US Department of State

Reveal the underbelly

 

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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 social stability.

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.

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.