The Coin to the Kingdom: Re-THNKing Capitalism as a Key to the Housing Crisis

By Kaz Brecher

As the daughter of two rocket scientists, Kaz founded Curious Catalyst to marry investigation with action, bringing disruptive agile approaches to urban challenges and a new take on the business of social impact through her experience with lateral thinking, rapid prototyping, and human-centered design. After years working with emerging technology platforms and solving larger cross-disciplinary problems in the digital agency space, she earned her stripes in the start-up world, leading strategy and operations for early social media innovators and then an open-source cloud computing powerhouse focused on the developing world. She graduated from the innovation program at THNK School of Creative Leadership in Amsterdam before helping launch their new campus in Vancouver, where she heads the faculty and runs the Challenge program. She is a Stanford graduate and a Certified Scrum Master.

Sep 7, 2015 | Smart Cities | 1 comment


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According to provocateur and THNK alumni Michell Zappa, “an industry-toppling, government-shifting, sector-disrupting revolution is underway. Think Napster, but bigger.” You’ve probably felt the undercurrents. Yet as economic waves rock the boat of capitalism, many are unprepared for what’s next. Excitement and fear mix as so-called sharing economies, shifts in philanthropy and alternative currencies emerge, balancing possibilities with the untested nature of new models. Capitalism as we know it, even money itself, is one of the most complex systems mankind has ever created. And part of the problem we face, as our world is bending and breaking, is how to describe the relationships between systems – they are nested, intertwined, interdependent, and deeply emergent. From a cultural and emotional perspective, we sense the inadequacy of our financial systems but often feel powerless to change something that feels monstrous and unshakable, yet everywhere we turn our attention to we can find signs of change.

So, in my role as the Director of the Challenge track at THNK’s newly launched Vancouver campus, I couldn’t wait to dive into examining the Future of Capital(ism). THNK School of Creative Leadership is a C School that combines venture design and innovation leadership and focuses on action and implementation.  We take the best from business schools and design schools to create a greater sum: truly transformational creative leadership to build human-centered systems for a better future.  Within this journey, the Challenge is a 6-month effort that takes a humble, curious, and forward-looking cohort, a global network with a shared intention for impact, and trains them in a structured approach to human-centered creativity using a topic of deep societal relevance.

Envisioning a Better Future and Orchestrating Creative Teams

We begin by co-creating a moonshot vision to align our efforts and help us determine some of the most promising areas for exploration.  We tap into a diverse ecosystem, inviting subject matter experts, rabble rousers, and master practitioners to roll up their sleeves – an incredible group rallied around the Future of Capitalism, out of which emerged our Innovation Partners on this initial challenge cycle: the City of Vancouver and the Digital Finance Institute.  These partners bring a rich depth of knowledge, broad networks that can be harnessed, and platforms for rolling out concepts with promise.  They collaborated on shaping the brief and, after much deliberation, we decided to use the Vancouver housing market as a petri dish for discovery, asking “how might alternative and digital currencies increase access to affordable low-carbon housing for those in need?”. The profound ripple effects from the current housing crisis are being felt well beyond Vancouver, and the aim with all of our Innovation Challenge work is to use a local context to drive global learnings.

FoC_Moonshot_Dinner_Viz1

With teams that sound like they could have been the set-up to a bad joke (an accountant, a restaurateur, and a creative director walk into a leadership school…), the cohort examined the needs of varied demographics, from vulnerable populations to mid-to-low income families. They interrogated data around perceptions of “green” housing options, changing patterns of ownership and engagement with living spaces – from co-housing to nomadic living – and the impact these shifts are having on property development.  Participants from around the globe tore apart existing financial vehicles tied to earning equity in housing, models of developing and recouping energy upgrades, and assumptions underpinning ideas of community development – from the potential of smart multi-generational housing blocks to how community assets are often undervalued.  The outcomes of this process are a first step towards driving breakthrough change and fashioning a future of capitalism predicated on the belief that “we’re all better off when we’re all better off,” as THNK Forum Guest, Eric Liu, so plainly remarked.

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Turning One Small Step into One Giant Leap

During the next several years, across 6-month program cycles in Vancouver and Amsterdam, THNK is uniquely positioned to continue convening diverse groups of changemakers around examining, reframing, and driving societal impact.  But impact is more likely when we join forces with exceptional Innovation Partners to drive new thinking around how we can become positive participants in the marketplace by harnessing the technological and complex dynamic cultural forces shaping these systems.  While growing disparities in income and access cause global upheaval and strife, we see the renewed focus on our interdependent financial future as a massive opportunity for those bold enough to dive in.  As encouraged as I am by the team triumphs, concepts and momentum, this is but a first milestone in service of a much larger vision – catalyzing this kind of change requires commitment, support, and evangelists. We and our Partners and Participants are in for the long-haul, and we hope you’ll join us!  

Find out more about what we’ve discovered around how fintech and alternative financial models are impacting urban landscapes and providing surprising hope for global communities at our Digital Finance, Alternative Currencies and Housing in Vancouver panel at 2:25pm on Thursday, October 22nd at Meeting of the Minds (or check out the live webcast).

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