21 leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs committed to finding solutions over 10 months of learning and creating.
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International experts, community leaders and sector specialists come together in Banff to share diverse perspectives on economic inequality. They frame key challenges for innovation and entrepreneurial action.
Over the last the 20 years, the gap between the richest and the poorest in society has grown – in Canada, as in so many of the world’s developed nations.
The benefits of globalization and technological advancements are not flowing strongly enough for many people, who who feel left out and left behind, insecure and over-worked. They want not just more money, but more meaning in their lives - so working hard does not come at the cost of relationships and the local economies on which those relationships depend. As the political and economic status quo comes under immense pressure, there is a growing constituency of economists, policy-makers, business leaders, and ordinary people who feel that the rules of the economic game need to change.
The 21 innovators who participated in ALT/Now took up this challenge, informed by insight into the lives of over 150 Canadians across the income spectrum. Their practical innovations in areas such as real estate, financial services, flexible work, rural economies and the ‘squeezed middle’ embody the principles of a better market economy – one where resources flow in ways that generate shared prosperity.
Although at an early stage, these ventures show what a more equitable future could look like. We hope they will inspire further exploration and experimentation.
There is a general consensus that existing models are failing us as new types of problems appear.
Over the last twenty years the income and wealth of all groups in Canadian society has risen. Yet those who are already well off have seen their income and wealth rise much faster than those in the middle and the bottom.
Economic inequality can be understood in terms of the size of the gap between the richest and poorest in a society. It is the size of this gap – rather than the relative levels of poverty – that matters. In developed nations, a wider gap is associated with lower social mobility and poorer health and social outcomes, even as overall GDP increases.
Economic inequality matters for a variety of reasons: for social mobility, for fairness, for the success of common endeavour. It has implications for other kinds of inequality – in concentrations of power, in life chances – and for the places in which we live.
Creating an economy that generates greater prosperity alongside greater wellbeing for all means creating economic models that combine money and meaning in new ways. This is the challenge we set out to meet.
In July 2015 we brought 30 leading thinkers and practitioners - from economists and sociologists to Indigenous leaders, policy thinkers, community builders, entrepreneurs and creative practitioners - together to frame the innovation challenges.
From this we set a national call to action for leading innovators, entrepreneurs and community builders to take on the challenge of developing new solutions on four themes:
Alt/Now came about because we asked ourselves these questions:
How can we draw entrepreneurial people to work on what matters?
How can we act to bring new systems into being?
We set out to create impact by developing new ventures that lead to better outcomes, building a new network with the capacity for systems innovation and generating actionable insights into the opportunities for wider system change.
In ALT/Now we:
In the spirit of ALT/Now, the approach we lay out is its own experiment and we are learning as we go.
In January 22 leaders, innovators and serial entrepreneurs from across Canada were selected to form the Alt/Now 2016 cohort. Our mission was to develop new market-based for- and non-profit ventures that could play a role in generating greater prosperity and wellbeing for all.
Over eight months the cohort developed and tested a wide range of potential solutions. Three four-day residencies in Banff gave us the opportunity to work with leading advisors from diverse fields. Between residencies the cohort used design tools and methods with people in their local communities to gain insight into their daily experiences and rapidly prototype new solutions.
These solutions range from new housing development deals, new forms of security and savings, services for childcare, food growing and diversifying incomes in rural communities, to new forms of indigenous place-making.
The cohort has engaged over 150 Canadians across the income spectrum in research and prototyping activities. This collective investigation has painted a unique picture of life in Canada: the resourcefulness, commitment and values at play as people create the means to both survive and thrive in a changing economic landscape.
At the outset of the program the cohort looked at a number of ‘dynamics’ underpinning a growth in the gap between rich and poor. These dynamics - accumulation, polarisation, the shrinking middle - are reinforcing, or compounding in their effects.
We asked how different strategies and interventions might act to disrupt those dynamics.
We saw that ‘resource flows’ of all types might be channelled differently to have more positively reinforcing effects, and that different types of business models were required to make that possible.
The Alt/Now cohort has been supported by the following advisors and contributors: