It was 21 years ago that Eric Raymond wrote an essay about a cathedral and a bazaar, explaining to the world why the messy, open, chaotic format of a bazaar would be the better way to develop software vs. the centrally designed and organized form of cathedral building. He was more right than wrong, as even the centralized cathedrals of Google and Amazon are based on and contributors to the Open Source bazaar Eric was advocating for.
With two decades of proof behind us on that lesson, its time to repeat this argument while we build out the impact ecosystem.
Here in 2018, we have a world full of cathedrals: GIIN, Toniic, OPIC, GIF, Rockefeller, Omidyar, Fledge, USAID, etc. etc. etc. Some of these are membership organizations, some public foundations, some private investment funds, some government institutions. All with separate missions, who collectively share the goal of improving the world, all of which talk about those shared goals, but which have yet to find way to work to break down the cathedral walls to create a more open bazaar-like ecosystem.
The only bazaars to have appeared are organizations designed to gather together the whole community:
The oldest of these bazaars is SOCAP, the largest gathering of impact investors, entrepreneurs, and supporters, with similar, newer gatherings like SANKALP and FLII.
Next is the Impact Hub network, now with over 100 co-working and community spaces convening entrepreneurs, consultants, and other who are the people and organizations doing the actual work of the impact ecosystem.
One of the newest is investorflow.org, which aims to connect impact investors to like-minded impact investors, both those with decades of experience as well as those who joined the ecosystem today.
Groups like OPIC and SVN are now asking the much needed question of how we grow the ecosystem more along the pattern of the bazaar instead of building yet-more cathedrals and growing the walls of the existing cathedrals. Given the lessons from the Open Source bazaar, this seems a long-overdue conversation.
Decorating both the cathedrals and the bazaars are the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which has quickly become the de facto standard to describing impact.
This is the first standard of any type in the industry, proof that it is possible to create a common vocabulary and common ontology despite the diversity of the industry. No doubt more will come.
If you are part of this industry and have ideas on what we can do, please post them below.