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Published: August 24, 2010
 / Autumn 2010 / Issue 60

 
 

The Megacommunity Approach to Tackling the World’s Toughest Problems

The megacommunity way is proving to be both aspirational and practical, providing a realistic mind-set and a set of tools for advancing success. The leaders of these organizations, in fact, acknowledge that changes fostered by globalization changed their spheres of influence and the competencies required in the social context in which they operate. Their megacommunities, in turn, are helping to shape their respective missions, strategies, processes, and capabilities.

All three organizations have recognized which kinds of megacommunity projects truly reflect where they need to invest their time and effort. As a result, each is climbing certain walls it hadn’t been able to get beyond before. Each effort is also increasingly interconnected with the others. Looked at from that perspective, Rome can be seen as a Venn diagram of megacommunity, with these initiatives and organizations intersecting with one another at different points, each effort giving energy to the others.

“The megacommunity sets up so much potential,” says Nancy Roman, “that it’s just a matter of the hours in the day to exercise all the potential.” At this difficult time in the world economy, many companies, governments, NGOs, and individuals are facing issues of resource shrinkage and withered ambitions. But the organizations discussed here don’t see their situation that way. Thanks to their megacommunity initiatives, they see their community as a large reservoir of possibility.

 

The Fulbright BEST Scholarship

Adopting the megacommunity concept creates a contagious sense of involvement that can lead beyond the participating companies’ original intent. As Poste Italiane and Mediaset have become involved with the World Food Programme, and Enel has joined Poste’s cybersecurity initiative, those involved in the Rome megacommunity laboratory have also created a separate megacommunity initiative to improve educational and entrepreneurial opportunities. The result has been the creation of the private sector–backed Fulbright BEST (Business Exchange and Student Training) scholarship. This initiative is part of the U.S. Embassy to Rome’s “partnership for growth” program, which aims to augment foreign direct investment from the U.S.; the U.S. ambassador to Italy is the leader.

With a steering committee that includes Fedele Confalonieri (president of Mediaset), Francesco Starace (CEO of Enel Green Power) and Massimo Sarmi (CEO of Poste Italiane), among many others, the group has created a scholarship designed to improve Italy’s, and Europe’s, economic future. The organization raises funds and provides Italians who have Ph.D.s in science with an opportunity to learn how to start a high-tech company. Those chosen for the scholarship study entrepreneurship for three months in the United States at Santa Clara University in California. Then, they spend an additional three months in Silicon Valley at a startup company, after which they return to Italy, where they are mentored by steering committee members for six months. The scholarship is now in its fourth year. Since its inception, the program has raised €1 million (about US$1.5 million) and scholarships have been awarded to 34 Ph.D.s who have thus far created 14 startup companies. One Fulbright BEST scholar went on to win a national prize for innovation entrepreneurship that included €60,000 (about US$74,000), with which he will develop and sell an innovative biopesticide.

This megacommunity is made up not only of the organizations we have mentioned but of donors and partners from many different sectors, including the University of Naples, the U.S. Fulbright Commission, and Booz & Company (publisher of strategy+business). As stated on the Fulbright BEST website, among its other achievements, the scholarship program has created “an opportunity to make known an effective model of collaboration between universities, in dustry, and venture capital.” That is a succinct definition of the megacommunity spirit, and another example of Italy’s burgeoning success as a megacommunity laboratory.

—F.N.

 
 
 
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Resources

  1. Michael Delurey, David Sulek, and Lawrence Frascella, “Convenors of Capability,” s+b, Spring 2008: How a community center founded in Hurricane Katrina’s wake helped bring people the help they needed to rebuild.
  2. Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Megacommunity Manifesto,” s+b, Summer 2006: Why public, private, and civil leaders should confront together the problems that none can solve alone.
  3. Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly, Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business, and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Challenges Together (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008): The origins, development, and methodologies of the megacommunity concept.
  4. Art Kleiner, “Fulvio Conti: The Thought Leader Interview,” s+b, Autumn 2008: The CEO of the world’s second-largest utility explains how energy companies must reach out to other entities to adapt in a fast-changing global marketplace.
  5. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at: www.strategy-business.com/global_perspective
 
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