Living as we do thirty years on under the Reaganist-Thatcherite plutocracy rampantly abusing a helpless third world and a foolish home populace (whose apathy places the blame on them as much as those who exploit them), we thinking proles could do with something to lift our spirits. Wait though! If we only try not to be so cynical for a moment, it’s very clear that there are, all over the place, people bringing inspiration and benefit to anyone who’ll listen. Are these indicators of a shift away from the odious market-based culture that’s somehow insinuated itself as our norm?
Start with the internet. A phenomena of recent times is crowdfunding: the channeling of money to projects or ventures by small contributions from many people. You could invest by such means and end up the owner of a cool gadget for much less than you’d pay by ordinary purchase or—I don’t know—become a stockholder in a failed startup (there’s always a gamble). Somewhat parallel is crowdsourcing where freelancers, often from wide-apart fields and not necessarily in the same country, are enlisted to do work on an enterprise. So, it’s not just that you might invest your cash, you could invest your time and energy in an enterprise or even float your own project cutting out the greedy and controlling financial institutions and middlemen. This goes towards the idea of power being put back into the hands of ordinary people. But it goes a lot further than that.
Not Impossible Labs is one of an emerging genre of startups that takes crowdfunding and crowdsourcing to a different level which is opening up social economies as distinct from corporate or national economies. In social economy crowdfunding, the incentive is no longer merely about investing a small amount to own a gadget or acquire ‘A’ stock (or coerce poorer countries into serving richer ones). Not Impossible does nothing for direct payback. The Not Impossible Foundation raises money to fund crowdsourced projects by a small team under the lead of Mick Ebling, its founder. The company’s credo is ‘Technology for the sake of humanity’ and behind it is the idea of power being put back into the hands of ordinary people who wish to make a difference in our world.
The Eyewriter, one of their projects, came into being after a meeting with an artist who has Lou Gerig’s disease. It is a cruel illness and had progressed to the point where the victim could move nothing but his eyes. Not Impossible set themselves the task of giving him back the ability to draw by nothing more than movements of the eyes using a simple, cheap device that many people without expertise could make. Just what you need and how to do it is free information online. For the full story go to The startup that’s doing the impossible article on the TechRepublic website, a treasurehouse of IT trends, issues and possibilities. You’ll find information on Not Impossible’s own site about their Project Daniel that led to the creation of prosthetics for children with arms cut off in the vicious Sudan war. Produced with a 3D printer, the know-how, equipment and materials are given to the people themselves to make the prosthetics.
KIVA, since it was established in 2005, has made available over $611 million in small loans (like $25) from individual donors going to wherever is the greatest need—and of course the least likelyhood of raising a loan from banks or microfinancers. Kiva loans go to the likes of subsistance farmers facing uncertain seasons, to students with grades who otherwise would not get to college, to financing ways of making clean energy viable in the third world, and on and on.
One enterprise that impresses me because it is so personal and direct is Give It Away, headed by Charlotte Grobien. As the title announces, it gives away its profits. From new home building projects, well over £1 million has been raised and given to children and young people living with injury, disability and other disadvantaged circumstances.
Just three examples, but never doubt, many, many extraordinary ordinary people are coming together and doing wonderful things in this cynical world.