Hi friends!

A few weeks ago, I was invited by my professor to attend the Cumberland Center’s 2013 Global South Summit, a conference held right here in Nashville that brought some of the biggest names and brightest minds together to discuss the future of social innovation in regards to food production, health care, and prosperity. 

Coming into this conference, I spent some time reflecting on why I decided to go into Social Entrepreneurship. For as long as I can remember, I had always been bothered by things I had seen on the news: worldwide famine, racial and gender discrimination, environmental degradation. When I was five, I decided that I wanted to become President, because I believed that was the ONE person who had the power to change those issues. As I’ve learned and seen more, I’ve realized that no one person had the power to overcome these huge issues that have plagued humanity—not even the President. But inside, I always had hope that somehow, I could be a small part of the change that would work to resolve these issues. And inside, I always hoped that there were other people who thought the same way that I did.

This conference wrecked me. By wrecked me, I mean that this conference COMPLETELY changed the way that I looked at our world and the issues that it faces. Not only did I learn that there are many, many people who feel the same way that I do, but they have already made HUGE strides in creating lasting change in addressing these issues. I’m going to briefly give my thoughts on each of the areas focused on, and then talk about the 45 minutes that changed the way that I look at humanity. It’s a little lengthy, so if you want to skip to the bottom to get some key takeaways, then by all means, go ahead.

 

Prosperity: The Cluster Model

As I mentioned before, I came to this conference as a student, not as an economist, so hearing so much about these different industries left me a little overwhelmed. That being said, after attending these sessions and doing some outside research, I was once again reminded that collaboration and innovation are the key to success, and clusters are a means by which to do this. Clusters are a geographic network of businesses, suppliers, and other institutions that work together in a particular market. Clusters can be local, national, or global, and dispense with the traditional business model of individualism and self interest. Speakers from the Harvard Business School, U.S. Small Business Administration, and others all talked about how clusters can help change the way that we look at business. Ninety percent of small businesses that participated in clusters saw an increase in revenue, and the amount of businesses that have decided to participate in clusters have quadrupled. Engaging in the cluster model provides small businesses with services and networks that might have been previously unavailable, and create greater integration into the supply chain and community. Imagine the huge things we could do if we realized that working together we can do so much more for people than trying to do it on our own! Phil Paradice, the Atlanta Regional Director for the U.S. Economic Development Administration said it best: “To be successful, economic development has to be a team sport.”

 

 

Health: The Frontier of Innovation

So often we see nonprofits asking for donations for research for certain diseases—we may feel inspired to donate to that cause, but once information is gathered, where does it actually go? The health session I attended talked about how we can take the information that thousands of scientists have used and create visible change in our community. One speaker said: “There is a great opportunity to take this abundance in data and create a collection of knowledge.” Having medical information is not enough—we have to figure out a way to organize it effectively. Then we have to take it one step further. Overall health changes have to come from the individual, who is impacted by a variety of influences. One of the speakers said: “solving healthcare issues is not up to any one sector. It has to be approached from sociological, technological, economic, and medical perspectives.” Therefore, we need to start influencing our culture to one that promotes health and well-being, like the story I heard of a 16 year old who developed an app to help her grandmother with Alzheimers remember to take her medicine, or the open-source Medical Records System that is revolutionizing healthcare records in Kenya. There are tons of ways that innovation in technology can help make healthcare more effective, but it is up to us to embrace these innovations and use them to create real change.

  

Food: Sustainable Sourcing Models

I was particularly interested in attending these sessions after having worked on a revenue and expense forecast for a local and organic restaurant in San Francisco. The key speaker in this section was Howard-Yana Shapiro, the Chief Agricultural Officer for Mars, Inc. {creator of my favorite Twix bar!} He along with other speakers spent a great deal of time talking about sustainable sourcing, and the connection between the farmer and consumer. So many times we see things on shelves labeled as “organic” or “natural”, but often there is no clear idea of what that means. However, people are more drawn to sustainable production methods because of moral, environmental, and health reasons, and Shapiro believes that it is a necessary part of the conversation. In order to start this paradigm shift, we have to start on a local level. Helping to create infrastructure that connects farmers to their local community and makes them competitive is one of the first steps. One of the ways to do this is through Community Supported Agriculture, which is a subscription service by which community members can receive fresh produce directly from farmers in their area. In Denmark, one such CSA has over 200,000 subscribers. A second step is educating consumers about their options. When we as consumers realize that sustainability is the new way of the world, they will demand greater accountability from the big players in the food industry. This will create change from the ground up as we make local choices that have global ramifications. As Shapiro said, “Society will no longer allow you to not be held accountable. You have to have an awareness that what’s going around you is not detrimental to the future. This generation must leave the earth better than when we received it.”

 

Abundance—The Future Is Better Than You Think

This was the 45 minutes that changed my life. Peter Diamandis, the founder of XPrize Foundation and author of Abundance, spoke about the way that we perceive our world. Like I mentioned before, it is so easy to get caught up in our world’s problems and issues, and simply accept that we will never find a solution. However, if you look at it, we are living in the best times. Our world is less violent, more healthy, and more educated than we ever have been. Yes, problems do persist. But one of the greatest parts about humanity is its constant desire to improve. Diamandis said that “to be human is to be curious.” And there are hundreds of thousands of curious minds that are working to solve issues that we once thought impossible.

Diamandis believes that our minds are trained to think local and linear. But technology has shown that we are growing globally and exponentially. Technology has started to digitize, de-materialize, de-monitize, and democratize our world. We have seen this in the music {iTunes}, research {Google}, bookstore {Amazon}, and even long-distance communication {Skype} industries, but it is spreading to other major players. 3-D printing could replace manufacturing {you can print chocolate at home!!}, cloud sourcing could replace universities {a woman in Kenya could have access to a Harvard education through a mobile device}, artificial intelligence could replace doctors {robots that can perform surgeries without mistakes}. And the amount of innovation is only growing. Diamndis foundation, XPrize, awarded $10 million to a group that created a spacecraft that would allow ordinary people to go into space {You might have heard of it, as it was just bought and became Virgin Galactic.} They are now doing an XPrize that will increase literacy in India and Africa. Diamandis helped me realize that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to create change—the real key to success is figuring out how to bring people with strengths in a variety of different areas together, and seeing how their individual talents can create solutions that are so much bigger than ourselves. In doing this, we can create a world of more than enough—a world of Abundance.

I can’t put it the way he did. But if you’ve got a little time, watch his Ted talk HERE, at put your thoughts in the comments below.

The conference ended with a keynote by the distinguished CNN host Fareed Zakaria, whom I had the privilege of meeting a few minutes before he spoke. Dr. Zakaria also delivered a message of hope: “I want to convey a sense of optimism, because sometimes, I think we forget how far we’ve come.” He talked about our history as Americans, how we have gone through depressions, wars, recessions, and times of great struggle. But, he said, “what you see is crises, but you always see a comeback. There is an inherent resilience in our nation.” A lot of this hope lies in the advances made by those who were not afraid to see opportunity in difficulty. Dr. Zakaria ended with this quote: “Innovation remains America’s hope and greatest prospect. And I don’t see it in the amount of Nobel Prizes we’ve won, but the young people who aren’t afraid to succeed by failing.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS {in case you got lost in the academia}:

+Our future is brighter than we think. At this moment, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are working to eradicate hunger, cure diseases, eliminate poverty, and create a better planet. Don’t be depressed and think that nothing can be changed. Be motivated and BE the change.

+You don’t have to have a PhD to be part of this change. Changing our world starts on the local level, and by the local level, I mean YOU. Realizing your own individual talents and connecting them with others is the key to creating massive change.

+Collaboration is the key to innovation. No great thing has ever been done alone. As Sir Isaac Newton said, “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Working together we can do so much more—and in the end, progress is of more value than recognition.

+Have hope. You are living in the most healthy, peaceful, prosperous, and creative times in history. It’s a good day to be a citizen of the human race. See the needs in our society, figure out what you can do to be a part of filling that need, and go do it. At the end of the day, we are all citizens of the same planet, and together I believe that we will move forward, globally and exponentially.

If you’d like to talk more about this, just comment below! I feel privileged and honored to have been able to attend this Summit and would love to share what I’ve learned.

Go forward, and be blessed,

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2 thoughts on “A Future of Abundance: The Global South Summit 2013

  1. Jeanette,

    Your blog entry is a thoughtfully crafted, and well formatted synopsis of what sounds like a marvelously mind-expanding opportunity.

    I admit that when I read and absorb any accounting or story that focuses on the global topics of healthcare, food supply, abundance and prosperity; my “conservative” paradigm is always front and center. It is refreshing to read that there are still large symposiums (like the Global South Summit) that are being presented to audiences which by your account involve largely the private (non-governmental) sector. Too often any career with the word “social” in it was almost always 100% linked to the government and to taxpayer-funded boondoggles which promised never ending compassion, and empathy, yet yielded nothing more than wind-milling, wasted resources, and another class of dependent citizenry.

    I say VIVA capitalism and private enterprise in the correction of the worlds ills, hunger, and poverty. Get “government” to learn its (minimal) place in any society and watch the problems get solved. Synergize with like minded, and look for opportunities to expand your knowledge with every person you meet.

    1. Joseph, thank you for your comments! It was a wonderful opportunity, and yes, I don’t think that it’s the responsibility or the place of the government to solve social issues, simply because there are so many different opinions on how they should get solved. But the initiative of a group is a force to be reckoned with. Thanks for your response!

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