Role Model: Beaver
September 18, 2012
To all those of you who received an avalanche of blog posts during the phase in which we were launching our new website, please accept our sincerest apologies. It was unintentional, and we’ve fixed the problem. But thank you to those who alerted us to it, and we’re delighted that not a single person unsubscribed from the blog! As we come back to regular blogging, I want to start by drawing from Steven Johnson’s fantastic book Where Good Ideas Come From. I was especially struck by the metaphor of the “ecosystem engineer“, the species that creates a new platform, a new habitat, for other species to live and thrive. An obvious example is the polyps that build coral reefs. Another one that I especially liked was the beaver. By creating dams, beavers create wetlands that support an amazing variety of other species. Although beavers create dams for their own needs, they enable a space for kingfishers and dragonflies and frogs and aquatic insects to make lives too. In technology, Apple did the same thing when, through the iPhone, it launch the app industry. Now let’s move to social change. With the launch of microcredit, Mohammed Yunus enabled an entire ecosystem around financial services for the poor, which today is filled with hundreds of lenders, intermediaries, social venture capital firms, and so on. These various organizations have employed thousands of people around the world, served millions of borrowers and turned over billions in revenue. The Grameen Bank was an ultimate ecosystem engineer. Bill Drayton and Ashoka have played a similar role for the broad field of social entrepreneurship, which today has tens of thousands of organizations, all with employees, funders, and beneficiaries; is being researched by students and professors in universities across the world, and gave rise to an entirely new profession. At the Amani Institute, we too are hoping to be ecosystem engineers, in helping to create a new approach to training global problem-solvers. This is possibly a silly thing to say, and almost certainly hubristic, but I do believe that we will need others to come after us in order to have the long-term impact we want to foster – that of a world which has transcended the boundaries we put on ourselves.
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