Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Further reflections on SoCap 08

Are Social Markets here? I asked this question yesterday. I think they are very much emerging, in formation and in ten/twenty years will need little explanation. So, to a small degree, they are here. But they are still very new. We have a lot of influence over what they are, how they work, what is included and what isn't.

Overnight reflections on yesterday's session brought a few more thoughts (also spurred by a quick scan of today's headlines on actual newsprint - as well as headlines on the web):
  • Will Rosenzweig commented yesterday that opportunity abounds where there is technology transfer - particularly transfer of tools made for emerging economies that can be transferred to developed economies. This reminded me of my principles of open philanthropy - "build for the poorest" and let adaptation work its way up the funding environment - perhaps this principle has broader implications.
  • Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in economics and columnist for the NYT, won acclaim for his research on why countries trade they ways they do. His column on Monday credited the British government for its response to current global credit crisis - and points out that the Europeans and the U.S. could and should (and subsequently have) followed the British lead.
  • A Kenyan entrepreneur interviewed on The World yesterday talked about how African entrepreneurs and policy makers need to actively define options and values for the emerging African economy - so that it doesn't mirror the currently failing systems all around it.
The news in recent weeks has been full of "lessons we should be learning" - from the Great Depression to Norway and Sweden's banking crises, Japan's decade of malaise, what Iceland can learn from Argentina and so on. So I think this is the perfect time to ask some harder questions of social markets than "are we here yet?"
  • What is the long term vision?
  • What does failure look like?
  • What would social market collapse look like?
  • What ancillary supports - regulatory, market-based, research, metrics - do social markets need to succeed?
  • What safeguards and checks/balances do we need?

If there is any lesson we might collectively learn from the current economic situation is that markets are man-made and thus can be shaped toward certain ends - by regulation or lack thereof, by definitions, by barriers to entry (or lack thereof), by collaboration and competition, and yes, dare I say, by deliberate evolution. SoCap is exciting because it is new, filled with entrepreneurs and their energy, and emerging - so this is the perfect time to ask these longer term "what if" questions.

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