We are living in two Americas. One part is tied to TechCrunch searching excitedly for the next opportunity, while another part is living scared and with the belief that they have no viable opportunities to improve their lives.
What happened? Why is the divide within America so great? Why do so many people feel angry while others are thriving?
And why, for that matter, did a majority of Britons decide that leaving a powerful trading alliance makes sense?
What aren’t “we” seeing?
That became my problem statement — the place where all entrepreneurs start. Simply put, I/we knew that this problem should not be.
I was reminded of prior times, when workers and opportunity seemed better connected.
Could the anger that many feel today be driven by economic disenfranchisement? Many waves of workers, after all, have gone from secure manufacturing jobs to sporadic work like the night shift at 7-Eleven. This trend has eroded the social contract upon which our societies have been built. Unfortunately, demagogic politicians have stoked the fear for their own benefit.
Couldn’t we help address today’s anger, resentment, and polarization by doing a better job of connecting people to opportunity and abundance? With all of our technological advances, shouldn’t it be possible to create a future where work is meaningful and plentiful?
The future of work must start with the present, I concluded. We must master the here and now if we want to re-establish dignity, confidence, and ultimately our social contract.
So where does one begin? I’m choosing to start at the beginning, with a vision to make economic opportunity go viral like a featured product on ProductHunt.
SUMMIT.AHEAD. is a convening of the best and brightest policy entrepreneurs focussed on creating pathways to prosperity for those left out of the new economy through meaningful employment and development opportunities. I decided to build SUMMIT.AHEAD. — a convening of policy entrepreneurs who are convening for three days in Reykjavik to create demonstration projects about how we can re-enfranchise workers — in February of this year because before, during and after the 2016 election or I have not seen anybody make a clear and compelling case for addressing today’s problems by embracing the the technological and economic opportunity that lies ahead.
If people don’t know what works means today, how can anyone be expected to be engaged in tomorrow? Great writing exists that covers the topic thoroughly — Peter Diamandis make a case in Abundance; Klaus Schwab sets out how we are in the very beginning of The Fourth Industrial Revolution; Richard Florida discusses the evolution of the creative class, and those who argue for universal basic income, are generally making the argument from a highest and best purpose perspective. This is to say that we have a strong foundation of knowledge and research that we need to make change — now we need people to take on meaningful demonstration cases of how the future can look, today.
The Why, What, and How of the Summit are simple.
We need to create pathways for the disenfranchised to thrive along with opportunities for lifelong learning so that a potential employee knows how to succeed. We teach critical digital skills to middle school children, but we also need approaches that support a 40-year-old worker who didn’t grow with the Internet tools that are driving today and tomorrow.
We can do so via repeatable, scalable demonstration projects that network people around good employment.
The very concept of SUMMIT.AHEAD. is convening the best and the brightest from different sectors — NGOs, technology, public policy — and asking them to develop a problem statement about the causes of economic disenfranchisement and then to develop demonstration projects that can be undertaken at home after the Summit. We will reassemble by conference call in three months to iterate on our initiatives and then reconvene a follow on Summit in about nine months to take these ideas to scale. It is a new way of working on challenging problems with a fresh look — and with an aim to undertaking measurable programs that fundamentally address the problems of workers adapting to a new economy.
The “How” of all of this is equally simple — go out and recruit the best and the brightest and bring them together where historical conversations and treaties are made — and ask those people to spend 3 days creating projects that helps our fellow neighbors on the U.S. and Europe thrive.
This isn’t a typical conference. It’s a Summit where hard work is being done beforehand so that we can unite around the best plans to network, inform, and mediate the path to meaningful employment and entrepreneurship.
The future is more known today than ever before — and tomorrow informs today — and we need the best people to help create a ship that can navigate new waters.
What is on the horizon — AI, VR, robotics — create a context of crisis for many. How can one work today in what is already unknown, aware that basic labor functions like transportation or manufacturing will be updated and replaced? These are questions that people are asking of themselves and, while we can’t answer all of these with definition, we need to show why these new waters can be used to our advantage to thrive in an era of change that will accelerate what we can do — not make any of us irrelevant.
These are not issues to be glossed over and they are also not issues just left to futurists or platform monopolies. They inform the challenge that we need to solve, today for our brothers and sisters who need to provide for their families. They are pieces of the puzzle that we need to factor in, but also not succumb to.
WHERE ARE WE NOW
When I went to Washington, D.C. as a kid out of high school, I was ready to figure out how I could make a difference. I wrote everyone who was running for President to find out what they thought the path ahead was.
One candidate — soon to be the subject of a feature film starring Hugh Jackman — Gary Hart sent a package of ideas. They were issue papers. I read everything I could about him and he taught me that ideas have power. And he also taught me that “the easy path was the beaten path but the beaten path seldom leads to the future”.
Knocking on the door to that extraordinary campaign — which had me leading seasoned 40 year olds at 18 — were people like Martin O’Malley and Debbie Shore. Martin became Governor O’Malley and repealed the death penalty and legalized gay marriage in addition to creating a government measured by outcomes. Debbie and her brother created what is now a leading hunger relief and solution building organization, Share Our Strength.
Debbie Shore, along with professors, entrepreneurs, and people compelled to solve the puzzle and put plans to the test are coming to Reykjavik, Iceland, to make a difference. Governor O’Malley and other leaders will join via videoconference to help inaugurate the SUMMIT.AHEAD. ethos of making a difference.
The Summit started just like working on that Presidential campaign — by saying yes and showing up to work. At first no one came forward, just a valiant few. But then the power of ideas kicked in and we won and others came to help.
That is what is happening with SUMMIT.AHEAD. — a determined group of volunteers with the support of Mayor Eggertsson of Reykjavik are working to find the people, raise the funds and curate 24 working hours across three incredible days at one of the most inspiring places that I have visited.
Hofdi will be home to the construction of great ideas led by a facilitator from the Consensus Building Institute who will help us mold ideas into actionable programs.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The driving force behind SUMMIT.AHEAD. is to bring about collective entrepreneurship capable of solving the most important issues of our day. Congregating, debating, refining and acting about how we get people in Europe and the United States who are left out from the economy to become networked, engaged participants in the future of work.
For anyone who has built a startup; created an idea; shook their fist and asked why and then had an idea and asked “why not”; for those who have thought about ideas and making them into projects that touched people’s lives, SUMMIT.AHEAD. is built for you.
Apply as a fellow at https://summitahead.org/fellow_application.
Donate so other can attend at https://summitahead.org/donate.
Join us remotely and become an ally to one of the five “action areas” so we can research how to execute the best ideas.
SUMMIT.AHEAD. needs dot connectors, visionaries, and pragmatists. We will be cooks from the realms of technology, policy, labor — and hopefully you.
Let’s make a difference together.