Reveal the underbelly



Strengthening democratic governance around the world requires shaking up the social norms of international diplomacy. That was our conclusion from work with the U.S. State Department, which enlisted us to develop a new model for international organizations.

For example, democracy governance is messy. But diplomats, the polished representatives of their various countries, are polite, measured and disinclined to reveal the underbelly of how their countries’ democratic institutions actually work.

Another example: the most mature democracies, like the United States, are always cast as the teachers and the younger democracies – no matter how effective – are always cast as the students. That must change, we concluded in our report: “All participants must be given the opportunity to act as teachers and as learners. Sometimes the United States should report to Estonia.”

The project was part of our portfolio of work critically assessing norms of international relations, which includes our work with the U.S. State Department on the concept of venture democracy and with New America on supporting long-term, large-scale impact investing.

Place your bets

After years of muddled democratization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American political class needed a new way to talk about sharing the virtues of representative government abroad. So we set out to concoct one, seeking inspiration in the logic model of venture capitalism.

VCs, we observed, place small, well-timed bets to realize big returns. Working with democracy advocates at the U.S. State Department and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, we identified several key ways in which a new model for democratization could borrow ideas from Silicon Valley.

Andrew Benedict-Nelson laid out the key traits that both democratization and venture investing require in a piece for GOOD Magazine: investing in many different projects with a very long time horizon; investing in ways that help make sense of failure, particularly by recouping non-traditional returns like relationships and knowledge; and investing in ways that advance the state of the art, incorporating those advances into future efforts.

We further concluded that the proper place for those investments was civil society. Within a week, the idea was being considered at the White House as a way to guide future U.S. efforts.

Enlisted for the project by Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, with whom we also worked to design a new model for international organizations.

The right order

It has been estimated it will cost upwards of $45 trillion over the next 15 years to fulfill the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the centerpiece of a global effort to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.

But until now, there has been no logical path to meeting the 17 goals. Jeff Leitner has released the first-ever sequencing of the SDGs, the result of a survey of economists, political scientists and social scientists around the world, working in public institutions, think tanks, universities, foundations, and civil society organizations.


The sequencing was done in partnership with OECD and New America, where Leitner is a Fellow. He was enlisted in this effort by former U.S. State Department official Tomicah Tillemann, with whom GreenHouse has worked to re-design international organizations and U.S. support of emerging democracies.

Hope restored


Genocide museums – like those in Rwanda, Germany and Washington, DC – are extraordinarily important institutions, ensuring that the atrocities they chronicle are never forgotten. But the museums are not terribly effective at enlisting volunteers in preventing future atrocities.

That’s because the institutions follow a proven, predictable path: introduce visitors to horrific events through facts, artifacts and stories, which leave them smarter but shaken. We discovered a new path: by re-introducing hope and humanity within the museum experience, the institution allows visitors to recover their emotional balance and imagine themselves joining the fight.

The research was part of our UX for Good initiative, in which GreenHouse and Jason Ulaszek invite a dozen top user experience designers from around the world to join us in resolving a complex social challenge. The initiative produced the Inzovu Curve, a model that has guided modifications in Rwanda and helped designers map the emotional impact of institutions around the world.

UX for Good was launched in 2011, has worked at the behest of The GRAMMY Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, and has won the user experience design industry’s top award.

Intellectual collisions

Dr. Tomicah Tillemann is former senior advisor to U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry for civil society and emerging democracies. Now tackling those same global challenges from outside government, he is Senior Fellow at New America and co-founder of the Blockchain Trust Accelerator.

Dr. Tillimann said of us, “GreenHouse runs a large hadron supercollider of ideas. They curate one of the world’s most remarkable collections of talent, tee up research questions designed to take you to new dimensions, and generate intellectual collisions with the power to change our understanding of the world.”

We have worked with Dr. Tillemann in his capacity at the U.S. State Department to re-design international organizations and U.S. support of emerging democracies, and at New America on the Bretton Woods II initiative.

Multinational norms

Multinational corporations are remarkably skilled at building and improving the mechanics of international markets, but are still learning how to untangle those markets’ social norms. GreenHouse – invited by Play Big – worked with global executives from Coca-Cola to dive deep into the shifting norms of juice consumption.

For example, juice is morphing in the minds of consumers from a drink option to an indication of care for one’s family. Using GreenHouse’s innovation methodology, Coca-Cola execs developed preliminary strategies for leveraging and capitalizing on that change.

GreenHouse’s methodology was developed over seven years of innovation projects in the private, public, social and academic sectors, predicated on an original framework, and tested in a variety of corporate settings, including Big Law and the nation’s largest utility.

Fellow American


For a century, think tanks played an increasingly important, but relatively limited role in American life: provide lawmakers in Washington, DC with well-researched policy recommendations. But New America, launched in 1999, was the first in a new, disruptive wave of think tanks, enlisting younger, hipper intellectuals to reach beyond the Beltway into Silicon Valley and America’s cities; to build the very programs for which they advocated; and to engage the public directly. At the time, Esquire Magazine suggested New America “might become the only think tank that matters.”

In 2015, Jeff Leitner was named a Fellow at New America, where he works on an audacious effort – called Bretton Woods II – to redirect global investment of $25 trillion and build social stability around the world.

“Opportunities don’t come much bigger,” said New America Senior Fellow and former U.S. State Department official Tomicah Tillemann, who recruited Leitner for the effort. “We’re living in a world with a huge quantum of capital and a huge quantum of problems.”

For his part on Bretton Woods II, Leitner is partnering with the Paris-based OECD to create the first-ever, logical sequencing of the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Greater impact

John Petrie, MBE, is chief executive of Searle Court and a trustee of the National Holocaust Museum in the U.K. He was previously director of programs for the Aegis Trust working in Rwanda, and chief of legal operations at the International War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone.

Petrie said of our work, “The approach by GreenHouse in creating positive social change is unique and has greater impact than anything else I have seen. They are able to break down an issue or problem to its component parts; analyze, explore, and improve each part then rebuild it as a coherent and comprehensive whole that significantly enhances the social benefit of the project. They deliver positive action and effective change in some of the most challenging environments.”

We worked closely with Mr. Petrie on the ground in Rwanda, through our UX for Good initiative to make genocide museums more effective.