Changemaker currencies – confessions for a cause

Confessions for a cause – Changemaker Currencies

I’ve never been much of one for celebrating my anniversaries, either professional milestones or birthdays. Even for BIG ‘O’ birthdays. But is it just a co-incidence, or something more meaningful, that about a year after I started designing my Contemporary Currencies: Does Money Still Matter Most?” workshop for the 2015 Vivid Ideas festival,  AND coinciding with the approach of my Big Six O in a few weeks, out-of-the-blue, I’ve got an invitation that I’m celebrating?

The invitation? To be a speaker on the Inspiring Ideas stage at LoveBusk, a low-fi, for-purpose, online festival of performance and ideas, which is launching globally from Sydney, where I live, on 20 March. So why am I, who is usually Ms low key, celebrating? I mean, my Big six O is just over two weeks away and I haven’t yet decided what to do on the day.

Four reasons.

Why #1 Because I’m excited about the opportunity it’s giving me reach out to others about the pivot I’m making to repurpose contemporary currencies into a changemaker currencies framework, and begin to create a global community around it.

In my 30mins on the inspiring speakers stage, I’m aiming for a powerful conversation with potential collaborators, and people who can ‘spread the word’. You, I hope! And the word is – there’s an exciting opportunity to co-create resources and tools that help people increases the exchange rate of their everyday currencies – attention, values, energy and time – by turning them into changemaker currencies. A great way too, to get more change when you spend money.

Why #2 Just like LoveBusk wants to inspire people to create positive change in human and environmental wellbeing, I want changemaker currencies to inspire and enable people everywhere to realise the growing power they have when they use their attention, values, energy and time to create positive change for people and the planet. To become everyday changemakers, and, through collective action, become BIG TIME changemakers.

I’ve pivoted the currencies to accelerate activism around 5 BIG ISSUES [was 4, and in March I added a 5th] that I think, to paraphrase Naomi Klein, change everything. Yes, the first is human-induced (anthropogenic) climate change. The next two are about the failure to address seriously violence and discrimination against girls and women, and growing inequality around accessing opportunities. The fourth is the increasing sense of loneliness that many people, across age groups, feel, and way that is bringing death earlier. The fifth is the potential and actual negative impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) across societies.

Why #3 If I inspire you, and you buy some love-dollars to tip me, as you would a busker, I’ll be splitting those love-dollars 50:50 between my ‘for-purpose’ project, ActionStation and OrphFund, which is LoveBusk’s for-purpose project.

ActionStation is an innovative New Zealand (ah, yes, I’m an ex-pat NZer) digital-democracy platform that enables people to organise on- and off-line collective action in support of a fair society, thriving environment and transparent accountable politics.  Snap! Goals very similar to those I have for Changemaker Currencies, which address the 4 BIG ISSUES that concern me.

Why #4 I get to ‘come home’. What do I mean by this? Coming home for me is engaging my attention, values, energy and time, and money, in activities that blend the personal and political to create purposeful change. I was a ‘70s feminist and lesbian to whom the cry, ‘the personal is political’ meant everyday change and structural change were both essential to get the equality we were after. Not just for us, but for all women, and for the benefit of all of society.

40 years on, I’m still a feminist operating on that ‘personal is political’ bandwidth. So I’m celebrating the pivot I’m taking from contemporary to changemaker currencies as a return home. And that’s actually a pretty great lead in to being 60, no? Not that I’m worried about turning 60 because my mother died at 56, a few months after her too late diagnosis, the norm, of ovarian cancer. She was a natural environmentalist, back in the 60s, and a kind and warm person, who always wanted the best for me, in some pretty trying circumstances, so I know she’d appreciate what I’m doing.


What’s changing and what’s staying the same?

You can read up about contemporary currencies here and here, but hopefully my explanation of the pivots I’m making, and what stays the same, will make sense if you just keep reading.


Attention is #1 currency

In pivoting from contemporary to changemaker currencies, Attention continues to be the #1 currency. It remains our most precious, priceless currency, yet is increasingly under siege from those who need to price it. With our massive uptake of mobile digital devices, we’ve moved from the ‘dollars & cents’ economy to the ‘dollars & seconds’ economy, so the exchange rate we can get for our attention has risen enormously.

Old business models flail and fail as we put AdBlocker on our devices. There are increasingly desperate attempts to grab or capture our attention.  And a high failure rate: ~8secs and we’re gone. If you can’t get – and keep – our attention, you’re not going to get our money, that’s for sure.

Increasingly, as Linda Stone put it so presciently years ago, more of us are permanently in continuous partial attention mode as we desperately want to stay live on the network. We’re distracted and stressed beyond what’s healthy or viable hence the increased attention, energy, time and money we use on mindfulness apps and adult colouring-in books. Less positive is the number of people dying or being injured when taking selfies, or driving or crossing streets while texting.  How could changemaker currencies resources help them live better, longer?


Attention and empathy

More people, particularly young people, are stressed because they live in FOMO, in fear of missing out. This group is very important to the wellbeing of the 16% of the world’s population who are going to be over 60 by 2030, rising to 20% by 2050. Why? Because they’re the ones who’ll be providing us with attention, energy and time, either as family or as paid caregivers, as we live into our 90s.

However, this group is also in danger of reducing its capacity for empathy. Sherry Turkle, who first wrote about digital dislocation in Together Alone, says that to increase empathy to meaningful levels, many young people need to give their attention, energy and time to face-to-face conversations rather than digital connections. How could changemaker currencies help them become motivated to enjoy doing this more than relating through screens? Reduce their FOMO?

Rising value of values

There’s no question about why I’m also pivoting the framework to make Values the #2 currency, and taking a stand about which values the framework is based on. High on the list are respect, empathy, trust,, collaboration, sustainability, and joy. This is because they’re the critical values for us to effectively address the impact of the 5 BIG ISSUES:

  1. Human-induced (anthropogenic) climate change
  2. Opportunities for a better world lost by making it difficult?—?impossible for girls and women to live their lives to potential
  3. Dangers to community cohesion from rising inequality of opportunities
  4. Increasing loneliness killing us sooner
  5. Negative aspects of Artificial Intelligence

We need to be more conscious of which values are going to enable us to manage the impact of THE BIG 4 to our collective advantage. Despite increasing individualism, patriotism based around national boundaries, and stronger than ever ethnic and cultural identities, our future depends on us sustainably co-existing on the one planet, with a collective sense of what is well-being: that planet is Earth not Mars.


Smart? Or Thoughtful:Together?

Given what I’m about to discuss, do I need to say that I love technology, and have been involved professionally, since the late ‘90s, in actively promoting its benefits, and I remain excited by its continuing potential to improve lives? Or will you understand why I remain excited, and I’ve also put AI as the fourth BIG ISSUE.

Given that rising inequality has been activated, in part, by winner take all technologies, when it comes to innovative digital intelligence, my perspective is that we need to frame our view of AI as a Thoughtful. Together technology, rather than a smart technologyWe need to reduce the risk that AI is controlled by a narrow group of people, as a commercial monopoly, and so ends up diminishing our intelligence over time, and consolidating inequality.  And amplifying our growing sense of loneliness. As neuroscientists regularly remind us, use it or lose it! And as history reminds us, with the right opportunities in childhood, talent can flourish from everyone and everywhere.

There’s also no question about why I’m re-ordering the previous four dimensions of energy – cognitive, emotional, social and physical – so that they now rotate from social to emotional to cognitive to physical. And why I’ve highlighted particular aspects of each energy, such as collaboration and empathy.

That pivot is a result of doing the Neuroscience Academy brain science and wellness programme last year, and reading John Ratey‘s book on the impact of our social brain.  His explanations helped me to understand that as humans we’re hardwired to collaborate, whatever the rhetoric about the primacy of individualism and competition.

It really brought home how critical this had been for human development historically, and continues to be for our sustainable evolution. That collaboration, via our social brain, is key to being fully human because, as he puts it, “The skill of shared attention is a major component of social communication and one of the building blocks of language and conversation.”

As the UK’s Royal Society of Arts puts it, “social context is not an afterthought, a variable to be controlled, but the defining feature of how we think, learn and behave.” As such, they’ve linked it as mission critical to creating effective action across society on climate change.

It’s been reinforced by research revealing the increasing sense of loneliness that many people feel, across age groups. We are creating dis-ease by losing our connections to other human beings, and we’re dying younger as a result. Not something that will be solved by AI or empathic (sic) robots.

As leaders of an increasing number of enterprises know, success depends on collaboration and networking, often with people who ‘aren’t like us’ but whom we have to understand as fellow humans.  All of this also fits perfectly with the way Design Thinking places empathy and engagement at the heart of its innovation process for creating user-responsive resources and services. An approach we’ll be taking in our collaborations to create changemaker currencies resources and tools.


The Big SIX O

I started with a reflection about birthdays, and it’s a good way to close. Birthdays are about presents, and we all know the pressure to give someone a present that they will find delightful or useful, or both.

As I begin what I hope will be a great Six O decade, I’m going to give my attention to being present rather than what I want from others as presents. Truly the best way, I think, to keep turning up for my own birthdays!

Your attention and presence

However, this birthday I am also going to ask for two things, and hope to get either or both. I need a lot of people’s attention and presence to release the potential of changemaker currencies to become everyday and big change activators. I need some collaborators to help create them.

If I’ve still got your attention and energy, I’d like you to help me spread the word, and join me at LoveBusk on 20 March. Or the one that works best for you. Because, over time, I want millions of people having their own conversations about how to become everyday and big changemakers.  How to give their attention, values, energy and time to what really matters, if we’re going to create a sustainable future. And get more change for our money.

If you’re excited too about the possibilities, and would like to have a conversation now, please email me at or you can tweet me @futureNOW_Knowhow. If you’re in Sydney we can meet for that conversation!

And register for my Changemaker Currencies Conversation on LoveBusk