Mobius’ refounding moment — why and how we transitioned from Mobius 1.0 to 2.0

Mobius
8 min readApr 1, 2022

By Aden Van Noppen

Mobius recently went through a major transformation. Internally, we refer to this time as moving from Mobius 1.0 to Mobius 2.0. As the founder of Mobius 1.0, this has been one of the most meaningful transformations of my life that is connecting me to what it is like to live in alignment with my longings.

I am going to tell you why and how we made this transition, for the sake of transparency, humility, and inspiration, and to establish that while we are making a major strategic shift both in form and function, we are also honoring the lessons learned and meaningful relationships that defined Mobius 1.0.

Origin & Mobius 1.0

Mobius was born in summer of 2018 as a collaboration between me and a group of roughly 20 leading meditation teachers, neuroscientists, and entrepreneurs including Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Dan Seigel, Richard Davidson, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, and others. The group had convened earlier that year around a shared passion for supporting the creation of technology that increases compassion. I had just completed a yearlong fellowship at Harvard Divinity School, where I focused on the intersection of spirituality, technology, ethics and justice, following my tenure in the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy developing programs that leveraged tech for social and economic justice. I shared the group’s passion to influence technology by bridging ancient wisdom and the latest science, especially as a longtime practitioner of Buddhist meditation. So we teamed up. With a small amount of seed funding, I founded Mobius and set out to experiment in collaboration with this group of luminaries.

Because of our networks, access, and power analysis at the time, we made the initial choice to focus on supporting the moral imagination and action of “Big Tech” senior leaders through a combination of cross-industry community and in-company advising. Inspired by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze’s two loops model of systems change, we set out to identify people who were working to change the system from the inside, bring them together, nourish them and their work, and ultimately help to illuminate it so it could spread.

We wove together inner support primarily through intimate community gatherings and outer manifestation primarily through advising. This weaving of the inner and the outer is the meaning behind our name, Mobius. The Mobius strip is a shape with the unusual mathematical property of having no separation between the inner and the outer layers of the shape. Quaker elder and activist, Parker Palmer, taught me that this is a powerful metaphor about the illusion of a separation between our inner and outer lives. I knew that no matter what, Mobius’ strategy would support both inner and outer transformation and wellbeing in service creating technology worthy of the human spirit.

In our first few years, we advised Apple, Facebook, Amazon Alexa, YouTube, and TikTok on their strategies to care for the wellbeing of the people who use their products. TikTok was one of our most intensive engagements, and we spent six months supporting them to articulate a clear vision and definition of wellbeing and to develop their capacity for its implementation. Through a lot of relationship-building and network weaving, we also built a supportive, trusting, cross-industry community of Big Tech senior leaders who gathered regularly for shared spiritual practice, mutual support, ideation, and moral imagination. It led to sharing best practices, the creation of new positions, lasting relationships, and more. This community was particularly radical in the context of an industry that is defined by ruthless competition and secrecy.

I am proud of what we accomplished as Mobius 1.0–we were one of the only organizations in the responsible tech landscape weaving inner and outer support explicitly to influence product and strategy decisions, we bridged across a wide range of perspectives and forms of wisdom and knowledge, we wove lasting, supportive relationships across competitors in service of a larger mission, and we learned a lot along the way. However, four things became increasingly clear to me:

  1. Working to shift Big Tech is unlikely to move beyond harm reduction. I began to feel that, while we were aspiring to support radical systems change, we were actually putting bandaids on a hemorrhaging body. We could not change the underlying incentives, norms, cultures, and structural inequities that give rise to so many of the harms of tech: business models that prey on psychological and emotional vulnerabilities and fuel violence, polarization and a crisis of mental health, extraction of data for the purpose of surveillance and profit maximization, lack of access to quality tech jobs, investment capital, and digital infrastructure, to name a few. While mitigating the harms created by the existing system is necessary work, I no longer believe it will create the fundamental transformation we long for and need. I saw repeatedly that, despite the best intentions, there is an unwillingness to make the tradeoffs needed to value our individual and collective wellbeing over the fastest route to a profit. And we will continue to suffer greatly because of it, in particular if we fail to lift up, resource, and unlock alternatives.
  2. These times call for unprecedented transformation from systems that perpetuate oppression and extraction to systems that are rooted in love, justice, and spirit. This transformation, and our collective liberation and thriving, depend on a new paradigm for technology. They depend on solutions and visions that come from outside the dominant tech ecosystem, while not alienating those who are working to shift the status quo from the inside.
  3. Despite what I felt we stood for, Mobius’ work was propping up toxic, oppressive power structures and systems. I began to see that where I was placing resources and attention was out of alignment with my values and deeper understanding of what the world needs. Instead of focusing on the current centers of power, I wanted our work to shift power, attention, and resources towards women, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, queer and youth voices who have lived experiences of the violence, inequity, oppression, and trauma that is perpetuated or exacerbated by technology.
  4. We could not and should not do this work as an all white leadership team. We were three white women committed to shifting power, attention, and resources towards people of color who are working to transform the tech sector. We were not in integrity with this commitment until we created the same shift inside of Mobius, nor could we do it in a way that reflected the lived experience of the people we hoped to support. Building a multiracial team needed to be our highest priority, which would mean resisting white, patriarchal, and capitalist culture by pressing pause on external programs in order to expand and reconfigure our team, move at the speed of trust, and rebuild Mobius with spaciousness and care.

Making the Shift to 2.0

In December of 2020, Julia Rhodes Davis–a longtime collaborator and now a Mobius Co-Director– and I went for a walk in the redwoods above Oakland, CA. Amongst those sacred, giant trees, we spoke about a dream to shift Mobius from supporting big tech leaders to supporting the leadership of those who have been most marginalized and harmed by the existing tech sector and from this lived experience have deep wisdom about alternative paradigms/solutions. This conversation connected to my deep yearning for justice, love, spirit, and co-liberation to be at the center of Mobius as opposed to coming in from the side door.

Fully aligning with this yearning took time. It included a powerful and continual process of decolonizing my mind, body, and spirit (thanks largely to somatics training in the lineage of Generative Somatics and the support of like-minded community, family, and the Mobius team). The combined pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice–especially the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Abery, and many other acts of state sanctioned violence–lit even more fire under me to make a shift. It was past time to step into deeper integrity, bravery, and co-creation in service of justice, co-liberation, and thriving for all people.

After wrapping up our TikTok contract in mid-2021, we paused external work in order to find our collaborators in this shift and co-create our new direction. After a few months, in November of 2021, we assembled a dream team of Dr. Sará King, Davion Ziere (Zi), Meagan Mitchell, Julia Rhodes Davis, and me. At first, we came together around a one shared project, planning a gathering. But we quickly developed shared devotion to each other and Mobius’ evolving mission. This happened in part because of our Living Agreements, which set a compassionate and healing foundation for how we are with each other. These agreements serve as a co-created guide for our multiracial team committed to moving at the speed of trust. The shared project became much larger than a gathering–we were refounding Mobius together. I shifted out of the role of Executive Director so we could step into a shared leadership structure with five Co-Directors that each bring unique perspectives, gifts, and knowledge.

Evolving our Strategy

While our approach to systems change is still rooted in the two loops model — with additional inspiration and magic from adrienne maree brown’s emergent strategy philosophy and frameworks — who we center, resource, partner with has shifted. We now seek to enable the alternative paradigm that we long for and need by holistically resourcing people, especially women, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and queer people, who are creating new technology products, narratives, and systems that foster liberation and thriving for all.

We are dedicated to supporting the transition to Liberatory Technology, technology that enables all people and communities to obtain freedom, thriving, and greater access to our aliveness. Our strategy weaves together community, narrative change, and the articulation of new “tech foundations” (underlying frameworks and values that give rise to Liberatory Technology). We are grounding this in a Liberatory Tech Fellowship that will launch in early 2023.

Even with the depth of this transformation, it feels important to name that we are carrying forward some key elements of Mobius 1.0.

  1. Approaching systems change through community-building, nourishing individuals and their work, and illuminating that another way is possible.
  2. Weaving support of the inner and the outer. We carry forward a soulful approach that seeks to enable wholeness, healing, and a protected space for imagination for all who are part of our community.
  3. Many of the incredible individuals, including some of the luminaries who came together in 2018, funders and collaborators, and members of our 1.0 community who are doing courageous work inside of big tech companies.
  4. Bridging across a wide range of perspectives so that many forms of wisdom, knowledge and life experiences inform the creation of technology.
  5. A commitment to moral imagination, which Jacqueline Novogratz beautifully defines as “the humility to see the world as it is and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be.” This means having a solutions orientation while not turning away from the harm of tech. It also means welcoming, not villainizing, those who are working to shift tech from the inside.

We are still in the infancy of Mobius’ refounding. There is so much possibility, and there will undoubtedly be many lessons learned, twists and turns, and emergence along the way. We will be sure to share them with you here.

I can’t wait to encounter the many other people who will be part of this story too. Perhaps you are one of them.

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Mobius

Mobius is a home for liberatory technologists, scientists, healers, artists, and more, working together to create a more compassionate and just tech ecosystem.