Introducing The Current
A distributed funding ecosystem for free(d) money
- Hyperlocal organizations and initiatives across the U.S. continue to do critical work in their respective communities, yet typically lack equitable access to uncomplicated funding streams
- The philanthropic “industry” in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is largely antiquated, and rife with harmful power dynamics and inefficiency
- We believe in the potential of free(d) money—that is, money freed from being stockpiled and money free for the taking by those who need it most
- In Spring 2022, we’ll be co-designing a prototype of The Current—an economic, social and technological(web3) infrastructure that will enable a free flow of liberated money (and other resources) into community-based organizations across the U.S.
- Would you like to join us? Follow along or get in touch
How did we get here?
In late Spring of 2020, a group of future architects gathered to re-imagine the Future of Investing, broadly defining the term “investment” to include philanthropy, impact investing, and wealth management activities. We galvanized each other toward more provocative speculation:
- What if investing efforts could be rooted in principles of stewardship, beauty and connectedness?
- What if ROI wasn’t simply a proxy for compounding wealth, but an invitation for value in its many forms to be returned?
- Is there a way to stimulate a more equitable flow of money through non-traditional economic incentives?
This initial exercise was so rich that a small group — Roxann Stafford, Penelope Douglas, Jennifer Brandel, Sharon Chang, Mark Beam, Jordan Luftig, Jennifer Mercado Cohen, Sarah Rulfs and Oona Eager — continued to meet monthly, facilitated by Yoxi. We called ourselves a ‘Future of Investing Community of Practice’ [FoI CoP] and each of our conversations surfaced an abundance of interrelated pathways forward. By Spring 2021, a clear provocation had emerged:
What if money could be both free and freed? Free(d).
With free(d) money as our central theme, we began to identify several distinct interventions to prototype, one being The Current.
Free(d) Money in context
As members of the FoI CoP, we have decades of combined experience animating new ownership models and investment vehicles, working with money as founders and grantees, and also as philanthropists, investors and grantors. The following are our collated insights that we believe offer fertile ground for The Current.
1. Philanthropic and investing industries are rife with harmful power dynamics
Those who are investing money continue to set the conditions for those who need money — e.g. who gets funding, how, and when. Additionally, investors and philanthropists are often unaware of their biases and are farthest away from the issues they feel entitled to address with the capital they deploy.
2. Wealth inequality in the U.S. has been on the rise for more than three decades
Of all the G7 nations, wealth inequality in the U.S. is the highest, and growing; since 2010, the top one percent alone holds more wealth than the entire middle class ($25T vs $18T, respectively). There’s a lot of money “stuck” in the hands of very few, and it’s not flowing easily or quickly enough to those who are working in service of the many.
3. Hyperlocal organizations supporting their communities are effective and proliferating
Initiatives dedicated to supporting community-based efforts continue to bloom across the United States, with many seeking to co-design, co-govern and co-own resources — principles that are perhaps reminiscent of what political economists call “the commons.” However, many of these organizations are siloed and lack funding to reach their full potential.
4. Young wealth holders are encountering an antiquated philanthropic system
Generational wealth is beginning to transfer to GenZ , a digitally fluent generation with an evolved understanding of systemic injustice , at a time when philanthropy is facing criticism for blocking progress on tackling a growing array of complex challenges.
5. The cultural gaze is shifting away from those who need more money toward those who have more than enough money
Rather than blaming grantees or those they serve for failing to understand how to jump through philanthropic hoops, critics are increasingly interrogating the behaviors of both big foundations and the ultra-wealthy. There is a growing invitation for those stewarding wealth to deploy funds more swiftly, effectively, and justly.
6. How we relate to money is often just a byproduct of how we relate to ourselves
Most wealth-holders, just like anyone else, have conflated their sense of self-worth with how much they own. Money acts as the perfect construct through which one’s insecurities, fears, and (intergenerational) trauma may play out, thereby further impeding the flow of wealth from those who have too much toward those who have too little.
7. Cross-sector support of guaranteed income pilots and trust-based philanthropy continues to rise
Countless studies and a lot of experimentation over many years is revealing that, given appropriate context and relationships, guaranteed income as well as trust-based, or participatory, philanthropy provide powerful pathways to tackle some of the most complex challenges of our society.
What is The Current?
The Current is a distributed funding ecosystem that helps put free(d) money to good use. It imagines a free flow of money through the utilization of new social, economic and technological infrastructure as one way to support the growing number of community-based initiatives across the United States.
Money as Water
We found the metaphor of water systems to be especially helpful in visualizing how money is invested today versus a reimagined system of deployment.
How might The Current work?
Members of The Current will be at liberty to access money (and other assets e.g. property) and return money (and other assets e.g. art) to the ecosystem, with the only intermediary being the member- and algorithm-governed ecosystem itself. Although relationship-building between members (both values-aligned funders and community-based ‘grantees’) will be enabled and money flow will be tracked, those investing money into The Current will not dictate how or when money is used, nor by whom.
Why is The Current different?
We believe a lot of the ineffectiveness of and harm caused by philanthropic and investment vehicles has to do with wealth-holders’ orientation toward money. This is why the concept of free(d) money is so provocative: it at once feels irresistible and impossible.
Community-of-Practice member Sharon Chang drafted the following V1 manifesto to reflect our philosophical starting point and to help prepare us for co-design of The Current.
I don’t own the money in my possession.
I am a steward of the money that comes to me.
If the money is earned through my own hard work, I consider it a gift that honors my talent and effort.
If I inherited money, I consider it a gift that honors my relationships.
I will be generous and thoughtful when determining the amount of money I need to lead a meaningful life.
The money I don’t need and that remains under my stewardship is to be returned to The Current: free(d) money for humanity to put to good use.
I trust my own intentions and intentions of my fellow humans to draw from The Current where money is needed in order to enable more justice, equity, creativity, and regeneration in the world.
Co-designing The Current
The efficacy and justness of an ecosystem relies heavily on its initial design phase being a deeply collaborative undertaking. We will co-create a first prototype with a small group of initial members, focused on the following areas.
Values & Principles
Which first principles will help guide members of The Current toward our common goal of free(d) money? How might we design terms of engagement that invite transformative play and compassion for all involved? If we lift some principles up, what are we trading off? This stream of work also includes iteration of the manifesto.
The Current will require a set of social and technological “rules” that may define…
- who can engage
We imagine certain characteristics might facilitate trust and that diversity will ensure resilience in the system
- how participants engage
We would expect members to behave in accordance with the ecosystem’s values, but predict some rules and rewards would help to incentivize prosocial behavior
- distribution & allocation of funds
Our aim is equitable and unbiased deployment of funds (and other assets and resources) through a co-designed algorithm, thereby avoiding the need for traditional intermediaries
Like other successful ecosystem models (e.g. Wikipedia), members of The Current will be invited to contribute to the ecosystem beyond a primarily transactional level. We imagine some of these roles may include . . .
- peer verification
- facilitating and moderating discussion
- various acts of care and love
- knowledge sharing
- fundraising & promotion
- ongoing governance activities
We will begin co-designing a prototype of The Current in Spring 2022. If you are interested in collaborating with us or have feedback on our initial concept, we would like to hear from you.
This publication is the result of a collaborative effort. In addition to the members of the Yoxi Future of Investing Community of Practice, I would like to extend my gratitude to the following people, who offered their time and insights during the first phase of our exploration: Amira Anne Glickman, Lee Feldman, Peter Mortifee, Manie Eagar, Chid Liberty, Francesca Pick, Anthony Cabraal, Isabela Granic and Jonathan Knegtal.