Social Capitalism at THNK FSTVL

THNK is a program that trains creative leaders and futurists. It started in Amsterdam but has recently grown and expanded to Vancouver. It’s not your typical graduate program. Its not an MBA and its not exactly technical. It’s an alternative for professionals looking for new approaches to solving big problems, often in technology, but not from the technology development side. It attracts an interesting crowd: executives, designers, media professionals and more. Some are looking for career advancement, but most of them have already had professional success and are seeking more career fulfillment.

The school offers a lot of methods for constructing futures. The future, being what it is, has been coveted by strategists since the dawn of man. THNK is a contemporary iteration that is highly aware of the state of criticism against modern society. We are now fully aware of criticism against capitalism, feudalism, communism, consumerism, martyrism, softwarism … THNK is looking for new advantages by seemingly co-opting the criticism, looking for what society needs and bringing together professionals who have real world experience, giving them the tools and confidence to take on new challenges.

The projects coming out of THNK are very interesting, you could call it social capitalism: selling for the good of mankind. But the program espouses social values that an economist might not care about. It’s gaining in popularity, having now expanded to a second major city and University in British Columbia’s pinecone jewel, Vancouver, and Europe’s artist Mecca, Lisbon, not to mention centers at Stanford and So Paulo.

More than all of that, though, THNK is developing a network of serious and talented people studying alternative strategies for achieving new futures that challenge status quos – typically in the form of business, of course. And throughout the year, THNK hosts a few big events around the world that keep their network close and active, including THNK FSTVL, this past September. THNK FSTVL ambitiously brings together past, present and future students in one event –weaving together a reunion for alumni from previous classes as well as a final sendoff for the current class, culminating in a welcome dinner to the newest batch of students. There’s also a silent disco party.

Our own Heather is an alumnus of THNK’s second class in Amsterdam. She attended this past THNK FSTVL where she sat down and interviewed two of our friends (also THNK Alumni, Vancouver Class 1): Atul Varde and Ted Wallach, who both are working on projects that were developed or drew inspiration from THNK’s program. [Full journalistic disclosure, The Shape of Things has been working with Atul on his project, Ted is a friend, and Heather has done previous work with THNK.]

Atul is exploring how existing financial instruments can be combined in a way to create a financial incentive for social investing. It’s a business model based on recent pivots in Canada’s securities regulations.

Atul’s background (currently Executive Vice-President and Chief Information Officer at Affinity Credit Union, CA), gives him a lot of credibility in this area. Starting out as an engineer, he’s been working in the finance sector as an executive for the past 6 years, developing financial technology that Canadians use to invest and trade in stocks and bonds out of IRAs, etc.

This kind of technology is a huge force in the world of capitalism: once the switch is flipped, our retirement funds, 401k’s, or other financial instruments become connected to global markets, initiating trades and activity (sometimes via algoithmic control) and all while most people completely forget about it, or check it on occasion to see if its gone up or down. What happens in between is known only to the cult of finance.

Atul wants to take that force and point it at social problems that governments (we) are spending billions trying to address and that private companies (specifically, non-profits) often can achieve much more efficiently. There’s now a financial instrument, called a social impact bond, that governments can sell to investors on behalf of non-profits. Atul discusses the implications of this new instrument, likening it to a ‘social impact bounty.’ Our interview with Atul is here.

Ted is the CEO of Time Republik, a bold visionbuilt on the concept of time banking. A time bank proposes a practical alternative to the money economy. Ted has an interesting philosophy that motivates his work, is advised by one of Robert F. Kennedy’s former advisors (a time bank pioneer) and has over 25k people currently using the time bank to trade labor on real-world projects. Time banks aren’t exactly a new concept. For instance, thereare successful time banks in Japan that trade timecare for the elderly in exchange for future care of one’s self: you take care of an elder today and when you are old, someone will do the same for you (hopefully). Time banks don’t necessarily seek to replace the current economy and abolish cash and currency, but they do propose alternative methods for developing real products and accomplishing things that might be valuable in the normal cash economy. Learn more in our interview here.

Site Footer