The latest gathering at North Carolina's Institute for Emerging Issues challenged leaders to evaluate how creativity can transform businesses and local communities. This is an important question in the era of globalization. It attempts to solve a big problem - employment and growth for a state continues to shed traditional manufacturing jobs.
I believe that these questions also hold relevance for our non-profit community. Non-profits should be engines for innovation, but all too often, their environment put little emphasis on change. That emphasis may be a product of the funding culture that they work within, but it also reflects how non-profits manage their own entities.
Non-profits should be where we work out problems. They can use their ability to gather funding without having to answer to shareholders. Is that how it always works? Well, sometimes. Ask yourself - does your non-profit solve new problems, or does it meet needs at lower costs? Does your non-profit reproduce something that could be done by a private business?
The promise of non-profits is that they are freed, by their non-profit status, to produce results without market incentives. They can solve public good problems. Remember those - the ones that are non-rivalrous and non-excludable? Think of clean air. Think about "orphan drugs." Think about the application of knowledge.
We need a solution to prevent the onset of tuberculosis in HIV-positive patients. The market may not find the answer. Pharmaceutical companies are not putting adequate resources to the task of finding a solution because it is unlikely that such a vaccine would treat consumers with the ability to pay enough for the cost of the research. Instead, our pharmaceutical companies seek to find the next diet pill or something to treat shortcomings in bed. We have more research spent on baldness than on malaria. Baldness affects older men. Living to be old is a luxury in many parts of the world. Moreover, if you have money to spend on resolving baldness, you probably are not someone with really big problems. Malaria impacts poor children, often those living without adequate housing, and often in developing countries.
The restructuring of North Carolina's workforce is one of these problems. Long-term, the only way that we are going to get to a Creative Workforce is through a commitment over many years to changing how we educate our children. We need to focus on problem solving, and not merely on mastering tasks. Businesses will ultimately benefit from that achievement. Our local economy will benefit. Who pays for the cost of finding those remedies? Who pays the cost of teaching our young people, and re-training our older workers, for a period of time that can legitimately turn around their capacities? The Leandro decision tells us that we are not getting it done. We have a 30 percent dropout rate and a 50 percent drop out rate among minority men.
Bill Gates (at TED, here) wants to know how "we can make a teacher great." It seems like an important problem, he says, but the fact is that we don't spend money on this problem and we really don't even know what factors make
teachers effective. Our workforce's value comes from the top 20 percent, but businesses are increasingly going to where they can find skilled workers. If our teacher's can't produce, then businesses will go to Bangalore or Vienna or wherever they are located.
Non-profits should go where business won't. They can solve problems in places where there are not adequate market incentives. Everyone benefits, because there are instances when no firm will bear the costs of innovation. Venture capital, by contrast, will pay for innovation in some instances - when there is a clear opportunity to make a fortune