A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Notes From Norway: Developing Our Social Capital(ism) #microfinance #Eco #PeopleCurrency #memes #Junto

Notes From Norway: Developing Our Social Capital(ism) #microfinance #Eco #PeopleCurrency #memes #Junto

If you haven’t been to Norway, you should definitely visit. This is coming from a guy who has been here less than 48 hours of course, but I have to say that there are a lot of things to love.

Norway, I’ve learned, is actually one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The country came into billions when a new oil surplus was discovered not too long ago, and the government here has done a great job of redistributing its wealth to its people. The average Norwegian - when you consider an individual’s asset base - is a millionaire, and the quality of life is amazing. There are no homeless people; there are “gypsies” who choose to live nomadically, and they are very few and far between.

Notes From Norway: Developing Our Social Capital(ism) #microfinance #Eco #PeopleCurrency #memes #Junto

In Norway, like Sweden, people are incented to have children in order to increase the tax base. Medical benefits are essentially free. Foreigners who come here can enjoy these benefits within 6 months of their arrival, and education is available to anyone who wants it (for free). If you want to start a business, the government will give you the money, and you can even enjoy a variety of tax benefits. You even get a vacation stipend every year that is the equivalent of 12% of your annual income.

The irony of the country’s oil wealth is represented in its Eco-driven culture. Here, everything is essentially renewable, from lighting to recyclables. When you use the toilet, that energy is used to power the city grid. And like Finland, much of its infrastructure is set up to sustain scalable initiatives, such as wind power and solar arrays.

Someone we met (“we” meaning my fiancee, Emily, and I) who has been a gracious host is an American named Jim-Anthony. “Anthony”, as he likes to be called, is a former banker who was embroiled in the CDO (collateralized debt obligations – a form of mortgage-backed securities) mess on Wall Street, and after experiencing the excess of life with the power elite in New York City, he changed careers and decided to come to Norway to live a more “pure” life. Now he manages a hotel here (the Grims Grenke) and has a number of entrepreneurial endeavors. He’s a happy man, fulfilled by the promise of being enriched by people and an environment not absorbed in the surface of things.

Anthony and I had a long talk about the definition of social capital.

He believes, as I do, that American life is evolving past the promise of its own doing, which is to say that the American people are a good lot, and our country continues to be anomalous in many respects, including its fight for sovereignty, its persistence on innovation and the quest to help developing nations. Perhaps it’s not our systems of government or business that pose the greatest challenges to us, but a lack of cultural perspective that has left us socially corrupt. We are, after all, the products of a democratic evolution that has used capitalism as a crutch for survival, one in which hard currency has been depleted and given way to a credit system that has left us bound to our own vaporous trail of confusion, deceit and a significant loss of hope.

As a colleague, Gerald Posner, has astutely pointed out, what if we could create currency that didn’t rely on capital inputs?

Bernard A. Lietaer’s “complementary currency” comes to mind when we speak of social capital – the notion that credit systems can build resource pools and use barter – one of the great forms of participatory reward – to incite economic and social growth. For example, imagine if all the people who played in Farmville (60M+ users) on Facebook actually traded their goofy animals and farm resources in energy credits, so that they were reselling things of social value (and economic value), things that they could see were having an immediate impact on their physical world.

Before I flew over here, I had an incredible (and lengthy) conversation with one of the founding partners of the oldest and most reputable VC firms in the world, Trafalgar. This gentleman regaled me with stories linked to the global financial crisis (he knows all the heads of the banks – or what used to be the ‘banks’ – Goldman Sachs, for example, as you probably know is about to bite the dust…), and he’s very embittered by what’s happened, both economically and culturally.

Well, sure enough, his firm is now dedicated to ventures that are not only sustainable (mostly in the sense of corporate transparency), but those that do good in the world.

Here’s the best part. They are specifically looking for platforms that merge communities and microfinance. The quick and simple backstory on this is that the venture capitalist’s daughter is doing some incredible work using microfinance communities in Africa to adopt and/or support children there. His work in China has also influenced the thought that meme development must be implemented in order to create mindshifts that can break destructive socio-economic patterns, while embracing traditional value systems. A couple of lateral examples of this would be the recent (or fairly recent) Avatar demonstrations that took place in Palestine (a form of ‘transmedia activism’), and the recent (albeit incremental) advancements of the democratic voting platform in Iraq that has been largely shaped by scholars of Hammurabi.

[A quick aside, I am here in Oslo to speak about transmedia storytelling; you can check out the live stream on Wednesday, April 28th, at http://www.gulltaggen.com or http://www.gulltaggen.no]

Naturally, I told him about Junto and our microfinance platform effort, UBIQUID.US, and his eyes lit up. (BTW,  by “our” I mean a core group of instigators and disruptors, but really all of us…)

What I told him next, and his response, gave me great solace – I emphasized that the conversation pieces (Junto et al) could NOT be commercialized, and that the entire paradox of the social web has revolved around the fact that open networks (or what could have been open networks) – and their respective participatory dynamics – have largely been cattle-prodded and herded into distending “pockets” of idea and information-sharing. A good example of an open network model is what Cisco is now doing with its telepresence.

Needless to say, he got it right away.

His response jumped ahead to the notion that capital markets could be socialized (as in a social capitalistic kind of way, not a socialist kind of way…) and that it was now the duty of entities like his to show regulatory concerns and other government and lobbyist groups the co-created value of networks. In other words, to show the gatekeepers that open networks are evolving and cannot be denied the right to life and practice, and in a larger sense, that these dynamics can actually improve what they themselves do.

We agreed that corporations of all types and sizes could actually profit handsomely from this, while of course improving and supporting local communities (the argument here is who cares if they’re not totally “invested” in affecting change, so long as the urgency to do so – by whatever economic conditions that predominate – forces that hand in getting them there). We also talked about how transmedia storytelling and participatory narratives could be used to productize, remove copyright boundaries, co-create value, and allow individuals (via social graph) to flourish alongside of companies.

We also both agreed that value could now be created without the need for capital input, or even capital output. The implications for this are astounding in two ways:

1. This suggests an entire re-engineering and re-instutionalization of our failed credit system, one that is community moderated and curated.  

2. It also suggests that participatory reward can now live within the context of true cause & effect – meaning that people who have been previously “uninspired” will now see the impetus in defining their own roles as active contributors to society.

So, take for example, the notion of smart grid credits — use these to watch energy efficiency spike, map it out spatially (geomapping and data volumization) and link it to other early stage efforts (there are bunch of disparate groups already doing this) so that people can see and be the change. (On a more crude level – this type of currency aside – hark back to the Obama election and remember how roughly 30% of the voting populace were those who had never registered or voted before.)

If we can put shared currency – what amounts to collective infrastructure – behind these types of efforts, and be fully transparent… particularly with government concerns (this is VERY important), then we are looking at incredibly efficient, and relatively swift, ways to improve the world.

So coming back full circle (sorry), effectively, we’re already doing it. Junto, for example, is a social experiment using an open telepresence to prove that innovation is not the sum of processes, rather the reflexivity of intellectual expression and the spontaneous development of co-created value systems.

What do you think? What types of social capital can we create?