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Building Frameworks for the Open-Source Century

Monday Night, at a fine Indian restaurant in the shadow of Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies: after giving a talk on green entrepreneurship, fellow Brighter Planet co-founder Jake Whitcomb and I were dining with FES Director Gus Speth, his colleague Bryan Garcia, and over a dozen Yale MA and MBA students, talking about the urgent need for innovation - even as the latest climate science becomes even more foreboding. As the meal ended, I got to thinking: if I could invite a handful of guests for a holiday meal to talk about innovation in the joint fight against global warming and widespread poverty, who would they be?  I would start with some familiar faces: May Boeve and the entire 350.org crew, Majora Carter, Bob Costanza, James Hansen, Paul Hawken, Van Jones, Gus Speth (again!), Betsy Taylor (read her great new post from Poland), and Jessy Tolkan.  Leaders and innovators all, these folks would have lots to celebrate together: the new administration is showing every sign that they get it; 5,000,000 green jobs may well be on there way; and 350 parts per million is quickly becoming the target for the next round of international negotiations.  Just as it becomes clear that our climate-related challenges have never been greater, the climate movement is entering a promising new stage. To jump start this next stage, whom else to invite?  I have been thinking a lot lately about open-source innovation (for example, in higher education), so I would also welcome another set of guests, whose cutting-edge approaches are founded in networks, collaboration, and the need for comprehensive feedback loops:
  • Ben Kaufman, who is using group-based decision-making to transform how we create new businesses.
  • Lew Milford, whose "Climate Choreography" proposes a decentralized, network based approach to ramping up clean-technology innovation.
  • George Overholser, who with colleagues at New Profit and the Non-Profit Finance Fund, is transforming the financing, accountability, and reach of non-profits worldwide.
  • Alex Steffen, whose WorldChanging brings a web-based, solutions-oriented approach to 21st century challenges.
  • Michael Woolcock, who with a raft of collaborators has brought new analytical rigor and pragmatism to the idea of locally-based development.
If you don't yet know of their work, pay attention: these innovators are helping networks worldwide to craft lasting ideas that make a difference. While I won't be able to pull together a holiday gathering in the next few days, I may have a better alternative.  This spring, I will invite all of these folks - along with other cutting-edge innovators - to a conference at Middlebury, with the working title: "Solutions: Building Frameworks for the Open-Source Century." Our goals?  Using many of the participatory approaches that made Middlebury's "What Works?" conference such a success, we will share, critique and spread the word about crafting solutions in this challenging age.  Stay tuned ...and let me know if you want to be invited! What do you think? Leave us a comment. ———- Jonathan Isham is Luce Professor of International Environmental Economics at Middlebury College in Vermont and co-editor of Ignition: What You Can Do to Fight Global Warming and Spark a Movement. Visit his website.