Bootstrapping The Financing of Humanity’s Transition

Alex Goodall
The Liminal Learning Portal
14 min readSep 25, 2020

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Read to the end of this article and you’ll see that I’m outlining the most consequential funding proposal in the history of humanity. (That is purposely meta-Trumpian hyperbole, but maybe it could be true?)

You don’t need a sledgehammer to crack a nut. But when you have many millions of nuts, a basic nutcracker simply doesn’t cut it — so to speak.

This is how my nut-cracking thoughts led to this article.

The nut, in my case, is the slow progress of developing The Liminal Learning Portal after coming out of lockdown and re-starting money-earning activities. The nutcracker would be me trying to boost donations.

Perhaps I was more frustrated than I realized because instead of working on the design of a nutcracker, I started thinking about the equivalent of an array of aeroplane hangars, each packed with automated nut-cracking, shell-separating and nut-packing machines.

Specifically, I started thinking about how we might go about providing serious financing for “humanity’s transition”, rather than just financing for developing my website.

This isn’t the place for a full explanation of the idea of humanity’s transition, but here’s a brief introduction.

The current dynamics of our global civilization mean we are on a self-terminating trajectory which could be caused by any number of existential threats. To avoid this, we need to change the dynamics by transitioning to a state of self-sustaining evolution. That is humanity’s transition.

A growing number of people and organizations and movements are aware of this and are working on it in some way: some more directly and consciously than others.

Some of the main movements or themes or metatheories include:

  • Integral Theory
  • Metamodernism / Metamodernity
  • GameB
  • Theory of Knowledge Society
  • Intentional Evolutionaries

Despite this apparent formation of silos, increasing integration and cross-pollination of ideas is starting to happen. This year, for example, the players in these movements have been talking to and working with each other to a much greater degree than just last year.

Also, I believe The Liminal Learning Portal is the first public resource to list people and organizations from all these (and other) fields. It currently (late-September 2020) lists over 100 people and organizations involved in some way in this goal. Of course, this is a tiny tip of a titanic iceberg.

Some of these people and organizations are funded by selling products and services. Some are funded by significant grants from benefactors. Many are driven purely by the passion and dedication of the individuals involved — supplemented, perhaps, by some sales and small $5 and $10 donations and subscriptions from supporters.

But there is just so, so much more to be done. And my sense is that the level of inter-awareness among the players is such that we can, and should, start cooperating at more strategic levels. Crucially, in the field of funding for initiatives.

Before making some proposals, I’ll present some context-setting points.

** Context **

One: This is big. Very big.

Doubtless, there are people better able than me to determine what’s involved in humanity’s transition, but here is my best attempt at a rigorous quantification.

There need to be a s**t-load of initiatives, across a massively broad spectrum of domains; in all stages — from research to policy to development to training and education to action; spread over all levels of scale — from one-person activities to small groups (local and dispersed), to regional, national, international and global.

[Side note #1: I’m only talking about initiatives here because this article is about funding. But humanity’s transition also requires individual, personal development. Using the same methodology and degree of rigour as above, I estimate this amounts to 10⁴ x s**t-load personal ‘initiatives’, which have nothing to do with funding. Except for all the initiatives to teach and support people in their personal development initiatives.

Side note #2: In the end, perhaps, there will be no distinction between an ‘initiative’ and the normal way the world works: because it will be normal to start initiatives that keep us from veering off a self-sustaining trajectory. The degree to which that distinction becomes blurred could become some measure of the success of the transition.]

Two: The time is now.

None of us knows how much time we have before one of the existential, or potentially existential threats hits us: or the potentially existential reverberating consequences of non-existential threats — as we’re experiencing now with Covid-19 (see here). We may have only 20 years left during which to make major, fundamental changes. That’s no time at all.

For example, what’s changed significantly since 9/11, nearly 20 years ago — other than negative reverberating consequences?

Three: We need better planning and coordination.

There is no overall blueprint for “what needs to be done” — and there never will be. Leastways, none that will be supported by the majority of players. You can’t write a business plan or project plan for the transition of humanity. This has to be, in essence, an evolutionary process. But this time, we’re talking about evolution that is conscious, and that, de facto, entails a degree of planning, despite the apparent dichotomy.

(I’d like to describe what I’m laying out here as a metaplan — because that’s how we name things, isn’t it? But sadly, I find that ‘Metaplan’ is both the name of a methodology and a Berlin-based international management consultancy, founded in 1959. Impressive.)

Four: We need to evolve our evolutionary processes.

Although we should do our best to be smart about starting or growing initiatives (we want them to succeed AND actually contribute to the solution, not exacerbate the problem), we’re going to get a lot wrong. We need to accept this but also create mechanisms for feedback and learning so that “failures” turn into positive learning experiences that contribute to wider success. (In the old days — 90s and 00s — we used to call this “knowledge management”.)

If we regard “initiatives” as potential evolutionary processes, the feedback and learning to improve these initiatives would mean that we are consciously evolving our conscious evolutionary processes. I think we’re going to need this type of meta-evolution.

Five: We need to prepare for the System’s overwhelming counter-response.

The closer we get to making an impact on almost any facet of society — in other words, the closer we get to anything that challenges the status quo — the greater will be the forces fighting back. There will be political and financial forces, possibly coordinating globally, the power of which few of us can even comprehend. Imagine you are one of the 2,153 billionaires in the world, whose combined wealth exceeds that of 4.6 billion people (60% of the planet’s population: see here). Unless you’re one of the very few exceptions, you do NOT want things to change beyond tokenism that wards off mainstream criticism (see here, for example). And you’ll use all your power and influence to maintain the status quo.

The dynamics of the recent Democratic presidential primaries in the USA, in which Bernie Sander’s bid was mercilessly dismantled, is a textbook case study. Unusually, this happened in full view, with little subtlety.

Six: We need to become exceptionally good at fundraising.

This is the main point: it enables everything else to happen at scale.

Money is not the whole story. You can’t even guarantee the successful completion of a normal project (a relatively linear construct) to a pre-determined deadline simply by throwing enough $$ at it. And humanity’s transition isn’t a project; it’s as nonlinear as it gets; and its deadline is ASAP.

Nevertheless, just like a project can be underfunded, so can humanity’s transition. And just as proper project funding greatly increases the probability of success, so it is with humanity’s transition. This is obvious stuff, but worth emphasizing.

I have one more context-setting point related to funding.

Six+: We need to adopt an abundance mindset.

I know that’s something of a hackneyed expression from the positive thinking, success psychologists — but it does neatly express what I want to say.

There’s money out there. Oodles of it.

And when we internalize that fact, we create more ambitious plans, and our belief in their potential to be realized increases.

For example, instead of me thinking “how can I find funds to allow me to work on the site 75% of my time instead of 25%?” I’m now thinking “I should write a plan to justify funds for a team of 4–6 full-time staff”. With the right controls in place (see below), I wouldn’t receive the funding if there were no independent agreement that it was justified.

I’m not underestimating the challenges of fund-raising. I’m pointing out that, if we can refine our mining techniques, there is no shortage of the resource we are after. Here is a little supporting evidence from 10 minutes of research.

A recent report pointed out that the top 1% in the USA has taken $50 trillion from the bottom 90% over the last few decades. Where is all that money sitting? The bond market is abysmal (as of mid-September 2020, US Treasury Bond yields range from an almost invisible 0.10% for 3 months to a barely noticeable 1.42% for 30 years) and the stock market is super-shaky (US stocks are 77% overvalued, as at August 2020: see here). Some percentage of that $50 trillion must be up for grabs — and that’s just the USA.

Here’s another way of looking at it. If those 2,153 billionaires could be persuaded to part with, on average, $1 million each (at most 0.1% of their wealth, in many cases 0.01% or less), we’d have $2.2 billion as a funding pool. A tolerable starting point.

That’s a big “if”, I know, but Oxford University has received donations from 10 billionaires in recent years, totalling £656 million (see here). I’ll do the maths for you: that’s an average of £65.6 million each. It’s true that much of that generosity is likely motivated by the donors achieving a modicum of immortality by having their names associated with a building, school or college linked to a 1000-year old institution — but still. That shows the money is available. (Perhaps we can flatter egos with visions of projects that have 1,000-year impacts.)

And those examples ignore the billions of non-billionaires. Which we shouldn’t. See what happens when small donors themselves adopt an abundance mindset.

Finally, from another UK university (University College London), we have an example of an institution raising nearly £600 million in just 4 years (see here) from, I think, small donation. This time, not to pay for buildings and colleges, but for “good causes” — conveniently defined under four very vague headings: Health, London, Students and Disruptive Thinking. I admit to being unable to find a cohesive theme to what they doing and couldn’t figure out how they attracted so much funding. And then I found their donate page: bookmarked for further study!

That’s it for the context-setting. Here are my outline proposals.

** Proposal **

I describe my proposal under three headings: Funding mechanisms, Replication and evolution and Hitching rides.

Funding mechanisms

There are three functions that need to exist. Whether they are all performed by a single body or by two or three bodies is open for debate. Those functions are:

Collective fund-raising

Many existing fund-raising programs are for specific existing or proposed initiatives, but this mechanism would raise funds for an overall generic goal. We could call this goal “Funding Humanity’s Transition”, or something equally generic (similar to fund-raising generically for, say, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals). Ideally, donors would contribute to the generic fund without attaching conditions, but there would need to be mechanisms to handle the inevitable conditional donations.

Simplistically, the money would go into a central pot, and would be taken out by the second mechanism.

[Side note: If there already is a body raising funds in the way, I’m not aware of it. Note to self: include “funding sources” as a future category for The Liminal Learning Portal.]

Collective fund-awarding

This is the complementary mechanism for spending the funds by accepting and reviewing proposals for the funding of specific initiatives and awarding grants — and perhaps loans/investment deals for commercial ventures. The credibility of the people involved in this is critical to its success. Fortunately, we have an abundance of incredible credible people to call upon.

The criteria for awarding funds would need to be rigorous, both in terms of the appropriateness of the goals of the initiatives and the competence and skills of the participants.

Initiative balancing and stimulation

This function would be needed in two circumstances. In both cases, the result would be a “call for action” of sorts, requesting proposals in specific areas.

Straightforwardly, if the available funds begin to significantly exceed the demand for funds — a nice problem to have - there would be a need to define initiatives that don’t already exist, and request calls for proposals for them.

Also, there may be a need to stimulate activity in certain areas, in preference to others. For example, there may be a surfeit of easy-win proposals to develop online mindfulness training via Udemy, but a dearth of proposals supporting metamodern municipalism, say. Or a perception that the development of technology and methods to support DAOs (Distributed Autonomous Organizations) is on a critical path, and so needs more funding.

Picking one area over another would be the equivalent of economic interventionism, I suppose: ‘interfering’ with the ‘natural (market?) forces of evolution’. But we are supposed to be consciously evolving. Unless conscious means we can only look, but not touch, a degree of intervention and planning is to be expected.

There are potentially some tricky issues here. For example, who has oversight over all this? And being able to decide which initiatives to encourage implies at least some outline of an overall plan or blueprint for the transition.

In theory, these could become serious problems. In practice, I don’t think they will be serious and in any case, my next proposal will mitigate the seriousness.

Replication and evolution

Reading the above, you may have inferred that I’m proposing a single instance of those funding mechanisms. In fact, I’ve tried to NOT imply that because having a single instance would be a disaster for two reasons.

Firstly, having a single instance is too centralizing. Secondly, one instance is simply inadequate — by a number of orders of magnitude.

Centralization.

That degree of centralization creates fragility.

For example, no matter the care taken in finding the people involved and defining the operating mechanisms, and no matter the transparency of the operations, it won’t be long before there are accusations of ideological bias, too narrow a focus, nepotism, too white, too male, too left, too right, too spiritual, too secular, too left-quadrants, too right-quadrants, too individual, too collective etc. etc. (I can already feel myself wanting to defend it!).

Also, it may actually end up being dysfunctional for any of a host of reasons. We shouldn’t allow there to be a single-point-of-failure for humanity’s transition!

Inadequacy.

The sheer size and scope of what we are attempting make it completely inappropriate to have only one instance of these mechanisms. That would be absurd. It’s not nearly enough.

So we need to replicate the idea. We need to create, or more accurately, encourage the creation of, multiple instances of fund-raising bodies to operate the funding mechanisms. (You’ll be relieved to know that I don’t intend extending my scatological quantification methodology (the s**t-load technique) to cover estimating how many funding bodies we’ll need. But it’s going to be more than ‘just a few’.)

Of course, saying “we need to replicate the idea” is only stating what, I would hope, will inevitably happen anyway. But inasmuch as it’s possible to plan for this, it’s useful to do so.

Specialization of funding bodies could be related to, for example, funding sources, types of initiative, size of initiative, geographic location of initiative and so on.

The idea of there being several hundred instances (say), creates a very different perspective than the idea of having only two or three of them. For example, referring back to Context Four above, it becomes obvious/essential that “evolving the evolutionary processes” should apply not only to initiatives, but also to the funding mechanisms as well. These things will evolve anyway, but with a little planning, we can create a faster and better-directed evolution.

Hitching rides

There are two strands to this: the general and the particular.

The General.

There are many already-existing, well-funded initiatives that are in, or closely aligned to, humanity’s transition. This opens up the potential for cooperation: not just to help them spend their funds, but, genuinely, for mutual learning. In principle, at least.

One example is the Future of Humanity Institute, which is on my doorstep at Oxford University. Some very rudimentary research reveals that they have an absolute minimum of £2.25 million in funding. Probably a lot more than that.

The name of the Institute and its broad mission statement align reasonably well with the idea of humanity’s transition. However, in practice, the scope appears to be rather narrow. Three of its four streams are limited to AI and biotech, and a cursory review of the fourth stream, Macrostrategy, suggests that none of the themes listed at the beginning of this article informs their thinking.

Like the shoe salesman’s attitude to finding a nation that doesn’t wear shoes, this could either be a wonderful opportunity or a lost cause.

I’ve not done the research to find out how many similar institutes exist, but I suspect it’s a seam worth digging.

The Particular.

The thing about humanity’s transition is that there is very little which is not in scope. Pretty much every aspect of society is going to be affected: education, politics, law, economics, finance and banking, international relations, business, work and employment, governance (at every level), digital and non-digital technologies, food and agriculture, mental and physical health…

Researchers with a transition perspective are working in many of these areas (politics, education, governance and agriculture, for example). The question is — can we find existing domain-specific initiatives that already have funding, which we can hook onto — either as a source of funding or to influence their agenda by providing a broader transition perspective? Or both?

I suspect people are already doing this, but could we do it better, faster and broader? And collaboratively?

** Summary **

I started this article with the idea of putting out a simple message

“Funding is very important for humanity’s transition: I think the time is right to start pooling our efforts”.

That remains the main point.

I’m not a funding expert. I’m not even a funding novice. So my Proposals are not (knowingly) based on any existing models. I’ve since found a wealth of content related to charitable funding — which is not quite the same, but close. Any uptake of my general idea should, obviously, look at and learn from these existing mechanisms.

One site is particularly interesting. Maanch is a middle-entity between donors and funders for projects (“initiatives” in my terminology) related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Its approach has major differences from my proposals, but there are enough similarities for it to be a useful source of learning and further refinement of these ideas.

Next Steps

That’s all I’ve got for now. Step 1 was to get this idea out there, and I can now tick that box. Comments and critiques are most welcome.

But the details of what I’ve written are much less important than the core message: are there any arguments against this in principle?

If not, then Step 2 is clear.

Some collection of people/entities need to come together to figure out the details of how to kick this off and provide the initial seed funding.

Back to my meta-Trumpian hyperbole.

Is it too outrageous to suggest that such seed funding — which would constitute bootstrapping the financing of humanity’s transition, could be the most consequential in the history of humanity?

Whether that’s true or whether it’s an irrelevant conceit (or both), it may have served its purpose of getting you to read to the end of this article.

Finally, to make it clear: this is NOT a pitch for funding for me to be any sort of meta fund-raising designer. That’s out of my league: although if no-one picks up on the idea, I’m willing to try and get the ball rolling somehow.

But it IS an unashamed pitch to be at the front of the line to receive some of the funding when it starts pouring in!

If you’re interested in helping to get the ball rolling: contact@tllp.org

Alex Goodall, September 2020

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