The resource/manufacturing economy that has sustained Western society for the past two centuries is showing signs of rust. While the champions of weathered industries like print news, traditional manufacturing and fossil fuel extraction are applying fresh coats of paint and working double-time to undermine their opponents, global leaders are looking for a new way forward.
On October 27th/28th, the International Economic Forum of the Americas will be hosting its annual Toronto Global Forum, with a theme of Rethinking Growth. The theory is that if you put the world’s most successful, influential people in a room, they can collectively figure out big-picture solutions that can be fed down the pipe to everyone else. Or build new partnerships and land new deals, which is pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?
There are other big names working at the problem of rethinking economic growth and governance at the global level. Don Tapscott and the Martin Prosperity Institute are undertaking a landmark study of how global, web-based networks can be part of the solution to our collective structural woes.
To summarize – recognizing that the model of capitalism we’ve relied on for ages is maladapted to the challenges of our time, the world’s powerful people are either internalizing solution-development or outsourcing it to usual suspects.
Here’s what’s wrong with this model.
The basic decision-making processes these leaders are using differ none at all from the ones they’re theoretically recognizing as ill-adapted to the times. They’re looking at policy as a product that gets crafted by specialists and then sold to the masses. In this model, those who aren’t among the world-leader crowd are either seen as resource-providers, front-line implementers or consumers.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” said Einstein – but that’s exactly what the world’s power-brokers are trying to do. It can’t work. Fortunately, it’s not just the world’s power brokers looking for innovative solutions to our structural problems.
While we traditionally associate grassroots activism as being anti-system and anti-government, there is an emerging trend of community-focused social innovators who see themselves as part of the solution, not problem-fighters. The rallying cry of engagement is shifting from “we can’t let them” to “how might we?”
The most prominent example of this shift in activism from opposition to collaboration is in the expanding world of Open Government.
Open Government is a global movement of public servants, private sector partners and engaged citizens committed to opening the process of government and empowering people to be part of the policy-making process. In just three years, the global Open Government Partnership has grown from 8 participating countries to 65, with more than 2,000 initiatives on the go.
These initiatives are evolving from one-day hackathons and well-meaning but structurally exclusive panel discussions into more dynamic, engaging and sustained event series and projects. My personal favourite is #OGT14 – Open Government on the Open Road, a civic-engagement-as-art project conceived and led by Richard Pietro, funded by Make Web Not War, but implemented by communities across the country.
Also noteworthy is Pakathon, a unique experiment in crowdsourcing. Pakathon is a movement that seeks to reverse Pakistan’s brain-drain and engage its social entrepreneur community. It does this by supporting community-led hackathons around the world that empower diverse groups of entrepreneurs, researchers and technologists to rethink growth in Pakistan from the grassroots up.
The sorts of solutions emerging from discussions like Pakathon are as much about realistic economic opportunity and community empowerment as they are about policy change. It turns out that if you bring a cross-section of people and talent together in one space (in person or online) and challenge them to collectively figure out local problems, they will come up with some incredible ideas that can potentially be scaled up for global application.
Which leaves us with an interesting conundrum – the world’s power-brokers are convening in old-school forums to rethink growth on the people’s behalf (with an eye towards new partnerships) at the same time as global communities of engagement are catalyzing new growth from the grassroots up (and also looking for partnerships to fund implementation and support growth).
This is the challenge of our times: how might we bridge the gap between the world’s power-brokers rethinking top-down growth for tomorrow and grassroots social innovators planting seeds today?
Instead of reinventing the wheel, we need to be thinking outside the box. Post-industrial growth won’t be about what can be extracted by one group and sold to another, but what can be built collaboratively on common ground.
Tuesday, October 28th at CSI Regent Park.