May 13, 2013

The problem with the entrenchment of the status quo is that there are few incentives to come up with innovative solutions that bring in others to the fold. But that doesn't negate that there is a clear digital divide that could solve many economic issues both here and abroad. Inspired by the "Startup Bus" at SXSW, British Airways has partnered with some Silicon Valley businesses in a program dubbed "UnGrounded":

On June 12th, a BA 747 will leave San Francisco International Airport with 100 techies onboard. Their mission: Arrive in London 12 hours later with a plan to help fix the global digital divide, then present it to a panel of world leaders.

"An innovation lab 30,000 feet up in the air is a great way to bring people together," said Leor Stern, head of business development at Google's Niantic Labs subsidiary, who's an adviser to the project.

Others participating in the effort, dubbed UnGrounded, include officials from the United Nations, Stanford University, venture capital powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz, and Innovation Endeavors, an investment firm launched by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Organizers said the "ticking clock" aspect of the flight -- and the plane's IDEO-designed interior -- will push participants, who will be named in the weeks ahead, to make headway on what Stern called "the U.N. mission of digital inclusion for all."

Once landed in London, the group will take their brainstorming and present their findings to the Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit.

However, the danger is the continuation of status quo thinking when left to those who have already made it. So Ungrounded has opened up the flight to ten additional non-elites by running a contest on Mashable:

The point is, a lot of smart people are involved with the project, and it’s interesting to see them opening up the jetway to the great unwashed. (At least, to the extent that people who read Mashable are unwashed.) Some folks suggested when I wrote my story last month that the whole thing carried a whiff of well-meaning elitism: The geeks from the plane will present their ideas at the DNA Summit, organized by the head of Britain’s venture capital association and featuring an assortment of celebrities, CEOs and people whose names are preceded by peerage titles. Ungrounded organizers hope those ideas will then be put before global leaders at June’s G8 summit.

Obviously, you need people with clout to get the G8′s attention, but it’s probably smart for British Airways to make clear it understands that good ideas come from ordinary Joes and Janes as well.

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