I spent part of last week with Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar and author of Peers, Inc. Both in our one on one time together and in her keynote talk at the United States Institute of Peace’s Peace Tech Lab, she stressed two points, both of which we should all take to heart.
The first is the logic behind her book that outlines how a sharing or circular economy can be taken to scale and become a springboard for lasting social change. Her approach has three parts:
- Identify excess or underused resources that can be brought to bear on a problem.
- Use the private sector (the Inc.) and others to build open source platforms that can be used to address it.
- Empower smaller groups (the Peers) to build applications that can take responses to the problem to scale.
Chase draws on dozens of examples, including Zipcar which she sold more than a decade ago and a new startup she works with, Veniam, that intends to create the “internet of moving things” and provide free Wi-Fi access in large urban areas. There are plenty of other examples that use technology as a base such as Etsy, Zappos, or Warby Parker. There are also examples of others that barely use technology at all, such as Delancey Street, which has built networks of success for ex-offenders and others who have been largely left out of the success of San Francisco and other large cities.
As Chase talked at the United States Institute of Peace, a lot of us were left asking how we could adapt her three steps to our field, peacebuilding. Without a doubt, it will be harder if for no other reason than we lack the (relatively) easy to apply metrics provided by profit and loss statements, growth rates in the short and long term, and so on.
Nonetheless, as the buzz in the room following her talk suggested, there is no shortage of possible ways we
could at least begin adapting her three insights. In fact, I will be basing the presentations I’m making around them starting with two dealing with redefining security in the next two weeks.
Second, I was just as taken by another point she made in this talk but only hinted at in the one I’ve linked to here. We live in a world that has more than its share of troubles and an increasingly large number of anger people. Chase worries about the possibility of a political, environmental, and economic revolution unless we find a way to speed human social evolution first.
I’m not as worried as she is about the chances of a revolution. Nonetheless, we do agree that the “trend lines” are driving Americans and others farther apart at a time when we need to find ways to overcome global challenges the only way we can possibly do so—through cooperative problem solving.
In short, we have decided that the “system” can be changed from within and that mainstream institutions—including the innovative parts of the private sector—can become part of the solution and not remain part of the problem. That said, we also know that neither of us has anything like “the” answer.
So, fire away. Questions. Comments. Criticisms.
I’d love to hear them.
So would Robin.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.