World Pulse

The New Economic Visionaries

Corine Milano
Posted August 21, 2009 from United States

We all know that the times call for urgent and drastic changes to our broken global economic system. The question is: How far are we willing to go? Enter women leaders who envision nothing less than sweeping paradigm shifts to our modern-day economic order. Most of these powerful visionaries have been predicting our current financial collapse and calling for radical systemic changes for decades. These contemporary Cassandras have identified fatal flaws—and huge opportunities—that rarely show up on the balance sheets of traditional economists and world leaders.

As economies collapse, the international community has become increasingly receptive to fresh ideas. The perspectives of these largely unsung authorities—and thousands more like them—may finally get the airing they deserve. If so, we have hope of finding our way toward real economic systems that will flourish and fulfill us all.

Read on to hear from visionaries Riane Eisler, Wahu Kaara, Genevieve Vaughn, Fridah Manenji, Hazel Henderson, and Jacqueline Novogratz. [paging]

Riane Eisler: The Caring Economy

Her Vision

I see a world guided by a “caring economics” where the main investment is in caring for people and nature. In this world, the value of caring work is taught starting in childhood. Schools teach boys and girls how to care for self, others, and nature. Training for childcare, primary school teaching, and other caring professions are top priorities, and these jobs are highly respected and well paid. Parenting education is equally prioritized.

Childcare in families is supported by caregiver tax-credits, stipends, paid parental leave, and social security credit for the first seven years of a child’s life—whether the caregiver is a woman or a man. Workplaces provide flex-time, job-sharing, and other partnership inventions. As the value of caregiving is more recognized, men do more of it, and women and men participate equally in the formal labor force and have the same opportunities and responsibilities at home. As the general quality of human capital rises, more capable, skilled, and caring workers contribute to a more productive economy. This in turn makes more funding available for government and business policies that support caring and caregiving. And all this enhances the quality of life for all.

Care for the elderly is facilitated by adequate monetary pensions, including pensions for caregivers. Poverty and hunger are effectively addressed because women, who are now the mass of the world’s poor, are rewarded for caregiving.

Businesses recognize that employees who feel cared for are more productive and that customers who feel cared for are more loyal. Companies are rewarded with tax breaks and other benefits for caring practices.

As caring is more valued, women have greater respect and authority. Women become half of the national legislatures and are often heads of governments, ushering in real representative democracy. As material, emotional, and spiritual needs are increasingly met, crime, terrorism, and warfare decrease. Exponential population growth is halted as women have reproductive freedom, education, and equal rights. Gaps between haves and have-nots shrink as people are no longer driven to amass enormous wealth as substitutes for meeting our yearnings for caring connection, fairness, and meaning. And spirituality is no longer focused on an afterlife, but on building a world where the wonder and beauty latent in every child can be realized right here on Earth.

How We Get There

The main obstacle isn’t economic; it’s cultural. Today, the value of women’s unpaid work is estimated at $11 trillion per year. And, in the US, people pay plumbers—the people to whom we entrust our pipes—$50-100 per hour. But childcare workers—the people to whom we entrust our children—are paid an average of $10 an hour. We’ve inherited an economic double standard that devalues everything stereotypically associated with women and the “feminine”—whether in women or men. This directly affects economic measurements, policies, and practices.

Rather than trying to patch up a system that isn’t working, let’s use our present economic crisis to work for a system that meets human needs. Making these changes won’t be easy. But every one of us can set in motion ripples that culminate in a caring revolution that transforms our lives and our world.

Here’s what you can do to make a difference:

  • Voting for leaders that back caring values.
  • Running for office yourself on a caring economic platform.
  • Demanding more caring values from those already in office.
  • Proposing that standards for caring policies and behaviors are included in corporate charters—and that conformity to these standards be required for membership in chambers of commerce and other business associations.
  • Buying from companies that have caring employee, consumer, and environmental policies.
  • Supporting and participating in movements to raise the status of women worldwide.
  • Changing the conversation about economics to include the word “caring.”

Every one of us can talk about “caring economics” at home, at work, at parties, at meetings, in schools and universities, and in public spaces. In these ways, ripple by ripple, we can together build momentum for a real cultural transformation—a caring revolution not only in economics, but in all aspects of our lives.

Dr. Riane Eisler is a social scientist, cultural historian, evolutionary theorist, and one of the world’s great thinkers. Her newest book, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, has been hailed by world leaders from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Jane Goodall.


Helena Norberg-Hodge: The Walking Distance Economy

Her Vision

I see economies localized in what I call a “Walking Distance Future,” where the majority of our physical and psychological needs are met by the local economy and community. This fosters a connection with others and with nature. Economic activity extends outwards from the household and community level, with our most vital needs met by local production. Economies are decentralized from larger cities, and smaller towns and cities are revitalized.

At the local level, production comes from mostly artisans, creating a job-rich economy. Communities produce a rich variety of foods for themselves, exporting only surplus, and production becomes based on renewable energy. Currencies and finances become localized, and the pace of life slows down, allowing time for family, music, dance, and connection to nature. Production for local consumption is regulated and taxed primarily by the local government, and communities have greater political power over the decisions that affect their lives, leading to participatory democracy.

At the national level, the distance between production and consumption is relatively longer and production becomes more specialized, providing less essential goods. Fossil fuel dependence is eliminated; consumer goods are manufactured to be non-toxic; and the national government has a responsibility to enforce environmental and human rights protection measures.

At the international level, we trade only in goods that cannot be produced locally or nationally. Instead of the WTO (World Trade Organization), we have the WEO (World Environment Organization) that will enforce strict environmental protection measures to ensure communities do not pollute and do not impinge on their neighbors’ rights.

How We Get There

Most people live under the misguided belief that economic globalization is synonymous with progress. Once people realize that globalization is really just a set of policy choices, it can be shifted with relative ease toward localization.

Education campaigns in economic literacy. Let’s spell out the shortcomings of the current system as well as the visions of alternatives in accessible language. Improving economic literacy will help to link social and environmental issues, so that what are now disparate movements can begin working together to change the economy.

Change the regulatory framework. Currently, global trade and finance are systematically deregulated, while local trade and finance are over-regulated. This favors giant monopolies over smaller businesses. Localized economic activity is more easily monitored, regulated, and inherently less polluting and destructive.

Shift taxes from employment onto energy use and pollution. In almost every country today, tax regulations systematically discriminate against small- and medium-scale businesses. Smaller-scale production is usually more labor-intensive, and heavy taxes are levied on labor through income taxes, social welfare taxes, value-added taxes, payroll taxes, and more. Reversing this bias in the tax system would not only help local economies but would create more jobs by favoring people instead of machines.

New indicators that genuinely measure progress. Policymakers assume that the rate at which Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rises is a valid measure of the health of society and the economy. But when tap water is so polluted that we must buy drinking water in plastic bottles, GDP increases. When people are sick and need pharmaceutical drugs and hospital care, GDP goes up. If pollution decreases and people are healthy in body and mind, GDP goes down. The more pollution, illness, and breakdown there is in society, the more the economy “grows” and the better off we’re assumed to be. New indicators must value human health, properly acknowledge the services provided by intact ecosystems, and subtract expenditures we make in response to social and ecological breakdown.

Helena Norberg-Hodge is a pioneer of the localization movement and a leading analyst of the impact of the global economy on cultures and agriculture worldwide. She is the founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture. [paging]

Fridah Manenji: The Love Economy

Her Vision

My future economic vision is entrenched in the person I am—an African woman, born and exposed to poverty, oppression, and exploitation—all at varying degrees at different stages of my 45 years of life. It is a vision of hope and recovery, of reconciliation and progression.

In this vision, I see my fellow womenfolk selling their tomatoes, vegetables and potatoes in a relaxed and free atmosphere, unafraid of the city council askaris who come to wipe them away and impound their goods.

I see an economic strategy that is sympathetic to the unpaid household and so called “illegal” economies. I see the recognition and payment of household labor.

I see a toddler dividing an orange into three pieces and sharing it amongst her friends without feelings of loss. I see a caring attitude between brothers and sisters of the global north and south.

I see indigenous knowledge systems and western scientific research becoming friends and complementing each other. I see a group of neighbors in an estate, gathering round a meal together, and asking how the other is.

I see my grandchildren running wild in the msango, picking omurere and munyove.

How We Get There

Worldwide, we need women to have access to job security and social protection with political will to strengthen national women’s movements. Governments must become accountable to their people from the bottom up. A strong civil society represents a strong heart pumping. National monetary policies that induce hyper-inflation and excessive price regulations need rigorous change.

But most importantly, we have an enormous and important task of teaching our children the meaning and importance of caring, hard work, and love. This four-letter word carries more weight than any International Monetary Fund and World Bank indicators.

Fridah Manenji is a Zimbabwean writer, poet, sociologist, and specialist on globalization and women, as well as a celebrated economic thinker. [paging]

Genevieve Vaughan: The Gift Economy

Her Vision

I see a world where direct giving, not exchange, is the economic norm. I believe that there should not be a division between the economy and the rest of life. The gift economy creates and requires a different culture. Abundance is available at the local level. Children are brought up in love and safety and their disposition is toward satisfying the needs of others.

Childcare is shared. Schools do not distinguish between male and female roles. All are taught to nurture. Violence and competition are no longer considered part of a male identity or of human nature but simply negative qualities, which were once functional for an outmoded and dangerous competitive market system. Local and regional councils of mothers and grandmothers decide on the direct distribution of goods to needs.

Talents are tested and interviews are made to find out the abilities and interests of young people so as to assign them to particular jobs for a certain period. It is easy to change jobs and bureaucracy is minimal. There is a gradual move of people out of the cities back into the countryside. The Internet is useful for identifying needs and resources and for regional and international connections. Environmentally safe technology has improved transportation so that everyone can travel, but because of localization many people use horses and bicycles for everyday moving around. Festivals of giving and celebration punctuate the calendar, and rituals mark different stages of life.

There are free “stores” where people can go to get things they need, but the psychological and spiritual benefit of giving and receiving person to person has been recognized. Gifting circles are common.

There is an experimental mentality and people are open to trying out new types of social organization beginning on a small scale. Laws would only be necessary until the whole society could understand itself well enough to abolish them. Finding the deep patterns of human psychology would be an important and sacred task.

How We Get There

We need a new paradigm, based on the logic of mothering, which restores the female half of humanity to its rightful place as the economic model of the human. This shift in perspective could unite the women’s movement with the movements of indigenous peoples who have gift economies, and with all those who are trying to give the gift of social change. The free gift of Mother Earth are being commodified and must be made free again. The free gifts of humanity must be liberated as well.

In order to create a transition, we need to look at all the free gifts and services of material and psychological care and see them as part of a new economy. We can create circles of giving with other givers outside the market.

We should have consciousness-raising groups and plan cooperative work for satisfying needs. We should also create groups devoted to overcoming wealth and consumption addiction.

Genevieve Vaughan is an independent researcher, author, and founder of International Feminists for a Gift Economy. A film on her life, Giving for Giving, was released in 2008. Watch it at


Wahu Kaara: The Life Economy

Her Vision

Today, I see Atieno, a single mother of three who works in one of the corporate multinational flower farms that dot and pollute Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. She lives with her children in a shared single room divided by a curtain. She has no idea of what “Valentines Day” is, yet she works close to 12 hours a day and earns a meager pay to satisfy the emotional passions of the West.

But with all this gloom, she has a radiant smile and is full of generosity. Through the local self-organized women’s group of workers, she has hope for a better future for her children. My future economic vision is imprinted by the resilience of Atieno. It is in the likeness of a woman’s face, voice, and control. A living economy founded on a vision of equity and justice that is satisfying and fulfilling, based on access to the goods of life for all.

Despite dispossession and powerlessness, Atieno is finding a way to transform power through creative and innovative alternatives. The women of her collective are forging community, participatory democracy, and mobilizing their collective resources. Their strategies for allocations of support are fundamentally based on meeting needs, not wants—and this is happening across numerous small women’s groups in Africa already.

How We Get There

We are in an historical moment in time to construct a blueprint for a life economy. It is time to replace our current dysfunctional economic blueprint of domination, control, and profit. In order to get there we need to strengthen and sharpen linkages between agents of transformation who are organizing and mobilizing social movements. We must bring critical visibility to demonstrate the alternatives based on living economies that are already a reality—especially the examples from those who are dispossessed but still holding their lives together. For once the experience of the African women who have refused to die for Africa and are living for Africa cannot be ignored. We are ushering in a critical mass of new economies filled with life.

Wahu Kaara is a renowned expert on debt, aid, privatization, and human rights, and the Executive Director of the Kenya Debt Relief Network. With Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, she launched the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, the single largest global mobilization of citizens against poverty in history. [paging]

Hazel Henderson: The Information Economy

Her Vision

A venture capitalist friend of mine asked me in a recent discussion about the financial meltdown, "who will be the new financiers?"

I answered immediately, "the new financiers will be the high-level information and knowledge brokers—and they will harness new research on global change processes to lead the creation of the growing green economy." Today information and media drive markets.

These new financiers are already operating unseen by traditional Wall Streeters and asset managers. They are largely invisible to current financial players and governments because information is their prime currency; rather than money. The new deal-makers value the role of honest, well-managed currencies that remain dependable stores of value and mediums of exchange.

Money is a special kind of information, not a commodity in itself, but rather a brilliant invention of the human mind. When backed by real-world goods and service, as well as strong contracts, money can accurately track and score human ingenuity, productivity and transactions interacting with the natural wealth of resources of Planet Earth.

Human activities grew from traditional barter, mutual aid and gifting to the invention of money back around 3,000 BC. Our money evolved from clay tablets, shells and cows to metal tokens, gold, silver, today's paper money and electronic currencies that are blips on millions of financial trading screens

Computerization of finance and markets speeded up trading to seconds; satellite inter-linkage of round-the-clock stock and commodity exchanges led to the explosion of derivatives contracts, ever more exotic "securitization" of packages of mortgages, student loans and credit card debts. Risk-analysis was relegated to ivory-tower mathematicians' algorithms which ignored real-world conditions. All this multiplied the creation of money and credit exponentially.

Reckless, poorly regulated financial firms on Wall Street sold their dubious, toxic "securities" to gullible investors and pension funds (which should have known better) around the world. For example, the bets on who might default, called credit default swaps, grew unregulated to now comprise $683 trillion of contracts in late 2008– while real global production measures only the $62 trillion of global GDP.

The resulting crises were predicted by me and others over the past decades. All that money and debt creation led to illusory gains and today's inevitable losses. Today, we see central bankers printing money on TV. No amount of ink and paper can print enough new money to close the hole between that $683 trillion of false promises and the world's real GDP of $62 trillion. The only issue is who will take the hit. Up to now, the political influence of financial sectors has forced taxpayers to bail out financiers. The blatant unfairness of this has caused huge outcries from outraged citizens. Those billions given to irresponsible bankers could have financed universal healthcare and college education. This is the end of finance based only on money and fiat currencies. We now know it's about priorities and values.

How We Get There

Enter the new financiers: those high-level information and knowledge brokers who understand our Information Age and the great transition from the fossil-fueled Industrial Age to our new Solar Age. Pure information-based exchange and sharing has led to the new hybrid economic model. This hybrid economy is half the old money-based competition and half information-based sharing, cooperation and exchange. From electronic stock exchanges, Instinet, Archipelago, NASDAQ, Knight and Entrex to Google, e-Bay, Craigslist, Amazon, Facebook and Wikipedia, we are seeing how money-obsessed financiers are trailing behind. The new financiers: those high-level information brokers who go beyond economics to understanding whole systems and the human family on planet Earth.

Money may return to its honest base, reflecting real world values of Main Street productivity but may never again be the dominant medium of exchange. Just as gold remains valuable but can no longer support the new volume of human transactions. Money will be superseded by all the new digital currencies already circulating from local exchange trading systems (LETS) and complementary currencies like "Berkshares" and "Wirs" in Switzerland to Freecycle and many other barter sites, cell phone networks and radio shows.

Today's financial "crisis" is facilitating the evolutionary jump to the next stage of human development—shifting from faulty, money-measured GDP growth to the cleaner, greener sustainable economies. Governments are realizing that they must now also correct those money-based indicators and GDP national accounts to adopt the new Quality of Life Indicators. Companies are beginning to face pressure to report their performance beyond the old single bottom line of money to the triple bottom line, including progress on social, environmental and governance performance. Welcome to the Information Age.

Hazel Henderson is a world renowned futurist, evolutionary economist, sustainable development expert, and television producer with eight published books and a globally syndicated newspaper column with editorials appearing in more than 400 newspapers in 27 languages. [paging]

Jacqueline Novogratz: The Patient Economy

Her Vision

It’s time to reinvent a way to bring the whole world into the opportunity of the global economy. I imagine an economic system where every human being has access to affordable and quality basic services, like water, healthcare, housing, and alternative energy.

I see social-impact business models scaling to reach millions of the world’s poor. Private innovation, backed by philanthropic dollars, begins to enlist the world’s entrepreneurs who are the true visionaries because they are motivated not just by profit, but by solving social problems.

I see the laboratory of enterprises that we have seeded grow exponentially, from the profitable manufacturing and distribution of malaria-preventing bed nets to safe, affordable, reliable ambulant services available to all people in Bombay. Or, an affordable maternal health care franchise where we say to poor women, “you deserve better than either free government services where the doctor never arrives or you get just spurious, contaminated drugs.” Endeavors where women with HIV living in slums can start businesses and access affordable housing. Or water systems that affordably sell safe water to low income, rural populations.

These successful businesses show a whole new paradigm of who the rural poor are and what their capacity is. They can pay for sustainable water in a way that will change their lives. There is a middle way where the business model itself will reach low income women and that the more we find these models and the more that we scale them to reach millions of people the more we can show the world that this is possible, this is within our grasp.

For example, there is a woman named Jane who I bonded with in Kenya. She is a 32-year-old HIV-positive ex-prostitute who left prostitution seven years ago and borrowed money to start her own small business, and she is now moving from the slums. She has just put a $400 down payment on a $4,000 house with a garden that she is buying. Meanwhile she volunteers two days a week to work with HIV patients because she feels so blessed that she has been so healthy since she has had the virus for seven years.

You see, in women all over the world as soon as they get a little bit of stability the first thing that they do is help other women. There is a real opportunity to tap into this network of women as caregivers, in a major way.

How We Get There

To get there I use this notion of patient capital. Patient capital is between and betwixt the market and traditional development of charity. It is a way of extending the global economy to reach those who are left out. On one hand when you look at traditional markets they have not reached the poor because they typically don’t see the poor. On the other hand, traditional charity of development too often creates dependency, which is the opposite of dignity. Patient capital builds the kind of innovation that the financial markets need today, measured not only in financial returns but, primarily in social impact

Patient capital is money invested at low market rates, left in for a long time and accompanied by a lot of management assistance. Philanthropic capital is absolutely critical to making this work. It is about investing in R & D, which right now doesn’t exist for low-income people. It is about investing in marketing, because you are looking at markets that believe that water comes from God and should be free, so convincing low income people to pay for safe water is a really big deal. It’s about the learning curve; many of these entrepreneurs have never even seen a term sheet. If you are looking to solve fundamental basic needs but you are going to need government and/or philanthropy to support the overall system and make room for all.

We need to look at the economic systems that allow not only Jane from Kenya but the other three billion people out there to access real opportunity. Too often we have say, “oh we have to help these poor, pathetic people,” rather than – “If we give a Jane an opportunity she brings 30 people with her. We have no idea where the Einsteins are and the great musicians and inventors and artists are. We’re missing them in the economy we have right now. We’re gaining a lot of refrigerators and stuff like that, but we’re not getting this human potential that’s out there.

Jacqueline Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a nonprofit organization that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve global poverty. She is the author of The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, published in 2009.

"Currencies and finances become localized, and the pace of life slows down, allowing time for family and connection to nature."

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