Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Citizenship in an increasingly global context 1: shareholder value, stakeholder value, and openly-sourced social value

Posted in business and convergent technologies, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on April 15, 2013

I write a lot about the immediately here and now and about the near-term future where that would be measured in terms of coming fiscal quarters and years. I find myself thinking forward a bit further with this posting, and with an eye to things yet to be, but that I see as coming. One of them involves the complex set of issues that we think of as constituting citizenship, and how that is changing and will further change as our world becomes more and more interconnected, and more and more a single overarching community. I begin this discussion by at least briefly touching on issues of ownership and belonging, and there with two interrelated but distinct long-standing concepts: shareholder and stakeholder.

Shareholders – owners of corporate equity in the form of stock shares are often equated at least in a business context with stakeholders in those ventures and certainly for publically traded companies. This is not necessarily an indefensible position, as corporate shareholders have skin in the game when they have taken the risk of making an investment in that business’ future. Whether a shareholder is an individual or an organizational investor such as an investment fund, shareholders commit their own financial resources and accept the risk of possible loss of investment capital, when seeking out profits and gain. But ownership position of this type and I add direct business ownership in general, while important forms of stakeholder position, together only constitute one valid view of what it means to be a stakeholder, and for profit businesses are only one of many organizational constructs in which stakeholder positions can be taken, and where the concept of stakeholder makes sense.

I write this posting with a wider understanding and conceptualization of stakeholdership in mind and note in that context that there are a variety of nonmonetary ways that individuals, families, groups and organizations can meaningfully and significantly put skin in the game and hold vested interest. My focus here, more explicitly is on societal commitment and involvement and on investing of one’s life and its quality in pursuit of a greater more socially connected good.

The world that we live in is becoming more and more real-time connected every day, and with ubiquitous connectedness and capability of involvement from seemingly anywhere to seemingly anywhere and at any time. Our basic framework of borders and boundaries from before the Internet, and from before electronic communications per se still fundamentally remains unchanged and in place, frontier-defining anachronisms and all. For centuries, to cite a simple example of that, a country bounded by open ocean was, considered to hold national ownership of its off-shore waters to a distance of some three nautical miles – as that was the range that they could reach from shore battery positioned cannon fire. The specific ranges have changed but defensibility is still a significant measure of where nationally owned gives way to open waters and international rules of law for access, right of passage and ownership.

Functionally, and as a matter of day to day realities the political borders and boundaries that we see on our maps and read of in the news may still hold meaning to us. We still identify ourselves as being citizens of specific countries and as residing in or traveling through specific countries, and we still conduct explicitly intranational and international business. But every day and in an increasingly many number of ways we in effect go through those boundaries as if they did not exist, and certainly when acting and interacting in cyberspace. The servers and other hardware that we connect and interact through all have physical locations that map into that old boundary-defined grid. But we don’t even think about that or what our cyber passage across it means for most of our routine day to day activities and lives. And one consequence of this is that we take part in and join in and even take meaningful stakeholder positions and positions that we see as holding ownership value, that cut across those old divisions.

Some of this is financial and more aligned with a more traditional shareholder or investor conception of stakeholder, and I add home ownership and other more directly monetizable ownership positions to shareholder ownership there. Increasingly, more and more of this is less formally defined and non-monetizable in nature. We feel a sense of ownership as a matter of accepting responsibility for our online and global connectedness, and we see ourselves as stakeholders through that. Social networks come immediately to mind there, and that includes social networks that organize and sustain for essentially any reason and that might have been started by essentially any type of organization. Members become stakeholders and see themselves as co-owners, and particularly as they become more actively involved and invested through their networks.

I began this posting with the word and concept “citizen” and with the above stated, come back to that point of focus again. Citizenship has traditionally referred to a very local vision and understanding, and legal framework of belonging and responsibility. Citizenship has traditionally been bounded by traditional national boundaries. We still, as I noted above, may of us see ourselves and think of ourselves as being citizens of one country but in our day to day actions we are increasingly acting as if we were citizens of a larger and even global community.

I write this as a citizen of the West for a larger regional designator, and of an old boundary specified nation within that where financial ownership is a defining form of stakeholdership – as is the more nonmonetary skin in the game ownership of nationally oriented patriotism. I also write this as a citizen of this world who has traveled and lived and worked in other countries and who has participated in – and yes come to see stakeholder responsibilities and co-ownership in many other countries and regions and in ways that cut across the old boundaries too.

Will we end up living under a one world government with all of us accepting membership and citizenship in a single planet-wide country? That is a dream many have considered, and as both a utopian and dystopian vision of a possible future. And as a working example of how that distinction plays out just consider how positively and negatively an organization such as the United Nations can be viewed. I do not know the answer to that question but I am certain that the question itself is likely to become moot and non sequitur, as our increasing interconnectedness brings us together and in ways that make those old borders transparent for more and more of our actual lives – and in our business lives and where monetizable value is concerned as much as in any other aspects of our lives. In effect, we will resolve that question by making it go away into irrelevance – and in ways we cannot yet fully see.

I am a shareholder in ways and in organizations and systems that do not fit the old monetizable forms or explanations and so are you and everyone else around you and we are all increasingly so, every single day. More to the point, I am increasingly a stakeholder in ways that transcend national or nationalistic boundaries and that is a reality we are all coming to face. What that means, we are still collectively working out, and that process I fully expect will be viewed societally as a great historic shift as our descendants look back at this 21st century and define its historical meaning.

I am sure to write further on this in future postings and have in fact set this posting up as a first in a new series. I will add more. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its continuation page, and also at my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory page.

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