Chicago Chamber of Commons Points Way to Thrivability for All

05/04/2015 02:42 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2016

Here's an intriguing idea I'd like you to join me in exploring.

The idea is to create a Chicago Chamber of the Commons.

The Chicago Chamber of the Commons recognizes, supports and highlights the green shoots of Chicago's budding Generative Economy.

We see signs of it everywhere but we've not been using a framework to understand what we are seeing so we can better support it.

In her book, "Owning our Future," Marjorie Kelly discusses the Generative Economy. It's a corner of the economy (hopefully some day much more) that's not designed for the extraction of maximum financial wealth. Its purpose is to create the conditions for life. It does this through its normal functioning, because of the way it's designed, the way it's owned."

For me, the Generative Economy is fueled by compassion, enables material and happiness conditions for living a good life and honors our interdependence with the global environment. Think sustainable generative systems. The focus is on the triple bottom line -- the accounting framework that favors three parts: social, environmental (or ecological) and financial, or what's known as the three Ps: people, planet and profit.

In her book, Thrivability, friend and colleague Jean Russell points to hopeful green shoots for a new economic way forward - these include solutions-based media, hybrid social purpose organizations, impact investing, maker spaces, slow food and slow money, socially responsible investing , the go-local movement and collaborative housing models.

The concept of the Chamber of Commons emerges from the work of Michel Bauwens and his P2P Foundation. I was introduced to Bauwens and several hopeful peer-to-peer organizations at Cooperation2015, a convening at the Institute of Cultural Affairs in February. Bauwen's work on peer-to-peer networking says new structures and philosophies in many areas of human interaction have been inspired by the peer-to-peer networking enabled by the Internet. Think of Napster as an originator. Enabled in this way, we are now transitioning to a Social Knowledge Economy. He lays out the framework here.

In a nutshell here's what 's emerging.

"The old way is this. Here's a problem. We need resources to solve that problem. We create a hierarchy to direct resources at the problem," Bauwens says.

"Here's another way. There are enough people in the world with time, skills and energy who would be willing to work to solve that problem. The new solution is to create a commons and a platform that allows people to self aggregate and collaborate to solve that problem. "

Forming around these Commons is a whole new economy created by new types of businesses engaged in market activities, but in an ethical way. These include fair trade organizations, solidarity organizations, B corps and social entrepreneurs, Bauwens said.

We are seeing the Commons approach everywhere. Enabled by the Web and technology it is tumbling deeply entrenched hierarchies in all sectors worldwide. The Chamber of Commons and ideas forming around the Generative Economy pinged with me in part because it resonates with ideas I have been floating since 2009 for a crowd-funded newsroom.

You might also want to check out the Capital Institute, which takes a similar holistic approach and has laid out a framework it calls the Regenerative Economy.

To get this conversation started, I and co-host Terry Edlin, whose passion since the 2008 banking crisis has been about housing alternatives, are inviting all interested parties to join us May 12 for a conversation about establishing a Chicago Chamber of Commons at the Red Lion Lincoln Square. We're holding our conversation there because the owner is deeply committed to community and thriving local businesses are a big part of the equation.

It's part of the Chicago Community Trust's 100th Anniversary 0n the Table 2015 event. The time is ripe to have this important conversation and we hope you'll join us.

Here's my reading shelf of affinity titles for this event and onward. Read along with me, won't you? Let's learn together what a Chicago Chamber of Commons might look like.

Deep Economy by Bill McKibben
Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins
Owning our Future by Marjorie Kelly
PtoP and Human Evolution by Michel Bauwens
Slow Money by Woody Tasch
Staying Alive by Vanadan Shiva
The Mission Driven Venture by Marc Lane
Thrivability by Jean Russell