Our series about the "common threads" that run through our various programs kicks off with a look at our approach to relationships and community.

When SecondMuse began exploring solutions to ocean plastic pollution a few years ago, we did what we always do when we set our sights on a challenge we feel inspired and equipped to address. We immersed ourselves in research and began building relationships with the diverse players whose lives and work touch this complex issue. In this case, we sought out men and women who earn a meager living picking and selling plastic waste in coastal areas of South and Southeast Asia, where the majority of the world’s disposable refuse washes ashore. We met with local waste management authorities and innovators, governments, nonprofits, corporations and a range of other groups either dedicated to or empowered to address this urgent problem.

“What we found was that there were dedicated waste management communities, but there just wasn’t connectivity,” said Jocelyn Matyas, SecondMuse’s Senior Manager for Venture Development in Singapore. So in partnership with The Circulate Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending ocean plastic pollution, SecondMuse launched The Incubation Network in 2019 to foster that connectivity and ultimately catalyze innovation, action and investment that will improve waste management and help curb ocean plastic pollution. “We see innovation as the catalyst for transformative change in this space, but we see community as the center or the engine,” Matyas said.

Community is at the center of everything we do at SecondMuse too. We see it as the inclusive networks of people and organizations we build around entrepreneurs in targeted economies — from the clean tech economy in New York state, to the Main Street economy in Battle Creek, Michigan. We work to strengthen existing communities by filling gaps, and create them where they don’t exist through constant outreach, programming that brings people together, and strategic partnerships that link us with like minded people and organizations who can complement our strengths. From The Incubation Network’s work on plastic pollution to Headstream’s work on youth wellbeing, we aim to foster relationships that ultimately spur innovation and build inclusive and resilient economies.

“The thread that runs through everything for us is relationships,” says Todd Khozein, Co-CEO of SecondMuse. “Economics is relational, not transactional. That’s community, which is a core part of our theory of change.”

SecondMuse’s theory of change, refined over the last decade, is our understanding of how we can build inclusive and resilient economies that benefit people and protect the planet. It recognizes the important role innovation plays in building economies, but it centers first and foremost on relationships.

“To us, every relationship is an opportunity to think with people and organizations that are different from us and that bring different approaches and perspectives. Even geniuses among us have blind spots, so we need as many people at the table as possible.”

This sort of approach to economic development, he explains, ensures that innovations — and the economies that develop around them — are built with input from a wide variety of people and institutions. Wide-ranging input, in turn, results in products, services and economies that are more relevant, inclusive and resilient than those developed from more homogeneous groups. “This is why we take a community-centric approach to economic development,” Khozein says. “This is the way we see the world and everything in it.”