A Third Dimension to a Public Good

How many times do you visit wikipedia in a week? Have you ever thought of how wikipedia came into existence?

Yes! Its tagline ‘The Free Encyclopedia’ tells its story. Encyclopedia Britannica aimed to make a collection of all human knowledge. But, they stopped their print edition in 2012. The wikipedia we see today was started in 2001 inspired by that Encyclopedia Britannica which wanted people to create, make changes and update information. Today, you can create your own page on wikipedia, you can make changes to any of your favorite actor’s pages or add anything that is missing about your city. Going forward, let us breakdown and get deeper into understanding the need and importance of such platforms like wikipedia in different domains.

Globalisation is seen as the growing interdependence among the countries. The physical borders have started to become permeable. Globalisation is about more publicness where the individuals (people) in countries have started becoming interdependent. From the goods that are being traded from one country to another like that of silk, spices, etc,. today several services have also started getting through the permeable national borders. For example, while Covaxin made in India is exported to countries such as Brazil, Covishield by AstraZeneca is being manufactured in India through collaboration. Today globalisation has gone beyond just these goods and services into ideas and experiences being shared globally with each other.

Public good, as we all know, is that which belongs to everyone. Though public good has been defined in several contexts, it was first defined in the context of the welfare state post second world war as something that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable.

  • Non-rivalrous being the first dimension of a public good, it means any good that is being used by one will not prevent someone else from using it.

  • Non-excludable being the second dimension of a public good, it means that it is impossible to exclude anyone from using it.

But, in what form could this public good be? Anything and everything that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable can be a public good. Recently during the national lockdown because of a pandemic, a street vendor in India who used to cook food left packets of food on his cart for people who are in need to take it. Seeing this, many more people in the same neighbourhood got inspired and started leaving food packets on the same cart. And, food that started coming in large amounts which created a self-sustaining ecosystem to help those in need. Here, the cart that helped bring in a large amount of food for the people who are in need in that neighbourhood became a public good as it was non-rivalrous and non-excludable. And, the medium here was a cart which was used to reach this to the public.

A cart was a public good at the neighbourhood level in the previous example, let's now look for an example at the global level. An organisation KaBOOM in the USA which works in building playgrounds for children created an online platform for other organisations to learn from them on how to make playgrounds for children. This helped in enabling many more organisations and communities building playgrounds for children in their neighbourhood. The public good here is the toolkit that helped other organisations to build playgrounds. The Internet as a medium made this idea which was just a public good to a ‘global’ public good helping create an impact at scale. Hence adding one more dimension ‘global’ to the existing two dimensions of public good. Considering the diversity and complexity at global level, exponential spread of globalisation in this technological era has provided an opportunity to reach beyond national boundaries across different cultures throughout the world in the form of ‘global public good’ to offer support to all countries. It has now become critical to manage the global public goods to manage globalisation to inspire, enable and transform as a world community.

Global public good was usually associated with something which the government of a country would provide from the taxes paid by their citizens such as free health and education services, free government library, etc,. The Internet created a revolution which led to the emergence of various public goods that went global like that of wikipedia. Pratham books, which started as a small scale publisher, visualised a book in every child’s hand. They experimented, which other publishers did not, by connecting to various open sources, open platforms targeting to get many numbers of books of good quality. After years of experimentation, they started a new open platform ‘Storyweaver’ which today has 17000 stories in 200 multiple languages. This today is helping many organisations use Pratham books to help children ‘learn to read’ to enable them to later ‘read to learn’. This also inspired many more organisations and initiatives like Societal Platform for different actors in the system to co-create, share, engage and learn with tools, process guidance documents, knowledge components, etc,. as a global public good in an open online platform. In education, global public goods have always added value to bring in systemic transformation, but its importance has become critical especially in recent times as pandemic has challenged the core syntax of teaching and learning in physical space in schools hence challenging the functioning of the entire education system.

For a good global public good to be useful, it requires the following:

  • Availability of the resources: For example, if the global public good is something that is available online, then to ensure that, most of them have the devices that would help them access it. And to ensure that, it's available for free to access.

  • Capability to avail the resources: For example, digital literacy becomes critical for anyone to access the digital devices that would be present.

  • Functionings: To ensure that, the resources and the capabilities are utilised to educate oneself or to fulfil the purpose of existing of the global public good. If this impact is absent, then, it might question the whole purpose of the existence of global public good.

While such global public goods would help in building a network, it will also help create global movements that could bring in constructive systemic changes. Global public good in education helps its every stakeholder to inspire, enable and transform in following ways:

  • Inspire: A global public good helps the solution provider to inspire as that organisation would lead by example. For example, KaBoom in the USA led by example by building playgrounds in communities which inspired many other organisations. Similarly, Pratham led by example inspiring many others by leaving the books open for others to use the stories and books of Pratham later on.

  • Enable: A global public good also enables those who are inspired to come up with their own solutions based on the context. For example, KaBoom’s open platform enabled many others to build a playground in their respective communities using the guidelines shared by KaBoom to implement based on the context. Similarly, Pratham enabled other organisations to create audio versions of these Pratham books by keeping it open for anyone who wants to develop upon these.

  • Transform: Enabling others also to co-create the solutions for the challenges, builds a huge ecosystem of social capital that can create a systemic transformation. For example, KaBoom’s intervention of global public good transformed the entire system where every community started talking about a child’s right to play. Similarly, Pratham’s intervention of global public good transformed the entire system to create a package of resources for children to access in form of packages in pendrive, online drives, etc., eventually getting to where every child is able to access a book one wants to read.

Growing interconnectedness has increased the common challenges faced by the world community, while this affects all, the most vulnerable in low income countries are affected the most. The global public goods will save the energy being spent on reinventing the wheel and will enable the ecosystem to build on the existing ideas creating a global movement for a good cause to bring in constructive changes in the world community. Thus, these goods would allow for cultural change, a paradigm shift that could substantially contribute to the conception of education as a social and cultural process. And these global public goods would become vital for reduction of poverty, inequality within and outside the countries and for bringing in a systemic transformation.