Redefine creativity to include entrepreneurship
Alternative thinking around entrepreneurship was being sought from Pamponet in a discussion via Skype from Brazil during the South African Technology Network’s Eighth Annual International Conference 2015 on “Entrepreneurship Education for Economic Renewal”, held at the science park of Vaal University of Technology from 19-21 October.
Pamponet has been highly creative. He had a promising executive career, having worked for Citibank, Gemini Consulting and Microsoft, when in 2002 he decided to launch a social enterprise to generate livelihoods in low-income sectors in Brazil.
Two of his initiatives have garnered global attention.
Electrocooperative is an education and opportunity venture that has trained thousands of low-income youths in Brazil in leadership and entrepreneurial skills as well as music and film production techniques. ItsNoon.net is a social business that connects companies, NGOs and public sector organisations to talented people through calls for information or creative work.
Trends in work
“It is very important, when talking about social entrepreneurship, to really have a clear focus on what type of social issue you’re trying to help solve or to address in a different way,” Pamponet told the conference. ItsNoon has three main issues that it is trying to tackle.
“The first is regarding the future of work. How can we work in a different way, using digital networks to enable everybody to work via computers and mobile phones and from their own locations,” he explained.
“This has a very close relationship to power distribution, because you can enable people to have access to the markets through their digital devices, providing information and ideas to solve problems of societies and companies.”
The second, critical issue was how to shift from an economic model based on industrialisation, production and a carbonised fossil fuels economy to a much more intangible asset which is creativity.
“If we start increasing the number of people who are going to work based on their creativity, it is probably very important to develop new economic models based on human potential.”
The third factor was youth employment. “This is a big issue. There is a disconnect between the way institutions are organised today and the expectations of youngsters all over the world about work. We need to develop processes that engage youngsters to work in a different way,” said Pamponet.
He challenged universities to challenge themselves more and set high standard goals. “We are living a moment of a big structural change.” There were many problems related to structure – to problems such as climate change, youth employment and helping people to work wherever they are – that needed to be tackled through serious thinking.
Traditional perceptions of creativity – that it is all about art or music or advertising – are outdated, said Pamponet. “It is creative for people to have good ideas to solve problems.”
Creativity needed to be redefined, and related to problem solving. “It is about unleashing people and giving them space to find solutions.”
Doing the best with what you have might be a clichéd idea, but in a developing world context – for Brazil and Africa and probably the whole global South – it is crucial, he continued.
“There is a lot of creativity based on lack of resources – this raises creativity. Sometimes it is important to get out of what I call the ‘scarcity mode’ of focusing on what we don’t have, to start understanding what we do have and take things from there.
“When we shift into the mindset of doing the best with what we have, and focus on the potential we have inside us, that is where creativity starts.” A lesson from ItsNoon, Pamponet said, was about the importance of incentives versus criticism in order to unleash creativity and increase the cognitive capacity of a society.
The location of entrepreneurship is interesting, said one conference participant, because it recognises that solutions to today’s problems do not lie ‘out there’ with big corporates or political structures that have failed in any event. Rather, the solution lies ‘in here’, in ourselves.
Towards a distributive model
The billion dollar question, said Pamponet, is how to redesign power. Centralised power institutions, including universities, political parties and big corporations, have the hierarchical models of the last century.
“They are still the institutions that are running the world and this is where we have a crisis, and it is a global one.” Responses had been seen in Occupy Wall Street in the United States but also in Spain, in Egypt, Tunisia and Brazil and elsewhere.
There was emerging a much more distributed way of dealing with power in society. Facebook was a good example, as it was trying to connect people in a distributed way.
The distributive model had been tested on the ItsNoon platform, where calls for ideas and work go out to and are responded to as a community – but with monetary payment for work that is picked up. “This provides a very different relationship between people.
“It is not a place where we are simply taking our time to validate good things that people are doing. It is generating a reciprocity model.” Money, he pointed out, can make things happen.
“The main issue is to be aware that the society is going in one direction and the market is going in another direction. Society is trying to be much more distributed and decentralised – some of the political revolutions are pointing to this direction – and the trend of money being concentrated with a small number of people shows the market going in another direction.”
Globally, 1% of the people own 99% of the wealth.
“This is a big problem. The way we are going to redesign our institutions is critical.”
He gave the example of Santander Bank, the Spanish financial institution that has spread across Latin America. Lack of response to providing financial advice to people led to a marketing strategy that involved customers sharing their financial strategies and being paid for it. This distributive tactic was helpful and brilliant and picked up many new customers.
Pamponet described this as “probably a very wise first step in starting a movement that decentralises the power in the relationship between institutions and stakeholders”.
Seeking new kind of entrepreneurship
Pamponet linked Brazil and South Africa via their shared heritage and culture. Most of African culture is not ‘industrialised’ but connected to the land and natural resources.
“Most of the time we think about the Silicon Valley model of entrepreneurship. But reconnecting with the land is probably the most trending aspect of entrepreneurship of which we need to be aware – generating food and taking care of water. When we talk about entrepreneurship we somehow miss this agenda.
“Let's think about our culture and the way we do things. Let's try to create our own inputs, because most that are coming from the ‘developed’ world somehow colonise what we think and are not working anyhow. We have a big chance now to really reconnect with the way we do things and trust the way we do things and find our own way to become entrepreneurial.”
Pamponet said it was critical is to build an entrepreneurial spirit. With employment perceived as a crisis in the world today, the entrepreneurial agenda is crucial. “There is not enough employment for everybody in the world but people need to make a living. You need to create a job. This is the new entre-spirit we need to unleash,” he said.
Societies such as Brazil and South Africa have different ways of thinking and have something to add, he continued. “But we are not trusting who we are and we overvalue things that come from outside. We are not aware of the things we are willing to do and who we really are. This is a colonised model of thinking.”