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Has The Economy Failed Society?

Posted By Administration, Friday, January 4, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Esmee Wilcox has published her first installment in our Emerging Fellows program. She recaptures socioeconomic theories in the light of realities being experienced in our modern age. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Societies have sleepwalked into an acceptance of the predominance of capital. We have gone far beyond Karl Marx’s theories of capital driving the ordering of society. We no longer question the consequence of this imbalance for our existence. We need to rebalance the needs of capital and society. Not simply as an end in itself, but primarily because we need new social norms to tackle future global issues. How has this imbalance come about?

Is Marx right that the ordering of society is necessarily driven by the needs of capital? If so, what does this mean for the assumptions we bring to our conception of society? What does this mean for the widely-held view that capitalism has triumphed other economic models?

The 1990s view of the ‘triumph of capitalism’ came out of the toppling of the old communist order in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Empire. Alongside this came a slow opening up of China to trade and privately run enterprise from the late 1970s. However, there is a flaw in the logic to present capitalism as the only alternative to communism. Without any credible alternative models on the table, it is easy to see why the ideology of capitalism took hold. 25 years on, with rising populism coupled with pervasive neo-liberal power, there are three interconnected trends that illuminate the contradictions and flaws in the predominance of the economy in our patterns of local and global behaviours.

First, the enduring power of the interests of capital at the heart of government. Politically-centrist governments have gained and retained power with policies that appeal to lower-income communities. They appeal to the interests of capital because they have done so without transferring political influence.

At the same time, the interests of capital have subtly influenced the organising of public and social value to be more ‘commercial’. It has confused being responsive to citizens needs with being economically driven. The ‘McKinsey effect’ on public policy-making should not be underestimated. In more recent years there has been some recognition of the need to rebalance social with economic value within UK local government: the 2012 Social Value Act created a space for public policy-makers to utilise its purchasing power to balance economic efficiencies with social benefits. However, it hasn’t challenged the underlying economic model whereby one’s life expectancy and life chances can be predicted by one’s mother’s educational status and the extent of your vocabulary at age two.

Second, our attachment to material possessions – aptly described as ‘affluenza’ – at the heart of our economic growth model, placates the reality of our diminishing ability to influence capital power. Credit is freely available, we can buy our housing association property, but we can’t persuade governments to pay for sufficient modern housing stock to have a home and a family life. This consumerist economic model drives income generation over friendships and developing community capital. Coupled with business interests creating a more precarious working environment, we are increasingly squeezing out time to care.

Third, the status anxiety that comes from our awareness of our social position in any social interaction. We’re so worried about people who have more income. More luxurious experiences than us. Retaining our rung on the ladder. Our status dominates our social interactions and reduces the joy in them. As social encounters become harder to have, we shy away from them and become lonelier and more isolated.

This is why it’s interesting to consider alternatives to the predominance of economic drivers on our society. It doesn’t just affect people at the bottom of income distribution, but the powerful interests of capital. Society can’t be divided into economically self-supporting strata when social phenomena exist as a response to the whole. We can no longer ignore these feedback mechanisms.

Marx’s theories were conceived of in far less connected societies. They have remained intact as we have become more globally connected. However, they are not a guide to our future that is more complex, interconnected and unpredictable. We know that self-organised, adaptive and resilient communities are more able to respond to changes in the external environment. This requires high levels of co-operation and collaboration, the antithesis of atomised economic self-supporting behaviours. These are a clue to the social norms that have to be in abundance if we are to tackle global late 21st Century issues.

The triumph of capitalism is a binary argument suited to the interests of 20th century phenomena. It has taken hold because we have become seduced by its simplicity and its immediate rewards. It is much more difficult, and yet more compelling, to seek out the 21st Century socio-economic norms that will help us face up to scarce physical resources. It will be disruptive but offers hope for future generations.

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  capitalism  economics  power 

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Ticket to the Future

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Polina Silakova, a member of our Emerging Fellows program accomplishes her blogging mission successfully in 2018 by publishing an interesting post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

People introduced tickets as a mechanism to control access to limited goods and services. We are surrounded by tickets. A ticket on a plane reserves us a seat in a machine which will take us to new horizons. A visa allows us to stay in a place that is usually attractive enough to create an artificial contest for the right to be there. A membership provides you with services not available to others. You invest – you get access to an opportunity. If we are in a lucky position, we can choose the ticket and the destination. If we overlay this concept with the idea of a variety of possible futures awaiting us ahead, a ticket to which future do we want to get?

Over the past 12 months, we discussed this by looking at potential pathways for the post-capitalist economy. We were especially keen to know whether the universal moral values or the capitalistic cult for possessions will guide our future. The search for the answer took us to different corners of the planet where people’s responses to the side-effects of capitalism are sparking hope that we might be heading towards a better future.

We saw young entrepreneurs jumping off the big and clumsy steam train of global corporations (successful if measured by their share price), because these people could not agree with the direction that they were heading towards. In the smog from ever increasing unsustainable production, they could not see the purpose to align with. We applauded to the municipalists movement in Barcelona, who understood that improved equality and long-term sustainability will make citizens happier than infinite growth benefiting a few. Not only they challenged the current understanding of democracy, but could demonstrate already in the first couple of years that their approach is working. We even joined a hearing in a US courtroom, where boys and girls from iMatter, already at a young age have become disillusioned with their government’s ability to protect their needs and those of future generations. They refused to accept tickets to the future valid only till the end of the government’s election term.

These steps towards the increased consciousness plant seeds of hope that the next iteration of economic system will be more sustainable and just. And yet, the embodiment of this hope to a greater extent depends on the choices that powerful global businesses will make. Many quoted this year’s annual letter from the CEO of BlackRock – one of the most influential global investment firms. It stated that following new expectations from customers and community, they are now evaluating companies based on their response to “broader societal challenges” and whether they “serve a social purpose.” The New York Times called the letter “a watershed moment on Wall Street” raising “questions about the very nature of capitalism”.

The question remains though: what is driving the companies to make this shift? Does it happen out of fear to lose customer trust or investors’ support, with profit remaining the underlying motive? If so, how significant can this social impact be? Does it become just another marketing tool for the same old endgame: more sales, more growth, more money?

Even then – we could hope – this shift could take us a little closer towards a more positive version of the future. Remember the coffee-cup example from our previous posts? Initially driven by a bunch of innovators, reusable coffee cups are now conquering the world, helping it to become a tiny bit more sustainable. Similarly, the new generation of businessmen growing up in the environment where creating positive social impact is becoming a norm might nurture values quite different to those ruling the capitalistic economy. In the face of increasingly challenging global issues, these values will help them to genuinely engage in revisiting unsustainable business models.

To what type of future humanity is heading depends on the tickets that each of us will choose. These tickets are a combination of choices that we make every day. These are our “investments”, each associated with a specific type of future. Can I give an example? Here you go.

We started this series just after last Christmas and as we finish it, the new Christmas season is approaching. If you are wondering what choices you could still make this year to contribute to a “good future destination” ticket, think of your Christmas presents. Consider not buying new stuff. Give your loved ones experiences. Give surprise visits to people you haven’t seen for a long time. Give them your time and take them for a walk in a forest. Give them a ticket to joyful moments of life – they will never end up in landfill.

 
© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  capitalism  economics  United States 

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Fake It Till You Make It

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 22, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Adam Cowart, a member of our Emerging Fellows program explains the term hyperstition in his twelfth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Previous posts have explored various ways in which the real economy may or may not be real in the future, utilizing the concept of hyperstition, the combination of “hyper” and “superstition”, which refers to the process of ideas becoming reality in our culture. More specifically, how new realities manifest in the economy.

While perhaps the academic study of hyperstition and its effects and influence on late-capitalism is relatively new, the conceptual underpinnings are not. One of the most well-known lines in the Bible is “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (English Standard for those wondering). In our current age, the capacity for words to dwell among us, in the various forms of social media in general, twitter in particular, and our latent inventiveness in turning ideas into reality, has led to a powerful and reinforcing loop between the word and flesh.

The myriad ways in which this has influenced our economic systems have been explored, though far from exhaustively. We’ve looked at the nefarious means by which late-capitalism will continue to mine the nooks and crannies of everyday life for growth opportunities, including trauma-related world building in the form of imaginary paracosm economies, and the incredible ecological strain of consumers shifting from “having” to “being” consumption patterns. In the virtual realm we’ve considered whether AI entrepreneurs pumping out transient products and services will cause our much admired entrepreneur to go extinct along with those who face the future challenges of virtual foraging. Finally, we’ve delved into the implications of the grand performance of scarcity in a post-scarcity world, the hamster-wheel of sub optimization brought on by situated innovation and, of course, back to where we started our journey with pigeon Ponzi schemes going up in smoke.

Of course, our fiction to reality process is far from linear. And it is far from monolithic. With the most recent rise of nationalism, with left and right in a constant oppositional state of becoming far-left and far-right, we’ve also seen the proliferation of folk economics. This rejection of globalism for localism, whether practical or not, has likewise bred a plethora of local, culturally and economically ingrained hyperstitional realities. Reality and economics is now situational. The economy is both great and terrible.

We have been referred to grandly as “The Weather Makers”. Perhaps of greater concern is our inconsistent ability to be “The Reality Makers”. Still far from clear is how this will manifest in the future, where reality is customizable and up for debate.

As for the Pigeon King story I began this series with, I recently attended a play in rural Ontario, a matinee production, called “The Pigeon King”, based on the true story in which a man built a Ponzi scheme empire selling pigeons. Or, perhaps, he was just a bad businessman. Regardless, economic abstractions had given way to tangible pigeons, which had now given way to a theatrical performance. Fact had come full circle back to fiction. After the play finished, the performers took their bow. But we weren’t done yet. The performers encouraged us to open our programs. In the program was a folded paper pigeon. They told us to pull out the pigeons and then, on the count of three, we launched our pigeons into the rafters of the theatre. A theatre full of old people, laughing, suddenly children again. A sad flock of paper pigeons trying to take flight, sputtering out, before being snatched back up and tossed a few feet further. Up on stage the actors and the musicians watched. The audience and performers had switched roles. I noticed the fiddler. He didn’t play now. Didn’t fiddle. Just watched us. Content.


© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  economics  future  Ponzi scheme 

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The World Is Turning into a Pumpkin Patch

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Adam Cowart has just published his eleventh post in our Emerging Fellows program, raising assumptions on the future of economy. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

To the best of my recollection, when I was young my family only went to the pumpkin patch once. Every year we would beg to go. Every year my father would say “no” and explain to us the minute difference between the cost of a store bought pumpkin, and the cost of going to the pumpkin patch. Plus transportation costs. Compound interest and so forth… Of course, he preferred a third option: no pumpkin at all.

But what, exactly, is the allure of a pumpkin patch? It’s usually raining, cold. Certainly, from an economic perspective, grabbing one at the grocery store is cheaper, more efficient, probably better for the environment. In “Emotionally Durable Design”, Jonathan Chapman turns to social psychologist Erich Fromm, invoking the consumption relationship between incorporation and possession in ritual acts of cannibalism. To consume another human being, or animal, is to acquire their strength or courage, or whatever power they possess that is deemed accessible to acquisition.

This insight points to the evolution of an ongoing trend: A psychological and consumer shift away from “having” into “being”, one in which we focus our economic energies on immersing ourselves in the experience, a cannibalistic form of possession.

“Authentic experiences” are a case in point. These experiences at their most pure are serendipitous, original, unmediated, and have a profound, lasting impact on individuals. Here, perhaps, is a clue as to the future of the real economy: where ecological and cultural resources are extracted experientially versus in a coordinated process meant to maximize efficiency.

Think of the global economy shifting to an unwieldy version of what we might call “The Pumpkin Patch Scenario”, the expansion of unmediated, or low-mediated, cultural exploitation. Foraging would be an example of this; much like those who set out “off the beaten path” to find spaces uncolonized by tourism. The “being” of the experience supersedes the “having” of the object. The economic transaction is dependent upon the experience of the pumpkin patch and not on the pumpkin itself.

Why might this shift be happening? Perhaps because of the over-commercialization and manipulation of emotion, the synthetic and scripted quality of our products and experiences. As design increasingly mediates our experiences we must wander further afield to escape into the unrefined. All of this will have dire consequences on the climate, as our consumption patterns become more emergent and esoteric.
 
While this turn from “having” to “being” is well underway, whether it manifests in a virtual “being” or a “real” being is yet to be determined. The most likely scenario is a mixing of the two, in which we chose to have a virtual and physical presence. An exaggerated version of today. One in which the more deeply we immerse ourselves in the synthetic, the more invasively we mine the authentic when we come up for air.

But a more radical shift could be under way. One in which citizens choose to primarily inhabit either the synthetic or the authentic. In the future, our economy could be divided along wholly new lines: instead of developed and developing economies, we could have those who inhabit the virtual economy, those who inhabit the physical economy, and those who cross between. What would an economy look like where consumers are located by their chosen, or imposed, economically situated “being-ness”, versus traditional socio-economic boundaries?


© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  authentic experience  consumer  economics 

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Rebalancing Societal Governance

Posted By Administration, Sunday, October 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program continues her nation-state discussion in her ninth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The two fundamental concepts that society has organized itself into are nation and state. The success of this model was observed when the distance between nation and state was almost non-existent. Today, the nation and state seem to have distanced considerably. Although society’s organization model has shifted, its governance structure still follows the one intended for the stage when nation and state almost overlapped.

The nation-state governs society’s internal (e.g., law, tax) and external (e.g., defense) affairs through a governing entity structured based on three interacting systems: political, economic, and social. The three systems operate most successfully when they are in balance. The equilibrium between the societal economic and social systems is meant to be maintained by politics. Imagine this balance as a triangle with all three sides equal, with politics as its top vertex, and the economic and social dimensions as the other two vertices at the bottom. Imbalance arises when the three sides are not equal anymore. The situation arises created when one of the vertices overshadows the other two, or when two vertices grow apart. As an example, some might consider that the exacerbation of religion, during various time periods, elevated the importance and influence of the social system, at the expense of the economic and political ones.

Nowadays, it seems that politics’ capability to balance economy and society has dwindled again. This time, economic dominance prevails. The economic vertex has outgrown the politics and social ones. With this, the distance between the political and social system has increased. As such, the two aspects left behind by the overgrown economic system (i.e., political and social), often struggle. What has changed since the days when societal governance operated optimally on a foundation of its balanced political, economic, social systems?

Exponential advancement in technology enables the world to connect globally, share information and collaborate in ways not possible before, further transforming the political, economic, and social systems. Big data and social networks have created powerful feedback loops between information and political microtargeting, partisanship, and polarization. Ironically, such tactics have diminished ideological differentiation amongst political parties, while strengthening party unity in decision-making for those elected to serve in governing bodies. In the process, partisans are incentivized to participate in the voting process, while the rest are forgotten, increasing their disengagement in politics. The question is how could the use of big data and social networks be turned around to take us back to what democratic politics used to be?

Economic dominance and technology seem to have increased the level of collaboration amongst groups of nation-states and their citizens, enabling migration. Migrants participate right away in the economic and social system of their new country. They engage in the development of their new country through economic and social contributions, yet have little say in the democratic process. Obtaining the right to vote and participating in politics has a lengthy time lag, which excludes them from political engagement. As a result, societal governance tends to misrepresent their rights and responsibilities. The political-economic-social is, once more, unbalanced.

In the process, the nation-state has diminished its capacity to ensure the protection, development, and well-being of its citizens through edifices such as education, healthcare, or culture. Given the increasing distance between nation and state, and the imbalance observed in the political-economic-social governance, how might a society organize and govern itself such that its citizens feel empowered to harmonize civic rights and responsibilities with their values and aspirations?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  economics  society  state 

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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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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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Social entrepreneurship: Can a storm in a coffee cup change the world?

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

Craig Perry has written his eighth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece asks whether there would be any profit in a great-power conflagration. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

In 1999, American journalist Thomas Friedman penned his notorious “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention,” positing that no countries with McDonald’s restaurants had ever fought a war against each other. Critics quickly noted that the presence of this ubiquitous American fast-food chain hadn’t stopped the U.S. invasion of Panama a decade earlier, nor would it preclude NATO from bombing Serbia (1999), the Kargil War between India and Pakistan (1999), Israel’s second Lebanon war (2006), or Russian incursions into Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014-present). But even if Friedman’s pop theory is bunk, it echoes an established maxim of international relations: globalization makes countries so economically interdependent, they can’t afford to wage war very intensely for very long.

English journalist Norman Angell popularized this argument nearly a century earlier, dismissing the supposed economic benefits of war as “the great illusion.” The commercial systems of Europe and America had become so complicated, Angell wrote in 1909, that it is impossible for one nation “to enrich itself by subjugating, or imposing its will by force on another.” The world was then experiencing a remarkable era of globalization, with freely flowing capital and labor producing unprecedented prosperity, and the European powers had few incentives to risk this arrangement through war.

Nevertheless, the continent soon plunged headlong into conflict—followed by an even more cataclysmic sequel a generation later—and it would be several more decades before international trade and finance fully returned to pre-World War I levels. Although Angell went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his idealistic views, it wasn’t until 1950 that Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister who championed the European Coal and Steel Community, offered a practical vision to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.” The free movement of goods, services, capital, and people within what is now known as the European Union has indeed facilitated peace among its members ever since.

Of course, neither the EU nor its constituent states are counted among the world’s great powers nowadays, while those that are—the United States, China, and Russia—haven’t achieved anything close to this level of economic interdependence. Although the sheer volume of Chinese wealth invested in the U.S. economy, which is itself highly vulnerable to disruption by Beijing, ought to be sufficient to deter military conflict, there are worrying signs that this mutually profitable arrangement is breaking down. Washington has recently abandoned its longstanding support for globalization in favor of trade wars with its closest allies and fiercest competitors, while the Middle Kingdom’s commitment to build a world-class military by 2050 suggests its foreign policy ambitions will soon catch up with its global economic dominance. Russia, for its part, is far less integrated into the world economy, while its oil and gas customers can’t easily switch to other suppliers in the event of conflict, reducing Moscow’s incentives to curb its aggressive behavior.

As much as it may militate against great-power conflict, globalization can also disrupt the international order in ways that actually increase the odds of war. This paradox played out before WWI, when industrialization created enormous wealth whose uneven distribution simultaneously reordered societies and upset prevailing balances of power. Rising industrial giants like Germany aggressively pursued greater international influence, while rulers in Vienna and Istanbul struggled to keep their polyglot empires intact, and entrenched elites everywhere stoked nationalism to distract an increasingly restive proletariat. By upending traditional social and political arrangements, this previous period of globalization unleashed centrifugal forces that ultimately tore apart the old order.

A century later, globalization has again created winners and losers, both within and between nations. In the United States and Europe, populist politicians increasingly scapegoat immigrants and minorities, bankers and trading partners, and the very institutions that for generations heralded democratic progress and economic prosperity. China, which has profited handsomely within this established world order, now plays the part of spoiler seeking a larger slice of the geopolitical pie, while Russia’s leaders do what they can to exacerbate anti-establishment tendencies for their own short-term benefit.

Globalization has indeed made much of the world so economically interdependent that it renders war objectively unprofitable—yet it has also sown the seeds of potential future conflicts. Whether the great illusion of war will again deceive political leaders in the 21st century depends in large part on how effectively national governments and international institutions resolve the inherent contradictions of modern capitalism, and continue to leverage the more peaceful logic of mutual economic benefit.


© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  economics  entrepreneurship  politics 

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Can We Reimagine Rural Areas as Equal to Cities?

Posted By Administration, Friday, July 27, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Daniel Riveong has written his fifth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, he explores the continued fluctuations between rural and urban areas. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

While the megacities of the Global South continue to grow, the UN projects that over 3.1 billion people will live in rural areas of Asia and Africa in 2050. Rural areas have generally been synonymous with limited economic and educational opportunities, along with generally less infrastructure and connectivity with the broader world. While there are governments, organizations, and programs to assist rural areas, what is needed is not just assistance but also rethinking what it means to be rural.

How can we rethink rural areas as not “left behind” areas to be fixed, but as an equal to urban areas? Rural areas can play to their strengths and be rethought of as places of resilience, connection, and integration.

Rural areas are traditionally idealized as places of self-reliance and resilience. They grow their own food, dig their own wells, and build their own houses. However, it is no longer enough for a community to be self-sustaining. The idea of self-reliant rural communities must be reinvented for contemporary needs (like social justice, education, health, connectivity) and to meet modern challenges of globalization and climate change.

Countries must seek to balance the current divide between the rural areas and the urban centers that traditionally extract labor and resources from them. Towns and villages must be made again as beacons of self-reliance and resiliency in agriculture, education, health, and infrastructure. Technologies, such as in decentralized manufacturing to MOOCs, along with cultural shifts towards artisanal over mass-produced goods, provide opportunities for reimagining the meaning of self-reliant and resilient provinces.

Villages can also be places of connection as a space to reconnect urban people with traditional cultures and ecological experiences. Driven by the Chinese’s government push for rural revitalization, Chinese architects have been reimagining villages as places of education, specifically helping urban peoples connect with nature, with the food system, and ancient traditional cultures.

The Chinese architects have sought to make pastoral life as a source of pride, tied to locality and tradition. Organic farming to cultural centers has been set-up in places like the Lin’An Village Bamboo Ecofarm and the Bishan Project. These projects have varying degrees of success, but new experiments are still being put forward for rural revitalization.

Technology, such as augmented reality to autonomous vehicles, provide us with the tools to rethink how cities and rural areas can integrate. Virtual Reality could help bring the world’s universities, engineers, and doctors into classrooms, workshops, and clinics in rural areas. Provincial artisans and farmers could more easily sell to urban centers using autonomous drones. In China, companies like JD.com are using drones to help bring rural goods to urban markets directly.

Agricultural and AV technologies may radically alter the borders between rural areas and urban centers. VR-enabled telecommuting and AVs would allow people living in rural areas to better connect to urban centers. It could encourage people from urban centers to move to connected, rural communities. At the same time, the introduction of vertical farming and community gardens in urban centers are expanding elements of rural life into urban centers.

The three potential visions of rural areas – resilience, connection, and integration – would bring both positive and negative changes to villages. The last two, connection and integration, would transform rural life and culture by inviting urban culture into their communities. Yet, if they are to go beyond neglect and depopulation, villages must seek new definitions and new visions.


© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  society 

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