From time to time, Thomas Friedman writes something that has the power to change lives. So far, Friedman’s The World Is Flat has had the greatest impact on me, as it inspired my business partner, Jesse Davis, to start work on our startup, Entruset. The ideas in his book are still reverberating through our company today, as we got our first mention in the press in today’s Washington Post and continue to work to solve the problem he identified in the book. You can read the entire story over on our company blog in a post called How Thomas Friedman and The World Is Flat Helped Spawn Entrustet.
The most striking feature of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama’s presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared.
I remember getting inundated by posts from my friends on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the election urging me to support Obama, attend rallies or make sure to go out and vote. The movement continued for the next few weeks, but has completely lost steam. Even the most ardent Obama supporters among my friends aren’t engaged via social media anymore. This in itself is pretty amazing, but not Friedman’s main point. He wants President Obama to re-engage America’s youth and doesn’t believe that going after Wall Street or other negative methods will work. He continues:
Obama should launch his own moon shot. What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of “Start-Up America.”
Obama should make the centerpiece of his presidency mobilizing a million new start-up companies that won’t just give us temporary highway jobs, but lasting good jobs that keep America on the cutting edge. The best way to counter the Tea Party movement, which is all about stopping things, is with an Innovation Movement, which is all about starting things. Without inventing more new products and services that make people more productive, healthier or entertained — that we can sell around the world — we’ll never be able to afford the health care our people need, let alone pay off our debts.
I am 100% behind this idea. It makes perfect sense and would appeal to both sides of the aisle at at time when partisanship is at a seemingly all time high because of the fight over health care. It would harken back to the Obama that many young people voted for, rather than the less than inspirational version of the President who we have gotten to know since his election.
I believe that entrepreneurship is our best hope for saving the US from its mammoth debt obligations. We need to find ways to “grow the pie” rather than trying to raise taxes on a stagnant (or shrinking) pie. I believe that all kinds of entrepreneurship are going to be necessary to solve our problems. We are going to need traditional entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but we will also need social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus and the social entrepreneurs featured in Business Week.
I think that if President Obama were to make entrepreneurship a central portion of his presidency, he will find a huge groundswell of willing entrepreneurs who will be willing to help. Friedman mentions National Lab Day and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship as examples of organization that are helping young people get interested in innovation. Both programs would not be able to survive without older, successful mentors. I think that entrepreneurs are willing to help out as mentors and young people are waiting to be entrepreneurs, but some are just waiting to be pushed. Inc. Magazine contributor and author of Upstarts!, Donna Fenn says:
Over 75% of the entrepreneurs I interviewed for my book, Upstarts! said that they were very or highly likely to start another company; most had already founded two or more.” She continues, “70% said their companies had a social mission. But make no mistake: they’re laser-focused on the bottom line as well and they understand why growing a profitable, sustainable company that creates jobs is a social good in and of itself. It’s pretty clear to me: this is a generation worth investing in.
Fenn‘s point is important because many startups are not only creating jobs and coming up with new solutions to problems, but they are also trying to make the world a better place. If we can get more people to think with this mindset, the US and the world will be a better place. So President Obama, please follow Friedman’s advice. This is a no lose issue for you and the country. You should be able to get support from both sides of the aisle. You should be able to reconnect with an electorate that wants to support you, but has not because you have abandoned what got you into office. Go back to the politics of hope, propose real solutions that everyone can get behind and see what happens. I bet it will change lives.