Exponential advances in technologies are disrupting economic and societal norms, and political actors are either rushing to respond to major challenges, or, at worst, not acting. To ensure that the Fourth Industrial Revolution leads to progress for all of humanity, we are in need of a new generation of political entrepreneurs to rise to the challenge.
What is a political entrepreneur?
Political entrepreneurs are people who create ideas and innovations, and act as new leaders in the field of politics. They are individuals and groups who seek to improve the science and art of politics through disruption. The founders of movements such as the Chartists and Suffragettes, Capitalists and Marxists, Futurists and Luddites were all political entrepreneurs.
The value of the term and its meaning lies in its distinct description of people who come up with new ways to solve political problems in terms of political philosophy, political technology, political campaigns, and governance.
Using this term, we can take a view on what good and bad political entrepreneurship looks like and methodologies of how to measure its impact. It also widens the imagination of people seeking to decide what to do within their civic and professional lives. We saw this with the astronomical rise of social entrepreneurs worldwide. Now we need the same with political entrepreneurs.
One way of describing politics is “the means of utilising power to make decisions to address societal problems”. Go back to the birth of democracy on the hilltops of Athens, and politics was a group of men deciding how best to tackle the problems of the new city, such as how to build an effective sewage system. Today, politics manifests itself in complex and complicated choices about how to tax and spend constituents, or tackle huge problems such as global competition, regulation, or poverty.
On the flip side, entrepreneurship is most commonly embodied by the rare individuals who build a company from scratch into global behemoths: Zuckerberg, Musk, Ma, Huffington, Wang. What unites them all is that they provide products and services that fix other people’s problems.
Political entrepreneurs are a combination of the two: people who build something from nothing to address societal problems. Out of the first three industrial revolutions, we saw the rise of new movements, communities, and groups of people who collectively came together to respond to the major challenges. Each of these was founded by political entrepreneurs who developed new ideas, methods, and products and services.
What do political entrepreneurs do?
Today we are already seeing new movements and communities rising in response to the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution. Deliveroo and Uber drivers have organized through WhatsApp to take on their employers in response to their pay and employment status. Nat Whalley founded Organise Platform, a new tech company which provides the tools for workers to organize themselves. Civic Triage automate political tasks by replacing the politicians’ surgery with a chatbot. There are a bunch of political entrepreneurs using AI, Big Data, the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality, and more traditional means of political influence to disrupt politics.
If there’s one thing we can safely say about politics in the last two years, it is that it is difficult to say anything definitive about it.
In electoral politics, the political entrepreneurs come from all sides of the traditional left-right spectrum. If there’s one thing we can safely say about politics in the last two years, it is that it is difficult to say anything definitive about it.
In retrospect, we can say that it has been disruptive and that there is a strong desire for change.
Most recently, New Zealand elected the young left-leaning, Jacinda Ardern, as Prime Minister, and Austria chose to elect the youngest world-leader, right-leaning Sebastian Kurz as Chancellor.
What they both brought were promises of change for their constituents, and much of their campaign involved entrepreneurial methods matching those employed by Macron when he set up a new political party to win the French Presidential elections earlier this year.
Macron is not the only person to lead a new party to electoral success: Uffe Elbæk was successful with the Alternative Party in Denmark as was Beppe Grillo’s with Italy’s Five Star Movement. The traditional parties in democratic countries with alternative voting systems are being beaten in the same way the hotel industry was hit hard by Airbnb.
Why do we need a new generation of political entrepreneurs?
We need a new generation of political entrepreneurs to tackle the major unique problems of our time. In the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, global society must figure out how it deals with: the automation of jobs; the shifting of power towards global tech companies – the new industrialists of our day; fake news distorting democratic debate; threats to net neutrality and cyber security; the ownership of citizens’ data, and new forms of labour typified by the gig economy.
As Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has said: “Of the many diverse and fascinating challenges we face today, the most intense and important is how to understand and shape the new technology revolution, which entails nothing less than a transformation of humankind.”
How can we develop political entrepreneurship worldwide?
To build this new generation of political entrepreneurs, we must further encourage wider participation in politics. In the UK, membership of political parties is less than 2%. Global trust in political institution has decreased, and Brexit and the recent Catalan protests have shown that many people are upset with the norm.
As opposed to returning to old ways of doing things out of habit and a lack of creativity, we must ask ourselves: what is the best way?
We need political entrepreneurs to come up with the new ideas, technologies, policies, visions, and civic actions to ensure that the Fourth Industrial Revolution improves the state of the world. This can happen through diversifying political party membership, educating future political entrepreneurs, influencing current political leaders in the changes that are happening, and developing a new political philosophy to guide leaders of all political colours in this new age.