James L. Koch
Senior Founding Fellow, Center for Science, Technology, and Society
Don C. Dodon Distinguished Service Professor of Management
Twelve years ago I joined small group of approximately 40 mayors, international NGO leaders, and senior World Bank officials for a meeting with Pope John Paul II. It was five years after the founding of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University and six months after the launching of the Tech Awards—Technology Benefiting Humanity. It was also just eight months after September 11, 2001. For me, the takeaways from this Rome meeting mirrored the sense of humility and hope embodied in the network of inventors, corporate leaders, venture capitalists, pioneering practitioners, and World Bank Development Marketplace officials that had been drawn to the mission of the STS Center back home in Silicon Valley.
In this meeting Pope John Paul called for a new solidarity as an essential condition for human progress in the context of mass global migrations to cities. Today, after more than a decade of work vetting thousands of technology innovations for their potential social benefit impact, hands on mentoring with hundreds of social entrepreneurs, and continuous engagement with a global network of practitioners, the broad outlines of a new solidarity are beginning to emerge. But first, Pope John Paul II, in his own words from May of 2002:
“A city is much more than a territory, and economic productive zone, a political reality. It is above all a community of people, and especially of families with their children. It is a living, historically rooted, culturally distinct, human experience. Those who exercise administrative and political control over it have weight responsibilities for the common good of the people, human beings graced with inalienable dignity and rights; just as citizens have important duties toward the community.
The ethos of a city should be marked by one characteristic above others, solidarity. Every one of you faces serious social and economic problems which will not be solved unless a new style of human solidarity is created. Institutions and social organizations at different levels, as well as the state, must share in promoting a general movement of solidarity between all sectors of the population, with special attention to the weak and marginalized. This is not just a matter of convenience. It is a necessity of the moral order, to which all people need to be educated, and to which those with influence of one kind or another must be committed as a matter of conscience.
The goal of solidarity must be the advancement of a more human world for all, a world in which every individual will be able to participate in a positive and fruitful way, and in which the wealth of some will no longer be an obstacle to the development of others, but a help.”
A new style of human solidarity and a general movement of solidarity between multiple sectors for the advancement of a more human world for all are now visible across the 2014 landscape. The messy process of entrepreneurial activity focused on the development of sustainable market-based solutions to the most daunting and urgent issues of our time is a transformative change in business mindsets—one that values human progress and social impact over short-term profits.
This bottom up process is part of a powerful convergence of three trends: triple bottom line business mindsets; friendlier government policies like B-corporation statutes; and, a growing consensus in development economics that aide and welfare without human agency and market mechanism are insufficient to alleviate global poverty. While not to diminish the shrill headlines of regional crises and human suffering, several factors provide encouraging evidence of a general movement of solidarity between all sectors for the advancement of a more human world for all.
The BoP movement framed by the pioneering work of C.K. Prahalad and subsequently documented as a market opportunity
by Al Hammond and his colleagues has evolved since 2002 from small number of case studies to literally thousands of bottom up experiments around the world. There are over 3,000 Ahsoka fellows alone.
Through formalization of the tacit knowledge
from this bottom-up experimentation radically new approaches to technology and business model innovation are being diffused to practitioners, universities, and businesses around the world. The network effects of this diffusion is spreading
viable solutions, creating the economies of scale to stimulate new and complimentary capabilities up and down previously nonexistent value chains. For example, in the off-grid energy space, Beyond the Grid
, a joint US-Africa initiative is leveraging the falling cost of renewable energy generation, advances in storage, smart meter and mobile payment technology, innovative business models, and new distributed energy companies.
The current Fourth Sector Mapping Initiative of the Urban Institute is documenting the emergence of new models of shared value enterprise
—from pay for performance public-private partnerships, to hybrid social businesses, community based co-ops, and B-Corporations. In May of 2002, there were no B-Corporations; today there are more than 1,000.
Sector wide collaborations are focusing resources on the need to catalyze ecosystems and develop holistic solutions. The previously mentioned Beyond the Grid initiative has brought together 27 private sector partners to expand access to clean, affordable energy to 240 million people in the rural and peri-urban communities of Africa. This collaboration spans investors like Capricorn, Gray Ghost, and Khosla Impact, as well as companies like Schneider Electric, and distribution businesses like Solar Sister which is expanding its last mile network of women entrepreneurs to provide energy access
to more than 400,000 homes.
There is an increased readiness on the part of financially strapped local governments to embrace public-private partnership and pay-for-performance social business solutions as more cost effective alternatives to the provision of essential government services.
Innovations in social sector finance are facilitating the aggregation of capital to support the growth financing needs of promising social mission enterprises and leveraging network effects to expand geographic reach or deepen penetration in regional markets. Of particular note here
is the work of John Kohler in the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University.
The Social Progress Index,
developed under the leadership of Michael Porter, was launched in 2013 as a common way of measuring multi-dimensional progress in human well-being across nation states and over time. It is a robust and empirical measure of the degree to which our institutions are adapting to address the complex and urgent needs of humanity. In some respects it is a proxy for our collective intelligence about how to live more sustainably, justly and peacefully on this earth. In a number of instances these and other measures, like the World Bank’s poverty line threshold of $1.25 a day, suggest that our trajectory of learning and progress is increasing. By the latter measure the United Nations 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report concludes that the portion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty halved between 1990 and 2010.
However, when medical research on minimum nutrition requirements, to say nothing of education, clothing, shelter, and transportation, are taken into consideration this penury baseline guarantees at best a wretched existence.
“In his 2013 book “The Great Escape,” the Princeton economist Angus Deaton argues that poverty measurement is ultimately a question of democratic consensus, not scientific calibration—a continuing exercise based on what is acceptable to policy makers and the public, including the poor themselves” .
Answering the question of how to advance “a more human world for all, a world in which every individual will be able to participate in a positive and fruitful way, and in which the wealth of some will no longer be an obstacle to the development of others, but a help” (Pope John Paul, II, May 2002) is a moral imperative of the highest order.
While the hope of a new solidarity may appear to be within our grasp, progress will depend on our ability to muster the financial, human and social capital needed to address complex challenges both on the ground, in the pioneering work of social entrepreneurs, and at institutional levels. While much has been learned, so much more remains to be learned. Ultimately, we may find that humility and the subtle processes of consensus building, collaboration, and humble inquiry will be our greatest assets.