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T.S. Eliot had his "social function of poetry" and we have social media - YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. etc.

Could it be that what we celebrate as the art of our times is not Art at all? If so, What is Art? 

At best, our culture has relegated Art to the dubious field of "entertainment" - hijacked from its true purpose, left to serve as a decoration on the public walls of high society museums and the private walls of wealthy collectors. At best, art is fashion.

Wait, wait, wait.

John Seely Brown's latest newsletter takes us to task by raising an important point: 

"Artists are not included in our debate on how we build the economy for the future. They're excluded in our nation's emphasis on innovation which has been left to the STEM crowd. We're not thinking about designing for emergence. Innovation is about seeing the world differently. Who is better at helping us see the world differently than the artists?"

Why is this? I can think of three reasons:

1) The "art" made by "artists" is irrelevant

2) The "artists" are not Artists

3) Art is generally devalued in a society polarized by Science, Fashion, and Politics

Alright, I'm being a bit silly, but here is someone who's not:  Ben Davis and his 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (h/t Doug Smith) serve as both an indictment and a wake-up call for artists everywhere. Have a look at this excerpt:

2.0 Today, the ruling class, which is capitalist, dominates the sphere of the visual arts

2.1 It is part of the definition of a ruling class that it controls the material resources of society 

2.2 The ruling ideologies, which serve to reproduce this material situation, also represent the interests of the ruling class

2.3 The dominant values given to art, therefore, will be ones that serve the interests of the current ruling class

2.4 Concretely, within the sphere of the contemporary visual arts, the agents whose interests determine the dominant values of art are: large corporations, including auction houses and corporate collectors; art investors, private collectors and patrons; trustees and administrators of large cultural institutions and universities

2.5 One role for art, therefore, is as a luxury good, whose superior craftsmanship or intellectual prestige indicates superior social status

2.6 Another role for art is to serve as financial instrument or tradable repository of value

2.7 Another role for art is as sign of "giving back" to the community, to whitewash ill-gotten gains

2.8 Another role for art is symbolic escape valve for radical impulses, to serve as a place to isolate and contain social energy that runs counter to the dominant ideology

2.9 A final role for art is the self-replication of ruling-class ideology about art itself--the dominant values given to art serve not only to enact ruling-class values directly, but also to subjugate, within the sphere of the arts, other possible values of art

OK. But why are artists banished from the Republic? 

One can argue (via Ben Franklin) that the last artist was Jesus and before him Socrates. I'd add folks like Gandhi, Malcolm X, Mandela, Marley... The artist sees differently. Not just paintings on a wall, but society itself. Who paints our vision for society today? Lady Gaga or our lobbyists?

Walker Percy saw the artist (or writer) as a canary in the coal mine. The artist as prophet. But we are deaf to the canary. We've banned our artists from society - not by muzzling them with threats and jail time, but by turning them into designers of consumer and fashion goods.  

For the first time in history, we've made art useful.  

Here's an interesting classification or segmentation of change makers (from Deloitte) along with some advice on how to make a difference via collaboration >>

Steady Supplier: Combine your contextual knowledge with the Public Value Innovators to create new value

Multirational Multinational: Engage with Citizen Changemakers to gain local insights and ideas

Investors: Connect Wavemakers to amplify impact

Public Value Innovator: Leverage the reach of the Multinationals to reach more communities

Citizen Changemaker: provide feedback to all in order to get to root issues

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MIT Sloan

This is going to be a central theme in business going forward: what is our purpose?

Here’s William Cohen talking about Peter Drucker’s perspective:

“…until Drucker came along most everyone believed the basic “fact” that the purpose of a business was to make money. That is, to make a profit. This belief leads to a corollary, another myth, believed by all—that is, that the goal of any business is profit maximization. Another words, whatever your business, your goal should be to make as much profit as possible. If you accept making a profit as a business’s purpose, the second part just follows naturally. This might even seem worthy to many. To quote Michael Douglas’s famous (or infamous) statement in his role as Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movieWall Street: “Greed is good.” Even today many “know” greed, or profit maximization to be the correct prescription for business success, even if it is amoral or shouldn’t be “good” from a moral perspective. Not so fast, Gordon. As Drucker so often said, whatever everyone knows is usually wrong, Hollywood films not excepted. Drucker told us first that profit is not the purpose of business and that the concept of profit maximization is not only meaningless, but dangerous.”

Now Ratan Tata and gang (myself included) have a similar message

The problem with industrial capitalism today is not the profit motive; the problem is how the profit motive is usually framed. There is a persistent myth in the contemporary business world that the ultimate purpose of a business is to maximize profit for the company’s investors. However, the maximization of profit is not a purpose; instead, it is an outcome. We argue that the best way to maximize profits over the long term is to not make them the primary goal.

So what is to be done?  

What is your company doing to create purpose beyond profits? The future of our planet depends on your answer.

Read: Why Making Money is Not Enough

The legendary reggae band releases the 2012 version of the Barack Obama Song >>

The 2008 video version is here >>

I know what some of you are thinking - "Well, did America have a soul to begin with?" I happen to think it did. For me the soul of America is "We, the people..."

Furthermore, I'm quite sure that people, as defined by our founders, did not mean corporations. (See what Charles Handy has to say >>)

But to get back to the topic of inclusivity, I'd like to make a shameless plug for our new book, co-authored with University of Michigan's Professor Michael Gordon, called Inclusivity: Will America Find Its Soul Again?

inclusivity bookbuy now

BUY now >>


So what's all the fuss about? The book is about asking questions:

  • How can companies take better care of their employees--and thrive?
  • Why don't they see the opportunities in creating social value?
  • Do Americans think we have a fair distribution of wealth?
  • What are new means of putting our collective talents to work?
  • How can communities take the lead in creating opportunity?
  • How can public education prepare all students for the future?
  • How can better health care be made available without doctors?
  • How can communities do something about global warming?
  • How can you make a difference?
  • Why should you care?

Inclusivity: Will America Find Its Soul Again is a book of questions, hints, and suggestions about creating more opportunity for more people--starting with the USA, but looking at and learning from the rest of the world.

The very idea of the "United" States is based on the principles of inclusivity--all men and women are created equal under the law. But we seem to have lost our conviction that inclusivity is possible or even to be desired. The current divisive political climate, along with economic uncertainty, has fostered an atmosphere of fear and narrow-mindedness across the country.

What can we do in the face of this reality? The choice is not easy, but it is clear. Either we will decide to be more inclusive, or we will turn against each other - finding reasons to divide ourselves, not just from each other as citizens, but also from a shared future.

The USA, unless we decide otherwise, will become simply the SA.

This book is dedicated to an inclusive future for all our children, including my daughters M and K, and the idea that the United States is still the last best hope for democracy and inclusivity. We won't have one without the other.

The book includes the following sections:

  • What Is INCLUSIVITY?
  • Inclusive World
  • Inclusive Entrepreneur
  • Inclusive Economy
  • Inclusive Cities
  • Inclusive Education
  • Inclusive Health
  • Inclusive Leadership
  • Inclusive Future
Let us know what you think!

P.S. - We don't want this, do we?

Michael Gordon's book, Design Your Life, Change the World: Your Path as a Social Entrepreneur [A GUIDE for CHANGEMAKERS] is for changemakers - the people and organizations that want to make a difference in the world. 

book

The book tries to answer two questions, says Professor Gordon:

1) How can organizations best address important societal problems such as poverty, inadequate health care, sub-par education, and an unhealthy planet?

2) What's the best advice for students who want to address these issues and still live lives of relative comfort?

The reason I'm helping the professor is because now, more than ever, we need the brightest students to tackle the world's biggest problems. And the oil-coal-nuclear lobby isn't making things any easier...

Are you a changemaker?  Go find out >> 

P.S. - you can download the PDF version here >>

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No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square, it would incite protests that would topple dictators and start a global wave of dissent. That's the power of ecosystem disruption. The power of the Voice of the Planet (VoP).

More >>

I don’t watch TV much but I just caught a clip of Richard Branson promoting his book Screw Business As Usual. Looks like he’s on the same page as Stuart Hart - who has been essentially saying the same thing for twenty years.  They ought to compare notes!

What was funny was watching Branson sit there as the producers had him wait and wait for his three minute interview.  He was clearly in distress - the anguish of the entrepreneur who can’t bear to waste time - as he smiled and waved every time they turned the camera on him. 

The book is available later this month… have a Happy Green Christmas!

I first met Bob Freling at a board meeting of the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) in San Francisco several years ago.  At the time, I felt that here was an NGO doing innovative things but not getting enough visibility for their work. They were solar way before solar was cool. 

What struck me is how informal and close the board members were.  One of the board members - Larry Hagman (good ol’ J.R. Ewing) - did a brilliant set of solar commercials which I think says a lot about his character and wanting to make the world a better place (quite the opposite of his TV character!). But I digress.

The story here is that SELF pioneered the use of solar power to fight “energy poverty” across a spectrum of applications with their “solar integrated development model” - from clean water, to drip irrigation to improve food security, to electricity for health clinics, schools, and micro-enterprise.

In his blog post about the $300 House Energy Challenge, Bob explains:

“It’s simple really. First, solar energy powers pumps and filters for clean water. This also enables drip irrigation for critical crops. Once people have those necessities, the solar energy is used to power health care facilities which can power equipment and refrigerate vaccines, for example. This increasingly healthy population can then open schools which are powered by solar to provide computer and Internet-based learning. Finally, these well-fed, well-cared for, well-educated villagers can begin community and entrepreneurial activities to grow their economy.”

Bob’s optimism is tempered with reality. The Millennium Development Goals won’t be achieved without energy access, he explains in another blog post.  In case you forgot what the MDGs are (as I often do) they’re listed as:

1) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger;
2) achieving universal primary education;
3) promoting gender equality and empowering women;
4) reducing child mortality;
5) improving maternal health;
6) combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
7) ensuring environmental sustainability; and
8) building a global partnership for development.

Note that they are interrelated, ecosystemic problems - and that from Bob’s perspective, energy is the key factor which makes all of them feasible.

With the $300 House project, my eyes have been opened to the fact that the approaches for dealing with the poor are often not very constructive, and sometimes end up doing more damage than good.  That’s what  $300 House adviser Stuart L. Hart is talking about when he says we need to create smaller problems. It is also a concern of our critics on the $300 House. When I spoke to Matias Echanove recently, he was concerned that mass produced housing could in fact disrupt the local economy - the small businesses that are based in informal slums around the country. I hear him. 

Our $300  House project is exploring ways to integrate services and jobs into the ecosystem as well, and we’re reaching out to talk to the leaders in the communities that are interested in this approach. In India, we’ve just completed a survey - with the help of THL - that covers 15 villages in three of the poorest states in India - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand.  I’ll go into more detail in a later post.

For me the question is quite simple - we see an explosion of interest in  developing integrated  townships for the middle class in India, but why is there nothing comparable for the poor? To borrow a phrase from the US, why can’t we build “master-planned communities” for the poor?

Is it too much to ask that governments, NGOs and development institutions, and businesses work together with the communities involved to build integrated solutions?  

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Unfortunately, there are far too few examples of collaborative development. This is something we all need to look at urgently.  There is also a problem of ownership.  The development community, NGOs, and most governments think they “own” the problem.  Unfortunately, without a business mindset to make solutions scale, their is so little real progress.

The poor remain poor. 

And that’s why the work Paul Polak is doing is so important.  He’s looking at making small changes at the bottom of the pyramid; small changes that make a big difference in the earnings of the poor. This is also the approach advocated by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Bannerjee in Poor Economics.

At a much larger scale, we see an example in the Gates Foundation’s approach - which is all about examining the ecosystems of poverty.  A common criticism of the Gates Foundation goes along these lines: “How can people like Gates, living in a different universe, help people at the bottom of the pyramid?”  This is a false and damaging argument, but answered quite well by Sam Dryden:

“Some people may ask how my team and I—working at the world’s largest foundation located in a prosperous corner of a rich nation—can relate to a subsistence farming family in Ethiopia or Bangladesh. This is a very reasonable question to ask. The farmer has a direct connection to the land and we are considerably removed, both by distance and culture. We begin by realizing these differences and humbly listening to farmers and their families, learning and respecting their cultures, ways of living, and knowledge of place and home. The solutions we seek are those appropriate and welcomed in this context, not those imposed by distant values or interests.”

And finally, perhaps there is an alternative to the giant top-down programs, and incremental bottom-up “Let the Poor Do It Themselves” approaches we’ve encountered. 

With the $300 House, we’re thinking micro-development - is it possible to build integrated micro-solutions at the village level?  And in cities, at the neighborhood level? 

Why not?

The Ecosystems of Poverty

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When I first started working on classifying online ecosystems, I had no idea that my thinking there would influence my thoughts on the $300 House. But now it seems like the systems approach to understanding wicked problems is pretty much the only way to go.  None of this is new, of course, but I'm still impressed at the power of ecosystem thinking.

Here's how Nobel prize laureate Gunnar Myrdal was thinking about the problems of race and poverty:

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The "vicious circle" has not yet made its way into our political thinking though, if we judge the policy makers of today's Congress. Heck, they can't even bring themselves to accept the effects of global warming - in no small part thanks to our lobbyist friends.

The idea of poverty as the outcome of a dysfunctional ecosystem is explained here as well:

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Note that this applies to poverty in the US as well, not just the emerging world.

So, part of tackling the issue of affordable housing for the poor is to try to understand the interconnected nature of these problems.  I tried to draw causal arrows between the various problems, but gave up. In essence, we have a problem of insecurity, in which all of these factors must be addressed simultaneously if we are to change the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, and suffering.  Here's what I ended up with:

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The poor live in an insecure, unbalanced universe. 

I'm calling it the "ecosystems of poverty."

Next we'll look at the idea of integrated development (another old idea) which fell out of favor, but must be re-evaluated in today's light if we are serious about poverty alleviation.

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The story is captured in this snippet borrowed from a larger infographic from the New York Times. The middle class is under historic assault in the US, explains Robert Reich, and this bodes badly for democracy, not just here, but all over the world. 

Here’s the money quote:

Look back over the last hundred years and you’ll see the pattern. During periods when the very rich took home a much smaller proportion of total income — as in the Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977 — the nation as a whole grew faster and median wages surged. We created a virtuous cycle in which an ever growing middle class had the ability to consume more goods and services, which created more and better jobs, thereby stoking demand. The rising tide did in fact lift all boats.

During periods when the very rich took home a larger proportion — as between 1918 and 1933, and in the Great Regression from 1981 to the present day — growth slowed, median wages stagnated and we suffered giant downturns. It’s no mere coincidence that over the last century the top earners’ share of the nation’s total income peaked in 1928 and 2007 — the two years just preceding the biggest downturns.


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We’re losing our competitiveness, as well as our ability to lead.

There’s a growing sense in the business community that we must find a way to work together again. To do this, we have to reject political terrorism - the political brinksmanship which prevents us from finding common ground or even beginning to look for honest solutions. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, recently created a stir when he suggested that it was time to halt all political donations. Warren Buffett did the same with his no-nonsense plea to raise his taxes.

Welcome to the third world, America! Looks like we’re headed on the fast-track back to serfdom.  Brought to you in large part by the GOP and corporate Democrats.

Sometimes not knowing what you’re doing can help you do it.

Here I make a fool of myself at the Guardian’s Activate2011 conference in London:

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Thanks, Adrian!  Read the article here >>

And if you haven't already, submit your ideas to the $300 House Open Design Challenge!

The final Harvard Business Review post in the series, and hopefully the start of some real change at the bottom of the pyramid.

Our goal is to go social for social business. Can social co-creation help the poor?

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Keeping fingers crossed.  Thanks to Ingersoll-Rand for the sponsorship and to all the judges and advisers at 300House.com!  Thanks jovoto and COMMON. Thanks Shaun.

Thanks also to Scott Berinato at HBR and of course - VG, my partner in crime.

Writes Floyd Norris in the New York Times:

The Business Roundtable, a group comprising 200 of the largest companies in the United States, is out with a “study” that claims to show that the United States levies excessively high tax rates on companies. It actually shows nothing of the kind.

This is the sort of thing that makes business look E-V-I-L.

What is the Business Roundtable?  Another version of the US Chamber of Commerce? And just who are the members of this august organization?

Surprise! They’re only the CEOs of the “most respected” companies in the US.

Have they no shame?  No sense of decency?

The CEOs should be embarrassed, but instead they keep playing this absurd, deceptive game. We have come to expect this sort of behavior from the oil and coal lobby, but not you. To Bank of America, General Electric, Xerox, Wal-Mart, UPS, Target, SAP, Pepsico, Microsoft, and Procter and Gamble: Grow up, ladies and gentlemen. You are hurting both democracy and capitalism. Not to mention your brand.

Good on you, Google and Apple, for not being part of this institutional lying machine.

Michael Hudson, U of Missouri, on how we in the US lost our way. If this is true, we really have destroyed ourselves:


Read: The Economy of High Wages

Seth Godin posts a very insightful blog entry on the HBR site. He's talking about the challenges of marketing at the bottom of the pyramid:

When someone in poverty buys a device that improves productivity, the device pays for itself (if it didn't, they wouldn't buy it.) So a drip irrigation system, for example, may pay off by creating two or three harvests a year instead of one.

Read all about it >>

The Solar Electric Light Fund's Bob Freling has posted an entry in Harvard Business Review about his Solar Integrated Development (SID) Maturity Model and how it fits into our concept of the $300 House.

Here's Bob waxing eloquent:

Together with potable water, nutritious food, accessible health care, educational opportunity, and economic empowerment, the $300 House completes this virtuous ecosystem in which individual households and their communities can march hand in hand towards a bright and sustainable future.

Read the whole post The $300 House: The Energy Challenge >>

The $300 House Challenge is showing us that individuals and companies are willing to make a difference.

Check out WorldHaus from Bill Gross and his team at IdeaLab. Read his Harvard Business Review post on the "design challenge" here >>

David Smith's HBR post on the financial challenge of the $300 House raises some very important issues:

Cracking the challenge of slums is the world's biggest problem of the next quarter-century, because the ecology of slums and the ecology of cities are linked. We cannot have a healthy global economy without healthy cities, and we cannot have healthy cities without tackling slums.

Join us >>

We're building a "creationspace" (JSB's word) for the $300 House-for-the-Poor at 300house.com >>

Please sign up, and tell your friends!

Here it is. The new song from Steel Pulse - for the people of Haiti.

At: www.holdon4haiti.org >>

Watch Paul Farmer explain:

Disclosure: SELF is my client, and I helped facilitate the project.

The global-warming deniers are quiet as the world's forests burn.

Across Russia, the political drama adds to the horror as this, the hottest summer on record, takes its toll on the poorest Russians as they lose property, homes, and even lives:

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For those of you who are ready to say this is "God's punishment," I can tell you we're probably going to be next. Maybe not this summer, because we're getting far more rain in the West than usual, but perhaps the next.  The reason I can say this with near certainty is that our forests are already dead or dying. So my guess is that all these dead trees are going to burn across North America pretty soon.  The map looks like this (it's an overlay of the extent of the pine-beetle plague):

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None of this is normal.

NASA watches as the carbon footprint grows.

Our politicians do nothing. Our Republican Senators have been owned by Big-Oil and Big-Coal forever.  And the poor Christians haven't yet figured out that they're being taken for a ride.  For them, I say - check your Revelations 11:18 - at some point you have to say "enough!" Why do you support these people who are destroying God's Creation?

Sen. Jim Inhofe, this is on your head. Your grandchildren won't forgive you, even if they think you're just swell right now. This is not "global warming deception" as you call it in your Luntzian language of deceit. It's g-l-o-b-a-l w-a-r-m-i-n-g, period.

Have you no shame, Senator?

The political intentions of our GOP friends would leave the US with a hollowed-out economy.

Here is an example of how Obama’s unpopular bail-out for the auto-industry led to the creation of a new and critical cleantech industry - electric batteries - in this country. What say you, FOX News?

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In the past year, the lines have crossed in North Carolina. Electricity from new solar installations is now cheaper than electricity from proposed new nuclear plants.

Take away government nuclear subsidies, and the case is closed!

Read the report >>


Watch:


Good for you Alex Bogusky! Can this ex-ad-man save the planet?

More on Hunter Lovins and Catherine Greener >>

Watch:

The book that tells the story is Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. It's truly inspirational, as is the story told by Will Harlan - he's in the video - about his encounter with the Raramuri, the Running People.

Of course, the main man is Caballo Blanco. Check out Norawas as well.

Now, where's my Iskiate?



Jail time for these environmental terrorists.Call your congressperson…

For the first time, in 2010, online advertising will pass traditional advertising on TV and print:

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While this is remarkable, I can tell you where the highest ROI is. 

It's with the Republican party.  You can buy every single Republican vote for a paltry $34 million, as the health care circus has shown us.

Wow. Who needs Google when all you need is the budget for one Superbowl ad.  Think about that: all it takes to buy the entire GOP is one Superbowl ad.  There goes the future of our country. 

PS - On a side note, I wonder what it takes to buy our Supreme Court... 5 bucks to Clarence Thomas' wife?

Interesting. Go here, click on "play."

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Finally, the US catches up to the rest of the civilized world

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The real disaster here is the barbaric behavior on display from the Republican members of the House

Have they no sense of decency?  Nope. None at all.

$34 million from the insurance lobby is all it took to buy the entire GOP, every last one of 'em. That's bloody cheap.

Vijay Govindarajan on the HBR blog: The U.S. Must Grab the Lead on Green. High time our business leaders started leading, as VG encourages them to do. 

According to VG:

At the company level, many energy businesses are unwilling to cannibalize their existing services and their current investments. At the national level, the same dynamics are in play. Aided and abetted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the traditional energy lobby (oil, coal) is using its political and economic muscle to stifle innovation in alternative energy and clean technologies.

Don’t get me started on the losers at the US Chamber of Commerce!

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A nice story from the World Bank blog about a grass-roots organization's efforts to stop petty corruption in India and around the world:

...the idea was first conceived by an Indian physics professor at the University of Maryland, who, in his travels around India, realized how widespread bribery was and wanted to do something about it. He came up with the idea of printing zero-denomination notes and handing them out to officials whenever he was asked for kickbacks as a way to show his resistance. Anand took this idea further: to print them en masse, widely publicize them, and give them out to the Indian people. He thought these notes would be a way to get people to show their disapproval of public service delivery dependent on bribes. The notes did just that. The first batch of 25,000 notes were met with such demand that 5th Pillar has ended up distributing one million zero-rupee notes to date since it began this initiative. Along the way, the organization has collected many stories from people using them to successfully resist engaging in bribery.

I like it. Now let's send some "zero dollars" to the Famous Five justices Supreme Court, the Blue-Dog Democrats, and the entire Republican party.

Two Ways to Help Haiti

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Stand With Haiti

One: donate to Paul Farmer's Partners in Health, and two: cancel Haiti's debt.

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