I recently attended the first Resilient Summit: Exploring the Rise, Impact and Opportunity of the Collaborative Economy in Kansas City, Mo. co-hosted by Jeremiah Owyang and Ben Smith, principal, Social: IRL. It was held in Union Station, home to Kansas City’s Science Center and Maker Studio. It had the intimacy of a retreat for early adopters and the intensity of a movement about to blow the doors off.

Here are some of the takeaways that most inspired or surprised me:

  • Brands collaborating with start-ups: Large brands are realizing they‘d better adapt or be disintermediated. Marriott Hotels now certifies Airbnb homes as Marriott extensions. In 2013, Airbnb had 300,000 listings, compared to Marriott’s 535,000 rooms worldwide.
  • Physical world collaborating with digital: On Valentine's Day, Uber teamed up with ProFlowers to offer 15 percent off orders made with the ProFlowers iPhone app using the code UBER. The campaign had its own hashtag #LittleThings so customers could share their experiences on Twitter.
  • Libraries collaborating with Makers: Nashville’s Public Library redefined its mission as a learning center by becoming a hub for local makers. According to USA Today, “Makers pump $29 billion into the economy each year. “ It’s no wonder the White House announced it is hosting a Maker Faire later this year.
  • Startups collaborating with community: In Boston, organizations like The Grommet have quietly reimagined a new collaborative marketplace since 2008. This March, The Grommet hosts its Second Annual Product Pitch Contest, where winners earn a product launch and crowd-funding campaign. The event includes a hackathon, where local students crowdsource a solution to a real community need.

The Global Solutions Networks

Since the historic Bretton Woods gathering after World War II, We the People have expected institutions like the United Nations, IMF, G8 and World Trade Organization, to assume responsibility for fixing the world’s greatest problems. But as the world’s ills grow more unwieldy, and reasonable solutions seem inconceivably out of reach, it’s obvious this nation-state model has not delivered on the promises we made for it.

We can debate how we ever thought that governments, defined by economic competitiveness and political unilateralism would be the vanguard of a global consciousness, but that’s the future we saw out of our past at the time. Now, due to the participatory power of the internet, combined with the international scale and scope of businesses, “We no longer need government officials to convene for the rest of us to align our goals and efforts,” according to Don Tapscott in the March 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Don Tapscott, author of Macrowikinomics, introduced a new model of collaboration called "global solutions networks" at the 2103 SXSW Interactive festival. Global solution networks are independent groups that coalesce “around a global problem or task they all perceive as important but that none can handle on its own.” They are guided by the need to communicate, cooperate, coordinate and collaborate around sustainable, socially just and inclusive problem-solving. Their purpose is “to make faster, stronger progress“ in response to real global challenges -- like poverty, climate change, water scarcity, infectious disease and human rights -- not to protect prevailing political or market forces.

Tapscott’s research has identified 10 types of global solutions networks, one of the most notable being on Climate Change. Unlike state-based institutions that have “failed to align on a plan for even a 6 percent reduction in carbon emissions,” the Climate Reality Project boasts 20 million members that are already taking action.

Technology, networks and an honest commitment to doing good are leveraging new patterns of connection into an enormous potential for improving our world. Individuals, consumer-owned brands, peer-to-peer communities, open cities, corporations and governments are equal participants in affecting change. We can, and should, share this responsibility.

But it is the inventive collaborations between these groups that are creating a new global fascia -- a structure of connective tissue that like our biological mesh, binds some structures together, while permitting others to slide smoothly over each other -- that are getting the job done. In contrast to the sentiments of Joey Garreau and Danny Hillis, the real power of collaboration lies not in the realization that we can imagine our future, but in the understanding that as we look out over our past, our vision for a sustainable future is a shared vision.

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