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February 5, 2012

May we live in interesting times…

What would it have been like to live through the industrial revolution or the birth of the nation-state system?

Perhaps many would have hardly noticed anything significant, and lived their lives much as their forebears had. But we now look back now at these shifts as fundamentally transformative, points of unprecedented historical emergence. Perhaps for others at the time many of these emergences would have looked like emergencies.

Looking at history through an evolutionary eye, new systems appear to create new problems, only to be ‘solved’ (or dissolved) through further emergence. But these changes in paradigms are both incremental and non-linear. An invisible architecture of small changes rippling through a system to reach a tipping point into fundamental transformation.

Globalisation, especially the economic integration of the last three decades lay the foundations of a global civilisational paradigm. Today the civilisational paradigm is in crisis, caught between contradictory impulses and assumptions that are increasingly non-sensical. Economic, financial, political, educational, environmental, it is hard to name a civilisational adjective that isn’t fraying at the seams.

Looking at humanity’s addiction to economic growth and our rapacious destruction of the environment, it’s hard to not be reminded of a mythological caterpillar, bloated on the leaf matter of overconsumption, settling down into a cocoon. I believe we are in this chrysalis stage, soporifically wrapped inside the hardened husk of our techno-economic structures.

At the same time I see cracks in this global armoury through which new actors are giving voice to an emerging future.

As exciting as this is, so often these stories are from the global north. I’m Australian but have lived in Argentina for the past three years. These countries share a curious sliding door type alternative reality – so many shared historical and geographic features yet they followed such different paths in the twentieth century. This project thus began as an exploration of the Argentine social innovation sector, with a particular focus on the stories behind social entrepreneurs leading change. I was looking for coherence in an emerging ecosystem visible through the individual stories of new actors. In my own life moving to a different country, learning a new language and forging an immigrant identity in a new culture has been a powerful learning process. But more than simply learning about the unfamiliar has been the opportunity to hold a mirror up to my own culture and examine previously unconscious assumptions and expectations in a new light. Accordingly I’ve become as interested in how the Australian experience of social entrepreneurship and innovation might differ from the North American and European as the Latin America.

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