A People-Centered Economy

Last week I attended the ‘Innovation for Jobs’ (i4j) Leadership Forum in Washington DC where I had the privilege of hacking unemployment with sixty other thought leaders. It was Tuesday morning that I arrived at Google’s office where our task of disrupting unemployment spread out against the dawning day like a patient anaesthetized upon a table.

Admittedly, we live in a worried world. Financial instability, overconsumption, pollution, energy demands, growing inequality and unemployment… all created by humans and all solvable. But we are locked into a culture of short-term thinking, a quick fix, a fast buck. And most grand ideological projects disappear into a thousand points of contention because experts are firmly tied to existing power structures.

Congressman Bill Foster likened jobs on Wall Street to rural communities that found themselves in crumbling economies two generations ago.  He reinforced that artificial intelligence is taking over routine analytics on Wall Street as well as document review in the legal profession because document research is now completely automated.

Employment is changing. Definitions are changing. So are business models. It is unclear what means exist for genuine reform. But can we find smarter ways and make discoveries for a brighter future? That was the objective for the day.

How can we make the ‘human economy’ flourish? There is no magic solution. It is a big deal and coming at us faster than anything. And in the center of it all we need to think about what it means to be human and what our goals are.

In the shadow of Capitol Hill, the White House and all that it currently represents, I started to understand that what we have become is the price that we paid to get what we used to want, as Mignon McLaughlin so succinctly prophesied.

David Nordfors co-founder and co-chair (together with Vint Cerf) of i4j talked about the possibility of a solution by re-framing the problem. He notes that currently, we ask “what is the most efficient way I can spend money”. But perhaps we can also earn money by asking a different question – “how much value can this person create for others”?  “What would happen if we started a business where I serve other people by maximizing their value for others”?

“Why not create a matching engine to determine how much value someone in the world is willing to pay for the combination of efficient spending and maximizing value for others?” Here Nordfors suggests that such companies would actually grow the economy and they would earn by helping people to earn. And the service they would offer would satisfy the need for earning a living – and a job becomes a service and the labour market becomes a service market, which has an enormous growth potential because it is a value-serve. And he suggests that we call this a human to human economy.

What is the metric? A human to human win.

Pete Hartigan calls the current digital transformation opportunity “Impact 500”. An Impact500 company is a company whose business is more profitable than the incumbent Fortune500 design (i.e. better unit cost economics, risk management together with embedded network effects). This is achieved by helping communities in a transparent and accountable way and being accountable with the product design itself.

Hartigan has been working on his thesis since 2010 (his first validation with SOFI, a “digital Wells Fargo” grew from $0 market value to more than $3 billion in market value in 5 years).  Pete worked with SOFI pre-incorporation, then joined its initial operating team for several years, becoming SOFI’s Chief Community Officer.  He is now a board observer and continues to work with a handful of companies to further validate the Impact500 company thesis and its design in the areas of #fintech, #healthtech and #govtech.

For i4j, Hartigan suggests that the possibility for labour innovation is to consider designing a ‘social currency that systemically tracks and rewards community value, along with economic value’.  He believes that helping the community and making money are both important but states that once businesses become abstracted from their community responsibility, their role shifts to merely maximizing shareholder profit.  Over time, this model strains common sense and leads to over exploitation.

As humanity hits the reset button on business and business reform emerges, the magic formula is to build companies that are more profitable because they help the community, the “Impact500”.

We need more of Nordfors’ and Hartigan’s consistent far-sighted action and extended thinking or else we are in danger of losing our sense of optimism.

Kurt Lewin, recognized as the founder of social psychology understood change well. His early model of change described it as a three-stage process. The first stage he called “unfreezing”. It involved overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing “mind-set”. In the second stage the change occurs. This is typically a period of confusion and transition. We are aware that the old ways are being challenged but we do not have a clear picture as to what we are replacing them with yet. The third and final stage he called “freezing”. In the final stage the new mindset crystallizes and one’s comfort level returns to previous levels

It was Lewin who wisely said: “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it”. Although we are a long way from a new mindset, we are on the path. Let’s try to understand unemployment. Let’s try to change it.

Thank you David, Thank you Pete. Thank you i4J. You are beginning to change the world; Vint – you already have!

Advertisements

Welcome to the Immaterial World

 

I entitled my very first Blog post in February 2015.  It represents an ongoing quest, namely, Growing More Human.  Over the weekend I continued that quest in Italy at H-Farm’s Kinnernet Venice hosted by Yossi Vardi, Maurizio Rossi, and Riccardo Donadon. The very ‘H’ in the name ‘H-Farm’ holds primacy and represents ‘Human’; it emphasizes the human dimension that is fundamental to both H-Farm’s mission and to the Kinnernet ethos.

This weekend H-Farm and Kinnernet Venice welcomed me to the immaterial world. I interacted with David Hanson’s humanoid robot, SophiaSophia

I underwent a virtual body swap and felt what it would be like to inhabit a man’s body (thanks to Eliram Haklai).

I unleashed my creativity and painted a
virtual picture with tree-dimensional brush strokes, stars, light, snow, fire, and rainbows using the Tilt Brush by Google. I experienced motion sickness after spending too much time using my Avatar to chase Jarret Goetz through Virtual Venice in full 3D mode and flew for the first time in the geo-mapped Metaverse (thanks to Qbit Technologies).

I also explored Venice in real life.  I used it as the setting for an adventure to discover original tales and solve enigmas in a game scenario (thanks to the company WhaiWhai). It would be remiss of me not to mention that I also ran on Venice’s pavestones at midnight trying to find a secret spot to sip the world’s best Bellini under starlight and enjoy the exhilarating view on the canal of the Santa Maria dell Salute church with cherished friends.

This is Venice – a great city of historical artistic and intellectual creativity and achievement. The historical Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia is a successful example of a city republic using self-governance regime, a symbol of wise government and freedom.  A place that played a crucial innovative role in world financial developments, devising the main instruments and practices of banking and the emergence of new forms of social and economic organization (see “The Ascent of Money”).

In this place and in its historical shadow, Robert Wolcott eloquently reminded us that “for all of human history in all times and in all places, we have lived in contexts of scarcity and opacity” (an excellent and more comprehensive detail of Robert’s perspective is available in his KIN Global 2016 conclusion here). As a species, we have had an inability to consider beyond the near in both time and space. But as external forces and phenomena loom large over us, he stirs us to investigate how the tensions of the outside world act on our sensitivities and our vital and expressive energies and our inner will to power.

As we change and as our world changes, we seek to answer persisting and new questions: what will remain unique to being human? Why do we exist? What does it mean to be human? Is anything uniquely human? Do these questions even matter? Might we even change what it means to be human?

In Venice, we explored the boundaries of who we are as a species.  We were reminded to be mindful that we’re entering new territory with an inevitable new political ordering.

Kinnernet Venice was a call to action.  It was a call to share insights, knowledge and practices of how people and organizations are leveraging conversations at Kinnernet and to take the real and practical steps, examples of which are outlined in the book Maker City, co-authored by Peter Hirshberg, to: build community, create economic opportunity, revitalize manufacturing and supply chains, reshape education and workforce development and redefine civic engagement. In summary, we are called to what John Clippinger refers to as a sense of personal agency and the principle of personal authorship in fostering a desirable future.

During my adventures running around Venice, I kept seeing posters throughout the city advertising this year’s Biennale Architettura. The posters feature the image of a lady on a ladder gazing into the horizon. This image provided much fodder for funny and insightful commentary by Peter Hirshberg and Brian Collins during a session on Maker Cities that I thoroughly enjoyed. I still laugh just thinking about Peter and BriBiennalean’s sentiments on the ‘potentialities’ and ‘great disappointments’ represented in this ‘monochromatic scheme’ but it gave us a playful platform to think about the image’s deeper meaning and to, even if ironically, inspire us to climb up onto the highest steps to gaze over a far broader horizon, and by doing so to conquer an expanded eye.

As we endeavour to grow more human may there be a dawning of the ultimate that emerges from what is already present within the penultimate. May the human person be preserved, protected, and directed toward future foresight by focusing on the abilities present within the current order. And may technology enable us to grow more human.

 

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

*Featured Image by Guido van Nispen

 

 

 

Kinnernet Europe 2016

I spent last weekend at this year’s Kinnernet Europe un-conference together with 150 invited guests from around the world in the lovely town of Avallon, France. Co-hosted by Yossi Vardi and Marc Goldberg, Kinnernet Europe self-identifies as a wild, out of the box, irreverent, bottom-up innovative, creative and cultural ‘un-conference’ that enables people to meet, share their vision and invent desirable futures.

Kinnernet Europe is a weekend where we play, think, question, make new friends, cherish old ones and actively practice kindness. It is a time where we reinforce each other’s successes and embrace and accept each other’s failures.

To call it a research agenda for fostering desirable futures doesn’t capture its playful spirit but it does help to contextualize what is actually happening. We explore and discuss what is desirable today and how to preserve and promote it in the future.

The Kinnernet vision reflects widely held values — freedom from want and from fear, a desire for higher quality lifestyles, a more equitable world, and a concern for innovation. These goals are closely coupled.

The future is as of yet unwritten. Rather than simply “happening”, the human future depends on individual and collective choices and actions.

Margaret Mead, an anthropologist who spent her life studying what makes societies change, summed up her findings in a quote that became famous:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

She had learned that the most important changes are not handed down because powerful politicians or business executives had a bright idea. It is the little groups, clear in purpose and supporting each member, that really make things happen.

Kinnernet recognizes the importance of enhancing and supporting the human capacity for change. Since human development is co-created, the complete answer to “who we are” does not lay solely in our genes or brains or in the labels that we are given. Rather we continue to develop our identities through our relationships with others. It is the forming and development of ongoing, vital relationships that support and shape us and that make Kinnernet what it is.

Kinnernet understands that through relationships we explore our worlds and become aware of the possibilities of our lives. We learn to attach shared meanings to our emotions and experiences, figure out what is and is not considered important, and test our emerging ideas by seeing how others respond.

Bit by bit, we develop motivation and direction as our daily experiments receive positive and gratifying responses. Relationships shape us – not in a coercive way, but as mutually engaged participants exploring the world together. We learn to trust, to give and take, and ultimately to empathize and “feel with” others. These things cannot be taught in a lecture or a lesson; they can only be experienced over time, in the company of caring guides.

The exhilaration of pioneering a socially and technologically enhanced way of life becomes a powerful attracting force in its own right, a self-fulfilling prophecy able to draw the present to itself.

Because we care, then Kinnernet.

Meeting Ordinary: A Tribute to My Mother

This blog is about Growing More Human. It started in Africa and will remain centred on Africa, where rests the cradle of humankind. However, the call to grow more human reaches beyond.  For it is in this place and it is in every place that we must always affirm and bestow dignity upon others, and hence my blog will start to grow more inclusive and reach beyond Africa.

However, I am happy to report that I will return to Malawi in September. I will join the London-based development photographer, Adam Dickens, to write and blog while he takes pictures.  Adam is the talent and the heart behind “Taking Pictures, Changing Lives”.  Together we will visit The Book Bus projects in Mangochi (their patron is Quentin Blake, the illustrator). Then we will travel to Mzuzu and Usisya to visit the work of Temwa.

Malawi is the poorest Country in the world. It is one of the world’s worst hit by HIV-Aids and home to more than one million children orphaned by the disease. Malawi is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment, corruption and the impact of HIV-Aids, which claims the lives of tens of thousands every year. When I use my heart to see this reality rightly; it grieves.

In light of this, I am reminded of something my mother taught me – that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 1 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms this, but it was my mother who first taught it to me, long before I’d ever heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Mom” – the very word evokes a respect beyond words. My Mom is an example that living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us. And that contempt for the false self gives vent to hostility, which manifests itself as a general irritability – an irritation at the same faults in others that we hate in ourselves. Accepting the reality of ourselves, means accepting our authentic self. As a young girl, I would deeply plead to my Mom that I just wanted “to be really good at something”. She never ever permitted me to wallow in that spot of self-pity. Rather, she strictly encouraged me not to worry so much about it and just focus on “being you”.  Only in retrospect do I recognize her wisdom.

My mom is an ordinary woman by most people’s standards. She never wrote a book, appeared on television, or gathered a reputation for innovation.  She eats, sleeps, cuts the grass, makes dinner, manages her businesses and she is my mother. Hers is the story of an ordinary woman whose soul is devoted and enraptured with being a mother (and now grandmother to my niece and nephew).

It is my mom who teaches me that the ordinary self is the extraordinary self – the inconspicuous someone who shivers in the cold of the winter, who rises to make a pot of coffee each new day, who sits before a slice of honeyed toast, drives to town, rummages around in the basement, shops in the grocery store, pulls weeds, picks up sticks, rakes up the leaves and watches the dreary rain out the window.

Where the imposter draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, my Mom’s true self claims identity in her belovedness.  She has a deep faith and encounters God in the ordinariness of her life; not in the search for spiritual heights and extraordinary mystical experiences but in her simple presence in life.

My mom teaches me that the energy expended in the imposter’s exhausting pursuit of illusory happiness is better available to be focused on the things that really matter – love and friendship. She taught and continues to teach me that the ‘still, small voice’ is what I need to hear. I know what my Mom really believes because I don’t just listen to what she says, I watch what she does.

In recent decades both psychology and religion have laid strong emphasis on being over doing. Mom balances the two with beauty. My Mom’s life leaves no room for romanticized idealism or sloppy sentimentality. In many ways, she lives a life that has nothing to do with how she feels and has everything to do with what she does. She is not seduced by a false standard of human greatness. When I need advice, I just look at her. When I want to learn how to serve rather than rule, I look to her.

The lives of those fully engaged in the human struggle are riddled with bullet holes. Mom’s own demonstrates that those who wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves from failure, shipwreck, and heartbreak will never know what love is. Above any other woman, it is my mother who commands my greatest respect.  Beyond all my stories is always my mother’s story, for hers is where mine begins. No gift to my mother can ever equal her gift to me, my very life.  She doesn’t teach me how to grow more human, she shows me.

Because of my mother, I recognize that inherent dignity of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. And in every ordinary way, I strive to follow her extra-ordinary example.

Happy Mother’s Day to my extraordinary Mom.

 

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine De Saint-Exupery

*Featured Illustration by Éric Puybaret

 

 

His Name is Lonely

He is tall, thin and thinly dressed with a bushy beard. I first saw him through the glare of my windshield.  His face was gaunt. He looked dirty. He stood tall but alone in the frigid dark night of a cold Canadian winter. He was homeless.

I first saw this distant stranger walking in traffic passing me and other drivers sitting in their cars waiting for the red light to turn green before making a left turn.

I figured that my maximum exposure to this man would be the average length of a red light. So, for approximately the next 120 seconds I figured that I could wait patiently and ignore him. Although the time would move slowly, I would soon drive away – comfy and cozy in my car.

Unlike in Africa, Canadian homeless people don’t even try to sell you something. They just beg. Honestly –  how unambitious! Why can’t they just TRY to give you something in return? At least I’d buy a travel pack of Kleenex or a pack of gum… something, anything.

In most of the rest of the world, the ‘ambitious’ homeless strangers actually try to sell you something. But in Toronto? They just stand there… staring at you, waiting for a free handout.

I didn’t want to make eye contact. My strategy was to look straight-ahead at the brake lights in front of me. But there was something different about this stranger. He wasn’t lying on the sidewalk looking up from a distressed sleeping bag. He was standing in the freezing cold, bearing the brunt of a very dark and windy night. That captivated me because I could hardly believe it. And then before I knew it, our eyes met.

There was something in those eyes that pulled me closer. Maybe his shining loneliness resonated with my own. I rolled the window down and the chill of the night grabbed me as I placed a five-dollar bill in his hand and planted a smile in his heart. Then, I rolled the window back up.

I had about 60 seconds left before I expected the light to turn. My friend returned. He motioned for me to roll my window down again. Reluctantly, I acquiesced. He didn’t want to ask for anything else. He wanted to give me something. It wasn’t a travel pack of Kleenex and it wasn’t a pack of gum, it was a joke about a blonde girl and the thrill of sharing a warm-hearted laugh and a moment of love after a long day.

So, why was the blonde girl sitting on the roof?

Someone told her drinks were on the house.

Thank you to my friend. Thank you for sharing your humor with me. Thank you for reminding me that our human mission is to relieve the loneliness of others.

If you see a homeless stranger, stop. Give them a dollar. Ask if they have a joke for you.  Ask them about their story, about how they brave the cold, or how they get through the day. Move from distant stranger to friend. Wait for them to show you what they can give to you… maybe it’s a joke and maybe you’ll laugh.

It didn’t take long before the light turned green. I turned left and drove along my journey lifted up, but wishing that the red light lasted a little longer.

Emergency Hunger Response

It has been nearly a year since I first wrote about growing more human – and I miss it. I miss Africa. I miss the people. I miss the widows, the orphans and friends who loved me. Every day, the halo of their absence still casts a shadow of blessing over me.

Today I was reminded about the importance of being human.  I thought afresh about what it all means. What is love? What is growing ‘more human’? I try so hard to do and be both. But, as C.S. Lewis notes, many things – such as loving, going to sleep or behaving unaffectedly – are done worst when we try hardest to do them.

This week, I stood at the edge of deep time in a white blanket of snow that chilled my breath when I gasped in awe at the rim of the Grand Canyon – for the very first time.

I drove to the Grand Canyon from the south, where a gently rising plateau gives no hint at what is about to unfold. It almost made me start to wonder if I had made a wrong turn. But then, all at once an immense gorge a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide opened up. The scale was vast and from my vantage point, I could only see a fraction of the Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is a land to inspire our spirit. It is a place where smallness becomes greater and greatness dissipates as with the light of a setting sun. It is a place of changing landscapes. Its jagged edges do not hide under a cloak of vegetation. Its beautiful sequence of rock layers serve as a window into the nature of its past.

When I got home, my breath was chilled again. I gasped, not in the awe of nature, but from its fury. El Nino’s extreme weather patterns have all at once caused an immense hunger gorge in Africa because of widespread droughts and flooding. Millions of families in Africa are being devastated by an impending food crisis (click here).

I have not been blessed with children, but I began imagining myself with ten children and only enough food for five. Would I split the food ten ways and slowly watch them starve? Or would I feed and save five?

And then I dare to ask, ‘what is love’? What is growing more human?

Admittedly, love is many things. But this I know for sure, that no child should die of hunger. I also know that one of love’s simplest expressions is feeding our future generations.

I can do something and that is why I’m sharing this information with my readers and I will do something by donating to the Emergency Hunger Response, which is matching donations dollar for dollar to help the most vulnerable.

I hope my own response will inspire our collective spirit. I hope that this sequence of generosity will serve as a window into the nature of our humanity for years to come. I hope that we all answer the call to do something – to inform, to give, to love.

Together, may we grow more human-itarian.

Where I Am Small

Always watching, the sun encourages a lioness and her cubs to rise. Today on the Savannah will be the same as yesterday and it will be the same as tomorrow. The land will rest, and then it will hunger and thirst. After it will sleep. But unpredictably, a silent drama unfolds and I succumb to its earthy magic.

A day and a lifetime mutually reinforce each other. The rhythm of the morning blends into noon only to stretch into the horizon of life’s final setting sun.

Gently, the Maasai Mara reminds us of our place in the world. Liberty imbues its vast sky and inhabits the grassy plains. This is a kingdom where freedom is at peace. It is a place where I am small.

The wind stirs the dust until it dissolves into my breath only to be momentarily stolen away by a nearby lioness nursing her cubs as she basks in the sun. This is the pride; wherein lay affection, security and the mighty roar of protection.

The lioness is strong. Her life is one of family. She suckles all young, sharing with her sisters in the nurturing of their growth. Together they hunt. Together they eat. Jointly, she enables her lion’s dominance enabling his purr and calling out his roar. Alone, she is small.

A patchy network of shrubbery is disaggregated across the expanse of land that lays bare its soul. From within this humble palace, the pride dominates its kingdom.

The golden hue of the lion’s mane lingers in the sun betraying the majesty of his supremacy, his athletic physique and his pride’s collective rule. The power and visual glory of these mighty creatures only serves to substantiate their commitment to joint support but where each one knows their place.

Each cub greets the others with a loving nuzzle. One affectionate encounter after another nurtures their bond, their love and their pride. Each lioness welcomes her sister’s cubs as her own.

Life is played out for all to see. There is a marked absence of uncertainty as to whom is deserving of respect. The lion’s strength commands deference. The lioness hunts. She is fierce and the weak fall prey to her and her sisters’ determinate strategy and certainty. She feeds first, opening the sinewy carcass for her cubs.

We have watched her for so long. She does not teach us anything new. Only, she reminds us of what we already know and reminds us as to what of necessity must be.

A pride, jointly working together across patchy shrubs of green to raise its young, to greet each other with affection, to share and to respect each others’ strength.

Where I am small, is alone.

Where I am strong, is together.

As a family, we are the pride of the earth. Let us behave as such and may liberty reign supreme across our lands