The “Phoenix Economy,” State of the World Forum and Global Coherence Initiative

“A new economic order is rising from the ashes—and a new generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors is accelerating the changes essential for delivering scalable sustainable solutions to the world.”

The Phoenix Economy:  50 Pioneers in the Business of Social Innovation

Global Footprint Network has been named one of the “Phoenix 50,” a new list generated by Volans, an organization that describes itself as “part think-tank, part consultancy, park broker and part incubator.”  They are in the business of helping develop and scale social innovations to financial, social and environmental challenges.


They distinguish between four types of markets instead of the usual two we’re used to hearing about–Bull and Bear markets.  The Dragon characterizes markets like China, where social cohesion is just strong enough to keep the double-bottom line economic engine roaring, while the Phoenix is the kind of market we have to do more than hope we’re destined for–a market that “blurs across national borders and works to integrate the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental value added into its DNA—as a triple helix of change and new growth.”

From the website:  “From the ashes of the downturn, a new Phoenix Economy is self-assembling—focused on providing social and environmental solutions, where markets and governments have failed. If the pioneers of the Phoenix Economy are to succeed, they will still need substantial assistance from governments, foundations, investors and businesses, and we identify urgent opportunities for facilitation, collaboration and support.”

Volan’s Phoenix Economy report was supported by The Skoll Foundation, SustainAbility, NetImpact, and the United Nations Environment Programme.  It’s a market intelligence report of scale solutions leading into a Phoenix economy, and ends with a “Phoenix Agenda,” detailing how different sectors can help enable this paradigmatic shift.  The Phoenix 50 are organizations–for-profit, non-profit, and NGO’s–that are, in the authors’ opinions, among the best currently doing this work.  (Heartening to see the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley on the list, since I was there pioneering socially and environmentally responsible curriculum for corporations during most of the 90’s, when awareness of the need for this kind of work was quite low–except among the student body in the form of the self-organized Students for Responsible Business, which has since become NetImpact.)

The report quotes the same”everyone a changemaker” remark from Bill Drayton that I quoted in an earlier post on his presentation at the Tech Awards last year.  Drayton is convinced that we’re about to hit the “awareness tipping point” in which “the public at large will engage.”  This is one of the functions of collab partners like the 2009 State of the World Forumto move the momentum towards a tipping point in which the public is not just aware, but is also motivated and empowered to act; that is, where a critical mass feels sufficiently networked into solutions capable of addressing the challenges we face in transforming ourselves and our societies.

One of the most interesting parts of the report is the “Pathways to Scale” model, which is described as 5 stages:

  1. Eureka!, in which growing dysfunctions of the current order reveal emerging opportunities
  2. Experiment:  trial-and-error responses to those opportunities
  3. Enterprise:  building responsive business models that support new value creation
  4. Ecosystem, in which critical mass is achieved through alliances and imitation
  5. Economy:  the system transcends to a new equilibrium.

These stages remind me of what Belgian chemist and Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine said about a system in balance and functioning well.  Such a system is difficult to change, but as that system falls into disorder, change becomes more and more feasible and finally inevitable.  At that inevitable point the least bit of coherent order (or critical mass) can usher in a new higher form of order.  We are clearly at that inevitable point.  Now we need to facilitate the critical mass that will usher in a higher-functioning order out of the “ashes of the downturn.” Reports like the Phoenix Economy, and organizations such as those that comprise the Phoenix 50, are helping to get us there.  And for an example of an initiative working to create critical mass on the level of being to complement the doing, see the Global Coherence Initiative.

Read the full report, or watch for the second half of this post which will summarize remaining highlights.