community organization

The journey is just beginning.  As we seek to grow entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems in new places, it is clear that we still have far more questions than answers.  But it is thrilling to watch the birth of a community of “doers,” and it will be exciting to see how it grows and impacts the world.

Business, not charity. 

To create sustainable economies, Alex Dehgan, the science and technology chief of USAID, recommended to everyone: “Treat the developing world as customers, not poor people.”  This is a huge shift from past thinking in economic development, where business was often treated like the enemy, not the cure.

Capital as pragmatic tool.

When talking about the role of social impact capital, Randall Kempner, CEO of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, stated: “I’m not in it to create a new asset class.  I’m committed to create a new middle class in the developing world.”  We are moving beyond thinking of capital in simplistic silos.  Freely-flowing capital is a pragmatic tool to grow businesses which can give consumers what they need.

The world wants new solutions.

Gerardo Corrachano of the World Bank remarked: “People tell us, we have done everything you’ve told us to do, and we don’t see the results.”  The old economic solutions of the past are providing less utility than before.  New frameworks and tools are needed.

We can “design” economic systems.

It is possible to apply design thinking to entire economic systems, not just innovative products.  At the Summit, we divided attendees into “Houses” (a la Hogwarts).  Houses did real work to “design” innovation ecosystems during live, interactive sessions to create useable results.

People are hungry to pitch in. 

We asked for volunteers to pitch their ideas for building Rainforests, which we uploaded to YouTube.    The top 5 vote-getters were chosen to pitch on-stage with a live feedback panel.  The lesson: individuals are fired up and ready to act.

Be a “psychic welder.”

This is the phrase that Nola Masterson, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, used to describe her method of connecting people together to create value.  Innovation ecosystems thrive on human connectivity, not just raw inputs.

Emotion is the medium.

Ade Mabogunje of Stanford’s Institute for Venture Design observed the role of human nature in designing Rainforests: “In design, you have to know what materials you are working with. With human design, the material is emotion.”  Systemic economic growth is tied to human emotions and our ability to regulate those emotions.  Ecosystems can thrive when people overcome fear and leverage passions.

Innovators learn by example.

Phil Wickham, CEO of the Society of Kauffman Fellows, observed that: “Inspiration is the greatest IP, and that’s what’s lacking in developing regions.”  The lack of good role models can be a severe bottleneck on economic growth.

The human recipe matters.

We started with basic raw ingredients—a conference room, 400 human beings, some props, some ideas—and we created our own miniature Rainforest.  Over the course of the Summit, even we were blown away by the power of the buzz, the diverse interactions, the collaboration, the spontaneous experimentation happening everywhere.  This proves that, with the right recipe, Rainforests can be contagious.

No longer top versus bottom.

Alex Dehgan of USAID said: “This can’t be just top-down, and it can’t be just bottom-up. It’s got to be both.”  The interface between bottom-up innovation and top-down policy is both the challenge and the opportunity.  The big question: can we bridge that divide to create new solutions to elevate human welfare everywhere?

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