Rethinking Politics with Innovation | John Mak | TEDxChicago

Rethinking Politics with Innovation | John Mak | TEDxChicago



[Applause] stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results and we are all guilty of it including myself that is now I know it's not ideal to start a talk by insulting your audience but let me explain bear with me because it's not really an insult I am a social entrepreneur and I'm here today to talk about our politics but before I start let's take a vote please raise your hand if you are concerned about the current state of our politics full house I might as well just leave now raise your hand if you like me agree that our politics in our government is not responding to what's important to you well it turns out Americans agree with you because according to a recent study only 17% of Americans say they can trust the government to do the right thing most of the time only 17% less than one in five that to me is worrying because if you flip the numbers we're talking about 83% of Americans not trusting their government and that includes the vast majority of Democrats Republicans independents and those who didn't vote public trust in government has reached an all-time low since 1958 and it's not just an issue of trust we currently live in an age of extreme polarization as a matter of fact America is now so divided that the only thing we can agree as a nation is that the nation is divided so we can all agree things here pretty screwed but you see this phenomenon is not unique to the u.s. because if you take a closer look every nation in the world is disillusioned and disengaged from politics let's take a sure as an example where I come from now in my home city of Hong Kong one of the wealthiest cities in the world we have just witnessed the largest civil disobedience movements in recent history public trust in the political system has plummeted and by the way when I say trust in the system I don't just mean the government the man you're seeing in the photo was a former opposition legislator you see people in Hong Kong have now lost faith in the government in the opposition and everyone in between so this trust and polarization has prevailed now similarly in Miami an emerging democracy in Southeast Asia the country has witnessed its first democratic election of recent times in 2015 now the turnout at that election was at an impressive 70 percent and yet this year when the country held its first-ever Democratic municipal election the turnout was a mere 15 percent now compared this 15 percent with 70 percent four years ago you know you're in trouble now those who didn't vote say they were unhappy with the performance of the government nothing will change even if we voted they claim now if that sentiment came from Michigan or Wisconsin or West Virginia you can sort of understand but coming from a new democracy after decades of popular demand for the right to vote you know you are in real trouble so what do these trends tell us well irrespective of history context and the type of government distrust and polarization are endemic our politics is paralyzed it is toxic rigid and unresponsive it is not functioning and it requires fixing and to fix it we can't just be treating the symptoms we have to look at the root causes so we have to really fundamentally rethink how our politics work and one way of doing that is by constantly testing new ideas new systems and new models of governance we really have to shift that Compass Point and anchor it in a whole new direction now remember when I showed you this photo earlier when I first started my career I witnessed the height of the Occupy movement as a young graduate now I know many of you who say I'm still fairly young but in 2014 I was younger and thought greener and I was immensely passionate about driving social change but I had an imminent decision to make whether to work inside the government or outside now in the end I chose the outside I chose flexibility because I wanted to work on innovative solutions and so I joined a think-tank but after some Wow I heard some laughter there after some Wow and I realized like you that I wasn't really on the outside because you see thing plants are also part of the status quo think tanks a part of that political ecosystem that tends to react to our symptoms all this while I was harboring quite hopes of that compass shifting little by little but eventually I realized in order to do so I first had to shift myself and so I decided to go to Miami and that's how it became the accident Oh social entrepreneur now meanwhile in Miami the political compass was gradually shifting little by little following the 2015 election hopes were really high communities gradually called for change and as a new government was ushered in it became clear to me that's my long yearning for creative innovative solutions in rethinking politics could after all actually be realized my team and I started to engage with local communities because in order to best learn about the country you learn from its people and one thing we learned was that the country had a problem where there was a gap between the government's and the citizens let me give you an example this photo was captured in a rural Township called tante when we held town halls and engage with local villagers we learnt that the community really wanted to build a fence around a water pond now this was no ordinary water pond this was in fact one of the only few sources of drinking water of the entire village of 4,000 and the villagers wanted to build this fence to prevent livestock and animals from entering and contaminating their water but you see the problem with this is it's more infrastructure gap like this it's too small for the government to detect while too big for the people to ignore and then we started to think about how we can create a system to help the government react and respond more swiftly to citizen needs now what was that bright idea harness collective action and here is how it works so we would start by crowdsourcing funds from local citizens in order to enable them to take ownership of the development of their community and to select what are the priorities of their neighborhoods now the funds would then be loaned to the government because while we know that citizens had the bright ideas and the local knowledge it was the government that had the capacity to get that fence built and in doing so not only were we able to harness local participation elevate local demands and get them hurt effectively we were also essentially able to bridge that gap that I spoke about between the people and the government now when when defense is built the government will be expected to repay citizens for their contributions in foo and this cycle of people to governments and government to people was precisely the shifting of compass that I long dreamed of oh and by the way this was the fence we built a small demand the community had for years we build it in a month because we had to seize the citizens backing now what's my point here well my point here is that sometimes some small and simple shift in the usual course of doing things could turn out to be the better way and don't get me wrong I'm not saying that our model is the model and no I don't have all the solutions and no I don't claim to have any prophetic epiphany magical power of knowing what's work what works but at least we did our little parts in testing and we have to be constantly testing new models at greater pace and at greater scale because the truth is our civic and social innovation is seriously lagging behind our technology innovation and so we have to give social innovation a chance and we have to give our social innovators and entrepreneurs the due recognition they deserve in our formal policy-making process oh and yes by the way just as our greatest inventors require venture capital our social innovators require venture philanthropy and testing grants and above all your curiosity and support because stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results so if we really want to shift that compass and if we really want to make our politics more responsive well we better start doing things differently now at the beginning of my talk many of you probably all of you indicated that you were thinking about politics where I implore you don't just think politics rethink politics because otherwise we run the risk of stupidity so I hope you would join me on this quest in testing new models thank you very much you

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5 thoughts on “Rethinking Politics with Innovation | John Mak | TEDxChicago

  1. Thank you for this revealing talk, John. You're hitting the nail on the head – it is democracy that should be democratized by people in the first place. John Dalberg Acton once said 'Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely'. I hold a view that the reason why politicians run wild in their ignorance, arrogance and irresponsibility, is their status quo. Why don't we deprive them of privileges, high salaries – 'untouchable status' in short? Because in world's most education systems no light is shone on corrupting mechanisms of power of those who are at the wheel. In other words we are not taught how to breathe down their necks and do not realize that not just anyone can run for an MP or a president. Can just anyone successfully bring a company to flourishing when they lack in expertise and adequate experience? If parliaments were populated with social activists and professionals in their fields; if parties were abolished, nations would vote for individuals bearing a greater responsibility than for sect-like parties of self-interested twits. This could be an intermediary stage before direct democracy – the final target. But maybe again we'll have to pay an enormous price for decisions of ruling idiots before the bar for politicians is raised…

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