We continue to suffer profound institutional gaps on the local, national and international levels – especially in the areas of property rights, access to credit and effective governance. I attended the CIPE Democracy that Delivers for Entrepreneurs conference in Chicago on April 9-10 and shared views with thought leaders from Egypt, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Philippines and Venezuela. While it may seem that citizens in such developing economies suffer more from institutional paralysis, the pain felt by the local start-up dealing with banks, bureaucracy and back room deals is just as real and just as prevalent on the south and west sides of Chicago.
Organizations decline when leaders and workers focus on function rather than mission. Across the wide spectrum of our global community, too many have lost sight of the core principles that make democracy work, including the right to associate economically, the right to own and finance property, and the right to have government work for everyone, not just the connected elite. The only way to dislodge this entrenched bureaucracy is to make noise – to make our voices heard. We have to demand that government at every level stop tinkering with half-measures and start integrating new thought, new technologies, and the next generation into our institutions.
The Arab Spring broke barriers of thought in many countries. The internet and social media expand access and opportunity exponentially. Yet the status quo has many friends. Institutions of power from Wall Street to Davos, from Brussels to Jos, Nigeria, continue to promote and protect 20th Century modes of doing business. Conflicts between the establishment and the next wave are inevitable. However the last few years have shown that we all urgently need to do more to help bridge the gap between a polarized and didactic world and one that is more relational and fluid.
We need better leaders, clearer education and more reporting of facts. We live in city-centered economies. Urbanization becomes more and more pronounced every day. While national policy may seem intractable, what can we do in our own neighborhoods to encourage economic growth, promote sustainability and encourage youth? How can we expand and share those efforts to encourage our friends in the next town, across the country and across the globe?
The first step is direct contact with markets. During the conference Linda Darragh, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurial Practice from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, reported on a recent Spring Break trip by a group of students to Honduras. The students did not go in with a business plan or agenda. They were encouraged just to go and observe the citizens in their day-to-day activities and search for a problem to solve. As they reviewed their disparate observations they noted that a municipal landfill was in danger of closing. They also registered complaints from farmers about the high cost of fertilizer. Aha! What if the organic matter in the landfill was converted into fertilizer and sold to the farmers at a reasonable price?
As this example shows, the solutions to our problems lay at our feet. To succeed we must focus on the long term, institutional reform, systematic thinking and operational strategy. The vacant lot, the woman with no credit history, the local merchants association, the idealistic student with a dream; they all hold the keys to our renaissance. We need persistence and tenacity, but once these powerful and abundant economic forces are integrated into the fabric of our cities – from Caracas to Lahore – then we will live in not only hubs of entrepreneurship, but in a broad culture of democracy and human dignity.
Bill Endsley is Secretary General of the International Real Estate Federation’s U.S. Chapter FIABCI-USA and Principal Consultant at World Citizen Consulting.