2021 is certainly a year which makes predictions challenging. I still try to come up with four predictions for the coming year:
- Shifting Narratives: Poverty and unemployment won’t be seen as personal failures anymore
- The Reckoning: Good and bad corporate behavior will become more visible
- Social Data: The social economy will start building its own modern data infrastructure
- Good banks: We will see a financialization of the wider social economy
People will stop viewing poverty and unemployment as personal failures
Poverty and unemployment are often considered (unnecessarily and quite unfairly) as personal failure or even God’s punishment. This ignores individual as well as structural circumstances.
The relatively random effects of the pandemic led to a situation where people are unemployed or bankrupt due to circumstances which are beyond their control. We can expect to see previously successful entrepreneurs bankrupt or well-educated individuals unemployed for longer periods of time.
This will lead to a shifting narrative when it comes to unemployment and poverty but also to changing consumption patterns. Are you buying a new car when your neighbor is unemployed?
Good and bad corporate behavior will be fully visible
The Economist wrote in its Christmas double issue:
Today almost everything is the opposite of what it pretends to be. Companies claim that they are devoted to advancing gay rights, promoting multiculturalism or uniting the world in a Kumbaya sing-along, when they are in fact singlemindedly maximising profits. Chief executives claim that they are ever-so-humble “team leaders” — in homage to another great Dickens invention, the unctuous Uriah Heep — when they are actually creaming off an unprecedented share of corporate cash. Private schools such as Eton claim that they are in the business of promoting “diversity” and “inclusivity” even as they charge £42,000 a year. Future historians seeking to sum up our era may well call it “the age of humbug”.
The pandemic put a spotlight on how companies were behaving. Some well-connected entrepreneurs tried to sell overpriced protective gear to governments and some companies were taking advantage of loopholes in lockdown regulations.
2021 will be a year in which these tactics will be discussed in more detail. We can also expect journalists to uncover still more outrageous behavior.
Development of a modern data infrastructure
Everybody is talking about artificial intelligence but there is no point in building prediction tools if there is no data to train the model.
The social economy is actually collecting a lot of data but most of it is in Excel or even on paper. Imagine the case that you are training young unemployed persons. You track their progress, see them regularly, but the data is scattered across Excel and paper sheets.
However, the blueprint for a cloud-based data infrastructure is already visible. Most of the tools are cloud-based and relatively cheap. I would expect more of it happening this year.
On a side note: On my wish list would also be a Layer 1 system for the wider social economy. It would be something like the operating system where you can build applications on top of it. Similar developments are already happening in the healthcare system.
Financialization of the wider social economy
100 years ago, people had very little access to financial services. Nowadays, you have access to all kind of financial services and it is usually just a few clicks away. Many of them are embedded in products or services such as car financing or smartphone insurance.
It is quite likely that we will begin to see more of these embedded services across the wider social economy. First financial-service companies are offering funding for long-term unemployed or refugees who want to develop their skills. There is much funding for mitigating climate change and I would expect to see more funding to help societies become more resilient to the effects of climate change (adaptation finance).
Obviously, the financialization should not be a tool to extract value from the social economy.