Archive for the ‘The Nabou Chronicles’ Category

Web 2.0 – Beyond the Hype

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

On December 3 the Ontario Chapter of the CIO Association of Canada hosted an event and social under the title “Web 2.0, Collaboration, and Social Media: Beyond the Hype”. The event was aimed to be an intimate gathering of peers (attendance was limited to 25) listening to practitioners and discussing the subject among themselves away from vendor and media hype.

I was invited by Samantha Liscio, CIO of Government of Ontario’s CAC to participate in a speaker panel she organized and tasked with framing the subject and providing the basis for the conversation. My colleagues on the panel were: Kyle Reid, CEO of Deep Caliber; Bobby Singh, Director of Information Security at eHealth Ontario and John Sutherland, President of Ennova Inc. The panel was facilitated by Craig Ballance, Director of the IT Leadership Program at Ryerson University.

Discussion topics included:

  • How Web 2.0 and social media tools have successfully delivered on business goals
  • Key lessons learned from real implementations (the reality behind the hype)
  • What some unanticipated outcomes of the implementation of Web 2.0 and social media have been (pitfalls to avoid)
  • Why it’s important to CIO success (moving from ‘hype’ to ‘value’)
  • What constitutes success in the practical application of Web 2.0, Collaboration and Social Media
  • What to watch for in the next waves of implementation

For me the main insight is that web 2.0 is much more about organizational change than about marketing and sales. The social aspect of new media and more importantly the increasingly social production of content and knowledge, all imply engagement of participants and active conversations. True conversations require not only active listening but also a readiness to change your position based on the conversation. Not many organizations are ready for such commitment, and of those who would like to be many don’t know how to adapt their policies, protocols and culture accordingly. Preparing an organization for the collaborative modes of operation needed to thrive in the new economy will require therefore significant changes to the organizational structure and culture before such engagements can yield any significant result.

There was a discussion about how to introduce web 2.0 technology and applications to the C-level executives to win their buy-in. colleagues pointed out that it is perhaps not different from winning support for any major project. In my experience spending an hour of quality time with the CEO on a well prepared demo of such applications could work wonders.

The discussion also touched on the risks of web 2.0 deployments as well as on risks to organizations that are ill prepared to engage in the conversations about them taking place with or without their approval. Many examples were discussed.

All in all it was a great way to spend a pleasant evening with peers, network, and learn about our profession and business in thoughtful conversation.

The Business Model Generation

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

After months of hard labor, several writer blocks, and many inspirations co-authors Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur have completed their book Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. It was released hot off the press September 30, 2009.


The book provides an excellent overview of business models, both existing and emergent. It includes the Business Model Canvas tool, which has been put to the test already in a variety of situations with excellent results. Business Model Generation also stands out among similar business books in the care and effort invested in its design under the creative auspices of Alan Smith of The Movement.

Adding to the many interesting aspects of this book is the story of its writing. 470 practitioners from 45 countries collaborated with the co-authors on its content through a wiki-type collaborative environment called the Business Model Innovation Hub. [Full disclosure: I am one of the 470 contributors – No material interest in sales though]. The authors released chunks of their book as they were writing them and hub participants engaged in review, critique and contributions to those chunks. Even designs were put in front of the hub members. On the day of its release there were already 1000 copies pre-purchased in 55 countries!

The result is an outstanding book that is definitely worth reading. The story of the book making is worth telling on its own. We were hoping it could be told at the Fifth Business Innovation Factory conference held next week in providence, RI. Timing problems prevented securing one of the slots for story telling. We’re still hoping to be able to tell this remarkable story on the sidelines of BIF-5 and in other venues.

You can see a 72-page PDF preview of the book here. If you are interested in getting your copy, you’d be well advised to purchase it from the authors site here where the book will be available for limited time at the affordable price of $36. After that the book will be sold through Amazon with an anticipated price of $70.

Congratulations to Alex and Yves on their achievement. We are proud to have participated in this interesting and creative undertaking.

Rogers Choco Promo

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

I recently went in the morning to a major Rogers location for updating the hardware of my daughter’s cell phones. The first contact with staff was on the cool side. The person assisting us was sitting behind a long counter and did not stand up and join us as I am used to in that location (must be some new “stay-put” policy!).

Once we explained what we needed the rep started typing on his computer. His body language and terse responses communicated annoyance. I thought for a while it was because we disturbed their peaceful morning rumination, but it turned out that he was stuck trying to retrieve the account information.

Long story short, we selected the new phone (BB of course) and started the process of settling, which involves committing to a 3-years contract with exit penalties in order to get the subsidized cost of the phone. As soon as we signed on the dotted line a magic transformation in the attitude happened. Two bottles of water were offered. The contract was briefly explained, particularly the checklist of what a customer satisfaction survey to be expected in few days will be asking us.

Then, with the phone and papers we got handed two CD jewel cases. I was expecting the usual promotional materials, perhaps a manual in electronic format, or even a music selection like Nissan does sometimes.

To my surprise each case contained a thick CD made completely out of chocolate!

Now I don’t know about you, but I am quite a chocolate fan. So I was initially pleasantly surprised. On second thought, however, and having eaten the chocolate, I have the following to say to my friends at Rogers:

  • Thanks for the promotional chocolate; its quality was medium, but hey, it’s free.
  • While I am a chocolate fan, I would have much preferred a friendlier service before sale.
  • I was not happy that despite being a VIP customer with significant spending with Rogers for many years, a hardware upgrade had to reset the account lock for another 3 years.
  • I realize I am hostage to the only GSM carrier in Canada for the time being. All the chocolate of the world will not stop a hostage from seeking freedom. So I’ll be seriously looking for alternatives as soon as other GSM carriers become available. Customer service is not post-sale token rewards. It starts with genuine and fair value of the products and services you offer your customers.
  • Oh and by the way: After 4 months I am still trying to remove a Rogers monthly charge for web hosting that I canceled over six months ago for a web site that never ran on Rogers servers. I assure you, you can remove our web domain from your servers while keeping our (hosted exchange) email domain.

Building Bridges for Peace

Monday, August 17th, 2009

I had a few queries over twitter about the “Building Bridges for Peace” that I am attending in September. As it would be difficult to explain in 140 characters and I would hate to flood the timeline with multiple tweets on the same subject, I decided to provide the information here on my blog.

This event is the 4th in a 6-parts series of events organized jointly by the Mosaic institute and the Canadian Centre for Diversity (which used to be called Canadian Council for Christians & Jews – CCCJ). The full official title of the series is “Building Bridges in Canada: New Perspectives on People and Peace” and its purpose is to create a venue for a better discourse about the Middle East peace for Canadians in general and the Canadian Arab and Jewish communities in particular. The short name is therefore “Building Bridges for Peace“.

Statement of Values

The organizers of this series of events declared that they subscribe to the following values (quote):

  • Canada is a country committed to peace, and diaspora communities resident in Canada have a tremendous opportunity to contribute to Canadian peace building efforts around the world.
  • While governments are vital contributors to peace building, citizens who are informed, and particularly those from diaspora communities originating from regions of longstanding conflict, have an equally important role to play in building peace.
  • It is important for communities of concerned Canadians to enter into difficult discussions about topics as important as the achievement of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. As Canadians, an discussions we have should be polite, respectful and involve listening with open hearts and minds.
  • Any effort that results in increased mutual awareness of the history, perceptions, hopes and struggles of the Canadian Arab and Jewish diasporas is a valuable one. If that effort results in a shard commitment to even one tangible peace building initiative in the Middle East, or in a joint recommendation for enhancing Canada’s foreign policy towards that region, Canada’s mosaic will show its true value.
  • Achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East will require unrelenting goodwill and creativity of good people who believe that it is never the wrong time to pursue peace.

(End of quote)

Session Themes

The six session themes are:

  1. Diaspora Diaries – A Panel Discussion in Cultural Duality (March 4, 2009): The panel featured 4 prominent Canadians (2 from each community) and was moderated by journalist and commentator Noah Richter, author of This is My Country, What’s Yours?: A Literary Atlas of Canada.
  2. The Business of Peace in the Middle East (April 6, 2009): Keynote address by Sir Ronald Cohen, who among many things is the Chairman of the Social Investment Task Force. He was then interviewed by CBC host/correspondent Susan Ormiston.
  3. Making Peace Personal (June 3, 2009): Featuring as speakers journalist and author Janet Wallach and founder of the Canada International Scientific Exchange program (CISEPO) Dr. Arnold Noyek as well as two special guests, Nousha Kabawat, the first Syrian-Canadian to ever participate in the Seeds for Peace program and Inbal Marcovitch, an intern with CISEPO and founding member of the Health as a Bridge to Peace student club at York University. the event was hosted by Evan Solomon of CBC “one of the top 100 people to watch” according to MacLean’s magazine.
  4. Where Are We Now (September 16, 2009): a scholarly assessment of the current status of peace building in the Middle East hosted by Margaret MacMillan, author of best seller Paris 1919.
  5. Where Do We Go From Here (November 4, 2009): A diplomatic assessment of the current opportunities for peace in the Middle East, hosted by Ralph Benmergui.
  6. Bridging the Cultural Divide (TBD): Special concert celebrating a shared experience, hosted by Sheilagh Rogers.

In a previous attempt to a dialog between the Arab and Jewish communities in Canada, which was sponsored at the time by Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, I had proposed to establish a list of Canadian values common between the two communities before starting the dialog, and to commit to resolving differences in views based on such values and principles. Although that first dialog attempt did not progress far enough, we did establish among other things common values that all agreed to, as well as ample historic precedence for harmonious coexistence and even creative collaboration between these two communities. Not many of these made it through to the values stated above unfortunately. The need for such common ground will be felt when it is time to resolve core differences.


The format of the events held so far has been panels or speakers presenting followed by either interviews and/or question period managed by the host. The attendance is approximately 100 guests mostly from the Canadian Arab and Jewish communities. The events are sometime attended by the Israeli General Consul and the Syrian Honorary Consul in Toronto. After the event there is opportunity to linger a bit and engage in conversations (refreshments are served).

After the first session participants were asked to complete a survey designed by The Strategic Counsel. The survey measured audience perceptions of a variety of issues relating to the Middle East. Surveys will be administered again at various points in the series to track changes in the attitudes of attendees over the course of the series.

The sessions are held at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies.

My Take So Far

The initiative to bring the two communities in a well designed setting is to be applauded. The profile of the speakers and hosts has been generally high and the perspectives presented interesting. There is also an element of novelty as the content presented is not well known in main stream media.

There have been no dialogs between the attendees as the format consisted mainly of listening to speakers or panelists. While a limited Q&A has been allowed, the format was strictly limited to questions and commentary or multiple-exchange discussions were discouraged.

The attendees from the two communities do not mix enough in their seating order. Many seats are reserved by name and clustered by community, creating a perception of tiered audience and discouraging mixing with the opposite community. After the event a few good conversation across community lines have been possible, but were limited in time and scope due to the constraints of a brief post-event reception.

Having said that I do appreciate that the first 3 sessions have been building up towards the tougher questions. The next session will provide a realistic assessment of where the peace process stands. The 5th session will tackle where do we go from here. That’s where any commonalities achieved in the previous sessions will come to bear.

I have suggested a few things to the organizers such as changing the seating design to encourage mixing and cross conversations, designing time and space for smaller deeper conversations about specific sub-topics, and setting tangible objectives for the outcomes of the series. Come to think of it, my peers at the Design with Dialog group could offer a lot to some of those activities. Greg and I had a brief conversation about setting up a similar dialog. But this is a more complex issue than organizational transformation, and we would need to have a few serious conversations about approach, methods and capabilities. That’s material for a few months of DwD right there, but peace is so important that we must try everything possible all the time. I am in. Who wants to join, DwD Team?


The not-so-secret Overlap Unconference

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Business Week published on August 3rd, 2009 a guest blog by Venessa Wong titled “Inside the Secret Overlap Conference“. Being an Overlap 2007 participant, I felt the Overlap concept would be best served and explained through a post I wrote immediately following my participation. That post is published on the Ning Network’s Overlap site, which is accessible only to members. Although membership is open, it may be an inconvenience to have to register in order to read my writing from June 17, 2007. I am therefore providing it here for convenience:

From Overlap 07 to Overlaps

Just got back, fully charged, from Geneva Park where Overlap 07 was held over the weekend. I must admit, it exceeded all my expectations. And no, it’s not the post-conference or post-vacation euphoria that often befalls people who extract themselves from their busy lives to attend an event. My enchantment has its roots in the unique blend that characterizes the concept of Overlap: An invitation only event, where a limited number of participants with a broad range of backgrounds, specialization and experience, selected carefully to have vivid minds and an overlap in their interests, are brought together in a pleasant and relaxed environment to engage in a conversation about a chosen subject.

The limitation of the number of participants provides the intimacy required for meaningful conversations and deeper understanding of the various contributions. The broad range of backgrounds and experiences available ensures that those conversations are inherently interdisciplinary and at the frontiers of each specialty. The pleasant and relaxed environment optimizes the collaborative potential of the group. The declared (initial) theme of the gathering provides an easy starting point for the various conversations, which are allowed to evolve the theme further by mutual agreement. Last but not least, the very thoughtful selection of participants guaranteed high caliber conversations (literally) every minute of Overlap 07. I believe I speak for all participants when I congratulate the organizers of Overlap 07 for the exceptional job they did.

This year’s theme started with the overlap of design, business, and innovation and expanded in the process to include communities and sustainability. So what was the outcome? Here is my personal take on it. I am sure that many of the friends I made at Overlap 07 will be writing soon their own conclusions.

For me Overlap 07 is a new form of intellectual exchange, firmly anchored in a peer-to-peer model. Contrary to traditional conferences and symposiums with static structures and deterministic outcomes, Overlap 07′ agile and dynamic structure results in a broad range of outcomes. Peter Evans was the first to point out the agile nature of this gathering. Like the other participants I will take out those elements of knowledge and insights that fit best my own interests and needs. Some of the knowledge and insight obtained at Overlap 07 I will use immediately in current projects; some will be the subject of collaboration with one or more members of the gathering; others will only come to bear in time or in indirect way, cross pollinating my own thinking and my future projects.

Overlap 07 was a wonderful journey full of wonderful discoveries. As Manuel Toscano pointed out, we are nomads thirsty for knowledge and wisdom. We discovered this magic place we didn’t know existed. Could there be others waiting to be discovered? Well, the mystery of the recipe for this magic place is starting to unravel. Perhaps many others will try their magic wands and build many other wondrous Overlaps. I can’t wait until I meet some of my fellow nomads on the next journey.

What’s Happened Since?

Now two years later, I am glad to observe that many overlaps have indeed emerged. The yearly Overlap event continued in New York in 2008 and California 2009, quite a feat considering there is no organizational structure or set leadership. More interestingly, an Overlap Toronto chapter emerged few weeks after the 2007 event and has evolved since into a persistent and dynamic community in Toronto, centered around the two organizers of Overlap 2007: Michael Dila and Robin Uchida of the Torch Partnership.

Not many people realize that many of the creative initiatives and activities in Toronto are emerging from that community: OCAD’s sLab (Strategic Innovations Lab), the famous Torch Lectures series, the Innovation Parkour concept, Unfinished Business project, the Wicked Brown Bag Lunch events, and the initiative to name a few.

I am certain similar activities and results were generated by Overlap participants in other geographies and areas of activity. I would love to hear from other participants about the impact it had on them and their communities.

So the “Secret Overlap Conference” is inviting you all to organize your own Overlap Unconference and start your journey of discovery. Every true “Overlapper” will be willing to help you in your efforts because the rewards are in the learning created by new overlaps and the opportunities generated by intelligent conversations with other creative minds.

Overlap has been kept “secret” on Ning, Google Groups, Facebook, Twitter (#overlap09), on a web site and who knows how many personal blogs! Take a peep at the secret. Perhaps that will inspire you to some action of your own?

Social Media & Revolutionary Change – Reflections

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Another popular uprising by people wanting their voice heard. This time in Iran and draped in green but also in black, mourning those like young Neda, who died pursuing her dream of freedom and human rights.

Once again social media are hailed as the tool for the revolutionary masses revolting, challenging the established powers of government and its police apparatus, helping people organize and communicate, and informing the world about their struggle. The stream of information coming from Iran through Youtube and Twitter is defining this particular struggle much more than the traditional media, who have been “subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran” as Reuters’ editors disclose at the begin of each news item from Iran.

What’s new this time around

This time around we have seen some new developments: The social networks carrying these social media have taken proactive action.

Twitter rescheduled maintenance down-time of its systems after the U.S. State Department intervened to keep the service up and running for the Iranians protesters using it (and the Americans and many others monitoring).

Facebook released an early version of its platform in Farsi (the official language of Iran) in direct response to the Iranian crisis. This allows Iranians to navigate Facebook in their national language instead of English. Google hastily introduced Farsi support for Google Translate quoting “ongoing events in Iran”. You can read more details about these actions in several places including on Rahaf Harfoush’s blog “The Foush“.

As Rahaf wrote, these unprecedented actions raised many questions. Is the neutrality of the networks waning? Were these actions driven by ideological, philosophical, political factors or simply by opportunistic self interest of these corporations (for PR or rapid alpha testing of a product in development for example)? Were these actions triggered by internal corporate thinking or through pressures from powerful external parties? or all of the above?

These are reasonable and complex questions. I will leave it to others to come up with answers to them. The aspect I would like to explore further is the following:

Social Media as Revolutionary Weapon

The Iran uprising like the preceding ones (The Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, etc.) is an attempt to change the existing balance of power. Whenever such an attempt is made a struggle between the incumbent power and those trying to change it ensues. External parties join rapidly the fray (if they weren’t already involved or behind the attempt). In the course of this struggle all sides will use the full range of tools/weapons at their disposal to achieve advantage and victory. Technology is but one, albeit an important one, of these tools/weapons. It is therefore interesting to observe how this battle unfolds on the social media front and draw further conclusions.

On the revolt side the main advantage of social media is its distributed nature both from a content creation and distribution points of view. Individuals with cellular phones or small video cams are able to generate multimedia content and broadcast it through social networks like Youtube, Twitter and Facebook. These social networks are also used for communications and organizing based on the perception that they are outside the traditional telecommunications networks usually controlled by the incumbent powers.

The distributed nature of social media is very appealing to the external parties interested in the conflict but wishing to intervene only covertly. In the case of Iran it became obvious that the State Department is monitoring closely all Iran related social media transmissions when it intervened with Twitter to postpone the planned upgrade that could have brought the systems down during the “active” hours in Iran. There have been reports about Israeli involvement in an infowar operation in support of the Iranian protesters. This could well be part of Israel’s already existing covert operations in Iran and other countries in the region (a number of spy cells were uncovered in Iran and more recently in Lebanon). Iran has accused the BBC Farsi service of interfering actively in internal affairs and expelled its correspondent Jon Leyne from Iran.

The Empire Strikes Back

Given all of the above, it would be naive to believe that social media tools or counter-measures won’t be used by the incumbent power. Case in point: The Iranian government shut down cellular service, blocked social network sites, and used power outages to disable uploading through proxies. It also engaged in its own social media counter- offensive. This battle is still raging at the time of this writing with list of “infiltrator” accounts being posted and updated by supporters of the protesters, misinformation is being planted by multiple parties, and even a guideline for cyberwarfare in this crisis has been published.

Social media undoutebly democratizes content creation and distribution. But distribution can only happen where and when social networks are available. So the fundamental question becomes: who actually owns or enables the infrastructure required by social networks (SN) to function, i.e. the SN servers or “cloud”, the storage, and the pipes connecting users to them. The answer is sobering: in almost all cases these are owned by governments or large corporations, who have the capabilities to monitor all content and to stop the service if deemed necessary for their interests.

So we have a wide spread ownership of content production means on one side but a tightly controlled ownership of or influence on distribution channels on the other. This means that social media can be severely impeded through disablement of its distribution networks if the changes demanded by people are too radical or undesirable for the entities controlling the infrastructure.
A good example for this is the global battle for open proxies in the Iranian context brilliantly shown in this visualization, and the people unfortunately don’t seem to be winning it. Preparing safe proxies (as the renesys blog suggests) may help, but I don’t think it is the answer.

What Is Missing

For social media then to fulfill it’s promise of change reflecting people’s needs and desires, it would seem that we need a distributed technology and ownership for SN. Conceptually, this is what the peer-to-peer technologies provide: a decentralized network of independent nodes connecting as and when needed in constantly changing topographies that no one can shut down easily.

Michael Lewkowitz (a.k.a @igniter) of the ChangeMedium initiative has been writing about Public Micro-messaging Medium (PMM) like Twitter “as the most participatory public medium in history.” He is proposing coordinated research to accelerate the evolution of this tranformative medium. I tend to agree with him on the potential of this emerging “real-time internet”, but am convinced that for such potential to be reached, we must have fully distributed technology which would enable distributed ownership of the SN, that are so crucial to social media in general. Substantial R&D has been done on so-called ad-hoc networks (initially for the military, first responders, conference organizers etc.). I am interested in learning about any technologies that could enable such decentralized messaging systems for the crowds.

Incumbent powers are resisting anything peer-to-peer or trying to “incorporate it” into their institutional structures. The next great battles are going to be around these issues. Stay tuned for interesting times.

YES WE DID Book Launched

Monday, June 8th, 2009

On June 4, 2009 the Rotman School of Business hosted the launch of the book “YES WE DID – An Inside Look of How Social Media Built the Obama Brand” written by our very own Rahaf Harfoush and foreword by Don Tapscott.

The event was sold out with over 450 people filling the Fleck Auditorium and the balconies above it.

After introduction by Alex Manu and foreword by Don Tapscott (Adjunct Professors at Rotman co-sponsoring the event), Rahaf presented highlights from her book including the 7 lessons learned from her experience as a volunteer at the Obama campaign headquarters that could be applied to the corporate world. A Q&A session was followed by a book signing session and a reception for attendees.

The event was tweeted live by several people in the audience. If you’d like to read what people said about the presentation and the book just enter #yeswedid in the twitter search field on your browser or twitter application.

The book is now available at major book stores as well as online on Amazon.

Single Sheet Creativity

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

A contest in Washington DC had only one condition: you are allowed to use a single sheet of white paper as your material. So how much creativity can be displayed around one sheet of white paper? Take a look at these amazing 26 pictures and judge for yourself what can be achieved with vision, knowledge and imagination!

Of Permaculture and the Second Renaissance

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Through a tweet by my friend Mat Milan (@mmilan) I got to read Robert Paterson’s interesting post “Is this the time for a New Renaissance and Reformation“, in which he discusses Permaculture vs. industrial food production and extrapolates to other areas of human civilization.

While I agree with Paterson’s analysis on how we got ourselves into this mess and was thrilled to learn about Permaculture as an alternative, his post triggered a number of questions in my mind, mostly about why we developed industrial production methods and if the transition to a Permaculture society is reasonably possible.

Root Causes

Let’s consider the first question. Yes, human ego is still at the center of the universe and we still largely subscribe to the notion that we are masters of nature and we can form it to our will with our technology. But the continuous drive of labor division and specialization had started long before medieval times and is still going strong. One of it’s roots is the consumerist culture that has become the expression of this iteration of human civilization. Another is the unchecked growth of population, which demands ever higher productivity in goods and services, and particularly in food production. This in turn leads to industrial-type agricultural and animal production with high-yield single-crop/animal multiple harvests requiring high levels of energy input (fertilizers, machinery etc.). This need for continuous productivity improvements drives the necessity for specialization in knowledge and skills.

As the population and consumerism pressures continued unabated, further productivity gains could only be achieved by expanding the level of specialization from local to national, to regional, and ultimately to global scale; hence what we refer to as Globalization. The structures that developed for this labor division and specialization were mostly hierarchical in nature with the unavoidable centers of wealth and power that are integral to hierarchies. As Ronald Wright describes in his book “A short History of Progress” these civilization structures emerged in a particular location of Earth, grew rapidly until their natural resources were exhausted and then faltered or moved to a different location.

As long as these structures operated at the local level they had a possibility to move to a different location. As the structures became global in scope they had less and less options to relocate. hence the current global crisis. The central hierarchical system is reaching its limits because it cannot consolidate to less than one center!

The Emerging New Structures

As the old system reaches it limits a new system with a fundamentally different structure must emerge, which most probably will not be hierarchical. Recent events seem to confirm this trend: traditional global systems are failing while decentralized, peer-to-peer, and local systems seem to succeed overnight: Skype, Twitter, Craig’s List, micro financing, eat local, open source concepts, creative commons, community initiatives etc.

The catalyst in this transformation seems to be the Internet. At the recent Toronto Planners Unite 2009 event Mark Earls author of “Herd” spoke about the crucial role of copying in human behavior. Copying requires seeing what’s to be copied; and if nothing else, the Internet is making all sorts of new ideas and initiatives visible to a global audience. The flock behavior can only accelerate and the importance of communities will explode.

Values Convergence

Interestingly, the values embodied in these emerging new structures seem to be converging. In a recent Twitter conversation with Alexander Osterwalder, Peter Jones and others about how a sustainable business model can be defined, we converged that it is the sustainable value that an organization provides to its “stakeholders, the community at large, and the environment”. I was pleasantly surprised while reading about Permaculture to find out that its core values are “Earthcare, Peoplecare, and Fairshare”. Do you recognize a pattern?

We could be at the cusp of a major transformational step in our evolution, which we usually call a revolution. The changes coming are going to be radical and difficult, possibly violent. I hope they will lead to a New Renaissance and Reformation!

Of Business Models & Innovative Projects

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Hard to admit but empirical evidence shows that I haven’t blogged in March at all! Don’t ask me why. Let’s just say that I am becoming more convinced that time is not linear and runs exponentially on occasion, like this past March?

In that exponentially elapsed period I have been mostly in a learning and thinking mode developing my knowledge and my ideas about innovative business models and what is needed to develop radically different ones. I will be writing more about some of the stops along my journey in the past few weeks. But for now I’d like to report on one project that I came across with an intriguing business model.


The vision of this project is helping developing world artisans bridge the markets divide by providing world-class “micro marketing” enabling global e-commerce for the branded artisans. The business plan is based on a three-way partnership between a for-profit operation, the BRANDAID Project, a non-profit operation, the BRANDAID Foundation, and an international culture organization, UNESCO.

The combination of these three distinct elements is somewhat of a novelty in the public-private partnerships arena.

The Concept

In a recent event at the Spokes club in Toronto on April 9th, Tony Piggot, CEO of JWT Canada and co-founder of BRANDAID Project explained the concept of the venture. Leveraging UNESCO’s Award of Excellence for Handicrafts (previously knows as Seal of Excellence) for identifying artisans of the highest quality, BRANDAID Project supplies a complete branding service including a micro-site and e-commerce platform, to such artisans. The project purchases selected artisan collections at asking price. It offers them with healthy mark-up in select North American markets appreciative of the artistic value and developmental objectives of the project. 35% of the profits flow back to the artisans community: 25% directly to the producing artisans and 10% to the BRANDAID Foundation, who invests back into the artisans communities

Where is it at now

The first brand “Croix des Bouquets” is from Haiti and the first collection has already been purchased. BRANDAID has already been launched in California with sponsorship from Dior and Vanity Fair magazine in an event attended by Director Paul Haggis (an early investor in the project), Hollywood stars Diane Lane and Josh Brolin (who are patrons of the project), and many film celebrities including Charlize Theron. Apparently, all displayed pieces were sold out in less than three hours.

BRANDAID Project is continuing to raise investments, in order to expand its activities to other countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. As of the Toronto event of April 9th there were only 4 investment units of US$ 25,000 each left. The project is looking into some gallery space in New York

My Take

I liked the premise of this project, so I have been advising BRANDAID on its web site development and hosting contracts as well as on the operational logistics (e-commerce platform, order management, and fulfillment). What I find promising is the potential for expanding the vision of the project to create a complete ecosystem around each of the branded artisans in the developing country by engaging and where necessary training graphics designers, web developers, hosting companies etc. If this can be scaled properly, it could not only become a sustainable venture, but also achieve some of the things that my friends in the Toronto betterment movement aspire to achieve.