My name is Emanuele, I am Italian and 2 years I ago I left Paris to come live in Bucharest. I moved here because I wanted to become a social entrepreneur, and the high cost of living in Western Europe would have not allowed me to easily undertake this career shift. Furthermore, Ruxandra, my wife and business partner is originally from Bucharest, thus Romania offered us a friendly environment with several people that we could rely upon. My social enterprise is called Babele (already on Edgeryders), and consists of open-sourcing the business strategy of social entrepreneurs in order to tap into the collective intelligence of the crowd to improve and scale projects with the potential to tackle the most urgent challenges of our time. In order to develop a meaningful solution, we have validated the concept by holding collaborative business workshops and crowd-mentoring programs in 14 countries, training over 500 entrepreneurs between Europe and Asia.
This project challenges the principle of the Homo Economicus - the center of the liberal philosophy today - which sees society as the sum of rational, individual interests. A profit & loss account mentality has spread from companies to individuals who maximize their short-term economic return while losing sight of the things that are truly important and makes them humans, such as tenderness, understanding, calm and community.
The anthropological pessimism is a construct of the 17th century that makes no sense today. The human nature is not purely based on competition and individualism, and in a period of scarcity, such as the one that we are living today, we can certainly achieve a better outcome if we see one another as partners sharing the same small and fragile planet
The 1992 Rio Earth Summit was the moment when sustainable development captured worldwide attention. It established why it is necessary to develop solutions that achieve the triple bottom line of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity, meeting the needs of present society without compromising resources for future generations. The challenge now is how to execute it, and unless we adopt a collaborative approach, we might never win this challenge.
Something great is already happening.
All over the world I see a multitude of people coming together to work on projects with the potential to change the status quo: innovative educational programs, shared gardens, co-housing initiatives, sustainable transportation, circular economy, financial services for the Bottom of the Pyramid, etc.
Several of these initiatives are already changing the lives of millions at a local level, despite the fact that they are often not viable economically. They generate positive externalities, that benefit society in several ways but often these benefits are not providing a return for the innovators themselves. As an example, Selaron, the artist who made the colorful staircase in the center of Rio De Janeiro, transformed a dangerous and uninteresting area of the city into one of the major attractions for tourists visiting Brazil. He eventually died poor, as he could not claim any intellectual property over a public space, but this was never the point: Selaron’s drive was not economic but rather the desire to do good for his neighborhood. Another interesting example of non-viable civic initiative are the Velibs in Paris. The Velibs are a system of public bicycles in Paris which revenues only cover 1/10th of the costs encountered to run the service. However, the benefits are indisputable: reduced traffic congestion and Co2 emissions, healthier and happier citizens.
Social innovations happen in various forms and through the interaction of a multitude of actors. Builders and entrepreneurs are just the tip of the iceberg. Change today is happening thanks to the tireless work of networkers, nurturers, investigators, communicators and resisters, who together create pressure to keep questioning things and mobilize to bring new solutions.
A great example to understand the value brought by this diverse network of individuals, is the free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, also known as TTIP. Citizens from all-over Europe are contributing to bring transparency to this topic, thanks to the work of investigators and communicators, they are ensuring that more people are aware of the trade terms, thanks to the work of networkers and protesters, and are engaging society into a healthy debate, thanks to the work of Nurturers.
All these actors are key to accelerate change.
However, social innovation remains a niche, as mainstream media do not rise sufficient awareness on these topics. Instead, they keep us distracted, confused and a bit intimidated, unable to understand ourselves and without the will to alter political reality. Our televisions are inundated with fiction stories about a world in continuous danger from alien attacks and epidemics while the real calamities of our world remain unattended. As a result, the majority of our society ends up ignoring the real priorities and settle for desires manufactured for us by corporations, without any interest in our true welfare.
The result of deviating mass attention toward more frivolous topics is observable in the economics of the social innovation market today, which is still a derisive fraction compared to, for instance, the derivatives market that caused the economic crisis in 2008.
In my experience, a worthy social innovation is happening in Vuollerim, a very small village of 800 inhabitants located in the middle of Lapland (Sweden).
The people of Vuollerim have come together and worked on a new welfare system which involves citizens in first person, embraces entrepreneurship and taking initiative and is based on collaborating for the common good rather than focusing on individual benefits. Together, they have created and co-own a multi-function store, a year-round open hotel, a small school, and even a business incubator to develop unique, locally anchored, sustainable enterprises. They are the living example of the ‘individually we are a drop, together we are an ocean’ philosophy.
And what about Romania?
I find that Bucharest is hosting a very active hipster movement with very progressive political views, and is also a place where several innovative projects are coming to life - from shared gardens (gradini urbane) to up-cycling ads banners into bags and wallets (Remesh and upside-down), as well as recycling used cooking oil into bio-diesel (Uleiosul). However, despite the motivation and excellent execution of these innovators, for such initiatives to succeed, Bucharest still lacks a solid support ecosystem that can accelerate change and make it more collaborative. The large majority of the population ignores the existence of these initiatives, because we need more networkers, nurturers, investigators, communicators and resisters that can help social change gain momentum.
I am really looking forward to attend the Futurespotters workshop because I believe it will be a great occasion to mobilize more people to embrace the global movement for change that both Babele and EdgeRyders are nurturing and promoting. Finally, I would be delighted to propose a session on social strategy to help initiatives consider the key aspects that can make them successful.
So, how are you contributing to change things for the better? If you’re not already signed up in this commnity, please do so, leave your comment below and let’s share our experiences to start playing a more active role today.