I recently had the distinct honor of being on the opening plenary of the 2012 Skoll World Forum in Oxford. The panel, “Innovation in Times of Flux: Opportunities on the Heels of Crisis” was moderated by Judith Rodin, CEO of the Rockefeller Foundation. I’ve spent the past six years creating linkages between the humanitarian space and technology community, so the conversations we began during the panel prompted me to think more deeply about innovation in the humanitarian space. Clearly, humanitarian crises have catalyzed a number of important innovations in recent years. At the same time, however, these crises extend the cracks that ultimately reveal the inadequacies of existing humanita-rian organizations, particularly those resistant to change; and “any organization that is not changing is a battle-field monument” (While 1992).
These cracks, or gaps, are increasingly filled by disaster-affected communities themselves thanks in part to the rapid commercialization of communication technology. Question is: will the multi-billion dollar humanitarian industry change rapidly enough to avoid being left in the dustbin of history?
Crises often reveal that “existing routines are inadequate or even counter-productive [since] response will necessarily operate beyond the boundary of planned and resourced capabilities” (Leonard and Howitt 2007). More formally, “the ‘symmetry-breaking’ effects of disasters undermine linearly designed and centralized administrative activities” (Corbacioglu 2006). This may explain why “increasing attention is now paid to the capacity of disaster-affected communities to ‘bounce back’ or to recover with little or no external assistance following a disaster” (Manyena 2006).
Co.Exist: As you point out in your book, modern humanity has arrived at the first phase of an unprecedented “innovation revolution,” yet many are being left behind. Why is that and what are we gonna do about it?
Vijay Vaitheeswaran: First, I think it’s a wonderful time to be alive. Shockingly, this might be the best time to be in the bottom billion because of transformations like mobile telephony and micro-credit. But it’s getting much harder to be in the middle class in places like America. The principal reason for this, I think, is that educational systems are increasingly out of touch with the needs of the ideas economy. The current education system that our and other countries developed was suited to the industrial revolution, a one-size-fits-all model for education that treats people as commodities. But we’re in an innovation age where creativity, individual initiative, willingness to think out of the box and disrupt established business or even lifestyle patterns is much more important than simple manual tasks that produce the next widget. So I think the great challenge for developed economies like the U.S. is to reinvent education. The challenge for each one of us is to keep relearning how to learn.
Not many people think of shantytowns, illegal street vendors, and unlicensed roadside hawkers as major economic players. But according to journalist Robert Neuwirth, that’s exactly what they’ve become. In his new book, Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy, Neuwirth points out that small, illegal, off-the-books businesses collectively account for trillions of dollars in commerce and employ fully half the world’s workers.
Further, he says, these enterprises are critical sources of entrepreneurialism, innovation, and self-reliance. And the globe’s gray and black markets have grown during the international recession, adding jobs, increasing sales, and improving the lives of hundreds of millions. It’s time, Neuwirth says, for the developed world to wake up to what those who are working in the shadows of globalization have to offer. We asked him how these tiny enterprises got to be such big business.
Wired: You refer to the untaxed, unlicensed, and unregulated economies of the world as System D. What does that mean?
Robert Neuwirth:There’s a French word for someone who’s self-reliant or ingenious: débrouillard. This got sort of mutated in the postcolonial areas of Africa and the Caribbean to refer to the street economy, which is called l’économie de la débrouillardise—the self-reliance economy, or the DIY economy, if you will. I decided to use this term myself—shortening it to System D—because it’s a less pejorative way of referring to what has traditionally been called the informal economy or black market or even underground economy. I’m basically using the term to refer to all the economic activity that flies under the radar of government. So, unregistered, unregulated, untaxed, but not outright criminal—I don’t include gun-running, drugs, human trafficking, or things like that.
Wired: Certainly the people who make their living from illegal street stalls don’t see themselves as criminals.
Neuwirth: Not at all. They see themselves as supporting their family, hiring people, and putting their relatives through school—all without any help from the government or aid networks.
Wired: The sheer scale of System D is mind-blowing.
Neuwirth: Yeah. If you think of System D as having a collective GDP, it would be on the order of $10 trillion a year. That’s a very rough calculation, which is almost certainly on the low side. If System D were a country, it would have the second-largest economy on earth, after the United States.
Phi Beta Iota: System D is completely separate from straight forward black crime (organized crime) or white crime (Goldman Sachs et al). What this really means is that governments have lost all legitimacy and two thirds of the global economy now considers governments to be at best a meddling (and costly) nuisance and at worst the enemy to be defeated by any means necessary. Governments brought this on themselves.
People have been asking me for a short description of the FreedomBox that doesn’t get too technical but also gets into some details. So here’s my capsule pitch, a short form version of how I see the FreedomBox right now:
The FreedomBox just raised $80K in donations via Kickstarter (the campaign is still going on, if you want to donate) on the strength of positive press in the NYTimes, WSJ, Wired and CBS Evening News. We’re at the very beginning of putting together a team to build this thing. This week we will announce our tech lead, an A+ name with the experience and contacts to lead our architecture design.
Phi Beta Iota: Egypt is a lever for the Assisi Peace Summit.
1) Against dictators and corruption, inter-faith dialog and coordinated action is HAPPENING.
2) The connected young are the antidote to radical violent Islamic fundamentalism.
3) Muslim demographics must be understood by all Catholics and Protestants
4) The Church can be a central force for Open Spectrum, Open Source Software, Open Source Intelligence, and Open Society–imagine, in a revolution, all churches and mosques as sources of wireless solar and wind-powered information that cannot be shut down, that collaborate to avoid inter-faith violence and promote non-violent “presence” in the streets to overturn the 44 dictators and demand the withdrawal of all foreign military forces….
5) Revolutions are no longer national–the diasphoras matter–the global presence of the Church matters from local to national.
6) The hypocrisy of the USA is now fully revealed–Barack Obama made 500 promises to the American people he has not fulfilled, and he dares to suggest to anyone that they honor their promises? It is time for the Church to recognize that the people are the sovereign power, not governments, and that the Church can profit much more from a free people creating wealth than from absolving corruption by governments and corporations and crime families.
7) Liberation Theology is back–it must be elevated by the Most Holy Father NOW.
2012 is not the year of apocalypse, it is the year of awakening when the meek inherit the earth. The time between now and Assisi and from Assisi on is strategically priceless, in our collective view.
Below the line:
On Assisi Peace Summit and Inter-Faith Intelligence (7 Links)
On Egypt as Awakening (14 Links)
On Revolution in & Hypocrisy of USA (10 Links)
Direct to the Core Revolution References (8 Links)
The Unreasonable Institute Empowers the Public to Choose the Next Wave of High-Impact Social Entrepreneurs
Global donations will determine which entrepreneurs gain admission to esteemed mentorship program
BOULDER, Colo.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Starting Jan. 20, 45 social entrepreneurs will showcase their ventures in an online platform called the Unreasonable Finalist Marketplace (http://marketplace.unreasonableinstitute.org/). For 50 days, people from around the world are invited to vote with their wallets on the most viable ventures. The first 25 of the 45 finalists to raise $8,000 in the Marketplace will earn access to the highly acclaimed six-week mentorship program at the Unreasonable Institute. At the Institute, these social entrepreneurs undergo rigorous training sessions, including personal and entrepreneurial skill development, intensive workshops and hands-on guidance from leading thought leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors.
The 45 finalists were selected from more than 300 applicants in 60 countries. Each applicant had to present a financially self-sustaining venture that has the ability to scale to serve the needs of at least 1 million people and demonstrates customer validation through sales or pilots. The finalists this year include a Chinese engineer with a prototype for waterless composting toilets; a 2010 CNN Hero from Kenya who has distributed over 10,000 solar lanterns; and an American inventor with a water purification system that can roll up to the size of a ruler.
M-Paisa: Ending Afghan Corruption, one Text at a Time
Monty Munford Oct 17, 2010
Afghanistan supplies 92% of the world’s opiates. According to the latest available figures, the country produced 8,200 tons of heroin in 2008, more than double the the amount three years earlier.
But even being the heroin capital of the world, bringing in more money than most Afghans can dream of, the on-going war and rampant corruption means the money goes to the wrong people and the country has no infrastructure. There are no decent roads, no railways… But they do have mobile phones.
Four months ago, the Afghan National Police began to pay salaries through mobiles (using a text and Interactive Voice Response system), rather than in cash. The platform used was based on the M-Pesa service that has become highly successful in Kenya. Branded M-Paisa in Afghanistan, it was introduced by the operator Roshan in partnership with the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and had an immediate effect.
Social entrepreneur challenging conventional wisdom
Samasource–microwork (small digital tasks that can be done on an inexpensive computers).
Building 21st Century assembly line that can break down massive tasks (e.g. updating addresses for Google maps, or translating emergency messages from Creole to English). Won contracts with Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft.
15% premium for socially-conscious companies, AND competitive on cost, quality, and turnaround time.
Small scale digital tasks did not exist before.
Transforming lives, especially women, young men, and refugees. $5 a day is very much better than local norms, and buys an active English-speaking brain with hands able to do quality work.
IMPORTANT: Developing world is out-pacing USA and West generally in extending Internet infrastructure to the poor–centers created, humans come in, also doing viewing (Gorgon Stare, take note!), creating logs of store videos on shopper buying habits, anything that can be noticed and logged by a human–$5 a day.
Phi Beta Iota: We could not, in a million years, have found a better “off-set” to the USAF Gorgon Stare program. This micro-tasking, combining human brains and hands with Internet access, is one of the most profoundly intelligent and socio-economically useful ideas we have seen in our lifetimes (there are 800 of us here). BRAVO.
4) Organize citizens to do participatory legislation and participatory policy and participatory budgeting and participatory regulatory and propriety oversight in relation to specific issue areas, zip codes, countries, or states, and empower them as a group that cannot be ignored.
GroupOn has done what all others have failed to do: harnessed citizens in the aggregate. They have just begun. When combined with the emergence of digital natives as a political force whose outrage is now maturing (see Jon Lebkowsky’s “The Kids Are All Right“), GroupOn is the game changer–not MoveOn.org, not No Labels, not Americans Elect, not IndependentVoting.org–all “old” models dominated by apparatchicks and not at all open to the collective. GroupOn. As in Group ON, dude!
The International Council for Science (ICSU) is spearheading a consultative Visioning Process, in cooperation with the International Social Science Council (ISSC), to explore options and propose implementation steps for a holistic strategy on Earth system research. Five Grand Challenges were identified during step 1 of the process. If addressed in the next decade, these Grand Challenges will deliver knowledge to enable sustainable development, poverty eradication, and environmental protection in the face of global change.
The details of the Grand Challenges are contained in the document ‘Earth System Science for Global Sustainability: The Grand Challenges’, representing input from many individuals and institutions.
INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL FOR SCIENCE – PRESS RELEASE
Thursday 11 November 2010
Scientific Grand Challenges identified to address global sustainability
Paris, France—The international scientific community has identified five Grand Challenges that, if addressed in the next decade, will deliver knowledge to enable sustainable development, poverty eradication, and environmental protection in the face of global change. The Grand Challenges for Earth system science, published today, are the result of broad consultation as part of a visioning process spearheaded by the International Council for Science (ICSU) in cooperation with the International Social Science Council (ISSC).
The consultation highlighted the need for research that integrates our understanding of the functioning of the Earth system—and its critical thresholds—with global environmental change and socio-economic development.
The five Grand Challenges are:
Forecasting—Improve the usefulness of forecasts of future environmental conditions and their consequences for people.
Observing—Develop, enhance and integrate the observation systems needed to manage global and regional environmental change.
Confining—Determine how to anticipate, recognize, avoid and manage disruptive global environmental change.
Responding—Determine what institutional, economic and behavioural changes can enable effective steps toward global sustainability.
Innovating—Encourage innovation (coupled with sound mechanisms for evaluation) in developing technological, policy and social responses to achieve global sustainability.