Business Solving Our Biggest Problems, page 2

Co-solving: When One Solution Addresses Several Problems

Imagine that you’ve developed a product or service that helps to fix poverty or war at the same time it makes a difference on climate change. Imagine that this product is cheap enough to reach the poorest of the poor, yet profitable enough to build a business.

In nature, and in our bodies, many things have more than one purpose, and nothing is wasted. When we start thinking beyond the simplistic economics of profit and loss that only count some factors, our eyes open to the wider world of “geonomics” or “planetnomics.” As an example, think about a tree. Trees provide a number of “ecoservices”:

  • Food for people and other animals (fruits, acorns, nuts, leaves, maple or birch syrup)
  • Oxygen for us to breathe
  • Shade to make us more comfortable in summer
  • Light modulation, allowing more light to reach the forest floor at the times of year when it’s most needed
  • Habitat for a large assortment of birds, bugs, fungi, and mammals
  • Construction material (wood)
  • Heat energy (when burned)
  • Paper
  • Soil rehabilitation (as leaves drop in the fall or rotten branches fall off and are composted)
  • Rainwater and groundwater management

That’s ten different functions, and probably there are others. Seven of these happen with no need for human intervention, and with no need to remove the tree.

Another kind of co-solving involves bringing people together from different disciplines to work on a problem or group of problems. The corporate world talks about “getting people out of their silos” so Marketing, Sales, and Engineering can all brainstorm together. Academics gather in “interdisciplinary teams” to study phenomena that might include astrophysics, biology, and sociology. Nonprofits and government agencies understand “partnerships” such as public-private collaborations and cause-related marketing. Online marketing masters organize “joint ventures” (JVs) for massively successful product launches. Community organizers “build coalitions” with other groups, coming together on the issues where they agree, and separating when they diverge.

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