15 years ago, the word “startup” was not in our vocabulary. In 2005, TechCrunch came along and put that name on the map. They did so by putting the spotlight on founders: see those two guys in a garage with a laptop? Ain’t that cool what they are building? You have a garage? You have a laptop? You too can create a startup!
It inspired an entire generation, me included. We could start our own thing and conquer the world! That’s why in 2009 I left my home country Belgium to move to San Francisco to create my first startup in Silicon Valley: Storify.
Today, a new cultural revolution is happening: citizen initiatives. From Bali, Barcelona to Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Tokyo, San Francisco and New York, movements like Zero Waste, Women Who Code and Veganizer are taking over the world not as startups but as networks of local initiatives. The Internet has given our generation the tools to act locally and connect globally. It has never been easier to gather people with similar interests and to do something together.
This opens the door to a new democracy. A democracy where citizens are not just passive consumers who complain and vote, but are active participants in their cities. This was the topic of a talk that I did recently in Sweden: “From the democracy of our voices, to the democracy of our actions” (slides).
We are at the very beginning of this new era. The world is transitioning from competition to collaboration, from top down hierarchies to networks, from companies to communities.
I believe that two things need to happen to accelerate this:
- We need to reduce the friction to create a citizen initiative.
- We need to celebrate people who start those initiatives to inspire others to join the movement.
What enabled the startup revolution was a drastic reduction in the cost of creating a company. In 2000, you needed massive investments just to have a website. Today, you can use a shared infrastructure and be up and running with just a few clicks. Likewise, today it takes a lot of time and effort to start your own non profit for your local initiative. It’s a big distraction and it deters many from turning their initiative into a sustainable organization.
That’s exactly what we are working on with Open Collective. Our goal is to enable citizen initiatives to have their own virtual organisation without having to worry about creating and maintaining a legal entity of their own. We do so by building a network of “host organizations” that act as umbrellas for local initiatives. We have, for example, Open Collective Paris which enables initiatives in Paris to share a common legal entity for their needs. In Brussels, BrusselsTogether fills that role. If you want to create a local chapter of Open Collective in your own city, please reach out!
Simplifying the creation process is not enough. We also need to celebrate people who start those initiatives. After all, one of the first rules of management is to highlight the behaviors that we want to see repeated.
A big catalyst in the startup revolution 13 years ago was Techcrunch. At the time, mainstream media only covered companies once they reached a certain size. But Techcrunch was different. They put the spotlight on founders when they started and this inspired an entire generation to embrace the movement.
That’s exactly why, with my friend Jesse Norton, we have decided to start a TechCrunch for citizen initiatives. This new publication will put a spotlight on inspiring citizens who create initiatives for their local community. We call it The New Citizen.
Whereas startups were defined as companies started in a garage with a laptop and ambition to scale globally, citizen initiatives are grassroots activities that grow as a network. Rather than operating as top-down institutions, they feed off the energy of their community and grow organically from the bottom-up.
Our goal is to inspire a new generation of citizens and to amplify their successes. Main stream media covers people who complain and people who talk. The New Citizen will cover people who do. Join us!
How you can help
👉 register for our weekly newsletter at thenewcitizen.co and share it with your friends
👉 Help us build “Citizen Base” — the database of citizen initiatives around the world — by adding the initiatives that you know about and that you want us to cover: Citizen Base Spreadsheet
👉 Start a local edition of the New Citizen in your own city. Please reach out!