Zebras Unite
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Zebras Unite

Zebras in the Wild: Anika Horn at Social Venturers | Founding Member

With our series “Zebras in the Wild”, we are excited to take you on a journey around the world to meet founding members, chapter leads, co-op members and allies! We talk to Zebras in the wild and report back how they’re challenging the status quo, how they envision the future and how we can support them in their mission!

Well, this is awkward…

For more than a year, I’ve had the chance to sit down with more than 25 chapter leads from Jordan to Austria, co-op members that work for better childcare and create innovative technology-driven solutions to the financial needs of families, and founding members who are working on a systemic scale to address planetary challenges and those that help tilt the playing field in favor of Black and Brown Founders.

With so many conversations under my belt, I have the opportunity to share with you how many of these international conversations have informed how I envision our alternative future. Enjoy!

A Zebra is

… the embodiment of doing business on our own terms. It means re-envisioning the economy and — by extension — our future far beyond the current narrow-minded and linear status quo.

At first sight, companies within the private sector might all look the same (much like Zebras in the dazzle). Upon closer examination, however, you will recognize the ones that use business not just as a vehicle to generate profit but also as a force for good in their communities. That’s what sets them apart, much like the unique pattern of stripes of an individual Zebra.

Zebras are real, thrive in community and make a strong dazzle without losing their individual values and ways of doing business.

Against a finite mindset

I think of our efforts to transform our communities as an Infinite Game: We step into the game of social change and make our contribution for as long as we have the resources and motivation to do so. There are no fixed rules on how to contribute and other players can join or leave at any time.

In an Infinite Game, there are no winners or losers. There’s no final result, just constant striving toward a better future.

That means we have no control over how others act and behave. The rules — if there are any — are constantly changing. Once we open our eyes to this Infinite Game mindset, we realize we are surrounded by, and part of, a rich diversity of thought and people; and once we learn how to embrace that diversity and all the complexity it comes with, we can tap into an unlimited wealth of lived experiences.

Under the current status quo, however, most people prefer linear, narrow-minded, simplistic thinking because it gives us the illusion of control. With so many factors outside of our control (climate crisis, pollution, the loss of biodiversity, COVID-19, political unrest, social inequality — the list is a long one), we feel safer if we can create a sense of control. This behavior is evolutionary and hardly surprising. But by retracting from our community and moving towards individualism, we naturally look out for ourselves and our own before we consider the wellbeing of the greater community around us. And if everyone only looks out for themselves, we inevitably shift into us-vs.-them thinking, we abandon our communities when we need each other most, we feed greed, competition and inequality. What’s worse, by disconnecting from others we lose the ability to walk in their shoes, to understand and embrace the diversity of thought and lived experiences. We lose trust in each other. We try to divide up the pie and secure a large enough piece for ourselves for fear that someone else will snatch it up and leave us empty-handed.

To me, Zebras Unite embodies a counter-movement to this individualism.

My vision for the future

In my ideal future, we pull our scared heads and hearts out of the sand and accept that a rising tide lifts all boats. We re-learn that we can’t control nature, the planet, organizations, markets, culture or other people. With that knowledge, we start to unravel what we really want for our communities and — by extension — for ourselves and the people around us.

In my ideal future, we have a conversation within our communities about what we want them to be: a broken place full of obstacles and shortcomings, something to be fixed? Or a place of unlimited potential, assets and resources that are unique to us, just waiting to be unearthed and activated for the greater good?

To turn these conversations into action, we need to roll up our sleeves and contribute what each of us has to offer. Through collaboration and the trust we build, we’ll be able to take agency in our future and build a version in which we love to live, work and play (a concept my friend Debbie Irwin uses to describe her work as an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder).

In this re-imagined future, each person lives to their fullest potential and is supported in that effort — whether as an artist, entrepreneur, parent, community builder, chef, mechanic, gardener, teacher — whatever identities intersect. To provide that support, we view our economy and communities as an ecosystem in which ALL changemakers have equitable access to the talent, resources and information they need when they need them.

The Community of the future is the community of my past

Growing up in East Germany, it wasn’t unusual for someone in my village to drop off a bucket of apples because they had more than they could eat. To this day, my parents never leave a friend’s house without an arm full of fresh cut flowers, eggs or some just-harvested produce. Equally, my parents never see friends without first stepping into the pantry to see what they have enough of: homemade pickles, some smoked meats or a jar of homemade preserves. While I don’t miss the political and economic rules of socialism, I loved that the entire village showed up for one another. Not everyone was friends but it meant that most people were willing and able to set their egos aside for the greater good: No contracts, no service fees, no tracking favors.

In my ideal future, we will find our village again. We accept that the world doesn’t revolve around us and our individual needs. Rather than trying to control our organizations, communities, and those around us, we embrace uncertainty, diversity and constant change, and learn how to thrive within it. In my conversation with Sharon Chang, she explained: “Imagine going into the thickest and richest rainforest that is untouched by so-called “civilization.” What you’ll find are the most magnificent, complex and unexpected micro-ecologies that you could never replicate elsewhere because they are unique to the local conditions, and therein lies their beauty and value supported by inherent resilience.[…] When we follow the laws of nature to design communities and ecosystems, we provide the conditions for innovation and resilience, we help prepare the soil for little rainforests to take root, blossom and thrive. And-like in nature-that takes time. There will be times when it looks like nothing is happening above ground because much of that foundational change takes place out of plain sight, such as growing roots and connecting the different mechanisms underground. To stick with the analogy of the rainforest, we have to let go of the idea that we can produce a premeditated outcome. The best, and in fact, all we can do is to provide the right conditions for this natural process to take place.”

A culture of abundance, reciprocity, empathy, trust and collaboration

The culture of the next economy will be the fabric among people who care for each other (thank you Talie Smith for the thread-and-fabric metaphor). Values like abundance, reciprocity, empathy, trust and collaboration weave that fabric:

  • Abundance: We assume that there’s enough for everyone and that — by doing our share — we are growing the pie for everyone.
  • Reciprocity: We give what we have to spare and we take what we can’t source ourselves. This is not about keeping count, it’s about everyone doing what they do best and sharing resources to benefit the community at large.
  • Empathy: We have deep conversations with each other, especially people who don’t look like me, talk like me, dress like me or come from the same place as me. We start to walk in other people’s shoes to see the world through their eyes. This empathy is the key to nurturing welcoming communities, creating a sense of belonging and creating equitable access to information, talent and resources. It all starts with understanding “other” and embracing diversity as a gift to be cherished.
  • If we understand the lived experience of others and have honest and hard conversations outside of our current comfort zones; if we assume there’s enough for everyone and know that we’re sharing what we have to spare, we will begin to lay the foundation for trust and collaboration among us.

If we want to make a difference, we cannot do it alone. In my conversation with Armillaria, Cameron Burgess concluded: “When it comes to addressing these ‘wicked problems’, anybody who says “I’m going to be the one to solve that!” is either a god or insane. Because no one individual is smart enough or has enough money or enough life to actually be able to solve that problem on their own.”

Capital as a means to an end

I view financial capital as a means to an end, not an end in itself. It’s a tool or a vehicle to jumpstart the engine of value creation (aka business) but it’s not the end goal. I would go as far as to say that financial capital itself is of limited value because it doesn’t create sustainable change, it merely kickstarts it.

Knowing that there is a wide variety of companies out there that create value in the market and their communities, we need an equally wide spectrum of financial capital to allow them to start and grow. If we assume that products and services are built to meet the specific needs of certain people — and we assume that these people are not a homogenous group — then the variety of financing options needs to match the variety of companies emerging to meet these needs: some of them grow fast, others slow, some of them may not grow at all. Some of them will become huge companies, others will remain small and nimble at all times. Some of them will be brick and mortar anchors on main street, others are tech-enabled virtual ventures. You get the idea. I talked to Daisy Ford-Downes and Camille Nisich at length about the role of capital and our need for many more options to serve entrepreneurs who make a difference.

My role in creating an alternative future

I help communities and entire regions build and nurture their unique entrepreneurial ecosystems. Through my work, I help communities shift their mindsets from individual, linear thinking to viewing themselves as an ever-changing ecosystem. Each community, just like a Zebra, has its own assets, opportunities and resources creating a unique fingerprint. I train local entrepreneurship advocates, cheerleaders and supporters in the skills and practices needed to turn this uniqueness into a thriving ecosystem for makers, doers, creators, tinkerers and visionaries so they can fulfill their individual potential and — therefore — benefit their entire communities.

On an international level, I share these experiences and stories with anyone and everyone who wants to listen: In my podcast Ecosystems for Change I talk to ecosystem builders from around the world to share their hardest won lessons (many) and biggest triumphs (not so many but certainly meaningful!) — all in an effort to equip other systems thinkers and doers with the insights, tools and practical advice to do this work in their community.

Lastly, I teach ecosystem building through masterclasses (join us on February 24, 2022!) and my signature 10-week ecosystem builder training The Keystone Program.

What does support look like?

Become a champion for your community and start viewing it as a place of untapped potential and unlimited promise for what it can become. Invite others to join your cause, celebrate the changemakers in your city and elevate the voices of those who are not heard. Feel free to share your ecosystem stories and lessons on the podcast! And if you need any help figuring any of this out:

Anika asks the community…

What is one thing you love about your community that makes it different from any other place?

Shout-out

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Anika Horn

Anika Horn

Ecosystem builder for social change. Founder at www.socialventurers.com Meet me over at www.anikahorn.com for all things social enterprise!