America Today

Topic: The Future of American Prosperity.

Michael Porter: We’ve prospered mightily. The U.S. accounted for one-third of all economic growth in the world in the last 20 years. We have been the driver of the success of all these other countries. On average, our standard of living has gone up.

The concern I have for the U.S. is that we’re polarizing into “haves” and “have nots” that can cope with this new economy that we’re in. This issue of inequality is a corrosive issue. And unless someone approaches it in the right way, it can just get you on a downward spiral into society. This is the reason more than a decade ago [in 1994] that I founded the ICIC – the Initiative for Competitive Inner Cities – because I was desperately concerned that we had to create a way to get our citizens to prosper in this market system, not start with the presumption that they couldn’t succeed and needed subsidies, and set asides, and preferences and so forth.

Intellectually, I think we’ve carried that debate; but I think as a society, we’re very much caught up in this question of really how to help all of our citizens prosper in a way that really deals with the fundamentals. I think our human resource issues in the U.S. are probably the most frightening issues – the fact that so many of our citizens are not really equipped to prosper in a knowledge-based economy.

If we were Hungary, it would be fine because the bar would be low. But to support the U.S. standard of living, you have to have enormous skill, you have to have enormous ability, and we’re not generating enough of those folks because we failed. We failed at reforming many of our institutions, and I think we failed on both sides of the aisle. Democrats and Republicans have both failed.

I think many of the same general issues apply to the U.S. The U.S. has been relatively prospering in the new environment; but as we look forward there are some real challenges.

I’ve recently led a 20-year review of U.S. competitiveness as an organization called the Council on Competitiveness that was founded some years ago [i.e. 1986] as a reflection of the first real concerns about U.S. economy which first occurred in the ‘80s. It’s been very interesting to look back and think about how we’re progressing as an economy. The general answer is, for us, pretty darn well. But there’s some underpinnings that one starts to worry about at this point in our history.

I’m very optimistic about the U.S. There are some things that we have that are so unique in this country. And thank God that we have them. And thank God that some smart people put in place a system that preserves it.

So what are those things? We’re very decentralized. You go to other parts of the world and people are always looking to somebody else to solve their problems. Here in the U.S., if Boston is having trouble, then people in Boston feel responsible. So we have a commission, or a council, or an effort or whatever to do something about it. If a community is doing badly, we have a sense of philanthropy in this country that people will give their time, and their energy, and their money. Whereas in other countries, they’ve been taught to depend on government, on outside forces.

We have the sense that we can change things in this country rather than be this fatalistic, “Oh my gosh, we’re doomed to this future forever.”

We have this basic, competitive spirit in this country. We really do believe in competition as being a good thing. You’d be surprised how rare that is in other parts of the world.

So we have some wonderful things which make me optimistic, but we have some very difficult problems that start with education and the basic education system that are the real scary things. Because all of these wonderful values and these wonderful institutions that we have won’t work unless the raw material is capable.

Recorded on: June 11, 2007

 

 

 

We lack a workforce that is up to our economic challenges.

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Lumina Foundation and Big Think have partnered to bring this entrepreneurial competition to life, and we hope you'll participate! We have narrowed down the competition to four finalists and will be announcing an audience's choice award and a judges' choice award in May.

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Finalist: Greater Commons - Todd McLeod

Greater Commons, founded by Todd McLeod and Andrew Cull, is an organization that helps people live happier, more successful and fulfilling lives through agile learning. The current education system is inefficient and exclusionary, in which many students who end up earning a degree, if at all, enter a career not related to their field of study. Greater Commons solves this problem and gap in post-high school secondary education in a variety of ways. Passionately and diligently, Great Commons helps others obtain skills, knowledge, wisdom, motivation, and inspiration so that they may live better lives.

Finalist: PeerFoward - Keith Frome

PeerForward is an organization dedicated to increasing the education and career success rates of students in low-income schools and communities by mobilizing the power of positive peer influence. PeerForward works with partner schools to select influential students as a part of a team, systemizing the "peer effect." Research in the fields of sociology of schools, social-emotional learning, adult-youth partnerships, and civic education demonstrates that students can have a positive effect on the academic outcomes of their peers. PeerForward is unique through its systemic solutions to post-secondary education.

Finalist: Cogniss - Leon Young

Cogniss combines technology and best practice knowledge to enable anyone to innovate and share solutions that advance lifelong learning. Cogniss is the only platform to integrate neuroscience, through which it solves the problem of access by providing a low-code platform that enables both developers and non-developers to build sophisticated education apps fast, and at a much lower cost. It addresses the uneven quality of edtech solutions by embedding research-based learning design into its software. App creators can choose from a rich set of artificial intelligence, game, social and data analytics, and gamification to build their perfect customized solution.

Finalist: Practera - Nikki James

Practera's mission is to create a world where everyone can learn through experience. Today's workplaces are increasingly dynamic and diverse, however, costly and time-consuming experiential learning is not always able to offer the right opportunities at scale. Many students graduate without developing the essential skills for their chosen career. Practera's team of educators and technologists see this problem as an opportunity to transform the educational experience landscape, through a CPL pedagogical framework and opportunities to apply students' strengths through active feedback.

Thank you to our judges!

Our expert judges are Lorna Davis, Dan Rosensweig, and Stuart Yasgur.

Lorna Davis is the Senior Advisor to Danone CEO and is a Global Ambassador for the B Corp movement. Lorna has now joined B-Lab, the non-for-profit that supports the B Corporation movement on an assignment to support the journey of large multi nationals on the path to using business as a force of good.

Dan Rosensweig joined Chegg in 2010 with a vision for transforming the popular textbook rental service into a leading provider of digital learning services for high school and college students. As Chairman and CEO of Chegg, Dan commits the company to fulfilling its mission of putting students first and helping them save time, save money and get smarter.

Stuart Yasgur leads Ashoka's Social Financial Services globally. At Ashoka, Stuart works with others to initiate efforts that have mobilized more than $500 million in funding for social entrepreneurs, engaged the G20 through the Toronto, Seoul and Los Cabos summits and helped form partnerships with leading financial institutions and corporations.

Again, thank you to our incredible expert judges.