More People Working on Stuff that Matters
For the last four years, I’ve been privileged to be part of the Enspiral network in New Zealand. Part of Enspiral’s mission is to make it easier for more people to build inclusive organisations that combine social impact with economic thrivability.
To this end, we develop tools and teach skills that enable effective participatory processes, including online deliberation, collaborative budgeting, and distributed leadership. Enspiral’s work is already having significant impact, creating livelihoods doing meaningful work, and building software tools that are used by thousands of change-making organisations worldwide.
Because we’re a collaborative network rather than a traditional institution, securing funding can be a major challenge. We don’t fit the criteria for many traditional funding organisations, because we’re not a traditional charity, but we’re not a profit-maximising business either. But our unusual structure is integral to the impact we seek to have on the world. Enspiral is a collaborative, non-hierarchical network of people and ventures, which allows us to attract talented values-driven self-starters and put together highly agile cross-functional teams.
We’re committed to the idea that real change happens when we break the binary between economic livelihood and positive impact. We’re not waiting for the system to change - we are operating in a new paradigm within it, right now. We want to do well by doing good.
A large part of my work over the last few years has focussed on this question: how can we fund the regenerative economy?
Frankly, at times it has been disheartening. I can see tremendous potential in collaborative networks like Enspiral to seed the new world in the shell of the old, but that potential needs substantial resources to truly flourish. Businesses that are driven by social impact missions have most of the same capital needs as any other scaling startup. So often I’ve seen amazing projects fail to achieve their potential because of an unwillingness on the part of funders to venture outside the constraints of traditional funding criteria.
That’s why it was such a tremendous privilege to work with the Namaste Foundation on a substantial grant. It felt like Namaste and Enspiral run the same operating system: we solve hard problems by prioritising relationships and orienting ourselves to generosity and service. Once Brian and Matthew got to know Enspiral and understand the impact of our work, they decided to trust us with a financial gift, then made space for the autonomy to undertake the most impactful projects.
Michelle at Namaste uses this beautiful phrase to describe the approach of the Namaste Foundation: “Giving in to the mystery”. I love it because “giving in” doesn’t refer to a sense of resignation - it’s an acknowledgement that the future is unknown and that all of us need to embrace uncertainty and contribute our unique piece to it.
Namaste’s gift has been part of an important shift for Enspiral as we’ve continued to evolve. We’ve transitioned from a loose community of social entrepreneurs into a purpose-driven network that builds and shares open source tools and processes for inclusive and efficient organising. The grant enabled us to significantly improve the accessibility and usability of the tools we’re building, and to share our own organising practices with far more people.
In a series of articles, we’ll be telling the stories of the specific Enspiral projects that the Namaste Foundation has enabled, and the impact that people around the world are making with the tools it’s empowered us to create.
My hope is that other purpose-driven networks and organisations will take heart, knowing that there are funders out there who share the vision of transformative change, who are prepared to take a bold approach. At the same time, I hope that other courageous funders will be encouraged to see that giving in to the mystery means giving to meaningful social impact.