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Deeper, better - building community & economy

In the face of energy shortage, of global warming, and of the vague but growing sense that we are not as alive and connected as we want to be, I think we’ve started to grope for what might come next. And just in time.
– Bill McKibben, “Deep Economy"

Fittingly enough, I picked up Deep Economy at a community book sale for a local library in Ithaca, NY. The book sale had an impressive selection and a "chat with your neighbor" kind of energy, and it wasn't long before I ended up in the business section trading recommendations with a couple of management professors from Cornell University.

“That’s a great book,” commented Jim, who researches leadership and ethics at Cornell. An older gentleman browsing nearby turned to join the conversation, shaking his head when he saw the cover, “Bill McKibben is a good writer. But he doesn’t know much about how economics work.”

Though I have never met McKibben, I don’t think he would have minded the comment much. McKibben’s 2007 bestseller isn't a treatise on how economics works, but instead explores a much more critical question: do our economics work for us? McKibben's answer is no, or more accurately, that our current economic models no longer serve us as well as they should, especially the driving paradigm that more is a good proxy for better.

BoP Book Discussions

"All learning integrates thinking and doing. All learning is about how we interact in the world and the types of capacities that develop from our interactions." - Presence, Peter Senge et al

Book discussion in the Amazon

A book discussion in the Amazon

One of the benefits of working in the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) has been the opportunity to take deep dives into experiences that were once totally foreign to me. Another benefit has been the long travel times between and across continents; plane flights, bus rides, and boat trips where I can immerse myself in books and articles covering a wide range of topics. [It's a sad fact that in these information-at-the-speed-of-thought days I actually have to be unplugged and forced to sit down before I pick up a good book!] Over the past several years both those benefits have twirled around my head ... like a pair of ballroom dancers continuously exchanging leading and following roles. I've never had a learning experience like my work in the BoP: this combination of thinking & doing and the knowledge that both have created.

Preserving the local soil - Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice

“Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down.” - Mark J. Plotkin, PhD

Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice

The old caboclo woman stopped abruptly in her explanation of the plant in her hand and stared to the back of our group, at the tall, sun-browned, shirtless man who had just stepped into her garden.  “Ele é índio?” the old midwife asked excitedly, “ele entende muito de plantas, ervas, remédios?!” The newcomer had been just about to snap a photo of the scene but the force of old woman's reaction startled him into almost dropping his camera. He turned to my girlfriend Amber and I with a confused look, “What did she just say?” 

I chuckled out loud and translated for him while Amber explained to the old woman that no, our friend Kenny was neither a “native” nor from the jungle, that he was originally from Hong Kong and - as an energy trader on Wall Street – Kenny’s particular knowledge of stocks and plants probably wasn’t quite what the old woman was hoping for. The midwife’s mistake was easy enough to understand though: a dark brown, muscular man with long raven-black hair, Kenny looked like a piece of history stepping out of the jungle. In fact, most of the people we had met during our weeklong tour of riverside communities had made the same mistake about Kenny’s heritage.  What surprised me instead about the old midwife’s reaction was that even though practically a medicine woman herself - born and raised in the Amazon - she still seemed desperate to pump an outsider for his knowledge of local plants and medicines.

Why Not? A Guide for Ingenuity

The other day, my foster brother Seth and I were speaking about being innovative. Seth is a lead test engineer on a certain eXcellent gaming console in Redmond, WA.

"I don't think I have it in me," Seth commented, "I can almost always figure out how things work, like noise canceling headsets for example, but I don't know how people come up with those ideas in the first place."

"Maybe that's true," I responded, "but I bet that you could be trained."

I like to tell people that creating something innovative and new is like pulling on threads until it leads you to a sweater, or even better yet, it's like gathering threads into your hands until you finally realize that you're already holding a sweater. In non-knitting terms, innovation is an organic process, involving questions and observations, and a lot of looking at the world differently. And one of my favorite guides for looking at the world differently is Barry Nalebuff's and Ian Ayres' "Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small"

In twenty years and countless adventures in growing our business, our only progress and for that matter our only interesting breakthroughs have resulted from someone asking Why not? Nalebuff and Ayres have crafted an inspiring, imaginative, informative and best of all, fun treatise that will arouse the entrepreneur in all of us. You will fly through this book, and you will never look at a problem the same way again.

—Gary Hirshberg, President and CEO,Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, Inc.

Lighting Up the Crossroads - Stuart L. Hart

"Stuart Hart was there at the beginning. Years ago when the term 'sustainability' had not yet reached business schools, Stuart Hart stood as a beacon in the umbrage. It is clear commerce is the engine of change, design the first signal of intention, and global capitalism is at the crossroads. Stuart Hart is there again; this time lighting up the intersection."

- William McDonough, Co-author of Cradle to Cradle

Three years ago, a group of MBA prospects visited the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School. We were wined & dined and offered full rides and stipends, incentives to reject offers at higher ranked business schools and earn our MBAs at Kenan-Flagler instead. The admission staff knew they had to be convincing, so they brought out the big guns. We were introduced to Stu Hart.

Naturally, we decided Carolina was a fine place to be.

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid - CK Prahalad

Recently we've received a number of requests for more information on the Base of the Pyramid. One of the best places to start is with the work by C.K. Prahalad and Stuart Hart. Prahalad and Hart were both featured prominently at December's WRI "Eradicating Poverty through Profit" conference in San Francisco, which we along with 900 other representatives of businesses, NGOs, universities, and governments attended.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Prahalad about his new book "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid":

Poor People's Knowledge - Handmade in India

A review of the 2nd Chapter of World Bank's "Poor People's Knowledge", about the challenges and opportunities in promoting the knowledge and innovations of the world's poor.

Poor Peoples Knowledge"How can we help poor people to earn more from their knowledge—rather than from their sweat and their muscle? This book is about promoting the innovation, knowledge, and creative skills of poor people in poor countries, and particularly about improving the earnings of poor people from such knowledge and skills."

The World Bank's "Poor People's Knowledge: Promoting Intellectual Property in Developing Countries" is a collection of essays by researchers and practitioners covering the subject of knowledge development and intellectual property in the Base of the Pyramid. The book (available in PDF) is an informative and thought-provoking read. Today we touch on Chapter 2 "Handmade in India" by Maureen Liebl and Tirthankar Roy.

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