Mobilising Community, Capital and Culture

Mobilising Community, Capital and Culture

There is no silver bullet for the scope, scale, and speed of the systems change that motivates us at Armillaria, and our approach is aptly summarised by the African proverb

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

One of the best illustrations of this approach in practice is our relationship with Zebras Unite, the global movement for and by entrepreneurs who are building the businesses that are better for the world.  

Zebras Unite (“ZU”) both challenges the typical narrative of what it takes to build a successful startup, and also reimagines the way they do business. Our partnership is a clear demonstration of what we can achieve together when all parties not only share a vision of planetary impact, but also embrace a willingness to step outside of the status quo, and experiment in public.

Birthed spontaneously as a movement in 2017 from the article Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break, Zebras Unite has grown to represent a community of over 10,000 like-minded entrepreneurs and investors in more than forty countries, on six continents, spawning a global chapter-led cooperative with a small team of worker-owners representing the interests of more than three hundred individual and organisational members, and an investor cohort with more than $3 billion in assets under management. In order to sustain consistent month-on-month growth of roughly 10%, ZU realised that the spontaneity and passion that birth a movement, required appropriate systems and infrastructure to sustain it.

The Challenge

How do we mobilise Community, Capital and Culture at scale for entrepreneurs who are creating businesses that are better for the world?

The Outcome

(Ongoing) A hybrid, mutualistically owned and governed organisation with replicable and scalable systems that incorporate the values and culture of the organisation.

The Story

Astrid Scholz (Managing Partner at Armillaria) co-founded Zebras Unite with Aniyia Williams, Mara Zepeda and Jennifer Brandel in response to their separate experiences seeking financing for their tech startups. During that time, they each ran into two main barriers; 1) that Impact Investors don’t understand tech (and conversely, tech investors don’t really understand impact!), and 2) that systematic biases exist in startup finance, resulting in an unconscionably small percentage of venture and bank financing going to women and founders of colour.

Writing about their experiences on Medium, and using the term ‘Zebra’ to characterise the way they were running their own businesses, they gave voice to what has become a global movement. Over 10,000 founders, investors, lawyers, accountants, philanthropists, and others reacted to the article, with the overwhelming sentiment being “You described what I am / want to be / want to invest in.”

A first gathering of Zebras followed, and showed that the people in the room were looking for the Community, Capital and Culture that would help their companies thrive. Zebras Unite was founded, and the next big question was ‘what do we do now?’

This moment, and question, is exactly what Armillaria’s system design process was created for. When a world-positive initiative needs to be realized, and requires infrastructure outside of what already exists - we work in partnership to build the foundation it needs to achieve impact at planet-level scale.

Setting up a structure to serve impact at scale

Armillaria became a founding member of the Zebras Unite cooperative, and contributed our 10 step systems design process to develop the initial roadmap. During this process it quickly became clear that Zebras Unite needed a hybrid structure to realise its vision. It needed a not-for-profit arm to host its system-changing programmatic work. It also needed a for-profit arm which would become a scalable engine to exemplify the Zebras’ values - most notably mutualism, fiercess, and emergence. 

It also became obvious that Zebras needed to be co-owners of the mechanism by which they create the Community, Capital and Culture that benefit everyone. So the for-profit arm was incorporated as a multi-stakeholder co-operative, in which the non-profit held a “golden share” to anchor and protect the mission. Within this co-op, Zebra entrepreneurs and other member-owners are now rewarded for the value they create via a patronage system. 

This is a manifestation of something we often talk about at Armillaria; the need to reward value along the social value chain so that solution owners feel moved to share what works, and to recognise the value that is created by them.

Determining what the technological infrastructure needed to look like

Once the organisational structure had been established, the next step was to determine the technological infrastructure that would serve the planet-sized, interconnected goals of Zebras Unite. Challenges such as ‘how to match entrepreneurs seeking capital with like-minded investors’ proved that Zebras Unite needed the type of technology that had the ability to connect people across geographies, and exchange solutions that they’re working on. But it also needed to be interoperable, and tie in with the patronage system, so - as usual - the existing technology was not enough.

The Future is Dazzling

This work is not something that gets done overnight, and we’re currently in the thick of setting up the appropriate technology to serve the mission. Armillaria is both a founding member of Zebras Unite and continues to provide patronage through this work. We’re participating in the legal, financial and digital infrastructure that we're co-creating, which is exactly where we want to be. 

Thank you to all the wonderful photographers who created the images on this page. In order of appearance from top to bottom:

Adrian Hallauer

Garen de Klerk