David’s Story

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David’s Story 2017-04-06T22:22:13+00:00
David Korten

David Korten

My professional career spans two distinct period: A pre-1990 establishment period and a post 1989 civil society period. See the discussion of Turning Points below.

Critical Turning Points

People often ask me, “What was the turning point in your life?” I identify five significant life-changing turning point.

  1. Going International. I grew up in a conservative family in a white middle class industrial town assuming I would one day own and manage the family music and appliance store. The decision to pursue an international career devoted to ending global poverty was my one abrupt and totally life changing decision.
  2. Leaving Academia. The decision to leave my faculty position at Harvard the end of 1977 for a Ford Foundation assignment in Manila proved to be a permanent break with academia and the most intellectually liberating decision of my life. Freed from the demand to produce narrowly defined peer reviewed journal articles that no one reads, I was free to draw from the full range of human knowledge and experience in a quest to understand and address the world’s most complex issues from often unconventional perspectives. I was also free to live and work with people of widely different cultures and experience in countries with varied and ever changing social and institutional systems.
  3. Defecting from the Establishment. After nearly two decades living and working in Africa , Latin America, and Asia employed by the foreign aid establishment, I was coming to see that establishment as more a cause of rather than a solution to the human deprivation I had set out to end. In 1998, I began my break with the establishment and initially cast my lot with nonprofit, nongovernmental groups. Many were beginning to share the same critical analysis to which I was coming. In the end, however, they remained captive to the system that funded them. Indeed, it was only after I drew my last pay check from the foreign aid system that I saw the full extent and reasons for it failure. See The Foreign Aid Story.
  4. Returning to the United States to Address the Global System Eventually, I came to see the connection between the social and environmental devastation I was witnessing abroad and the economic policies practiced and advanced by the United States through its foreign policy, use of military power, and corporate reach. The decision to return home to the United States from the Philippines to focus on the upstream source of many of the problems I had gone abroad in the hope of helping to resolve took me to a whole new level of inquiry and engagement.
  5. Embracing an Earth Centered Living Systems Frame. I spent much of my youth immersed in nature. And early in my professional career I was deeply influenced by the argument in Limits to Growth that the quest for infinite growth on a finite planet is suicidal. Shortly after the publication of When Corporations Rule the World, micro biologist Dr. Mae Wan Ho and evolutionary ecologist Elisabet Sahtouris introduced to me to the new biology, which studies organisms as intelligent self-organizing living systems. My professional life has since been devoted to applying the lessons of life’s self-organizing evolutionary journey to the quest to displace a global corporate-driven money-seeking suicide economy with a life-serving living Earth economy. The key to the human future resides in a simple truth that resides in most every human heart. We are living beings born of and nurtured by a living Earth

For more details on the lessons leading to each of these turning points see this December 16, 2000 interview by the University of Washington Center for Communication and Civic Engagement. This site also offers a conventional short-form author bio.

Current Civil Society Affiliations (1990-present)

Founder and president of the Living Economies Forum [formerly People-Centered Development Forum (PCDForum)], which has been my primary organizational base since 1990, when I turned my attention from advancing the economic development of low income nations to transforming the global economy. I am also co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine, a member of the governing board of Toward Ecological Civilization, an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, a full member of the Club of Rome, and an advisory board member of the School of Regenerative Design and of the Institute for Postmodern Development of China.

Previous Affiliations During the Civil Society Years

Previous institutional affiliations during this current phase of my professional career include serving as a founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), founding associate of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), and co-chair of the former New Economy Working Group, the functions of which passed to the New Economy Coalition and the Next System Project.

Books During the Civil Society Years

Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth, (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015).

Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, (San Francisco: CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009, 2010)

The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006), International Bestseller

The Post-Corporate World: Life after Capitalism, (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1999)

Globalizing Civil Society: Reclaiming Our Right to Power(New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998)

When Corporations Rule the World, (San Francisco, CA 1995, 2001, 2015), International Bestseller

Getting to the 21st Century: Voluntary Action and the Global Agenda(West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 1990)

Credentials and Affiliations from the Establishment Years (up to 1990)

  • BA degree in psychology from Stanford University. MBA and PhD degrees from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
  • Served five years as Visiting Associate Professor and Member of the Faculty, Harvard Business School.
  • Set up the College of Business Administration at Haile Sellassie University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in mid-1960s as a Fulbright Lecturer and Assistant Dean.
  • Harvard Business School advisor, Academic Director, and Director of Research, Central American Management Institute (INCAE), Managua Nicaragua—Latin America’s premier graduate business school.
  • Institute Associate, Harvard Institute for International Development, Harvard University
  • Lecturer on Population Studies and member of the faculty, Harvard School of Public Health.
  • Visiting professor, Asian Institute of Management.
  • Captain in the US Air Force teaching on the faculty of the Special Air Warfare School, leading a special study team in Air Force Headquarters Command, and serving as military aide to the civilian head of Behavioral and Social Science Research in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).
  • Ford Foundation project specialist for population program management based in Manila, Philippines.
  • Coordinator, Management Institutes Working Group on Social Development Management, an initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation.
  • Asia Regional Advisor on Development Management for the US Agency for International Development based on Jakarta, Indonesia to work with AID missions throughout Asia, on project development and management with special focus on Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

 Books Prior to My Establishment Separation

Community Management: Asian Experience and Perspectives (West Hartford, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 1986) [Edited collection]

People-Centered Development: Contributions Toward and Theory and Planning Frameworks (West Hartford, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 1984) [Collection edited with Rudi Klauss]

Bureaucracy and the Poor: Closing the Gap (West Hartford, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 1983) [Collection with edited with Felipe B. Alfonso]

Population and Social Development Management: A Challenge for Management Schools, (Caracas, Venezuela: IESA, 1979)

Casebook for Family Planning Management: Motivating Effective Clinic Performance (Chestnut Hill, Mass.: The Pathfinder Fund, 1977) [With Frances F. Korten]

Planned Change in a Traditional Society: Psychological Problems of Modernization in Ethiopia (New York: Praeger, 1972)