The real vision, mission and purpose for the 2nd annual HOPE Global Financial Dignity Summit was actually quite simple -- to break the traditional cycle of poverty through empowerment; expanding, deepening and broadening the true level of opportunity for all. Simultaneously, the goal was to show senior corporate, government and non-government leaders how, in mutually benefit ways, the poor can help to save capitalism itself. Finally, our goal was to help create an environment where we inspire a new generation of future C-Suite leaders in the world, embedding within them a more human, dignity-centered and sustainable form of capitalism itself. For the purpose of this writing, I will call it simply 'open-source capitalism.'
Open-source capitalism is the same exact thing that made early America a successful nation to begin with. With the notable exception of the oppressive and exclusionary treatment of black slaves, during the American aggregation age, the small business environment experienced by most in the 1700 and 1800s was farming. This early period of America's development and growth involved what I would call a broad, deep, wide, and engaged exposure to the levers of free enterprise in this country. Even in the 20th century, again with the notable exception of African-Americans (because of slavery and Jim Crow laws), a sense of 'opportunity' was reasonably well dispersed, broad-based and accessible. Fact is, even the noteworthy national youth training organization Junior Achievement, originated from farmers in the aggregation age who were interested in finding a way to teach their children how to grow up and run their business (the traditional farm).
It was average, extraordinary American citizens and American immigrants that created what we now call Bank of America, and the Coca-Cola Company, and UPS, Federal Express, CNN, and countless other companies that are now well known American iconic brands -- subsequently hiring thousands. But they all started small, and they all started with very small amounts of capital, by individuals who were mostly written off as 'non-serious' at the time. In other words, they were not a part of the traditional power clubs, but they quickly got on the roads of promise.
But in the last few decades the roads to prosperity in America seem to have narrowed. If you are middle class in America, you more often than not actually feel poor.
If you are a young person in America, trying to gain a quality college education, you find yourself facing a six figure personal student loan debt load that rival in stress levels, the 30 year mortgage payment of your mother and father.
If you are a child in the inner-city or a low-wealth community in a rural neighborhood anywhere in the country, you are still told by those in the know to go to school, K-12, and to graduate with a high school diploma (which you should). You are then told to get a college degree (which you also should, if you can), and to go and get a job -- at a big well known company. The only problem is, big companies really are not hiring many people anymore. That's not a slap, it's a fact.
In the 1970's, 70% of all jobs came from big business, with 4% of all jobs coming from one employer -- AT&T. Today, 70% of all jobs come from employers with 500 employees or less. Today, less than 1,000 companies in America employ more than 10,000 people or more. Which means, as jobs go, we are looking for love in all the wrong places. Or quoting Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, "leaders are all digging in the wrong holes."
For the first time since any leader can remember, America is experiencing more small business 'deaths' (failures) than small business 'births' (start ups). This is a very big deal, as most job creation growth today comes from small businesses, entrepreneurs and shoot ups (high growth new companies). Even more, experts agree that the best way to solve both the jobs crisis in America and the GDP growth challenge is to have upwards of one million start-ups annually. America is hovering dangerously low, at around 350,000 small business start-ups annually. And so, with increasing wealth concentration at the top and small business deaths at the bottom, and a stalling of job growth nationwide, what is needed seems extremely clear to me -- and I call it open-source capitalism. Broad, deep and wide access to opportunity, and the ability to act on it.
Digging in the right holes means focusing on providing broad-based financial literacy education for all people, teaching the whole of society what I call the global language of money (financial literacy).
It means creating a job, when you find you cannot find one, which will be all too often the case in low-wealth communities and neighborhoods, urban and rural.
It means expanding and deepening, once again, the broadest possible access to the free enterprise system.
It means making the aspirational benefits of free enterprise and capitalism available to all of God's children, so that they can then do for themselves.
It means a new generation of open-source capitalism.
We will never hit the tipping point we need -- those necessary national economic numbers to keep america from going broke, until we get the poor as much on the front lines of business as the rest of the population--we can never win the world back without them.
Join our effort, announced at the Global Summit, to get America (and by extension, the world) moving again. It's our continuation of the poverty eradication work of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and its called Project 5117. Make your own, personal or business commitment today to bring America back, right where you live and work.
When asked, most everyone will tell you that they love and want to help save America, but everyone really wants to save is their city, their neighborhood, their block, and their school. Turning our fortunes around, is all local at the end of the day. Encouraging a new era of open-source capitalism, through innovative initiatives such as Project 5117, is the way to do it.
John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, author, advisor, and one of the nation's most recognized empowerment leader. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, The Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S.
Mr. Bryant's newest book, due out May, 2014, is entitled HOW THE POOR CAN SAVE CAPITALISM, and will be published by Berrett Koehler Publishing.