Throughout BFF's many Twitter Spaces, we've hosted a number of conversations about DAOs. Those past conversations focused more broadly on what a DAO is, the different types of DAOs, the structures and even the legal entities or implications behind contributing to a DAO. This week, we wanted to focus on the human side of operating a DAO. Regardless of how advanced new governance tools get, DAOs require human coordination — which has its own set of opportunities and challenges.
Ahead, BFF community manager Renae Redgen speaks to Open Collective cofounder and CEO Pia Mancini, UnicornDAO voting member and ConsenSys Mesh head of talent Jill Moriarity and CityDAO citizen and podcast host Eric Gilbert-Williams.
Before we started Open Collective, both my co-founder were forced to create legal entities that we really didn't need nor wanted to manage, but we needed to do it in order to receive money. I was coming out of politics. I started a political party in Buenos Aires. I ran for elections. What was highly problematic for us was that we we couldn't receive money to finance our campaign until the government of Buenos Aires was like, 'Yeah, sure, you are a political party.' And then the bank would accept us and open a bank account.
Obviously the government — the status quo — was not interested at all in us having a political party and a vehicle because we were making noise.
We couldn't get money. It was ridiculous. We couldn't fund our campaign until the same entity that we were trying to disrupt would accept us.
That's how we started Open Collective. We wanted to make community sustainable. That's where the whole obsession started.
Today, decentralized philanthropy is the natural evolution of of that for us. Now that communities have economic power because something like Open Collective exists. We started working two years ago in the solidarity economy space and we went really deep into that whole ecosystem with our charity in the U.S., The Open Collective Foundation. Embedded in that is the solidarity economy. So giving circles, land trusts, mutual aid groups and bail funds. Asking, how do we transfer wealth with no strings attached to these communities? How do we give back wealth that was originally extracted from these communities? That is what we are thinking about and designing for in the decentralized philanthropy space.
We chose the hybrid path because we started Open Collective in 2015/2016. There wasn't much of an alternative for us in terms of Web3 mass adoption. We started at the time when the problem we wanted to solve didn't have another way out. The hack we invented was what we could do at the time.
Another part of that answer has to do with the fact that we very deeply believe that the people closest to the problem need to be the ones closest to the solution, and we work with communities that are not necessarily tech savvy or don't have access to the tooling that the decentralized space brings.
I think that building something for those who already have access and already have like a certain degree of privilege like means that we are not working with those who today are the losers of the current system and it is with them that we need to build.
The communities that we are working with need solutions today that are not provided by Web3 yet. Folks that are making a living out of their collectives need to be able to prove you know to landlords that they have some income — and in a way that landlords accept.
I think we need to bring people over into the Web3 space, but the only way of doing that is by building a model that is hybrid instead of assuming that everyone's going to catch up eventually — which I think they will, but that's not, again, what we're interested in. I want to be able to overlap both systems as much as possible because I believe that's the way of bringing more and more people over to a system in which I believe — a system that I think is going to generate a lot of the infrastructure in the world that is to come — but the truth is that half of the Open Collective community is, like, viscerally anti-crypto. So we have a problem there that I don't know how we're going to solve. It's very challenging for us.
[UnicornDAO founder] Nadya Tolokonnikova decided that she needed to create some kind of space that really champions artwork outside of Bored Apes and Cryptopunks — not to diminish those two at all, but to onboard more people into the space and [address] the media problem that crypto has. I think that Nadya is uniquely positioned because she's an iconoclast and firebrand. Everything was very well-timed to get people to pay attention, and I think there's there's an authenticity to how this collective was built from the beginning, built on conviction and shared values around the work of women, non binary and queer artists in the art world as well as in the NFT world.
We are building something new, but it is being built by people that live in the existing world, socialized in all the ways that we are socialized. And so I think the power behind it came from people really having belief that there was a need for this, not only in mentoring new artists in the space who might not be getting traction, but also in elevating and shining a light on the incredible work already being done in the space by women and nonbinary folks and queer folks.
It was really obvious to us that there was a hole in the space around people who were tapped into the artwork that's getting made, but also in building a curatorial group. So we structured the DAO from the beginning. There are folks who came in purely to invest. There are folks who came in with a really big passion around building this DAO, and what that was going to look like from a governance perspective and a voting power balance — the number of members and what the entry point is going to be, etc.
And then a lot of it has been growing as the year has happened. One of the first things I came in and said was what are we truly doing to collect work and speak to nonbinary, trans and LGBTQ+ folks? Are we just talking about historically excluded people, or are we getting very specific?
So, you know, purchasing artwork made by trans artists on Trans Day of Visibility and using that as a platform to talk about visibility in a space where people maybe weren't talking about that. And then championing that work as part of our gallery and collection.
And then certainly we had some really good opportunities to utilize that the energy around our brand and around what was happening geopolitically. Shortly after the DAO came together this year, there was the Russian aggression into Ukraine that is still ongoing. UkraineDAO kind of came up out Nadya and this group of people which raised over $7 million and was able to get it into Ukraine to support people on the ground ahead of some government entities. Also, after the fall of Roe v. Wade in the United States and the creation of legalabortion.eth and the money raised that went directly into abortion funds across the country.
This is one of the wonderful things that our ecosystem is — how fast and borderless things can be.
We're building a decentralized city of the future. What does that mean? It's never been done before, so how do we even know how to define it?
There are no clear answers to that. In many ways I describe the community like this: We have 30,000 people in our Discord. There's about 5,000 different NFT holders of the 10,000 total NFTs. We have about 18 guild leaders who are working on different projects and different aspects of of initiatives inside the DAO. But generally, I describe us as social scientists — as pioneers you could say — in land ownership and land governance.
There's a lot of different perspectives, but some of the common strings (that I've been able to put together at least) are three-fold:
If I don't like what a political leader is doing and I stand up and shout it off my balcony, what's going to happen? Nothing's really going to happen. So how do I affect change in my community?
Commonly right now you have to be heard. How do you get heard? That often equates to taking time off work, starting up a group, creating a rally or doing some protesting. Maybe that turns into rioting, running down the streets, breaking windows, stealing things, hurting people. There's got to be a different and better way.
If we're not happy with what a political leader is doing, how long does it take to eject that person? Where is that eject button for dysfunctional politicians? We have to wait four years for for a presidency. There's no change that could really be happening and almost no accountability. There's got to be a faster way to affect change in our existing systems where we are today.
These are some problems that CityDAO sees, and so we we think about the future. What could this look like? Is it that anyone could have the ability in in any government system anywhere across the world to put a proposal up for the rest of the citizens of that region to vote on? What would that look like in the future, and is it possible to do it all through well-designed smart contracts in seconds — instead of months or years or decades?
There's a future on the horizon that we see where there's more integration of blockchain technology and bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies inside political systems, and we're exploring what that could look like.
For more insights, listen to the full conversation with Pia, Chanel, Jill and Eric.
This is not financial advice. If you don't want to spend money investing in crypto or Web3 — you don’t have to. The intent of this article is to help others educate themselves and learn.