Needs a good title
How we have been organizing resources and markets so humans have food on the table and a roof over their head has proven to be fragile in the midst of a pandemic. Most complex challenges (like getting food on the table for your family from a hundred sources and locations), are not one well-defined problem (grow apples), but a constellation of interdependent issues (transportation logistics, factory sorting and processing, demand & supply negotiations, regulation etc) undergoing constant redefinition and renegotiation. Any one organisation, no matter how efficient and smart, has no hope of containing any such challenge.
At the same time we see that in the face of large shocks to the system, organisations optimised for efficiency and profit cannot provide the means for material, relational, and existential resilience of neither individual nor society at large. Case in point: When supply chains are broken, even benevolent governments in affluent countries cannot access the equipment or protective gear to protect frontline workers on which we all depend to stay alive.
On the other hand, communities are getting smarter. The Internet has produced decentralized, scalable tools for coordination, archiving, and retrieval. It has also spawned cultural practices and ethical rules that incentivize people to collaborate with strangers. As a result, leaderless “swarms” of dedicated citizen experts are writing encyclopedias, mapping the Earth, doing science, developing and maintaining complex, successful software stacks. In each of these areas they outperform powerful businesses and government initiatives.
These initiatives display uncanny speed and efficiency, because communities are better than organizational hierarchies at making use of human intelligence. They treat every person – not just the top echelon – as a potential or actual expert, rather than as a passive consumer or beneficiary. They ask people to help, rather than charting their needs, and they have more human talent to throw at problems. They weed out under-performing initiatives in a healthy and natural way, making way for new life to emerge.
Wikipedia’s a good example of the combined power of Smart Swarms to change the world. We all use it every day, and it’s taking effective action on both poverty (poor people are using it too, all over the world!) and ecology (it’s saving huge numbers of trees on paper books.) People are working together to solve a real human problem - access to knowledge - and it’s improving everyone’s lives. There’s a tiny thread of financial capital – running the servers, say – but Wikipedia is a community-driven enterprise. It shows what can be done.
We want to achieve resilient lives and livelihoods. Contributing to Wikipedia doesn’t put food on the table or ensure that communities support one another to mitigate the consequences of social distancing. Or even keep our mental health intact when automation wipes out the need for many professions, the foundation on which many of us build our identity and sense of purpose. We need to use a similar kind of effect to meet the material, relational, and existential needs of individuals and communities. And we need to develop sources of prosperity that secure their resilience by serving these needs.
This is not just semantics: it is about reframing livelihood generation from a lonely, competitive activity that only is accessible if you have money to sustain yourself while you build your business or have specialised training. To one that is collaborative, mutualistic, and accessible to all, regardless of your personal background. We frame the building of sustainable economic livelihoods as that of building an ecosystem, made up of many overlapping circles of people engaging in different activities. Commercial activity always relied on cooperation more than competition (but that was called an old boys club).
This summit is part of a series of activities aimed at co-designing experimental new social, business and investment models to withstand the shocks which will besoon be upon us as climate crisis and ecological devastation unfold. Ecosystems of economic resilience and regeneration.