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Unreasonable Institute: Pushing Beyond Out-of-the Box

RP Siegel | Friday January 28th, 2011 | 3 Comments

Given the complex set of interlocking issues and problems that confront our society today, it would be comforting to know that there were groups of very smart people from all disciplines and walks of life getting together somewhere out of the fray, stepping back to try and come up with solutions that can address these problems without creating even bigger ones in the process.

After all, as Albert Einstein once said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

This is essentially the goal of the Boulder-based Unreasonable Institute whose vision is to, “Accelerate ventures that future generations will remember as having defined progress in our time.”

They intend to generate effective and scalable solutions to the greatest global challenges of our time. They will do that by, among other things, supporting “the international collaboration of the world’s most promising entrepreneurs,” and educating “Unreasonable Fellows in the most innovative principles of entrepreneurship.”

This is done by attracting and bringing together brilliant and promising socially motivated entrepreneurs and uniting them with world-class mentors for six weeks, keeping them under the same roof, simmering with vitality, inspiration and purpose.  Then they sprinkle in a little green, in the form of capital partners that are prepared to supply the necessary financing to those projects deemed worthy. The result is what the founders call “acceleration,” which essentially means that the entrepreneurs come out of there with a focus and intensity resembling something fired out of a cannon.

Some of the mentors who have participated in the program include: Libby Cook, founder of Wild Oats, Brook Eddy, founder and CEO of Bhakti Chai, Hunter Lovins, President and Founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions, and Dr. Paul Polak, Founder of International Development Enterprises.

The cost of the program is borne not by the entrepreneurs themselves, but rather by money raised from donors in the Unreasonable Marketplace. The first 25 to raise the required $8000 fee are accepted into the program.

Most of the programs are targeted at base-of-the pyramid communities. Among the 45 finalists for this year’s program, there were numerous poverty alleviation programs in developing countries that lend a helping hand in one form or another to small and micro-scale businesses including farmers and artisans. Others address health and nutrition or environmental problems like clean air through the installation of solar cookers in China, solar lanterns in Africa, or replacing diesel generators with renewable energy sources or batteries charged by them around the world.

A list of the fellows who went through the program last year can be found here. According to the website, 60% of them have found funding.

The Institute’s name is adapted from George Bernard Shaw famous quote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

In many ways, the Institute’s work in based on the Kiva model, the poverty eradication program that is based around micro-financing and entrepreneurship. Both are informed by the old adage about helping a hungry man, not by giving him a fish, but by giving him a fishing rod and teaching him how to fish.

RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor TrailsLike airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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  1. January 28, 2011 at 10:20 am PDT | Teju Ravilochan writes:

    RP, we really appreciate you’re taking time to put together this excellent write-up of the Unreasonable Institute!

    As you know, our Finalist Marketplace is currently up and running, featuring 45 world-class entrepreneurs from around the world, challenged to raise the $8,000 it costs to attend the Unreasonable Institute. Our goal is to bring over 1 million people from around the world to this Marketplace to learn about and support the indispensable work of these entrepreneurs (check it out at http://marketplace.unreasonableinstitute.org).

    This article truly helps us to reach that Unreasonable Goal. So from all of us at Unreasonable, thanks a bunch RP!

    Most sincerely,

    Teju Ravilochan
    Unreasonable Institute
    Co-Founder

    Reply Or REGISTER HERE if you are new.

  2. January 30, 2011 at 19:08 pm PDT | Donna Morton writes:

    I am one of the finalists and just the process has been amazing. I did not know we could activate our lists like we have, didn’t know a 1 minute video could effect people so much.

    Even the journey has been a gift.

    Reply Or REGISTER HERE if you are new.

  3. January 30, 2011 at 19:11 pm PDT | Donna Morton writes:

    The process of applying and the race to make the top 25 is a fantastic journey. We have learned to mobilize our supporters in ways we had never tried in the past. We built a one minute video that is getting lots of comments and it feels great to produce something fast and cheap (no choice) that can reach people.

    Donna Morton

    Reply Or REGISTER HERE if you are new.

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