Ecosystems and Emerging Nets


In my talk last week at Aalto I discussed the concept of ecosystems, of which the BoPNet is an emerging one, and described how we often have to make choices of which ecosystem we belong to: Win or Mac, Android or Symbian, Western tech or now Eastern tech. The BoPNet is itself an emerging system on mini-ecosystems, each devised around the local needs, capabilities and tools available. Where we used to make choices about ideologies, religions or other social systems, increasingly we have to choose around technical platforms that will shape our social behaviors.

One of the pleasant surprises of the later stage of the workshop was how many of our teams created solutions that were ecosystem-based, leveraging many local assets in their target area, be it Lagos, Cairo, Indonesia or Afghanistan, to create a semi-contained "platform" to improve local lives which could be scaled and connected to other similar platforms nearby into a larger system of systems. One group even created a library or set of modules around needs that could be ported to other networks—seeds that could be spread to other fertile ground.


This question of ecosystems will become increasingly important as these local nets emerge and connect. Force them to make long-term ecosystem choices too soon, and the lock-in may stifle or kill bottom-up innovation. In developed markets, there is always demand, and that provides a cushion to absorb this blow. In emerging markets and fragile local economies, this demand is not strong enough to do so. Letting local needs and local desires call the tune for ecosystem development is important, and our "co-creators" in the workshop got that. Whether larger practices of top-down ecosystem lock-in are forced in the BoP's emerging networks of communication, transport, health, education etc. will determine how well the smaller cells of the net emerge, grow and link. I hope the thinking we saw in our workshop is the new logic that pervades going forward so the green shoots of network development can open and grow.