Oppression vs. Innovation

The coverage of the oppressive conditions in the Middle East and Obama’s recent speeches about cultivating our innovation potential at home were a striking contrast. A New York Times article described Egyptian leader Mubarak’s rule saying:

“His brand of despotism produced an authoritarianism that suffocated his people, a bureaucracy that corrupted the most mundane transaction and a malaise that saw Egypt turn inward.

“I’ve always said that my age is 60, but I haven’t lived for 30 years,” said Leila Abu Nasr, walking with her husband, Sharif. “We could have done so much more.”

One of the greatest tragedies of this oppression (and racism, inequality, etc.) is the loss of all that human ingenuity, resourcefulness, and contribution. Imagine all the good ideas, smart people, inventions, and collective potential that were not realized.

As President Obama has recently been emphasizing, in the US, we are blessed with a tremendous capacity for innovation. We have remarkable conditions to enable people to bring new ideas into form. With freedom of the press and now the ease of on-line posting and sharing, it is easier than ever to share an idea with the world. With relative ease, anyone can establish a new business or non-profit organization. A whole ecosystem is available to fund and grow ideas that work – in the profit and non-profit sectors: donors, angel investors, foundations, venture capital firms, government investments, and a vibrant commercial and consumer market of people to buy goods and services.

Our new levels of connectedness on line enable one innovation to build on the next, as illustrated by what has happened with community supported agriculture (CSA.) Twenty years ago this approach was invented to enable consumers to buy their produce directly from farmers, by buying a “share” of the harvest up front and getting weekly deliveries of fresh food during the growing season. Now several thousand CSA’s are in place around the country, but even more interesting, is how many variations on the concept have taken root:

  • CSA’s and Food Banks – CSA’s that have a dual goal of growing food for their members and for local food banks
  • Suburban CSA’s – a farmer signs up 5-6 adjacent families and grows food in a portion of each of their yards.
  • Community Supported Fisheries – people sign up to buy a share of fish directly from the fishermen. Others focus on meats or other farm products.
  • CSA delivery by bike – Human-powered bike delivery services deliver fresh produce to people in cities
  • Community-supported authorship – Kickstarter.com enables people with an idea to gather donors on-line to support the project. For example, authors Dave Jacke and Mark Krawczyk raised over $20,000 from over 300 donors to support them in writing a new book on agro-forestry.

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