The Caring Economy

In the recent film Won't You Be My Neighbor?, television puppeteer and child psychologist Fred Rogers says, "Try your best to make goodness attractive. That's one of the toughest assignments you'll ever be given." 

From technology to fashion, companies invest a lot of time and money into making certain qualities attractive. Goodness is rarely one of them. Tinder's “hot-or-not” makes looking good attractive; Facebook’s “thumbs up” makes like-ability attractive: Instagram's "hearts" make popularity attractive, and profitable too. Social good is secondary, at best. According to Tania Singer, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences: "A lack of compassion is arguably the cause of so many of humankind’s biggest failures."

Image credit: Dustin Giallanza, DTSP

Image credit: Dustin Giallanza, DTSP

Can there be a Fred Rogers of tech? Can goodness be attractive? One modern-day exemplar for good is entrepreneur Cindy Gallop. She's an entrepreneur who started MakeLoveNotPorn. It's an online sharing platform where consenting partners upload videos of their real sex lives and make money through subscribers. Viewers pay to watch everyday people make real love, instead of seeing the scripted stereotypes of hardcore porn. Her startup shows how people who care deeply behave in bed. It’s a community re-educating entire generations on all the topics missed in high school health class, like treating a sexual partner with respect. Gallop's philosophy is simple: "The more good you do, the more money you should make."  

Recently, someone asked if any designers inspire me, and I immediately thought of Patricia Moore. An industrial designer and gerontologist, Moore’s curiosity to understand and design for people of a certain age, socioeconomic background, etc. took her on a three year journey, assuming many guises as an elderly woman. She lived daily life incognito which helped her design products that better respond to thriving in the world as an elder. Moore later left the architecture firm who told her, “we don’t design for those people,” and built her own company from the insights she gained. Serving the global aging population was also a good business decision, with more people than ever reaching retirement—1 in 5 by 2030, according to the US Census.

You probably know a person who volunteers or a business doing pro-bono work, but what if all companies operate with a goodness equals profit mindset? Imagine a world where all organizations designed with underrepresented people they served, and gave them credit and compensation for the outcome. What if advertisers sponsor random acts of kindness instead of shoes? Instead of a button where you "like" posts, you "encourage" others or better yet “commit” to do something. In this future, people socially inspire, educate, and financially back others to be their best selves. Welcome to the age of the caring economy. 

According to the World Economic Forum, the caring economy is “a model of cooperation which relies on selfless motivational systems, as opposed to selfish ones.” Researchers have long debated if any form of giving is truly selfless. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, we know people can demonstrate caring behaviors. They raise children, build relationships, look after the elderly, nurse the sick back to health. Today's tech assumes people are driven by power and attention, always in it for themselves. However, studies like ReSource prove it's possible to unlearn selfish tendencies and become more compassionate. People are just as motivated by "care and systems of affiliation" with others as they are their own popularity, appearance, and prestige.   

Image credit: Rob Christian Crosby, DTSP

Image credit: Rob Christian Crosby, DTSP

How might we make goodness attractive at a global scale? Let’s spend time with the previous generation's care takers. Many at work and at home were women, LGBTQ, and people of color: domestic engineers who cleaned house, diapered babies, taught school, and fed senior citizens. Unfortunately, not enough grandparents are designing our social media platforms alongside the flocks of college graduates. When I was growing up, my Mom told me a good samaritan story of someone who helps a stranger left beaten on the side of the road. I remember the samaritan story because of its higher calling: treat others with the same care you want in return. While I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to anything, I think it’s important to never assume you will always be at your prime. At some point we all need a helping hand.

To overcome our greatest challenges, we need a new frame of reference—let’s bring an enduring idea into the future of business and prove it—good design creates value by attracting good and doing good.

“How to Build a Caring Economy.” World Economic Forum, Singer, Tania, 24, May, 2015,

If you know of companies and people doing good and want to recognize them, please feel free to share in the comments. I’m always looking for more examples of the caring economy in action!