May 24, 2009

Moving on from Ashoka – what excites me and why…

Filed under: life..., projects — benmetz @ 6:47 pm

I’ve recently taken the decision to move on from my role as UK Director at Ashoka and jump back into a world of known unknowns and unknown unknowns (homage to the Donald Rumsfeld soundbite of the week on Radio Four some years ago)!

It’s a little scary but when the development director of a well respected international development organisation suggests kicking off a conversation about creating a role for me the fear begins to turn into excitement!

I’ve spent the afternoon, basking in the sun, and pondering a couple of questions he threw over to kick the conversation off.  Below is a rough and ready selection of some of the stuff I’ve just mailed over to him as it gives a little insight into one possible direction of travel for me…

You asked what excites me and why.

This has been a great question to have a think about right now, as I explore what comes after Ashoka for me.  There are two strands that this question has brought into focus for me: – climate change / environmental issues and ownership structures that drive for-profit-only approaches to business.  To unpick these a little:

The over-riding concern of our time is climate change.  Slow feedback loops means humankind has yet to fully comprehend (in emotional and practical terms) the enormity of the issue.  It’s all hands to the pumps on this ASAP.  While so much of this is presented as a problem (and it is for sure) there are also huge opportunities up for grabs.  I am particularly interested in how to relocalise human activity and supply chains to minimise environmental / climate damage and maximise environmental, social and economic positives.  How we move from long, fragile and unsustainable globalised supply chains to resilient, localised, sustainable supply chains is a question that many development organisations have yet to even comprehend let alone begin to address.  The combination of peak oil, commodity price increases and rising carbon levels will force us to revolutionise how we live.  First mover advantage in so many fields (development being an obvious one) is up for grabs for the more enlightened and progressive of players ready to tackle this question.

Directly linked to this (bear with me!) is my other area of interest.  The current model of capitalism prioritises the generation of profit over all other concerns.  This feeds and perpetuates the cycle of environmental destruction.  I’m keenly aware of the arguments currently underway that we are not in the midst of a recession rather we are at the beginning of an economic ‘discontinuity’ (check John Elkington’s / Volans work on the Phoenix Economy for the best summary I know) that will see a fundamental redesign of parts of the capitalist system.  What the outcome of this discontinuity is has yet to become evident but I believe we have a window of opportunity to reintegrate social and environmental values back into a system that has all but forgotten them.  So questions such as the following are of keen interest to me right now:

  • If we can realise highly distributed financing (think Kiva / crowdfunding at scale) for both new enterprise and the refinancing of existing corporates what implications does this have for the concept of ownership?
  • What values become predominant and what returns do people want when we have millions of people investing hundreds of pounds into companies rather than hundreds of people investing millions each and demanding a financial return?
  • How do we reintegrate philanthropic tendencies, at a financial level, with commercial activity (how do we reconnect the heads and hearts of all these do-gooder high net worths)?
  • Can we monetise, and thereby place on the same spread sheet as commercial activity, social return on investment?  Is this doable at pension fund level where the long term quality of life of investors is considered alongside long term financial return?

I could go on but I guess you get the idea.  I’m no academic or economist but I see a huge game to play here and with pretty much everything at stake right now I’m motivated to find the right organisations to work with and the right host to sit within to play my part in trying to answer these questions.


1 Comment »

  1. Hi Ben,

    I attended your workshop at the Transition Network conference about crowdfunding and financing – fascinating stuff! I would love to talk to you further about my organisation and the work that we do as it feels like there are many synergies with your areas of interest and you mentioned you’d like to discuss this further. Do get in touch so that we can explore the possibilities!

    Comment by Miranda — May 26, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

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