After a stimulating four days in Turin, Italy, I am writing from a train heading across the northern part of the country. In addition to the great Piedmont wine and food (and the snow covered, sun-drenched Alps that are looming outside my window), it was an opportunity to plug into an electric conversation that is unfolding in Europe right now about how social innovation can transform cities.
Our host was Torino’s City Council, who is targeting 18 – 35 year olds to help both drive entrepreneurial solutions to some of the city’s more pressing challenges as well as stimulate economic growth and job creation in a city and country that has been hard hit by financial crisis.
Joining the conversation were national foundation leaders, public officials, and university faculty, as well as local entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial enablers (all in an incredible 100,000 square foot innovation co-working space/fablab. There were social innovators from across Italy including folks from Make a Cube in Milan and a Naples team who were fresh off launching a civic innovation challenge. The head of European social innovation catalyst Euclid Network shared his assessment about activity emanating out of Brussels, and a city leader from Birmingham, England offered her perspectives on helping citizens become local problem solvers through technology.
Why share all of this? Because it’s a great example of the kind of idea-sharing and collaboration that we need to help accelerate an important movement. As we think about strategies to jumpstart our economy, reduce the burdens of government, and enable a broad base of citizens to develop disruptive solutions for society – all roads lead to civic entrepreneurship. More often than not, this entrepreneurial energy is pouring out of cities – sometimes through intentional cultivation and sometimes out of pure serendipity.
How can we help foster these place-based efforts? Cities ranging from New Orleans to Detroit and Seattle to Miami (not to mention communities around the world) are trying to figure this out.
Yet as each of us experiment with new programs and strive to support local innovators, there is much to be gained from learning with one another. For instance, what are productive strategies for developing, recruiting, and retaining next generation problem solvers in a city? What programs, physical spaces, events, and investment strategies spark innovation and help accelerate the growth and connection of local civic entrepreneurs? What are the appropriate metrics and realistic methods to measure impact? How can we better connect policy-makers, the media, and corporations to the entrepreneurial conversation?
As we have each independently tried to address different aspects of these questions we have learned a lot, stumbled a few times, and seen a lot of promise in the road ahead – but now it’s time to come together and learn from one another to help us reach this potential.
Thus, between a group committed cities, we are launching a learning collaborative that will facilitate best-practice sharing, catalyze collaboration among our respective innovative communities, and hopefully create new market and investment opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors alike. Criteria for participating cities includes: a commitment to engage and contribute to the conversation, a track record of experimentation focused on fostering citizen-led innovation, a willingness to try new things and share the results.
We are kicking off this effort now – trying to understand what cities are up to and starting the conversation. We will then bring the conversations to next year’s SOCAP – further connecting the dots – and build on the energy that will inevitably emerge as we look to build out our collective impact and make the world a better place. Stay tuned to the Good Capitalist, or join the conversation by emailing me at [email protected].
Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact and a founder of Bull City Forward, Queen City Forward, and HUB Raleigh, a fellow with Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, Innovator in Residence at the Center for Creative Leadership, and co-author of Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives. Follow: @cgergen.