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Tired of Waiting, Icelanders Gather to Create a Roadmap for the Future

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A unique and highly ambitious social experiment is set to take place here in Iceland on Saturday, November 14.

On that day, around 1,500 Icelanders will gather in a sports arena in Reykjavík to brainstorm and plan a future vision for our country, and subsequently lay the foundation for the implementation of that vision. The event is dubbed Þjóðfundur -- National Assembly in English -- and it is believed to be the very first time that a statistically-significant portion of a single nation gathers in one place to attempt to reach an agreement on collective values and future vision for their country.

Iceland experienced a three-fold crisis last year: a banking crisis, a currency crisis, and a political crisis. The corruption, croneyism, nepotism, cross-ownership and political skullduggery that had gone on both openly and surreptitiously for years were suddenly laid bare for everyone to see. The principles that Icelandic society had rested on for the last three decades vanished overnight and common ideology was leveled to the ground. The country was bankrupt in more ways than one.

Which meant, of course, that finding a new roadmap into the future was -- and is -- crucial. Now, a year after the crisis hit, the first major step towards forming that roadmap is being taken. In the words of Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of Iceland's Auður Capital and one of many volunteer organizers of the event, "...what has characterized this time [since the meltdown] more than anything else has been what I call The Big Freeze -- everyone is waiting for something to happen. And we can't wait any longer. The only solution is to push up our sleeves and start working on what we want to do."

The event is the result of months of planning by a collective calling itself The Anthill. The name refers to the fact that an anthill has a collective wisdom that eludes the single ant. The Anthill is a collective of active Icelandic grassroots organizations who have now joined forces for this event. Its members come from all sectors of society, including the commercial and political sectors.

Participants are randomly selected from the National Registry and the number is large enough to be a statistically-significant portion of the nation. In other words, those who take part in the national assembly are a statistical representation of the views and opinions of all Icelanders and are, technically speaking, able to speak on behalf of the nation. So far, over 1,000 of the 1,500 invitees to the event have confirmed their participation.

Individual companies and organizations have pitched in to cover costs, and a few days ago it was announced that the Icelandic government will provide a grant of some USD 55,000 to hold the National Assembly.

According to The Anthill, the main goal of the assembly is to mark a new vision for a healthy and progressive reconstruction of Icelandic society. Apart from determining policies and a plan of action for that reconstruction and the subsequent implementation of those plans, the event is designed "to increase optimism and hope among the Icelandic nation, and instill a sense of momentum and achievement." The outcome of the assembly -- the roadmap -- will be open and available for all to use at will.

Strange as it may seem [irony intended], not everyone is enthusiastic about the national assembly. The glass-half-empty people dismiss it as merely another brainstorming session on a grand scale that will probably just result in a lot of talk and no action. Others believe it has the potential to create a watershed in Iceland's growth as a nation. After all, it was the people who changed the course of history last January, so who is to say that they cannot influence the future development of the nation with a positive and constructive desire for real change?

The national assembly will take place on Saturday, November 14, 2009, from 9 am to 6.30 pm GMT. I will be Tweeting live from the event on www.twitter.com/aldakalda