Startup NGOs

Coming up with more green goods and services doesn’t make best use of our strongest asset: founders. Instead of increasing green supply, let’s increase public pressure and change policy. Then, markets can solve the climate crisis in time. We have some ideas…

tldr; Green founders come up with ever more green goods and services. We’re not on track to stop climate change in time. Instead of increasing green supply, let’s use our brains to increase public pressure and change policy. Then, markets will solve the climate quickly. We have some ideas…

Can startups save the planet?

Thanks to ambitious founders, courageous companies and investors who plan ahead, the supply of climate-friendly products and services is growing fast. Activists and NGOs raise awareness and Project Drawdown documented in detail what actions are necessary to stop the climate crisis. So why is the problem not going away? Can startups save the day?

Probably, but not in the obvious way.

Shiny new green products distract from the substance: Almost everything to be consumed in the next decade will be carbon positive and push us to 3°C heating, with devastating consequences. Adam Smith’s invisible hand is incapacitated if non-renewable exploitation and pollution go unregulated.

More green supply will not make a difference in time …

… but more green demand can. How to stimulate demand? Regulation, incentivization and massive investment! That in turn requires public pressure on politics and the economy.

People drive politics and markets.

Regulation and economic incentivization allow markets to solve the problem. Even people who care little about the environment build green solutions if there’s money to be made. We’d hit zero emissions much faster. That means less lives, ecosystems and areas destroyed. The challenge: Digital forms of engagement are afterthoughts of offline activities: we can do more than online petitions, sharing posters on social media or webcam protests!

How to use startup tools to grow a movement?

Just like companies, NGOs have business models. Inputs are donations, talent and volunteer time. Output is (ideally measurable) impact: Better policies, reduced emissions, awareness, voting.

Just like good startups, some NGOs use network effects, lock in their inputs and use positive feedback loops to grow faster and become more efficient.

But unlike most industries, the NGO space has yet to be disrupted by startups.

Imagine digital movement NGOs with a startup mindset.

Three examples for scalable, impactful models we ideate and develop at Imagine Zero:

  1. Imagine online campaigners targeting followers of a specific brand on social media via direct messages. Together, they pressure that brand into living up to its green marketing by pledging decarbonization. Successes turn followers into participants, fueling a campaign that empowers people to have measurable economic impact from their smartphone.
  2. Imagine a digital self-service platform turning everybody into a campaigner: Activists convince airport travelers into offsetting their flights on the spot using an easy web interface. They get a margin to make a little money on the side. And they leverage travelers‘ deeper pockets to channel money into high-quality offsetting projects and they raise awareness.
  3. Imagine a teaching module allowing college students and climate refugees to chat to raise awareness, understanding and mutual respect while making global citizenship tangible.

What these projects have in common: They’re self-service, almost infinitely scalable, empower participants to invest their own time and they’re cheap.

Also, they illustrate the direction we’re taking at Imagine Zero. Now, how can we spark your imagination? Let’s develop ideas together!

Are you a founder?

We target startup talent and compete with NGOs for funding by scaling faster and being more efficient. Our projects leverage a huge, underdeveloped resource: People who want to make a difference but lack the opportunity. 

Have you been a (co)founder before? Are you passionate about stopping the climate crisis and living a life of meaning? Do you deeply understand customer-centricity and have a product mindset? Let’s combine our startup skills to think outside the box without losing track of who we’re building things for: real people who want to make a difference.

Let’s tap into our rich network of startups, mentors, talent, accelerator programs, funding sources, and ideas. Let’s unfuck the world together! Reach out to alexander@imagine-zero.org.

Photo by Pars Sahin on Unsplash.

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