By Joe Siblia
The Earth quaked beneath us, tornadoes and hurricanes ravaged our town, floods filled the streets at our Vermont Retreat House, kids killed kids in our neighborhood of Springfield, Mass. and pretty babies bore babies – all on the heels of my mom being beaten up by a homeless man living in her basement beneath the stairs and a black SUV with tinted windows blasting me off my bike in a hit-and-run accident, during an economic crisis capturing our deepest fears – the stage was set for a trip to the Mecca of make believe – Orlando’s Disney World.
Scientists, stumblers, religionists, realists, physicists, physicians, movie-makers, moms and babies, hackers, heroes, educators, enlightened beings, mountains of men and a sprinkling of women, from around the globe, gathered together to cradle the crumbs of the last vestiges of voyaging to outer space. A $500,000 prize seeded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA – creator of the Internet), with NASA Ames Research Center adding to the team preparing a proposal to develop a viable and sustainable nongovernmental organization for persistent, long-term, private sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel viable. The goal is to develop an investment vehicle—with the patronage and guidance of entrepreneurs, business leaders and technology visionaries—which provides the stability for sustained investment over a century-long horizon, concomitant with the agility to respond to the accelerating pace of technological, social and other change.
From a pool of close to 1,000 presentations, the judges selected 40 papers to be presented at the 100 Year Starship Symposium to be published in The British Interplanetary Journal. Our paper was selected.
I was invited to present my point of view relating to “governance structures and shared capitalism models that support long-term innovation; technology, entrepreneurship, education; and alternative financing for sustainable public/private interests.” This invitation came from my new friend Maryann Beyster of the Foundation for Enterprise Development (fed.org). The foundation was founded in 1986 by Dr. J. Robert Beyster to promote the concept of broad-based, participative employee ownership and entrepreneurism. Dr Beyster was also the founder of SAIC, from humble beginnings to an $8 billion dollar employee-owned company. Our team was led by Mary Ann Beyster and included Dr. Joseph Blasi (Professor, Rutgers University), Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen (Associate Dean for Entrepreneurial Programs and Professor of Space Science and Aerospace Engineering, University of Michigan) and Anu Bowman (Senior Technology Fellow, Foundation for Enterprise Development).
If we could sustain a starship for a 100- year journey, it might be possible to employ those same innovations on the Earth starship—much like innovations of removing carbon from the universe to measure the age of space (now being used on Gasoline Alley, CSRwire’s headquarters, as bio remediation to clean up our contaminated soil and water) to astronaut tools fixing satellites (now being used as a portable drill, making furniture from abandoned materials on Gasoline Alley). I was hopeful some of the ideas of the sustainability/CSR (corporate social responsibility) movement might be well-received and some awareness would be raised. I didn’t expect the ideas to be so widely received.
The prize was like a last chance effort, the last few drops of desert dew, the morsel meal provided to a prisoner of war, a puny grant given to optimists that believe we could really create a new world in outer space. Some of the motivation came from the fear that an asteroid would hit Earth and destroy our lives. Others feared a rogue state would launch a nuclear weapon or that business would ultimately destroy our planet. Some had great hopes we could ‘mine’ asteroids for minerals and materials to improve our lives. Still others believe there was an incredible business opportunity, ready for exploitation of innovative intellectual property and products. I was motivated by the prospect that developing a global hybrid non-profit/for-profit constellation of wholly owned subsidiaries or operating companies, partially owned private companies, partially owned public companies, cooperatives, exchange traded funds, crowd sourced funds, partially publicly traded public funds, trading a multitude of investment vehicles on existing, private and/or sovereign nation exchanges, using a platform of transparent principles, standards and measures of sustainability, would inspire innovation at home on Earth.
Humbled by a hug from an astronaut, hardened by hope, hungry for humanity to see the benefit of cooperation as a higher form of organizing civil society, I returned energized by the possibilities. And, knowing quite well that man’s basic instinct for survival would translate into a flourishing planet for my kids and kids’ kids. It was worth the trip.
About Joe Sibilia
As a visionary of the socially responsible business movement, Joe Sibilia is the founder of Meadowbrook Lane Capital (MBLC), described by the Wall Street Journal as a “socially responsible investment bank” specializing in turning values into valuation.
He is also CEO of CSRwire, the social responsibility newswire service that distributes and archives corporate social responsibility/sustainability news to journalists, analysts, investors, activists, academics, public relations and investor relations professionals worldwide.
Joe also founded the Gasoline Alley Foundation, a 501(c) 3 corporation that has incubated 43 small businesses since 1985 and teaches inner city and/or underprivileged persons to be successful entrepreneurs using socially responsible/sustainable business practices while revitalizing inner city neighborhoods.
Through MLBC, Joe has worked with a number of socially responsible companies and has been widely recognized for his work in attempting to take Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream private, while creating a private stock exchange for CSR companies. MBLC successfully preserved many of its founders’ social initiatives and advanced the connection between good corporate citizenship and increased share value.
His long-range plan for CSRwire is to establish a “platform for innovative revenue sharing applications advancing the ‘Sustainability Movement’ towards a more economically just and environmentally sustainable society and away from single bottom line capitalism.”
Joe and David Mager recently co-authored Street Smart Sustainability: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Profitably Greening Your Organization's DNA as part of the Social Venture Network Series published by Berrett-Koehler.
This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.