Intelligence in the Birds’ Nests: Why Humane Entrepreneurship is the Future

Wednesday, September 16, 2020, by Dr. Nasiru Taura

As we move into our digital future, we, as a global community, are experiencing unprecedented levels of activity as well as a simultaneous rise in the average person’s uncertainty of their environment. These have been intensified by the fast-paced environments that we have created to shape and nurture future entrepreneurs. The rise in mental health struggles for entrepreneurs and our harmful effect on the environment suggest that this fast-paced environment in which we have sought to nurture entrepreneurial talents is in no way sustainable. During a recent ICSB Knowledge Exchange webinar, Dr. Taura presented his futuristic vision of a digital revolution which includes humane entrepreneurship. 

He started with a personal story about how his childhood struggles, involving his slower learning in a world designed for those with cognitive speed, had evoked negative emotions. Understanding the dangers of negative emotions for young people, Dr. Taura found much comfort in his birds’ nest, or collection of African birds. As a child growing up in Nigeria, he would often escape to his birds for hours while engaging in contemplative imagination about mankind, the universe, and society.  His birds’ nests became a therapeutic space to release negative energy. Therefore, in spending time in this setting, the birds nest became the initial bed rock, or foundation, for nurturing his emotional intelligence, compassion, and empathy, which he continues to use in his entrepreneurship teaching on a global stage. Today, Dr. Taura reflects and ask the question, “Were would he have been today if he had not found the alternate intelligence in the birds nest?,” or even more importantly, “How many more slow learners could have been great assets to the entrepreneurial world by engaging their thoughtful reflection and empathy, but have been lost within a system designed solely for cognitive speed?” It is time to re-think our approach. If we want a future, we need to engage a more inclusive and humane approach.

Slow is ‘NOT’ unintelligent:

Despite struggles of slow learning in childhood, Dr. Taura is now a Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Bournemouth University in the UK. Bournemouth University is an exciting institution as it embodies digital futures and is particularly celebrated for computer animation and digital effects as well as acting as the home to the famous National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA). 

Over 50 BU graduates, as well as a number of staff members, worked on the Oscar-winning film Gravity. Currently, Bournemouth is launching a course on MSC Artificial Intelligence and Media. These provide definite examples that demonstrate cutting-edge digital futures for learning. As a senior academic, digital entrepreneur, and social innovator, Dr. Taura is, today, the living proof that slow does not equate to unintelligent.

Moving into the digital futures, Dr. Taura advised that games and animations could play key roles in providing immersive experiences that would enable youths to learn to be humane entrepreneurs. The games would emphasize crossover, so that when young people were outside of their virtual worlds, they would still be able to engage these important skills. 

We seem to be competing in the wrong spaces of intelligence

With the explosion of the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in all works of life, we must revisit the on-going debate between human and artificial intelligences. It is clear that, given the immense data available, machines outperform humans–humans only stand a chance against machines when data is incomplete. 

We are making the mistake of attempting to compete with machines in wrong spaces, or in other words, we will consistently lose to machines in the test of time and speed, however human insight can be captured on a more humane front, including emotional, social, and cultural intelligences. AI is enabling start-ups around the world, especially those in Africa, to achieve great results – beyond human speed. For example, to achieve 90% reliability in plant disease diagnosis, the Plant Clinic, a Cameroonian start-up, would need to use between 5000-6000 thousand images to identify a disease. However, with the support of a laboratory in the United States, they have now been able to create a database containing more than 60,000 thousand images of various plant diseases. 

Komazo, a Kenyan start-up uses AI and satellite data to map out tree growth. This has led to a truly revolutionary approach to sustainable forestry, and now the start-up is focusing its ambitions to plant 1 billion trees by 2030. Rwanda is one of the pioneer countries to deploy the use of drones for the purpose of humanitarian logistics and supply chain, engaging drones specifically to air lift medical supplies to the needy, thereby being able to save lives thanks to the speed of machines. There is no doubt that the speed of machines outperforms humans, but humans have something to offer which machines are lacking: empathy. 

We are looking to a future with robotic doctors, robotic financial managers and advisors, and robotic lawyers. It is essential that we train the next generation of entrepreneurs by providing them opportunities to nurture their emotional, social, and cultural intelligence. These represent the spaces in which machines are not able to establish connections as effectively. 

Going forward, we should learn from the non-expert account of intelligence among rural Kenyans which is said to have comprised of rieko (knowledge and skills), luoro (respect), winjo (comprehension to handle real-life problems), and paro (initiative). Intelligence based on cognitive speed without rieko, respect to fellow humans, animals, and planet earth, is counterproductive. Additionally, it is unlikely, for an AI to be able to outperform human initiative (paro). Our future depends more on how we train the next generations to be ‘humane’ which will necessitate the ability to respect, initiate, and empathize with fellow humans, animals, and the environment.

Reverse migration to slow spaces could be the future

Entrepreneurs working in a fast-paced environment, those who are redefining, disrupting and innovating on a continual basis, might be a higher risk for poor mental health and stress.  Consequently, we are witnessing a silent revolution of reverse migration from city centers to their peripheral regions, which is ultimately giving rise to the slow entrepreneurship in the periphery.

Digital connectivity and the rise of gig economy are fueling the increased attraction of working and living in seaside towns for the benefits of ‘time’ and ‘space’ needed to nourish the creative soul. More and more entrepreneurs in search of a humane atmosphere and lifestyle are beginning to move to the periphery to enjoy balanced sustainable growth and preventative approaches to wellbeing, which has given this rise to peripheral entrepreneurship. 

For their health and mental wellbeing entrepreneurs need more than the lifestyle available to them in a crowded city. They also need space to help them manage and regulate their emotions, prevent against cognitive decline, and give the necessary attention to their mental health as seen in a well-balanced work-life relationship. Seaside towns offer the opportunity for this balance and harmony of physical, emotional, cognitive, and mental spaces across a given ecosystem and are, therefore, more likely to be a magnate for humane entrepreneurs of the future. They provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to disconnect from the fast-paced lifestyle and to diffuse stress while connecting with nature. For example, the Bournemouth & Poole digital cluster in the South West of England attracts frequent digital innovators, those who produce economic value with less environmental pressure. We are likely to see the emergence of more digital cluster of health-conscious entrepreneurs, social/impact investors, and imaginative spaces for nurturing frequent innovations. In the wake of the need to be more humane, we can expect to see more reverse migrations taking place from center to periphery. 

Future humane entrepreneurs and the need for more patient capital

We are beginning to witness the rise of impact and social investors who are often mission driven, concerned by a desire to alleviate poverty, minimize environmental impacts, etc. Their decisions to invest is not limited to financial return, but rather it encompasses social and/or environmental returns.  They accept making fewer returns in the short run with their focus on impact investments, meaning that they scale faster. Digital entrepreneurs who are slow but intelligent would prefer patient capital as it enables them to focus on solving the world’s biggest challenges with less pressure of immediate ROI from investors. Impatient investment leads to burnout and often mental strain for entrepreneurs. We need to encourage more patient capital to support future humane entrepreneurs.

Humane Entrepreneurship & the Future 

The ICSB has championed the movement of humane entrepreneurship. It is still in its early days, but the concept is very promising and is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals agenda. Dr. Taura advocates for slow entrepreneurship, which is more humane, explained through its platform, the PAICA Global (https://paica.info/about/). Dr. Taura argues that the future is for humane entrepreneurs who use the application of technology (AI, games, simulation, etc.) for social good. To this extent, we can utilize our humane intelligence; instead of relying solely on cognitive speed as our yardstick of intelligence, the future will be restored. 

We need to nurture inclusive intelligence for humane entrepreneurs of the future, regardless of where this forming might take place. A future were slow entrepreneurship manifests in the periphery, such as seaside towns, where capital can become more patient and the application of technology for social good is pervasive is a world worthy of our aspirations.