Last week, Zopa attended a fascinating day event called Reboot Britain, which was a direct response to the Digital Britain report published recently by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Whilst the latter addressed how it would promote access to networked technology, the event posed the more fundamental question of what_ motivation _people would have to make productive use of this access; or rather, how the promise of such technology could address the challenges we face as a country.
There was simply too much going on to attend all of the events, whose broad spectrum included the economy, policy-making, government and education; however, from what we did see there were some very bold yet insightful opinions from various speakers, including Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist) and Lee Bryant (director of Headshift).
One of the more salient points that resonated throughout the day was that we should encourage a positive cultural shift in our attitude (as a nation) towards innovation: we should embrace more of the small, experimental ideas like Social Innovation Camp or mySociety and direct more energy and resource towards such endeavours rather than traditional, monolithic IT reforms. Even at the risk of some of these ideas never really taking off, a collaborative, open environment delivers far better results more in harmony with society’s needs, and with significantly less overhead than traditional consulting models. Following on from this, that we should welcome failure as part of this process, rather than nurturing a fear of it.
Zopa itself was participating in a session called We:Bank. A few lending online models presented, and whilst there wasn’t enough time to debate more deeply on the relevance of them in today’s climate, a very interesting theme arose from the conversations. Many of those attending the event were interested in social change and how more innovative models in the UK are addressing the current economic climate, and there was some criticism that the models present aren’t. This response from the audience highlights quite an important point: I don’t think any of the models presented were designed to solve an economic crisis. Zopa, for example, was launched during very prosperous times for the retail finance market; but it would be fair to say that the simplicity of the Zopa model has proven more successful in current times, serving people that banks can’t because of their current problems.
The fact that a peer-to-peer model is increasing in popularity is symptomatic of this cultural shift, and presents a foundation for a plethora of new ones to emerge that are more attuned to addressing critical social need. That’s a debate certainly worth having in present times, and I hope we can contribute healthily to it.