerge by 2050?

Monopolies are not bad per se, they can help to cope with the problems which a free market economy fails to deliver. Until 2050, more and more governments may decide to tolerate a monopoly to ensure equal access to vital infrastructures in their depopulating rural areas. A monopoly provides also a certain amount of security, an environment in which the issue of costly upfront costs in new infrastructures could be solved. There is another argument for infrastructure monopolies that stems from technological change.

The past showed that monopolies have been responsible for miss-allocation in the economy. But what if new monopolies are the only way to allocate resources amid increasing connectivity and complexity by 2050? Artificial intelligence provides us a tool to handle complex systems like the supply and demand of infrastructures. However, it could work best if the monopolistic infrastructure operator has access, power and authority to change all of the variables that are relevant to the system. Think of an intelligent transport network that balances different modes of transport and movement of freight. With full access to real-time data and relevant infrastructures, such a network could even adjust traffic management systems and even the width of traffic lanes to accommodate the different users like humans, trams, autonomous vehicles and drones alike. Would a country be able to resist the tender of a monopolistic company that promises to provide such a smooth and cheap infrastructure or would it drawback and tolerate or even nurture new monopolies?

Would countries even have an incentive to create state monopolies? Governments are always concerned about the interference of other countries in their domestic affairs. Considering the growing connectivity of infrastructures and the role of data. It seems that concerns over interference of other countries in domestic affairs could provide such a reason. Countries would otherwise risk foreign competitors gaining access to vital information and the ability to manipulate infrastructures.

It is not only about the access to data, but the risk of the manipulation of data and news. Caught in this crossfire of threats, a state controlled telecommunication infrastructure monopoly could be a rational move for a liberal country to clear the situation. One strong state monopoly could also allow a country to strongly influence global infrastructure standards and win the race for new key enabling technologies like 5G. Thinking further ahead until 2050, a state monopoly for satellite operation becomes a first step to monopolise space and exercise geopolitical power. Earlier than one thinks, owning world’s first space debris management infrastructure might become of importance for the balance of power in space.

If countries decide to accept or even promote infrastructure monopolies, they need to develop a toolkit to regulate private infrastructure monopolies before it is too late. Financial institutions became too big to fail and monopoly-like platforms became too big to be regulated. In a similar way, private infrastructure monopolies could become too efficient to be regulated and too security-related to be not nationalised. To prevent some of this risk, state monopolies could be considered. However, as politics becomes more and more involved, it needs to be critically reflected that political interests and cycles are at odds with the life-cycle of infrastructures and the speed of innovation. Could state monopolies become the grit in the gears of future-proof infrastructures?

© Daniel Bonin 2018

Tags:  government  infrastructure  monopoly 

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Social entrepreneurs: Heroes on the edge

Posted By Administration, Friday, September 7, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Polina Silakova‘s seventh post in our Emerging Fellows program continues to explore social entrepreneurs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Social entrepreneurship is winning more and more hearts and minds. It is showing a potential to disrupt traditional business models. For now, it is still quite niche and will need to come a long way to be seriously considered as an evolution of capitalism. The time required for the sector to mature and the broader ecosystem to introduce mechanisms for collaboration is one reason. Yet the main cause is probably that it is just bloody hard to be a social entrepreneur.

Not only do you face all the issues that most start-ups are too familiar with – unstable cash flow, scalability, securing high product quality with limited resources – there is also an additional level of complexity: delivering on the promise to give back to the community. To make things harder, it is not enough just to be doing good – you are expected to demonstrate that your approach is working. With social impact in the heart of the business proposition, it is essential to be radically transparent about profit and how it gets distributed. For a social enterprise, earning customers’ trust is more critical than almost for anyone else: no customer wants to find out that the dollars they spent to support a social cause have sponsored someone’s luxurious vacation. And trust takes time.

On top of the challenges of these early days when social entrepreneurship is toddling its way into the big economic system, we would argue that some of the obstacles are created by the entrepreneurs themselves. The very disconformity which drives social entrepreneurs to start their own business in the first place might be doing them a disservice at a later stage. Surveys suggest that after the paramount motivation to make the difference, the key motives driving these startuppers are the need for acknowledgment and heroism. Combined with a strong attachment to a specific social issue, this might make collaboration with other entrepreneurs more difficult. Opportunities to make more impact with joint forces are being missed. This leads to the high fragmentation of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem which slows down the development of the sector.

Previously, we touched on the lessons that business can adopt from nature. Is there a recipe from the wild world which would help social entrepreneurs? Potentially, yes – the phenomenon called the edge effect. In ecology, the edge effect happens at the boundary where two ecosystems, such as forest and savannah, meet. This is the place where the most forms of life are born. By drawing on the distinct features of the two different habitats, edge effect creates the environment for unprecedented biodiversity. A lot has been said about the importance of diversity for innovation, and social innovation is not different.

Stepping out of the zone where you have full control, letting the certainty go and trusting emergence might not be easy. This is the time and space when one might get uncomfortable with the ambiguity of how the future might unfold. This space is called liminal space – the threshold where the solutions from the past are not effective anymore and the new solutions are only shaping. Despite the discomfort, with a little luck and trust this space might uncover completely new answers to an old problem – it can show the way to innovation.

To part with one’s personal ambitions in order to amplify social impact might be hard. But if we truly want to make a sustainable change, we need to move from ego- to eco-system, as Otto Scharmer puts it. We live in the time when we need not heroes but leaders. Leaders, who sense how to jump on an opportunity, able to think in systems, connect the dots and connect with people, drawing on the collective talent.

In the age of connected devices, the ability to collaborate and to come up with creative solutions is one of the key traits differentiating us from machines; it needs to be cherished. We need to shift from problem-solution matching to the recognition that many of today’s issues don’t have a known solution. Trusting a collective co-creation process can get us closer to finding what works. By going beyond the edge for more collaboration, social entrepreneurs could accelerate social innovations. This could help the whole sector more quickly to become a more serious alternative to traditional business.

Finding yourself at the edge might feel uncomfortable, but what if a step forward would give us wings?

© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  economics  entrepreneurship  society 

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