A Feather for Lifting Anvils – EdgeRyders 2.0 plans to change the world
The EdgeRyders community has decided to take a crack solving the world’s problems by inventing a new collective structure: “Venture Social Capital.”
The idea is to “finance” new positive, local projects using the collective power of an extended social network, with a commitment-based social structure to give us the ability to make decisions in a timely and business-like manner.
In other words, we’re going into the banking business. Are you with us? We’re already staffing up!
1: What’s wrong with Capital?
The hardest part of doing things that have never been done before is finding the money. Ideas are, basically, cheap. There’s seven billion of us, two billion or so online, and with that many brains, seeing the “adjacent possible” – something doable, something close to where we are, but the next evolutionary forwards step – is as much a question of luck as talent; we’re in a position where the first step in innovation, the idea, is cheap. Our ability to imagine, to know, to mingle and network with people that provide us with the requisite diversity our minds require to have new ideas has far, far outstripped our ability to build things. We’ve got more possible forwards steps than we can take.
This is a problem because our societies are wedging themselves up shit creek without a paddle, as Americans would say. They’re gutting their welfare states and social programs, deporting immigrants, talking about splitting up Europe and worse, wasting half of an entire generation’s talent in 40% youth unemployment areas. I’m 40, and I have absolutely no idea what I would do if I was 20 today. My generation, comparatively speaking, had it easy – paid to go to university, and 1989-2001 as more than a decade of stable(ish) peace(ish.) I’m not saying those were better times (less internet!) but they were easier times in the hard-cash roof-over-head sense.
A lot of this catastrophic change in our societies has been driven by abusive capital. Governments have gotten cornered by enormous banks who, when their gambling at the International House of Dodgy Financial Instruments finally hit “00″ and everything went back to the House, came back to the Government and said “If we go bankrupt, which by law we should, it’s going to eat your economic prosperity for a generation. Pay our debts!” What we have is a protection racket, where Capital has convinced Government that it needs to be taken care of more than People. As a result, our societies are leaving more and more of us high and dry. I’m 40, at an age when one starts to wonder about things like retirement, and I’m not at all convinced that there’s any store of wealth other than relationships and creation which has any chance of surviving this transformation in our societies.
Capital, as it has been manifested so far, is poisonous.
2: What’s wrong with Society?
We are faced with two great challenges globally: poverty, and ecology. Poverty is simple: 7 billion people, 4 billion tooth-brushes, 2 billion flush toilets. One billion fat people, one billion people who are regularly hungry, both sides deprived of something they need to be healthy – exercise and meaning on one side, simple raw calories on the other. The world is a mess.
Ecology is equally pressing, but more subtle. Huge loss of forests and sea life, climate destabilization – freak weather flooding cities, 28 years of “above average” temperatures, and good-times government subsidies for protecting the future which, as the banks imploded, were withdrawn to nurture Capital at the expense of the Planet. You could not do a worse job of managing a civilization without resorting to fascists or late Roman emperors: Golden Dawn and Berlusconi.
But to change things means taking risks. New ideas, by virtue of being new, are untested unknowns. Innovation means failure, and recovering from failure means having something in reserve: Capital. You don’t (usually) finance the company with the money you needed to pay rent, because if return is not immediate and large, you’re homeless. Just when your society needs innovation most, to face adversity, Capital dries up, and you’re left the same behaviors that caused the problem, endlessly repeated because nobody will finance new thinking about the core issues. We get stuck.
We think we have a solution.
3: A Plan: what can ordinary-extraordinary people do?
The brutal truth is that the crisis deprives us of access to Capital, without which we cannot innovate, because if the innovation does not immediately succeed, we’re homeless. A large scale culture of innovation requires a large scale culture of investment, and the money poured out of Education and Health into the banks is not returning to us in the form of access to investment. Our cultures are stuck.
To get out of this cycle of decline, we need access to “Countercyclical Capital” – something which gets more available as economic conditions get worse. Fortunately, this kind of Capital exists – it’s called Human Capital. It’s talented people without jobs, without incomes, without fully-utilized talents. As the economy ceases to provide work or affordable education, people become idle, and that’s our reserve of Countercyclical Capital. We buck the trend!
Our job, therefore, is to organize this Countercyclical Capital – that’s us, we under-financed masses, yearning to create – into a form which permits Countercyclical Investment. We form a social organization, like a labour union, which permits us to Collectivize our strengths, in a form which lets us change the way the world works for us and others. This improves our negotiating position, by making Talent powerful without access to (financial) Capital, and it might allow us to provide the much-needed innovation to help our societies out of their stuckness.
It really is possible. There are examples.
4: Stepping out of the usual frame
Wikipedia’s a very, very good example of the combined power of Human Capital to change the world. We all use it every day, and it’s taking effective action on both poverty (poor people are using it too, all over the world!) and ecology (it’s saving huge numbers of trees on paper books.) People are working together to solve a real human problem – access to knowledge – and it’s improving all of our lives.
There’s a tiny thread of financial capital – running the servers, say – but Wikipedia is a Human Capital enterprise. It shows what can be done.
But what we want is sustainable livelihoods. While Wikipedia is great, sitting around all day and contributing to it is not going to put food on the table or buy Mom’s birthday presents. What we need is to use a similar kind of effect – a lot of volunteer labor, and a little financial capital – to solve the employment problem for all of us.
In the process, we should have impact on the innovation gap that is threatening all of our futures, and thereby poverty and the ecological crisis too. It’s a tall order, but this is an age of miracles.
5: Building it
Here’s the idea: a volunteer driven “Venture Social Capital” fund.
We all put in some time, energy and effort – we pre-commit resources – promising time and energy to that fund. A Board of Evaluators does what Venture Capitalists usually do – they evaluate projects, and give Capital – in this case, Human Capital or Social Capital – to get these projects off the ground.
A funded project can then take their grant – of your and my time and resources – and ask for help. You come to me, and say “I’ve got an EdgeRyders grant for 40 hours of time and I was wondering if you could write something for me, Vinay?” and I say “well, I’ve got 6 hours on balance here, so yes, what do you need done?”
When I’ve done all the hours I’ve promised to the EdgeRyders organization on one project or another, I’m done. I’ve paid my “membership dues” (like a union!) but, of course, if I feel like doing more voluntarily, I can. It’s that simple. But imagine how it could change life for innovators trying to get great new ideas off the ground if they could get 50 or 100 hours of free, skilled help at the most critical stages of their projects, helping lift the projects off the ground and creating sustainable employment for their founders, and more.
We’re asking you for one day a year: 10 hours. We think we can get close to 1000 people to volunteer one day a year from the existing EdgeRyders network, and we hope the idea will go viral and become a common social form. If we all give a day a year, perhaps we can finance some of the innovation that neither the Banks or the State can manage, and turn some of this mess around.
I’m in. I’ve given my day. Who needs me? What do you need me to do?