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Filed under: Development Development 2.0 Disaster response Guest posts Social innovation

Tree with exposed rootsSo that’s what he’s been up to! My good friend and mentor Ken Banks of Kiwanja fame has just launched a very interesting initiative entitled “Means of Exchange.”

Ken wants to democratize opportunities for radical economic self-sufficiency and thus render local communities more resilient to exogenous shocks. “I’ve been taking an increasing interest in economic resilience,” writes Ken, “particularly how technology might help buffer local communities from global economic down-turns. Ironically, since I started my research the world has entered a period of growing economic uncertainty. The causes–although fascinating–don’t so much interest me, more the response at local, grassroots level.”

To say that Ken’s ideas directly resonate with my ideals would be a huge understatement. My iRevolution blog is currently in its fifth year of production and as the About page explains, “This blog features short thought pieces on how innovation and technology are revolutionizing the power of the individual through radical self-sufficiency, self-determination, independence, survival and resilience.” I’m incredibly excited by Ken’s new initiative. He quotes this excellent comment by Calvin Coolidge, which really hits home:

“We pay too little attention to the reserve power of the people to take care of themselves. We are too solicitous for government intervention, on the theory, first, that the people themselves are helpless, and second, that the government has superior capacity for action. Often times both of these conclusions are wrong.”

I have written many a blog post on this very people-centered notion as applied to crisis early warning and humanitarian response. Hence my pitch two years ago for a Match.com applied to humanitarian relief. Take this blog post, for example: “The Crowd is Always There: A Marketplace for Crowdsourcing Crisis Response.” But Ken is not just advocating for a “Match.com for Economic Resilience,” he is also building the infrastructure to make it happen: “A number of apps to support this work are planned for rollout during the year, with the first due for release in summer 2012.”

I can’t wait to see how Ken and his team take bartering, swapping, local exchange, vouchers, etc., to the next level. The results may have very interesting app-lications and implications for humanitarian response, and perhaps even serve as a grassroots response mechanism for the work of UN Global Pulse and others. To be sure, “the focus of most disaster management programmes is to deploy resources—physical and human—from outside the disaster zone. This activity can produce a delay in disaster mitigation and recovery efforts, and a consequent loss of human lives and economic resources” (Disasters 2012). So why not increase self-sufficiency at the community level and thereby build economic resilience?

I had very interesting conversations about just this question with several colleagues at The Fletcher School whilst doing my PhD a few years back. The result was this excellent USAID report on “Increasing the Financial Resilience of Disaster-Affected Populations.” Of course, disaster-affected communities have always been the real first-responders, and they have developed extensive coping mechanisms to manage various shocks. But why not build on these mechanisms and render them more agile with new mobile apps and technologiesAfter all: “Resilience is the capacity of the affected community to self-organize, learn from and vigorously recover from adverse situations stronger than it was before.”

This brings me to a conversation I had with my colleague Riley Crane whilst at SXSW 2012. He shared with me the incredible story of Chain 124, an amazing feat pulled off by the National Kidney Registry (NKR). One of the main challenges in kidney donation is not finding a compatible kidney even within the same family. Now take Family A and Family B each with a family member in need of a kidney but with no relatives or friends with compatible kidneys to offer. But say one member of Family A has exactly the kind of kidney that a member in Family B requires and vice-versa. They’d be willing to swap. In a very simplified way, this is exactly what NKR was able to pull off in a chain of 30 swaps and 60 people across 7 hospitals in 11 states. This was made possible in large part thanks to innovations in computer matching.

So my question for Ken and team is whether these kinds of multiple, cascading computing-matched chains could also be developed for radical economic self-sufficiency and financial resilience “Means of Exchange” apps? Could such bartering and swapping chains occur across multiple products rather than just one? And finally, how can I help you in your cause?

* This post was originally published on iRevolution: from innovation to revolution