Remember Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point? In it he described how social change is driven by the behavioural dynamics of crowds: mavericks set a new path, often seen as .unreasonable. or .out of the box.; then the pioneer followers broaden the path and invite others to join. At this stage a tipping point is reached where enough followers are on the path to build confidence for the mainstream to adopt it. This dynamic is evident in a number of things around us - in fashion, in policy, in consumption, in ways of thinking . in all areas of human behaviour.

So we might ask ourselves - why not actively make use of this process for the goals of development too - poverty eradication, spreading solutions in education, health, energy and trade? What would such an attempt look like?

First we need to find the mavericks taking a risk. There are literally thousands of groups in villages across India doing amazing and effective work, many of whom do not fully reach the population of potential followers, and therefore stay alone on their path. During our work with producer groups through Chetna Organic and Zameen Organic - efforts to promote supply chains that directly benefit farmers - we have witnessed this potential with our own eyes.

Voluntary tipping would let shoppers participate in a novel way of change making - at a cost they themselves decide.
Then, to identify followers who have the power to drag more people along to broaden the path. Why not ask end customers of goods produced in villages to adopt village-level initiatives, sharing the news with their peers and building demand for more local level impact? Perhaps you see the similarities in this markets for certified fair-trade goods, or for organic produce. This is indeed where we got the idea. But our experience shows that these models have serious limitations due to the structure and processes they adopt. Certified markets are stagnating at 2-10 per cent depending on the category, and (especially in India) they have the name of being niche, high-end and elitist.

But why force consumers to pay any premium for fair trade? Why not give them the opportunity to leave a tip if they are happy with the product they are purchasing, and want to make a difference? Why stop people from joining producers on the path to sustainability? The approach of .tipping at the till. has been successfully tested in the crafts sector by a group called Community Friendly Marketing. Add to this the personalized marketing now common in microfinance - see KIVA and Rang De for examples. A new model for driving change from the consumer side is emerging.

How would this work? As a shopper you get the chance to participate in a novel way of change making - at a cost you decide yourself and in an area you decide. Are you the mother of a newborn? Perhaps supporting babies makes sense to you. Are you buying a gift for someone who is a sports fanatic? Then support a sports program. Are you a believer in education? Chose for a school-based project. There are as many definitions of 'development' as there are people. The limit is defined by the number of initiatives taken by producer groups. If you have a suggestion for an intervention, you can start a new category as well. Using social media you can see the most popular and least popular types of projects, and local producer groups can build up a 'fan' following for a particularly cool intervention.

Why has this not been tried before? Because the chain between producers and consumers is a complex web where information can easily get lost . not to think of the money involved! Through modern software, however, it is now possible to trace the product flow, channel the tips from the shop directly to producer groups and generate a report to be shared through (smart) phone.

We are now exploring how to initiate this for some markets. The effect of working with system dynamics is that we do not get stuck in high end niche markets with inflexible certification standards. By tapping into the power of self-organisation by the crowd we are co-creating paths by walking.

If you're curious how this works, or you'd like to join in some way, please comment on our website - We're also raising funds for this effort - again through crowd sourcing - at the Unreasonable Institute. Our slogan is "tip the balance of trade from mean to green! The next time you leave a tip for someone, I hope you'll think of all the possibilities inherent in that simple action. We can do it routinely, or as a powerful decision to directly and positively impact the lives of the poor. The choice is ours.