Anyone who reads Co.Exist—or any news source, for that matter—knows that the planet and its inhabitants are in serious trouble economically, environmentally, and socially. We need big, brazen ideas. Incrementalism just won’t cut it anymore. The latest issue of theHarvard Business Review showcases a "list of audacious ideas for solving the world’s problems." Some, like doubling down on investments in world-changing startups instead of Angry Birds clones, are obvious. But the ones selected below aren’t—and they’re brilliant enough that they just might work.
Your sushi habit (and everyone else’s fishstick consumption) is making it awfully difficult for fish to reproduce faster than we eat them. The traditional fixes, like lowering fishing subsidies and imposing catch quotas, aren’t useful unless the entire planet adheres to them. Dr. Enric Sala, National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence, proposes the simple-sounding solution of putting 20% of the ocean off-limits, thereby dramatically increasing fish quantities, rejuvenating surrounding areas, and keeping the ocean’s ecosystem at least partially intact.
The 20% goal could be achieved by local communities around the world creating marine reserves, which pay for themselves through tourism, larger fish catches elsewhere, and more. Of course, the whole thing will be for naught if we continue to spill oil, radioactivity, and every other imaginable toxin into the ocean. But small steps first.
University education may not be necessary to get ahead in the world, but it helps. Parag Khanna of the New America Foundation and Karan Khemka, head of the Parthenon Group, argue that education triggers economic growth, and that putting money in for-profit higher education could give the global economy a much-needed kick in the pants.
The pair explain: "For-profit universities first and foremost offer courses that enable students to fill skill shortages in the market. They are also designed to be sustainable and scalable. Private colleges and universities are able to fund their expansion and invest in quality to compete with public institutions." Not to mention the opportunities for investors, who can count on negative working capital (students pay up front every year), steady revenue, and growing demand, among other things.
2.3 million Americans are in jail right now, costing taxpayers $68 billion. Once people land in prison, they just can’t seem to escape—the three-year recidivism rate is approximately 68%. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, thinks that paying businesses to keep people out of jail might at the very least lower the recidivism rate. His idea: "social impact bonds" given by the government to foundations, which would invest in community groups and companies that can provide social services to inmates—educational programs, for example. If the program appears successful after a five-year period (in this case, perhaps graduation rates have risen), investors get their cash back and then some. It’s an incentive to actually make a difference in the prison system.
Social impact bonds are being tested in the U.K., but not in the U.S. There’s no reason not to try—if the bonds fail, we’ll just be right back where we started: spending billions on overcrowded jails.