May 14, 2021: In Conversation with Tom Higley: Solving the World’s Wicked Problems with Serial Entrepreneurs
“Entrepreneurs are the lever that can move the world.” So says Tom Higley, himself a serial entrepreneur and founder of the 10.10.10 and XGenesis startup incubator programs, which focus the efforts of select groups of entrepreneurs on projects designed to address the world’s most complex, or “wicked,” problems. The 10.10.10 program is well connected to foundations, NGOs and others in the social sector, whereas XGenesis is connected to the investment community – and the pair, functioning as a “tandem organization,” were launched with the goal of creating a bridge linking entrepreneurs and investors with the nonprofit sector.
On March 22, 2021, Liz Ngonzi hosted Tom for a conversation co-sponsored by The International Social Impact Institute and The Resource Alliance titled “Solving the World’s Wicked Problems with Serial Entrepreneurs.” As a member of the Resource Alliance’s global content team, Liz sought to identify contributors for a dialogue on the theme of “New Thinking” relevant to the social sector, and Tom immediately came to mind. He brings a fresh and unfamiliar perspective to the challenges faced by the sector as it confronts society’s complex problems. As Liz remarked in introducing the March 22 conversation:
The ‘wicked problems’ that [Tom] focuses on include healthcare, education, infrastructure, energy, climate and water . . . the same issues for which many of us in the charity sector are working to find solutions. Tom and his team just have a radically different methodology for finding those solutions: They use the entrepreneurial mindset to explore possibilities and opportunities for a new world.
As Tom pointed out, both entrepreneurs and their potential investors have shown a tendency to shy away from working on wicked problems because those problems appear so daunting and unmanageable, arising as they do from multiple interacting causes. Hence the need for programs like 10.10.10 and XGenesis, for which particularly complex problems represent the exclusive focus. Those who would tackle problems of that nature, Tom suggests, should be willing to make three essential commitments as they attempt to formulate solutions: A commitment to listen and learn; a commitment to engage with teammates and collaborators of diverse backgrounds and having diverse perspectives, values, and understandings; and a commitment to view themselves as being equal to the task they have set for themselves.