Open Economies, Open Societies, Open Governments: A Collaborative Approach To Community Development

On June 10, 2013, one week before world leaders gather for the G8 Summit in London, Ashoka will join the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Foundation, Mashable, and the 92nd Street Y to launch G-Everyone, a day of dialogue that invites everybody to share their ideas on how to address global challenges.

To get ready for the event, I asked two Ashoka Fellows—Ken Banks and Rob Hopkins—about how innovation can stimulate local economies.

Ken Banks, supported by the Arthur Guinness Fund, is the founder of FrontlineSMSMeans of Exchange and His most recent project, Means of Exchange, looks at how emerging, everyday technologies can be used to democratize opportunities for economic self-sufficiency, rebuild local community and promote a return to local resource use. His vision is a better, fairer, and more locally connected world.

So, how can innovation stimulate local economies? Here’s Ken Banks:

“Technological innovation is something of a double-edged sword when we think about its impact, and role, in stimulating local economies. Today’s globalized world has been largely made possible by innovations in technology—more recently, the mobile phone and the World Wide Web. We can now purchase and consume cheaper and cheaper products from further and further away, enjoying beans from Kenya and bananas from the West Indies all year round, and communicate 24/7 with strangers in countries we’ve never visited. What we’ve been left with is a world where global dominates local, where anything happening anywhere else is more important than what’s happening on our doorstep, and countless communities of people which are less and less connected with local resources, local businesses, and each other.

The very same technologies, if used innovatively and with imagination, can reverse that decline. Online maps, location-based services, mobile apps, and social media can all help bring people’s attention and behavior back towards one of local consumption and engagement. Local LOCM +2.45% currencies, which are already in use in a number of towns across the UK, can help keep money in local economies, and Local Exchange Trading Schemes encourage people to use their own time, and skill sets, as a kind of currency. Barter exchanges, clothes swaps and community gardens can also help bring people back together, and help build resilience at a community level. Technology can help drive awareness and engagement, and promote convenience, in all of these activities.

That said, many of these kinds of innovations are nothing new. Most have been around for years, and there are countless success stories out there if you look hard enough. The majority of these pockets of success have remained small in scale, however, and many only work because a small number of dedicated, local activists work hard to keep them going. What’s more, the people that take part are often the ones who are already converted to the cause, or older members of a community already sympathetic to the local agenda. As is often the case, it’s innovation at behavioral level that’s most challenging. It rarely has anything to do with technology.

Means of Exchange hopes to understand why so many existing initiatives fail to replicate and scale, building the community needed to bring in “new blood” and bringing in the skills required to leverage digital tools that allow for meaningful scale. What we need to do is highlight approaches that work, and tease out the factors that make them succeed. We also need to understand how social media and mobile technologies could strengthen these activities, explore gamification techniques, and consult experts to understand how activities should be branded and marketed for mass appeal. There is huge potential in using technology to stimulate behaviors which can lead to local economic development, but much of it is yet to be realised.”

Watch Ken Banks speak at PopTech 2012 about the rise and importance of a sharing economy (and why the world doesn’t need any more drills):

Rob Hopkins is the founder of the Transition Network. He believes in three principles: taking action, going local, and incentivizing every person to find practical solutions. These principles underpin Hopkins’ “Transition Movement,” which aims to build stronger communities and support initiatives that reduce CO2 emissions.

Here’s how Rob Hopkins sees innovation affecting local economies:

“In increasingly uncertain times, one of the key things we need to generate is community resilience. Much that is proposed in the drive for economic growth can actively undermine that resilience. Evidence shows that local, independent economies contribute to local resilience significantly better than large chain businesses.

Innovation is already emerging in the form of pop-up shops, craft breweries, community-based renewable energy projects, complimentary currencies, innovative local food businesses, and urban agriculture. Stimulating our local economies needs to be founded on the concepts of resilience, enhancing local economies, being as low-carbon as possible, bringing assets into community ownership, and of enterprises having a wider social purpose than just being for profit.

The Transition Movement is modeling this around the world, showing that stimulating your local economy starts within community, rather than being somehow dictated from outside it. It is modeling the shift from a dependency on inward investment to internal investment—spending our money and investing our money in ways that build and enhance community resilience. I think that that is one of the big economic ideas of our times. “

In this video, Rob Hopkins speaks about the profound and positive economic change happening in hundreds of communities all over the world: 

Here, Hopkins explains his vision for the next 10 years in local “transition” networks:

This article originally appeared in Forbes.