At the Green Summit, SecondMuse's Co-CEO explained why human bonds are essential for building resilient economies capable of withstanding any crisis.
Climate change is already upon us. It’s affecting the globe in the form of cataclysmic weather events, species loss, supply chain disruptions, food insecurity and unprecedented human migration. This planet-wide crisis, SecondMuse Co-CEO Todd Khozein says, will not be solved by old economic and political theories or short-term fixes; it will only be solved through sustainable solutions forged through human relationships.
“The bonds between humans form the relational wealth that allows people to collaborate on different challenges in ways that are unaccounted for in traditional economic theory but are essential for the development of resilient economies,” Todd said.
His remarks were part of a talk he gave earlier this year at The Green Summit, a two-day event organized by climate platform Green.org and streamed worldwide. The March summit featured discussions with 15 luminaries in the world of cleantech and renewable energy, including Todd, who spoke about the work SecondMuse does to build economies that are good for people and the planet.
His optimistic take noted that times of “transcendent challenges” — from climate change to Covid — are also opportunities to rethink norms and replace systems that haven’t been working. He shared SecondMuse’s vision of a world in which people and organizations value each other in a way that our current transactional economy inhibits. In this new world, he said, people, governments and organizations would take pains not to harm each other or the planet and would work together to elevate the common good and drive more balanced economic prosperity.
Relational Wealth Drives Resilience
In this new world, complex problems like climate change would be easier to address because the humans inhabiting it would be better connected and therefore more adept at responding to shocks. To illustrate how relational wealth builds resilience, Todd offered an analogy of a small business faced with a pandemic-related challenge.
“If your business didn’t have a website and now the pandemic has stopped people from coming into your office, you’ve got to give somebody a call to help you through it,” Todd said, noting that any person or organization with stronger, more diverse relationships will always have an easier time finding help. “This is at the micro level, but the same thing plays out at the economic level where you see entire markets with deep relationships more easily adapt to new circumstances.”
On the other hand, economies and societies that don’t value human relationships have a harder time cultivating cooperation and solving problems when a crisis hits. We saw this, Todd said, during the pandemic, which exposed deep-seated distrust of the government and the broader science community in the U.S., and led to a disjointed and ineffective response.
“We can’t be surprised by this,” he said, noting the country’s long history of devaluing large swaths of the population. This has happened through an economic system that considers “negative externalities” — harm caused — as an acceptable cost of doing business.
To shift course and ensure that markets value people and the planet requires a new approach to building economies that SecondMuse has been honing for more than a decade.
Building Relationships, In Practice
The approach is grounded in a Theory of Change that seeks to influence three groups: emerging changemakers — “people with great ideas, great insights, and a great path forward, but without the resources to bring it [forward],” as Todd put it — as well as incumbent power holders who can bring the changemakers’ visions to life, and other members of the broader ecosystem.
The relationships forged among and between these groups, Todd said, will result in more creative, vibrant, and resilient businesses and economic systems. To forge these relationships, SecondMuse works with likeminded partners in targeted areas.
For example, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and Open Ideo, SecondMuse helped run the Food System Vision Prize, which leveraged relational wealth for a more food-secure future. The Food System Vision Prize tapped the collective intelligence of thousands of individuals to imagine the future of food. With 1,300 responses from teams representing more than 4,000 organizations, the Prize offered 10 winners the opportunity to participate in an accelerator that aimed to help bring their visions closer to reality through tailored support and connections. One winner was the 7Gen Food System team, led by South Dakota’s Sicangu Lakota people. The team is working to establish a locally-sourced agricultural system operated by the tribe to produce nutrient-dense foods and replace the processed foods tribe members were consuming.
As another example of the work SecondMuse does to build inclusive economies rooted in relational wealth, Todd spoke about The Incubation Network. The program supports and scales innovative solutions in South and Southeast Asia that reduce and intercept some of the eight million tons of plastic waste otherwise destined for the ocean. A collaborative effort of SecondMuse and The Circulate Initiative, The Incubation Network supports startups in plastic waste management by providing technical and financial support, market insights and industry tools, and connections to funders and industry experts to help them scale up. Through this support, these startups have raised $48 million in added capital and diverted more than 41,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste from the ocean.
Building Something Better, Together
All SecondMuse programming, Todd emphasized, prioritized inclusivity. “The future can’t be defined by a small group of people in a dark room,” he said. “Those efforts will inevitably fail for those who don’t have representation at the table.”
By cultivating diverse connections, SecondMuse has helped prototype more than 30,000 solutions to a variety of complex problems and generated $10 billion in social and environmental value, according to third-party evaluators.
There’s a long way to go with many problems, like climate change, to face. But the painstaking work of building human connections and economies that value these bonds will lead us to a better future. “There are enormous opportunities to think differently and not repeat the sins of the past,” Todd said. “We have to remind ourselves to … work with folks who understand barriers that we don’t and to work with new communities and groups of people. With this intentional shift in focus we’ll be able to build something better.”
Listen to Todd’s full presentation at the Green Summit here.