Self-Empowerment and Friedman’s “Reform Retail”

Dahna Goldstein said:

[snip] Rousseau’s Social Contract springs to mind… Historically, it has been the role of government to reflect the general will, and government, in this framework, has a responsibility to provide things like social services. The Social Contract has clearly played out in different ways in different societies… One way to look at the social or citizen sector is that it steps in where government has failed to live up to its Social Contract obligations. In this vision for the future, what is the role of the Social Contract? How does the collective take responsibility for the individuals? And what sort of governing principles and practices apply to enable this vision?

Interesting insight and provocative questions, Dahna. While we are persistent advocates of self-generated self-empowerment (as Nike would say, “Just do it.”), there is a limit to the self-empowerment that individuals can achieve on their own. And, yes, the public or social sector can try to lend assistance when governments fail their citizens. But in certain vital areas, there is no substitute for effective/enabling government action and policy.

Reform Wholesale and Reform Retail

The World Is Flat bookcover In The World Is Flat, Tom Friedman distinguishes two kinds of governmental socioeconomic reform: reform wholesale and reform retail.

Reform wholesale consists of the Big Picture things that a government (usually at the scale of the nationstate) can do to prepare itself and its citizens for participation in the emerging network society and its network economy (what Friedman would call Globalization 3.0). Getting trade policy right, establishing rule of law especially as applied to international business relations, getting roads and utility infrastructure up to quality standards, etc.; these are the things that a nationstate can do largely top-down and by fiat to prepare itself and its people for participation in the Flat World.

The problem is that many nations too often stop at reform wholesale. They don’t move on to the second phase of preparing the themselves and their citizens for the hyper-competitive world of Globalization 3.0. That is, they don’t move on to reform retail.

Reform retail is all the devil in the details of preparing a country and its citizens for effective participation in the Flat World. Such things as how easy and affordable is it to start a business and deal with licenses, how easy or hard it is to hire and fire workers, what are the rights and responsibilities of property ownership, how available is credit, what protections are there for investors, how easy or hard is it to pay business taxes and do they stimulate or stifle economic incentive, do bankruptcy laws encourage or discourage risk-taking and innovation, how long does it take to enforce a business contract through the legal systems, et cetera. These are among the fine-grained details of getting a country and its people empowered for participation in the Flat World.

A ‘Reform Retail’ Best Practices Resource

Friedman cites the 2004 version of an interesting and ongoing study by the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank. The “Doing Business” Economy Rankings look at five broad areas;

  • Starting a Business
  • Dealing with Licenses
  • Hiring and Firing
  • Registering Property
  • Getting Credit

These areas are combined into an overall Ease of Doing Business ranking. You will find an abundance of information related to the importance and means of reform that enable competitiveness in each of these areas on the IFC’s web site. You will also find detailed information for each of the 155 national economies evaluated under this ongoing study. Follow this link to survey a cumulative list of all 155 economies ranked by their ease of doing business.

Self-Empowerment: Nature or Nurture?

Entrepreneurial self-determination, at its best, knows no bounds. Some folks are born to combine vision, persistence, ambition, pride in a job well done, and the many other traits that are needed to succeed in business, in life, or in any competitive domain. These folks will succeed against all odds. But what about the rest of us?

For those whose nature may not overcome all adversity, we need a little help from our friends. In the case of economic self-empowerment, we need that extra push of a ecosystem that is conducive to our survival and growth. Anthea and Mfume are much more likely to succeed as self-empowered individuals if they find themselves in New Zealand (#1), Iceland (#11), or Thailand (#20), rather than if they find themselves in Cambodia (#133), Sudan (#151), or the Democratic Republic of Congo (#155).

Our socioeconomic environment plays a large factor in whether the seed of self-empowerment grows or lies fallow. Knowing this, we need to hold our local, regional, and national government officials accountable for how well they work with us to ease our starting and sustaining our businesses. The Doing Business project is a readily available resource to monitor and encourage improvements at the nationstate level of the multilayered ecosystem in which we are trying to express our individual empowerment.

But we need finer-grained tools to monitor and improve our self-empowerment environment. We need to encourage nations to adopt and adapt the Doing Business methodology to take this best practices monitoring to the provincial, regional, and state levels. We need to encourage our local town and county officials to stand up and be counted in terms of how well they are helping us to participate in the Flat World of Globalization 3.0. Because, as Friedman so powerfully reminds us in The World is Flat, reform wholesale without an equal measure of reform retail is reform wasted.

While the proverbial saying tells us that we will find the devil in the details, it might be better if we were to look there to find the source of self-empowerment.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment February 15th, 2006

ONet Bloggers Directory Available in Blogroll OPML format

As a service to our members, and to promote the development of a “cloud of interconnection” among ONet member blogs and the ONet site, we are providing two downloadable files to make it easy to add ONetizens to your blogroll or links list.These two files are in OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) format. Many blogging services and blogging platforms support this XML-based file format.

The ONet Bloggers Network Directory list is provided in two styles:

In the near future, we’ll use the API to programmatically generate these files. In the meantime, we’ll monitor the directory and update the OPML files as needed,

To see these files in use, please visit Sohodojo’s Blog and look on the right hand sidebar where you will see two blocks; ONet Member Blogroll and ONet Member Blogs by Title.

Add comment February 8th, 2006

Human Nature and Entrepreneurial Community Ecosystems

Thomas George said:

In response to Lars’s, Jim’s and Timlynn’s insightful comments, I would like your reaction to the last part in my original comment “given the unpredictable nature of human interactions“. Using Jim’s and Timlynn’s example of eBay, what will be the nature of such a network if transparency of transactions and documenting of the reputations were absent?

Without intending to sound glib or too Zen-like, Thomas, we think the answer is in your Socratic question. That is, such network marketplaces will not be sustainable without mechanisms to enable transparency of transactions and documenting of the reputations of its participants.

Link opens the Entrepreneurial Community Ecosystem model (PDF format) In a number of recent interviews that touch on his understanding of the social impact of eBay, Pierre Omidyar cites the fact that eBay enabled tens of millions of individuals to trust a stranger such they might engage in buyer-seller transactions without the traditional context of shared community and face-to-face interaction. eBay did not accomplish this significant feat by mild encouragement to suggest that people observe the Golden Rule and just be nice to each other. eBay accomplished this social impact by being the intentional network enabler of such transactions; by providing the trusted mediation services together with the software infrastructure to enable such transactions in an anytime, anyplace world.

In this regard, it is a business model design point for anyone aspiring to create and sustain a network marketplace that, at a minimum, they cover these complementary network enabling services of transaction transparency and trusted reputation building. You will see these components clearly in Sohodojo’s input/output model for entrepreneurial community ecosystems. (Click the graphic above to open a PDF on this model.)

And, Thomas, we’re sure that such components are included in your market development plans at Vipani. If you are still in the development stage of your systems design and development, we would be very interested in collaborating with you to advance your important mission. It is clear from your web site that you appreciate the power of story to transcend the market’s traditional product-price focus and to broaden that perspective to include personal and community supply chain impacts.

–Sohodojo Timlynn and Jim–

Add comment February 8th, 2006

Not Dense but Scale-free Networks At Work in 2050

Thomas George said (our emphasis added):

here is one way to look at the possible vision of a self empowered world of Anthea and Mfume - what is the “enabling environment” in which the self empowered individual can unleash his/her potential given the unpredictable nature of human interactions?

Lars Hasselblad Torres said (our emphasis added):

similarly, i have a sense that this idea of “self-empowered” might not be unlike “free market,” in the sense that there are numerous mechanisms (ie subsidies) in place that government, big business and civil society provide, create the “environment” as you nicely put it that support individual agency.

so certainly “dense social networks” might be one factor; the technology might be superfluous, though perhaps vital for empowerment when those networks exist in the absence of abundance…?

Thomas and Lars, your insightful comments give us a wonderful context to go a little deeper into the connection of network theory to the mechanisms, in your context Lars, of self empowerment.

We (Jim and Timlynn) met in the early 1980s in the doctoral program in Mathematical Social Sciences at UC, Irvine (now called the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences). The more popular term for this domain of study today is social networks. Then as now, the mathematical foundation of social network theory was graph theory. In the last twenty-five years, network theory (an application of graph theory) has exploded as a domain of science in its own right.

One of the most interesting, counterintuitive, and widely-applicable discoveries of network theory is that of the scale-free network. In its simplest terms, a scale-free network is a random network which exhibits the characteristics that some nodes are highly connected (so-called hubs) while others are only minimally connected (outliers). By example, our road system is a random network that is a dense network of many redundant interconnections while our airline transportation system is a scale-free network with a few hyper-connected hubs that connect (via “spoke” links) to everyplace else. You can’t get from Point A to Point B without traveling through a hub point.

So Lars, it would be more accurate to say that the enabler of self-empowerment is not a dense social network, but an effective and inclusive collection of scale-free networks. To which Thomas would ask, what kind of scale-free network would make an enabling environment for self empowerment? To which we would reply, entrepreneurial community ecosystems.

Entrepreneurial Community Ecosystems: The Next eBay!?

Entrepreneurial community ecosystems are a combination of person-to-person small producer supply chains seamlessly integrated with person-to-person distribution marketplaces. These alternative markets are powered by “Who, How, and Why” consumer purchase dynamics rather than by “How Much and Where” (price and distribution channel control). An effective entrepreneurial community ecosystem will shift the focus from the tight coupling of price-to-product to that of the value of the impact to the participants in the value chain that bring buyer and seller together.

eBay has built an empire with some smart software that enables the creation of an efficient scale-free Network Effect based on that software’s ability to create a marketplace built on buy-seller dyads. (See sidebar.) In this case, the eBay business model intentionally disintermediates (cuts out) the so-called “middle man.” An entrepreneurial community ecosystem will do just the opposite. It will intentionally intermediate to create value-generating impact chains. (See for more as well The Yin-Yang of e-Commerce Engines.)

In order to have entrepreneurial community ecosystems and their alternative marketplaces by 2050, we need to start today doing the applied R&D to create the business models and associated software infrastructures to make them easy to create and efficient to maintain. And this need is not a vision that needs to be fulfilled by 2050. Christina and the Life in Africa folks need this software platform today. So does Mark Grimes and his Ned project. So too do a number of other social entrepreneurs active here on ONet.

The time is now, and Omidyar Network is the ideal Executive Producer to partner with ONetizens actively engaged in this shared mission to expand the domain of social enterprise.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment February 6th, 2006

Who Will Be “Life In Africa’s” Executive Producer?

We’d like to tie together a couple of disparate conversations that are going on at the moment on ONet. In response to this thread we posted a non-news “news” article in our personal news space. In Divide and Conquer… the Flat World, we wrote about how collaborative teams need to be composed of a complementary group of folks bringing to bear all the needed skills and experience in toto. It isn’t efficient to expect that each team member can know and do every task that needs doing on a project. The only way that the “whole” of the group can be greater than the sum of its parts is if there is specialized knowledge and talents distributed throughout the team. Otherwise, there is not need for the team as each team member could be a team of one.

Understanding that we need to work in collaborative teams, we next face the challenge of establishing critical mass of launching the team’s project. Sometimes nothing more is needed than the collective will, time, and energy of the team. Sweat equity is all that is needed to push forward. Unfortunately, sweat equity in often not enough. We need outside resources, whether contributed labor or contributed financial resources, to put the team to work.

What Christina and others are struggling to do here is to launch what we at Sohodojo call an entrepreneurial community ecosystem. Getting the IRS to understand this extended network enterprise model and to understand Sohodojo’s role took us over 2.5 years to get 501(C)(3) status as an independent applied R&D lab supporting such ecosystems. Now that we have that designation, Sohodojo faces our next and perhaps an insurmountable problem.

Funding Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in an Organization-Centric World

Unfortunately, the social sector funding institutions are just not prepared to understand these extended network social/business ecosystems and their alternative markets. Launching an ecosystem like Christina is trying to do is a dynamic, collaborative process. Her success is dependent on orchestrating the collective energy of a diverse group of individuals and organizations. In this regard, Christina is like an independent film maker. She has the script, the actors, the technical directors, etc. But she is driving herself bonkers because she doesn’t have the one partner she so desperately needs… she doesn’t have an Executive Producer who can put talent together with the financial backers and other essential service partners.

Virtually all private foundations and public funding agencies still live in an organization-centric world when everything around them is deconstructing into decentralized and distributed networks. These funding sources are satisfied to metaphorically “invest in the film industry” rather than help us to “make movies.”

We’ve written more about this situation in Paul Herman’s “A Self Empowered World of 2050?” When asked to reflect on the infrastructure needed to make real Paul’s vision for future empowered individuals, we contributed this comment that speaks to this mismatch between what gets funded and how things get done.

The single most exciting thing that could happen for the ONet community in 2006 would be for the Omidyar Network to appreciate the frustrations of social entrepreneurs who are trying to evolve ecosystem-like extended network enterprises, and to embrace the role of Executive Producer so we can work together “making movies” that help to change the world.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment February 5th, 2006

Six Degrees in the Self-Empowered World of 2050

Lars Hasselblad Torres said:

although the vision doesn’t resonate with me (ie a world in which to live healthy, happy lives one must be “wired”), i really appreciate the place from which the vision springs.

Lars, you may have a bit of the old “Can’t see the forest for the trees” Syndrome going for you in this context. If you look at “wired” as being technology and technology literacy, then your skepticism is justified.

We’ve seen decades of “Digital Divide” programs that are built on the shortsighted assumption that access to technology was the enabler of socioeconomic development (also known as empowerment). But it is not access to technology that is the source of power. Rather the technology is a means to an end. It is access to others, access to markets, access to information, etc. that is the means to self-empowerment.

So in Paul’s evocative story above, it isn’t that Anthea and Mfume are wired tech geeks that is important. Rather, it is that these Empowered Individuals have low-cost, easy-to-use, non-censored access to people and information that let’s them be self-sustainable in the world. The “wired” aspect is just a means to an end.

It is important to note that the “Six Degrees” (Small World) dynamic of scale-free socioeconomic networks is at play in this regard. In Paul’s world of 2050, it is not required that every Anthea and Mfume in the world be equally wired and technologically literate. What is important is that as many people as possible be connected through the shortest paths possible to the Flat World of Globalization 3.0 and its emerging person-to-person network marketplaces.

Just as we all cope with parents and grandparents whose VCRs are still flashing midnight, so too will Anthea and Mfume have a circle of family and friends who they help, directly and indirectly, to connect to this future world.

This Small World network dynamic is one of the themes in our recent post, Divide and Conquer… the Flat World. We wanted Christina and all the great Life In Africa folks to understand that everyone doesn’t have to become a techno-geek in order to be connected to, and to participate in, the “wired world.”

Bottom line: The “forest” to be seen among the technology-trees, Lars, is the ability of individuals to connect in meaningful ways with other people. It is the connection itself, not the means of that connection that is the source of self-empowerment.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment February 4th, 2006

Divide and Conquer… the Flat World

In LiA Website change and development converation, Christina Kirabo Jordan said [our emphasis added]:

The self-creation of this kind of content [SJT: a-z profile info] is an empowering thing that won’t be lost this time around. Because not all of the a-z has to be filled out, individual differentiation comes into play - it’s what makes your profile different from mine. If I am a cook and a craftmaker I might have recipes on my page and products to order, but if I am a recently graduated journalism student, then my profile and my activities within the webbed lia realm will be much different. It’s all life in africa. We are each unique, we are each very real and you can engage with us, we are each active in contributing to our community web presence, and we are (or have been in the recent past) the poorest of Africa’s poor. We are not counted as real people anywhere else, but in working together with others to create our own presence at we are encouraged to let our individuality shine all over the world.

Christina, we know you already understand what we will be saying below. Mentoring and peer-collaboration are at the heart of your WE Center and Internet4Change initiatives. Our comments here are rhetorical, intended to get the ideas on the table in the context of this discussion.

Peer Collaboration as a Divide and Conquer Strategy

We absolutely agree that member profiles will be critical to differentiating each member from another, as well as help to create an “interface socket” that prospective customers and collaborators can “plug” into. And while self-creation of at least some content is important, it is also good to keep in mind that the webbed lia realm is fertile ground for skill and role differentiation that can create collaborative subnetworks where the whole (community) is greater than the sum of its (individual effort) parts.

For example, it may be that the journalism student Christina mentioned could team up with three-to-six cooks and craftspeople to assist the group in creating an individual and collective web presence that is far more effective than if content creation were left completely to each individual.

Such peer-collaborative subgroups can be very helpful in letting each individual do what he or she does best while getting assistance with the things he or she either can’t do (yet), or doesn’t really want (or have the time) to learn to do better.

Value chains and career paths in an entrepreneurial communify ecosystem Here in Fairfield, which is both an entrepreneurial and an artistic small town, we have a thriving but (except for the ’superstars’) also a struggling community of visual and performing artists. Last year we had an ‘artpreneur’ workshop to help artists become more entrepreneurial in managing their self-employment careers.

One result of the conversations at this workshop was to better understand that the goal is not to turn artists into “suits” (AKA businessmen and women). Rather, we are working to connect ‘artist-friendly’ business folks (accountants, lawyers, marketers, etc.) with artists so that their collaboration helps to fill the skill and interest ‘gaps’ of the artist.

Sure, many of the artists need a better grasp of the strategies for being more business-like with their creative lives. But they don’t have to become an accountant or lawyer to succeed. For the entrepreneurial community ecosystem to be sustainable, its members have to be able to communicate and appreciate what each member brings to the table.

Food for Thought About the LiA/WE/I4C Web Platform

Sohodojo wrote and published The Nanocorp Primer in 2000. This collection of article/presentations explores ideas related to Christina’s LiA/WE/I4C notion of webbed empowerment. In particular, the Shamrocks and Nanocorps piece explores the complementary role of value-chains and entreprenurial ‘career paths’ in the network enterprises of entrepreneurial community ecosystems. These pieces don’t speak to the technical implementation aspects of the LiA/WE/I4C web platform. Rather they highlight design requirements and domain context to frame such web development. The Nanocorp Primer includes:

We encourage interested folks to read and we welcome comments on these ‘idea generators’ in the context of this conversation about requirements for the LiA/WE/I4C web platform.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 31st, 2006

Web Design Power: Business Vision, Not Technology

Hello Lawrence, Christina, Lars, and the members and supporters of the LiA/WE/I4C communities,We are so sorry to hear of the drought and its impact on your ability to work and have Internet access. We hope you will soon have a generator that will help to alleviate the darkness.When you do have a flash of power and Internet access, we’d like to point you to a short article that we posted as a personal news item. Divide and Conquer… the Flat World is not directly about website technology, nor web design nor software development. But we were inspired to write this piece in response to this thread.

In this article we reflect on the insights we’ve developed and on the ideas we’re working on at Sohodojo. The lesson to be learned from this article and from the articles to which it links to is this:

Technology, especially Internet and software technology, is not the source of power for you and your community. It is the ideas (what is often called the business model) that you capture and reflect in the software that is the source of your individual and collective power.

This means that it is not enough to just look at Internet software technologies and build the LiA/WE/I4C web platform based on a laundry list of features that you like and think that you will need. These software features are only a means to an end. The values and goals for your community, how you want to relate to and support each other, the customers and partners you want to attract and retain, et cetera, these are the ends to keep in the front of your mind as you design and build the LiA/WE/I4C web sites.

You will only reach your destination if you keep in mind where you want to go as well as how you want to get there.

–Sohodojo Timlynn and Jim–

Add comment January 31st, 2006

Envisioning A Self-Empowered World in 2050

Paul,Your evocative story will hopefully play out entirely as described well before 2050. It is also reasonable to think that the spark to fund this vision will come from the Omidyar Network. And, it is also likely that this vision will “trickle over” from ONet to become the strategic basis for the expansion of eBay’s core business processes from price-focused product markets into the potentially far larger markets of impact-focused relationship markets of the 21st century and beyond.

While the pundits speculate on which technology-driven market Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo will choose as the battleground to topple eBay (The Big Guns’ Next Target: eBay), they miss the “end run” in play by which eBay may leverage itself into a whole new ballgame. This is, interestingly, the level playing field of Tom Friedman’s Globalization 3.0 described in The World Is Flat, that is, the emerging world of Empowered Individuals.

From Shopping for Things to Shopping as Experience

Certainly Anthea and Mfume are empowered Flat Worlders. Their world, as you have described it Paul, is experience-oriented rather than materialistic. They are inprosumers engaged in a cyclic process of investing, producing and consuming rather than being the insatiable recipients at the end of a one-way supply chain of more stuff.

In the Ned and Life In Africa discussions at ONet, we have contributed a number of posts envisioning and encouraging this evolution toward impact-oriented, relationship-driven consumer markets. You will find a collection of these posts pulled together under the Inprosumer and Entrepreneurial Community Ecosystems categories of Sohodojo’s Blog. These comments and short articles certainly resonate with your vision for the Self Empowered World of 2050.

Learning from Hollywood

As to the all-important question of what can we do now to bring this vision for a Better World into reality sooner than later, we believe social enterprise funders need to turn a learning eye toward Hollywood. There are important lessons to be learned in understanding the evolution of the film industry from an organization-centric world of centralized studios to the decentralized, network-based production of independent films in the last half of the 20th century.

The funding and infrastructure support requirements to enable the entrepreneurial community ecosystems and alternative markets of Anthea and Mfume’s world are similar to those that support the network-based process of independent film making. Unfortunately, the vast majority of social sector and social enterprise funders have an organization-centric mindset. They are, metaphorically, more interested to investing in the film industry rather than funding and facilitating the production of films.

We have written more extensively on these ideas in a grant proposal, Workshop on Funding and Support of Social Business Ecosystems in the Small Is Good World, that we submitted to the Skoll Foundation. Although the theme of this year’s Skoll World Forum is “Leveraging assets, growing social capital markets: sustainable routes to wealth and well-being,” this proposal was rejected with the only explanation that it did not fit the focus and interests of the foundation. While this proposal is unfunded, it is nevertheless full of insights and recommendations from those of us struggling to be pioneers in the creation of these social business ecosystems and their alternative markets.

The single most important thing that needs to happen if Anthea and Mfume are to live in their future Self Empowered World, is that social sector and social enterprise funders have to shed their organization-centric blinders. We need funders who will embrace their roles as executive producers of the entrepreneurial community ecosystems and alternative markets of Anthea and Mfume’s Self Empowered World.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 31st, 2006

Kid in a Candy Store Syndrome and Web Site Design

Christina Kirabo Jordan said (excerpts below):

The drupal module list is very interesting. I started a simple wishlist and it’s turned into a monster over here.

I’m wondering if there’s a way to phase the building of the site such that some modules could be added at a later stage by trainees after the “necessary to start out” pieces are already in place.

In terms of the amount of work involved once one knows what one is doing - is it fair to say that installing a drupal module is similar in workload to installing a cgi script? or is drupal simpler/more complex?

Meanwhile, my mind is seeing a huge collection of interconnected member and team content driven blogs.


One very important thing to avoid is “Kid in a Candy Store” syndrome when it comes to building a Drupal site. The volume of modules available is very nice and exciting. The ease of installing each one is most impressive. But is it easy to get to a situation where paradoxically, “the whole is less than the sum of its (modular) parts.”

First, while each module may work in and of itself, there are situations where one module can “intrude” on another. The result can be outright incompatibilities (as in various competing file upload and storage modules) that cause the site to break. Or there can be two ways to handle the same thing (such as role-based taxonomy access) and, so, neither works as well as it could if the competing module were not installed.

Also, there is the danger of trying to be everything to everybody. Someone thinks of a reason for this feature, another wants that module, a third thinks they can’t live without a yet different module. The result is a byzantine hodge-podge of too many features and not enough clarity and focus.

Yes, it will be important to evolve the site and use its evolution as a learning and experience driver. But at the same time, there must be an underlying clear information architecture and a controlled technical design review and roll-out team/policy.

Yes, action is important. But please don’t rush forward too fast and potentially down the wrong road. When it comes to building a software-driven Internet-enabled business, it can be very hard to back up and change on ramps to the Information Superhighway.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 29th, 2006

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