When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a communications consultant, they ask me to be more specific, and understandably so. I help brands I care about communicate the messages they care about, which can be hard to conceptualize.
I craft messages for science, tech, global philanthropy and civil society, which all surprisingly share a great deal in common. The unifying theme, and what keeps me going, is the “functional ecosystem” principle—that all parts, large and small, make vital contributions to the whole, and work together to preserve order and maintain balance.
Sometimes a force comes along that throws it all off. Like the Internet.
The last 15 years of hyperconnectivity have uprooted major industries—from music, newspapers and publishing, to (more recently) education and manufacturing. Jeremy Rifkin penned this op-ed that begins a dialogue on how a global sharing economy might work. Turns out in the future we’ll have things but share a lot more. How civilized.
This might seem like old news, but this sharing economy will change—is changing—everything about the way we produce and consume, and how we make ends meet; and to Rifkin, civil society is crucial to the sharing economy because the future of supply and demand is based on access, not ownership. The 1% must be furious.
What makes the social commons more relevant today is that we are constructing an Internet of Things infrastructure that optimizes collaboration, universal access and inclusion, all of which are critical to the creation of social capital and the ushering in of a sharing economy. The Internet of Things is a game-changing platform that enables an emerging collaborative commons to flourish alongside the capitalist market.
Global philanthropy is an essential resource for civil society, in that it provides a framework for creating best practices and mobilizing efforts across vast and diverse networks, where connections are normally sparse; and it facilitates cross-sector partnerships where synergies can form, bringing together small and large actors to author innovative solutions together.
The science that comes to mind here—something I think can help philanthropy reach its potential—is a basic concept that will drive collaboration and this new economy Rifkin is talking about: emergence.
For consumer technology, or “pop tech”, emergence refers to a product or method, a “game-changer”, that has serious disruptive potential for the industry. In biology emergence is the process by which an intelligence or organism becomes more complex with time. This follows “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, which also applies to protocell behavior, AI and other phenomena.
For global philanthropy, emergence is applied in several ways, one of which describes rising economies—the emerging BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China (or “BRICS” when including South Africa), which mirrors the “disruptive” behavior of emerging technologies. Another has to do with how strategic philanthropy can respond to rapidly changing realities. The third application, and this is where it gets interesting, has to do with intelligence. This is happening now in the sector—the converging of philanthropic networks to achieve a new level of intelligence, become more integrated and informed, more fluid, and unified in vision.
An “increasingly interdependent, collaborative, global commons”, as Rifkin puts it, can certainly benefit from future lessons learned by these networks. Global actors are collaborating in new ways, forging partnerships to better inform their work to strengthen civil society, making cities more resilient and communities more connected and self sufficient. The perfect breeding ground for intelligence.
In terms of global development and peace-building there is huge potential here. But as Heather Grady (Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors) pointed out last week, matching strategies and combining resources won’t come easy, and first we’ll need to adjust our deep-set definition of reciprocity. Still, organizations coming together from all parts of the world, offering up their unique insights, is what we need to lay the groundwork for a new era for emergent philanthropy.
Thankfully, the physics of connectivity will, if we let it, do most of the heavy lifting. Once again, tech at work. Thank you in advance, Internet of Things. Turns out you’ll be shaking things up for the better.