Our mission is to amplify individual passions towards building a sustainable world for everyone.
Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” In 2010, four individuals, frustrated by the inequitable military sports funding system favouring major sports, set out to create a fairer system. Within a few years, they established a new system, generating over £12m in profits, which they donated to over 100 projects through a charitable fund. This year will see the next £1m donation. EthosVO, the organisation behind this initiative, has since developed dozens of other innovative systems. These projects benefited from a work and measurement system known as ‘Value Exchange’.
In stark contrast, and a decade on, from April 2019 to March 2022, the UK’s Home Office allocated £254 million of funding for UK Violence Reduction Units and Grip (formerly Surge) activities.. Yet, according to the last independent review 
“There were no statistically significant impacts on the primary SV outcomes of hospital admissions for sharp object violent injury or homicides“
These are just two examples. There are countless others (see bottom of paper for EthosVO credentials). The key point here is that often individuals with few resources can affect change whereas organisations tend to focus on “business as usual”. Moreover, the bureaucratic conditions tied to funding can lead to unintended consequences, such as demotivation.
How to unlock the person to person passion and leverage the resultant social value?
Einstein is quoted as saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. With climate change, ecosystem decline, and human suffering all hiding in plain sight, it is now more important than ever to look for new approaches.
This paper outlines some context and rationale for a new system based on EthosVO’s experience of innovating outside of current systems and practices.
It is a call to action for funders, businesses, charities and government agencies to collaborate to bring about change using bottom-up approaches free from bureaucratic constraints. [get in touch to get involved].
It argues that we need “minimal viable bureaucracy” to:
- join forces as we are “better together”,
- maximise the passion that exists within people and projects,
- resource projects “bottom-up”,
- promote agency for participants,
- support those who are driving the change they want to experience,
- find those who have “skin in the game” through lived experience.
In the beginning…
For thousands of years people have developed technology and institutions to organise production and to govern the means of production in order to accumulate power and wealth. Sometimes this is through innovation and productivity. Sometimes this is through violence, appropriation, extraction or enclosure of some kind.
Through the ages, one can mostly characterise societies as being represented by a small number of elites and a greater percentage of people who are the ‘subjects’ of systems and circumstances (read more here).
That’s one view.
Another view is that we are capable of creating technology and institutions for the “common good”. Set against a dominant narrative of property, power, violence and aggression are those technologies and institutions that emerge every now and again which have the potential to organise production and distribute power and wealth for the common good. A business might be run as a cooperative. A community may organise within a geographic location. The Internet can democratise knowledge. Software production may be freely shared as “open source”. We can even imagine AI for good (OpenAI was originally intended as such). These are just a few examples (read more here).
We are faced with a stark choice today.
Are we content to continue to operate systems which predominantly exercise self-interest to perpetuate war, famine, destruction, injustice and the destruction of our natural world? Or can we develop new approaches to moderation (self and institutional) and tolerance in order to promote common good. Not to destroy the current system but to rebalance it.
The realisation here is that system change will not be birthed by an established system. System change comes from innovation outside of established practices. (See here to dive deeper).
To be clear, this paper does not promote the destruction of the current system of economics, capitalism or globalisation. Nor is this part of a “purpose before profit”, or “profit before purpose” coalition. This is not a Political manifesto for a new trans-national organisation.
Instead, it promotes the idea that to find more moderate and tolerant systems we need to empower person to person value. Not with economic measures but with narrative value, through stories, capture a clearer understanding of how individuals are making a positive impact and improving the wellbeing of people and the planet. We need to innovate, to maximise the innate passion in people, the social outcomes they desire and to support their projects. In order to do this we need to promote bottom-up funding, to minimise the conditionality around funding and certainly to minimise bureaucracy.
De-risking collapse. An approach to moderation.
Amidst a growing discourse, some analysts are depicting our era as a precipice of a ‘meta-crisis,’  a term that conjures images of widespread upheaval and transformation. This narrative suggests an imminent, seismic shift in our societal foundations, implying that the current system must crumble to pave the way for a more just and equitable world. Such a transition, however, is painted in stark colours of turmoil and hardship, evoking scenes akin to the strife in Ukraine and Palestine, potentially spreading to global proportions. It envisions a cascade of events including market collapses, currency failures, and the unbridled spread of advanced weaponry, AI, and cybersecurity threats. The potential fallout – ecological devastation and the endangerment of human existence – is a chilling prospect.
However, this apocalyptic vision is not one we subscribe to, nor do we find solace in the notion of maintaining the status quo. We firmly believe that such a catastrophic scenario is not only avoidable but also that we stand on the cusp of a transformative era, powered by the collective will and optimism of millions across the globe. These individuals, operating outside traditional systems, are championing a profound intensification of Social Value – prioritising people and the planet in a way that promises to act as a ‘value multiplier.’ This shift has the potential to ignite a boundless passion for creating a world that is inclusive and beneficial for all.
To harness this momentum, we are in the process of establishing a ‘common good’ fund. This fund will be a testament to participatory governance, where those directly involved, alongside experts in people-led value initiatives, oversee the platform. This model ensures that the communities benefiting from the fund have a decisive voice in resource allocation. The fund’s impact would be measured not in economic terms but in the transformative stories of those whose lives are enriched through a “Value Exchange” process.
By channelling resources to the right people and projects, we can catalyse meaningful change. This approach doesn’t just offer a solution; it offers a vision of a future where value is defined not by wealth or power, but by the positive impact we have on each other and our planet. So, what exactly is Value Exchange? It is the cornerstone of this new era – a concept that redefines value in terms of social and environmental impact, rather than traditional economic metrics. It’s an idea whose time has come, and one that holds the key to unlocking a future that works for everyone.
Beyond Economics. Person to Person Value Exchange.
Value Exchange represents a paradigm shift, redefining how we perceive and assign value in our society. It transcends traditional economic metrics, spotlighting the rich tapestry of human experience and interaction that often goes unnoticed in our commodified world.
At the heart of Value Exchange lies the recognition of the intrinsic worth of stories, relationships, and communal bonds. These aspects of human life, though intangible and often unquantifiable in monetary terms, are fundamental to our wellbeing and societal health. This approach is crucial in realms where social value is paramount, as it acknowledges the profound impacts that extend beyond financial metrics. In social ventures, for instance, success is measured in the positive transformations within communities and ecosystems, reflecting a holistic view of progress.
Value Exchange challenges us to redefine our understanding of value, urging us to consider the depth and significance of our interactions and contributions. This reorientation enriches our experiences and fosters a more equitable and empathetic society.
Consider the example of parental care. Traditional economic systems do not recognize the value of a parent caring for their child, yet if this care is outsourced, it contributes to the GDP. This discrepancy raises critical questions about our current measures of societal and planetary wellbeing. Value Exchange seeks to bridge this gap, using methodologies from sociology, anthropology, and ethnography to capture and articulate the value inherent in personal narratives and community engagement.
As we embrace Value Exchange, we start viewing individuals, communities, and projects as catalysts for passion and transformation. This perspective differentiates meaningful work from mere labour – the latter being a simple exchange of time for money. In a world increasingly influenced by AI, we see the displacement of traditional jobs not as a threat but as an opportunity to redefine work as a meaningful and fulfilling endeavour.
Empowering individuals to pursue their passions through Value Exchange is essential. It involves providing access to resources. In experimenting, we see the emergence of many new ”means of production” including blockchains, open source and maker labs. We do not know “what comes next?” in terms of sustainable work but those who are exploring need financial support and access to capital.
A foundational step in this journey is the implementation of a basic income for participants in this new system. This provision would not only offer financial security but also enable people to explore and engage in activities that truly resonate with their values and aspirations. In doing so, we create a framework where the exchange of value is based on personal and societal enrichment, rather than purely economic transactions. This is the essence of Value Exchange – a model that champions the human spirit and its boundless capacity for growth, connection, and positive change.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) presents a radical reimagining of societal support structures, one that could dramatically reshape the landscape of empowerment and opportunity. This paper, while supportive of UBI, is not a plea to policymakers for its immediate, wholesale implementation. Instead, it proposes a Basic Income plus Value Exchange as a means to bridge the gap that currently exists in our system—a gap that stifles innovation and exploration for those without financial independence or supportive employment.
Traditional systems often present an array of insurmountable barriers for those lacking independent means or a benevolent employer. To illustrate this point, we turn to an excerpt from Guy Standing’s “The Politics of Time,” which highlights the stringent and often counterproductive conditions placed on Universal Credit claimants. These individuals, in their quest for financial aid, are subjected to rigorous and sometimes futile job searching activities, with the constant threat of sanctions and benefit withdrawal looming over them.
Universal Credit claimants must wait a statutory five weeks for the first payment, and in practice the wait is often longer. To receive benefits, those deemed ‘able to work’ must sign a ‘claimant commitment contract’ to perform various tasks each week for at least thirty-five hours, backed by financial penalties in the form of withdrawal of benefits for non-compliance. They must engage in intensive job searching or preparation and prove that they have done so, whether suitable jobs exist or not. If any of the designated tasks are not done, or not done to the apparent satisfaction of the ‘work coach’, the person can be sanctioned and have their benefit withdrawn, reducing or removing their only or main source of income.
Our experience with the Young Leaders pilot during the pandemic, where we employed 65 long-term unemployed individuals, offered a glimpse into a more effective approach. Instead of compelling the unemployed to engage in endless job applications with little hope of success, we focused on enabling them to pursue work that they found meaningful and fulfilling. This approach not only empowers individuals but also fosters a transition through passion, rather than perpetuating disenfranchisement and frustration through sanctions and coercion.
The key to this empowerment is the elimination of funding conditionality. Such conditionality often leads to the attachment of strings to grants and income, creating burdensome administrative overheads for monitoring and reporting. These constraints are rooted in the current market-driven paradigm, where funding is often contingent upon answering questions like “Am I getting economic value for my money?” or “Can this be purchased more cheaply in the market?” These narratives dominate the discourse, making it challenging to shift away from the prevailing labour/commodity metaphor.
In stark contrast, our Theory of Change advocates for a funding model and a fund that is both unrestricted and free from unnecessary rules and conditions. By adopting this approach, we can create an environment where individuals are not just funded but are genuinely supported in their endeavours to explore and actualize their passions. This shift from a transactional to a transformational funding model has the potential to unlock unprecedented levels of creativity, engagement, and societal contribution, laying the foundation for a more equitable and thriving society. What are the key features of our fund?
A Commons Fund
The concept of a Commons Fund, as envisioned by EthosVO, represents a transformative approach to resource allocation and project support. This fund is characterised by several distinctive features, each designed to foster a more inclusive, equitable, and effective distribution of resources.
Key Features of the Commons Fund:
- Unrestricted Scope: The fund operates without geographical, demographic, or beneficiary restrictions, embracing a diverse range of participants committed to enhancing the wellbeing of people and the planet.
- Well-Defined Commitments: Participants agree to specific outcomes related to people and planet wellbeing, along with clear start and end dates for their projects.
- Living Wage Participation: All project participants are offered a living wage, ensuring that involvement in these projects is both sustainable and equitable.
- Value Exchange Prioritisation: Participants complete a Value Exchange process before applying, ensuring alignment with the fund’s core principles.
- Social Value Reporting: Projects, rather than the funding source, are responsible for reporting social value to stakeholders, emphasising accountability and transparency.
- Efficient Fund Management: Both fundraising and fund management operate on a 100% variable cost basis, maximising efficiency and resource allocation.
- Participatory Governance: Projects are funded and governed through participatory mechanisms, allowing for broader and more democratic involvement in decision-making.
- Minimal Governance Oversight: Fund managers provide only essential oversight, reducing bureaucracy and empowering project teams.
- Independent Project Funding: There is no direct funding of projects by funders, ensuring impartiality and fairness in the allocation process.
- Continuous Funding Mechanism: Projects are continually funded based on a ‘Project Pipeline’ system, similar to models used in open-source platforms like GitHub, moving away from competition-based or periodic funding meetings.
This approach challenges the traditional grant-making process, often dominated by competition, which can be both destructive and regressive. Rather than engaging in a zero-sum game where organisations expend significant efforts on unlikely grant victories, the Commons Fund utilises proven methods from open-source participatory models. This approach ensures a more equitable distribution of resources, focusing on projects with a clear mission for the common good and a consensus among stakeholders.
The Commons Fund envisions a system where the majority of resources – 90-95% – are directly allocated to the projects themselves, leaving only a minimal portion for administrative costs. This model treats assets as ‘common goods,’ akin to those in open-source or community land trusts, avoiding the pitfalls of bureaucracy often seen in traditional structures like Community Interest Companies (CICs).
While this proposal does not advocate for an immediate overhaul of current governance, business, and charitable systems, it does propose a gradual, necessary transition towards a more equitable distribution of resources. In an era where businesses excel in generating profits and governments have the capacity to create fiscal stimuli, the focus should shift towards supporting projects that contribute to the common good. This approach, rather than bolstering institutions like banks through traditional quantitative easing, envisions a form of monetary easing that stimulates societal wellbeing.
The ultimate goal is not to build an expansive new institution or to rely on excessive funding but to create practical propositions that initiate this transition. With a focus on building momentum and crafting better narratives, this model posits that a fairer and more just society is within reach, based on the resources and capabilities we currently possess. This vision for the Commons Fund is a bold step towards that future, prioritising people, planet, and the power of collective action. The key components and stakeholders of the Commons Fund are illustrated below:
Key to the success of our mission is the support of an ecosystem of organisational participants who are committed to our core mission: to amplify individual passions towards building a sustainable world for everyone. As explained in the fund outline, our approach is rather “bottom up” insofar as participants are empowered and supported to collaborate with one another to form projects that will explore innovative new ways to work sustainably and create more societal wellbeing.
The system described below can be categorised as either Government, Funders and Beneficiary Organisations.
Governments (central, local and covering many nations) support our project primarily as an ‘endorser’ of business and community projects. At this stage of the economic cycle they are not key funders (this may differ at the next round of QE). Government uses policy, events, procurement and the Social Value Act to support the endorsement and networking required to sustain the project. These terms are encapsulated in a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with various government agencies and departments. Ethos has used this method successfully in major projects such as Team Army, SkillsPlanner and Team Police in the past.
The role of funders is self-evident. The fund will be operated in an open and transparent way according to relevant laws and fundraising guidelines. Funders will receive regular impact reports on the stories generated by community participants and their projects enabled by their support. Funders come in all shapes and sizes from businesses (where EthosVO has an exceptional track record), to venture philanthropists, grant giving charities and family offices. Funders will have the ability to visit and experience the impact of funded projects first hand and will be able to attend a variety of signature events arranged by our ecosystem participants. Funding terms are encapsulated in a sponsorship contract, funding, donation or grant agreement.
Beneficiary Organisations give the project its primary route to market (beneficiaries who are individuals with project ideas). Any organisation can become a beneficiary organisation like a charity, for example. All share some common characteristics:
- Organisations are a “route to market” to bring people and projects proposals to the platform and
- They are funded by the Commons Fund (for project administration) and
- They use the Value Exchange System to document the person to person wellbeing outcomes and project progress for all participating people and projects.
- They act as the project coordinator to provide administrative support and reporting for the projects.
These terms are encapsulated in a “rights of association” contract.
The final piece in the ecosystem is the digital platform which is free to use. It is an open source digital resource to enable the development and management of the key components of the system. This includes project support, Value Exchange and a better understanding of how one spends their time in exploring socially valuable work. More information on an MVP platform at https://commons.ethosvo.org
The Ethos Project co-founders
Rob, Tony and Annabelle worked together in the 90s as part of EY’s UK management consulting team and have worked together since then (Annabelle did have a few years outside the ‘clan’ where she went to Sweden with no children and came back with two and now Tony’s main work is in being an endlessly engaged grandfather!). Ethos infrastructure has varied from just a few of us to over 150 ‘partners’ according to the projects we are developing. The Commons Fund Project started in December 2022 when, following the pandemic, Ethos saw an opportunity to transition our knowledge and experience towards an open innovation system rather than solely incubating our own projects.
Having been on this journey for the last 25 years, I really believe there is a better way of working. I don’t want to be a wage slave and am particularly passionate about having purpose and enabling “real” flexibility at work.
I see changes required to the system and behaviour in how people engage with each other, I want these exchanges to be more meaningful, I would like to see people more responsible and accountable, shed their corporate mask and understand that they have the power to make a difference both within and without their organisational contexts.
I will continue to champion flexibility and keep pushing for “value exchange” to change the world! Oh…and have some Phun doing it!
The Young Leaders initiative was one of the best things I have ever done. The young people I worked with really got the future of work, what’s possible and why Value Exchange gave them the empowerment they needed.
Rob lives in Surrey with his wife Sarah. They have three grown-up boys Jonny, Sam and Will. He is half geek, half social-entrepreneur with a passion for supporting people’s ongoing discovery of meaning.
Rob’s career was mostly Corporate until 2010 when he co-founded Ethos with Tony and Annabelle. Since then Ethos has conducted 1,000s of experiments into how humans can work with one another more successfully and harmoniously. Right back to when Rob was at EY in the late ’90s Rob believed that organisations and bureaucracies can often hinder more than help these people-outcomes: His mission is to help people re-engage with activities that mean most to them both inside and outside of work.
By nature of experimentation, dozens of projects have resulted in huge learning opportunities whilst others have become sustainable charities, businesses and projects in their own right.
Rob’s focus now is on supporting individuals and organisations through change by focusing on re-connecting them with social and environmental value using the Value Exchange Approach. Primarily this is about a set of behaviours based on Trust, Collaboration, Alignment and Moderation (of interests). Rob sees work (paid or otherwise) as the key means of engaging meaningfully.
Tony Clarke (part-time)
After 35+ years working in a variety of organisations (business/IT) Tony retains a constant interest in how they actually work (practice versus process), the nature of ‘work’, emerging enablers (to address both efficiency and effectiveness) and the role of cooperation and networks (between individuals and between organisations). These topics are of increasing relevance today as the new ‘industrial revolution’ begins to play out and new economic models begin to emerge.
As a co-Founder of TeamArmy (now TeamForces) Tony had the freedom to use his business architect skills to help build a new model for sustainable fundraising in aid of wellbeing through physical activity within the Armed Forces. The model he co-created is still sustainably funded today having raised over £12m to date.
For over a decade and a half, EthosVO has been at the forefront of supporting individuals dedicated to the wellbeing of people and the planet. Our approach has been holistic, providing not just support, but a nurturing ecosystem where passion for social and environmental change can flourish. We have established a safe and collaborative environment, underpinned by common processes and a robust platform, fostering a community where innovation and experimentation are not just encouraged but are the norm.
Central to our mission is the concept of ‘pump-priming’ – an initiative where we offer the necessary minimum incomes and capital investments. This strategy ensures that those driven by their passion for making a difference are not hindered by financial constraints. By placing these passionate individuals at the heart of our endeavours, we empower them to explore, innovate, and actualize their visions for a better world.
The impact of our work is best exemplified through a showcase of selected projects. Each of these initiatives highlights the tangible results of our commitment to nurturing and supporting change-makers in their quest to create a more sustainable and equitable world. These projects are not just demonstrations of what has been achieved; they are beacons of inspiration, showing what can be accomplished when passion is met with the right support and resources.
Team Army / Team Forces: TeamArmy.org was established as an Ethos Wellbeing co-venture between Ethos Fundraising Ltd and the Team Army Sports Foundation. Team Forces/Team Army are co-brands of a programme which helps to fund sport, challenge and adventure in the armed forces community in order to improve health, wellbeing and recovery. We help the best get better.
Smart Cities: Over a 10 year period, Ethos built several large open data platforms that aggregated Internet of things (IoT) sensors such as air quality, real-time parking information, property information, pedestrian footfall and cycle flow. At one point we had the UK’s largest parking platform information. The hypothesis that brought people and capital together was that a commons of information would help system innovators to find ways to collaborate and optimise large towns and cities in order to improve citizen wellbeing.
SkillsPlanner: A two-year, £1.3m research and development programme, funded by the UK Government. Its research was based to determine the feasibility to develop the use of cross-organisational linked, open data to collate construction skills supply and demand data. The project initially focused on the London construction sector with collaboration from Local Authorities and the largest infrastructure projects at the time including HS2, Crossrail and the Thames Tideway project all multi-billion pound developments.
TeamPolice and 1TeamActive Are projects to support the wellbeing of 300,000 employees of the UK’s police force and their families. It involves a mix of fundraising and community engagement activities to encourage more physical activity in the various communities across the UK’s police forces. It is supported and endorsed by the UK’s National Chief Police Council consisting of 43 Chief Constables.
Wilder Sensing: The venture mission is to fund and enable the regeneration of environments at scale to create thriving ecosystems, enhanced biodiversity and sustainable communities for nature and people. At its heart is sensing technology which can chart the natural wildlife environment using advanced AI technologies and IoT hardware. See here for more information.
Young Leaders: Perhaps our most ambitious project so far. Over a period of two years just before, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, Ethos hired 65 young people identified by the UK government as being in danger of being long term unemployed. We used our Value Exchange work system to empower them to create their own roles and identify their passions, purpose and narratives on a monthly basis. The young individuals have all gone on to do great things since the project finished at the end of 2022.
Ethos’ sole focus since Young Leaders has been to develop an approach to taking our experience to the next level as a funded open system to fund individuals and their projects and offer our knowledge and experience gained over the last two decades as digital assets on an open source basis.
The above cases represent only a small portion of the work we have undertaken since 2010 when the original c-people.com established in 1999 was relaunched as EthosVO.org.