The worldwide economic crisis is certainly a worrisome event, but now, six months on, it is becoming clear that we will survive it.
There are still tough times and a great deal of work ahead but we do have a good understanding of what needs to be done, and that is a major positive.
It is natural for people to be emotional in a time of crisis – cautious about what they do, what they spend, etc – but a more optimistic approach will go a long way towards restoring a positive economic environment. Admittedly there are risks involved in adopting a confident attitude in today’s financial climate, but contemplate the alternative.
I am taking my lead here from President Obama. He says that, while this is a severe crisis, its also a time when we can make big changes for the future. And this applies particularly to America, the land of the free market – free as in ‘no rules apply to me’ – where massive changes need to be implemented to the governance of the country. To do this will take a decade or more, but the longer we wait to start the process the longer it will take to get out of this mess.
In order to make this happen the global economy will need a great deal of support – people doing that bit extra, beyond pessimistic cautiousness. We all need to look for opportunities to move forward and now is the time to clean house and make plans for a better future.
It is also the time to address faltering systems such as healthcare, social services and the environment. But let us go further – a fraction of the trillions of dollars that are thrown around could also be used to help alleviate poverty in Africa. Let’s look beyond our own borders – in other words we need to Think Big.
This was exactly the message that I received from the Obama Team back in November last year, after they won the election. I was closely connected to one of the senior people in the Transition Team and I had suggested to him that perhaps we should provide the Obama Transition Telco Team with an international view on the American telecoms situation.
He took me up on the suggestion and we were asked to prepare some BigThink reports (they presented that title to us). We have produced four reports and a fifth one is under development. They are:
- Plans for the transition of the US telecom industry
- Costings and open network issues in relation to FttH deployments
- Innovation networks: where e-science and telecom meet
- Open access
- Trans-sectoral thinking (under construction)
For this project I headed up a team of around 30 international experts from eight different countries.
It was a rare experience – to be able to really participate in the shaping of global strategies; to take part in new ways of thinking and present ideas to a team of people who were engaged and keen to listen.
Those of you who have been following the open access debate in the USA will have noticed that this is now a hot topic, and I feel we can rightly claim to have had a small amount of influence in this debate, thanks to our international expert team. We have also been asked to file a slightly different version of the report with the FCC. So let’s see what will happen with open access in the USA.
Totally new in my experience of the American people is that genuine interest, at a government level, is now being shown in what other countries are doing, and I have even been able to establish some further bilateral contacts between countries on some of the very specific issues that came out of these reports. This is perhaps the most exciting element of all; we are starting to work together – not just through official international relationships but through direct person-to-person contact, utilising the capabilities we now have with emails, wikis, etc.
It is mindboggling to be part of an international team of such calibre. The amount of vision and strategic thinking coming into the group from various different disciplines is incredibly powerful, all directed at the specific topic addressed in each BigThink report.
The team consists of truly national and international leaders and having these people participate in these not-for-fee projects is very refreshing indeed.
In the upcoming trans-sector report we will address the multiplier effect that telecoms infrastructure has to offer to other sectors such as healthcare, education, environment, suitability, transport, etc. In this BigThink report the focus is on building smart connected and sustainable communities.
While economic affordability is a key issue within the context of the economic crisis I am convinced that through trans-sector thinking, and utilisation of that multiplier effect, we can deliver these services at less cost, most of the time within the already existing budgets for these sectors. The same by the ways applies to climate changes and the biggest challenge at the Copenhagen conference in December will be silo thinking.
People are a far bigger problem than money. We need to break down the silo mentality, and that will be our greatest challenge. It can only be done through leadership from the top, but those at the top are listening, so I hope we can make a positive contribution to these changes.
In order to move forward we need to use more flexible and pragmatic economics, based on both market dynamics and social values. This is not something new – people like Adam Smith spoke of it back in 1776.
It is just that we have lost sight of some of these governance issues over the last few decades. We need to revive these and use our modern knowledge and expertise around social and economic developments, as well as the new technologies that allow for easier international cooperation, widespread people-power involvement and new, better and cheaper ways of fixing old problems.