Today I spoke on a panel at the United Nations in Geneva at #INFOCUS, a social innovation and entrepreneurship conference hosted by the UN and the Russian Government. Sharing the stage with me were social entrepreneurs working on refugee and gender issues, alongside the founder of a Russian publishing empire, a policymaker and a Russian Minister…an interesting mix to be sure.
The ensuing debate was enlightening, mostly as it revealed an appetite for disruption of the status quo that I hadn’t expected from a sovereign state. There was an acceptance that emergent technologies like blockchain were going to enable a networked community of change agents for sustainability to self-organise around social and environmental problems and that it’s for governments and investors to think much harder about how they become enablers rather than barriers.
Most surprising was the Russian Government’s interest in social entrepreneurship as a vehicle for nation-building to compensate for the exodus of brains, entrepreneurs and investment they’ve seen since the collapse of communism. It would seem that the Russian diaspora are not being relied upon to do the right thing – to return and invest in their motherland. Rather, their Government is seriously interested in investing in developing the heads, hearts and minds of the next generation of Russians and from an early age, as early as primary school. Those at the conference seem to understand the importance of emotional connectedness to the issues, of social mission being at least as important as entrepreneurial competencies and intentions, of the relevance of entrepreneurship to all sectors of society (including government) and of the need to create radical transparency via enabling platforms that share data and insight to overcome the information asymmetry experienced by most social entrepreneurs when developing their ideas.
Come to think of it, it’s not the first time that I’ve heard of an interest in the disruptive possibilities of technology from a country without the heavy reliance on multinational corporations for its tax revenues (I seem to remember the Indian Government expressing a similar interest when I was in Delhi).
We could well be surprised where the investment comes from to catalyse a transformation in how we self-organise for sustainability and it could very well turn out to be the next frontier of state-sponsored national competitiveness.