TrueFootprint CEO: “Big Change Needs to Involve Many, Many More People and It Needs to Benefit Many More People.”

25 January 2022 | Podcasts, The Business of Giving Podcast

Denver Frederick interview with Frederik Galtung

Denver Frederick is the host of The Business of Giving, a podcast that focuses on solutions to today’s complex social problems, and the people who are bringing about systems change through their work. He regularly has deep and insightful conversations with Catalyst 2030 members.

The following is a conversation between Denver and Catalyst 2030 member Fredrik Galtung, chief executive and co-founder of TrueFootprint.

Fredrik Galtung
Fredrik Galtung, Co-Founder and chief executive of TrueFootprint

Denver: Fredrik Galtung is the chief executive and co-founder of TrueFootprint, the first bottom-up impact verification solution for supply chains. It helps companies improve the effectiveness of their sustainability investments. Before starting TrueFootprint, Fredrik was the founding staff member at Transparency International and co-founded Integrity Action, which delivered the largest scale, bottom-up monitoring of development projects and services. He’s also a member of the Incubation Board of Catalyst 2030, a collaborative movement to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by that year.

Welcome to the Business of Giving, Fredrik!

Fredrik: Thank you so, so much, Denver. Pleasure to be here. 

Denver: Tell us about TrueFootprint and how it evolves from the previous work that you had been doing. 

Fredrik: Well, thank you so much, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to share this. Just a tiny caveat that I’d make in the beautiful introduction you made is whether we’re the first or not really doesn’t matter. But let me describe what it is that we’re doing. 

Indeed, in my previous work— so I founded Integrity Action after having been the first employee and head of research of Transparency International. Transparency International helped to put anti-corruption on the global policy agenda. It was incredibly impactful as far as that was concerned. But after 10 years of doing that work, I saw our work not having much impact in the day-to-day lives of people on the ground. But that was my motivation. I wasn’t motivated by attending big conferences and having people sign declarations or even making presidents, prime ministers declaring commitments for zero tolerance. That’s what it is. 

And so, I started a new organization, Integrity Action, in order to work on these issues bottom up. And you can wonder – well, why work bottom up? Isn’t it better to really work effectively with leaders at the top? And it is, in a certain sense, yes. If you have a truly inspired leader and an amazing team around this person, they can make a lot happen. But there are a lot of caveats to this.

So, change at a rapid pace, really improving governance fast, I found out later—and it sounds so simple when you observe it—historically, that’s only ever happened in small countries. The threshold is about 10 million. It doesn’t mean that every country under 10 million is well-run. But if you want to make change happen fast, i.e, within less than 10 years, you have, historically speaking, no chance of achieving that in a country above, and there are many countries that are bigger than 10 million. And then you have to assume that you have an incredible team in place and that they have a bit of time to do this. 

And so, the question was if we are not—and there are unfortunately too many leaders that may have good intentions, but they’re not necessarily able to implement. So even if the person is great, they are not able to deliver. And what I wanted to explore was: Was it possible for people on the ground to actually make that difference? 

I thought that we would work something out within two or three years. And it took a lot longer to figure this out, but we got some incredible results after about a decade. So, it was a decade of learning. And it was learning something so basic as to: How can people in communities hold projects to account that are meant to benefit them? And just a stark example, there’s never been a road contract in the world that said that this road will wash away after two heavy rains. And yet, that’s exactly what gets built.

Denver:  All the time. 

Fredrik: So the road contract said one thing; what gets actually done is too often something else. And the question is when that something else happens, so for example, in Afghanistan is just one case, the road was built for 10 meters width, so two cars can pass, but it was actually built four to five meters wide. So if two cars pass at speed, they are crushed. It’s very, very dangerous. Instead of six centimeters thickness, it was one to two centimeters thick. So, you can imagine the contractor took quite a lot of that contract into his own pocket. 

The question wasn’t to discover that this had happened because discovering this – it’s all over the place. You can take pictures, you can do different things. The question we asked – is it possible for the community that’s meant to benefit from the project to get it back to 10 meters and back to six centimeters thickness? Is that possible? And it took 10 years to get an answer to that question: To do it not only with a high success rate, but to do so safely. The goal was, of course, for not a single person involved in this to be killed, despite uncovering fraud and corruption worth millions, sometimes and hundreds of thousands regularly.

And what we were able to do over 3,000 projects in 14 countries worth $1.2 billion was zero deaths and a success rate of more than half, 55% on average, of getting the projects to be what they were supposed to be. 

Denver: Fantastic. Would it be fair to say, Fredrik— and maybe I’m misinterpreting this, but I’m going to see if I can distill it— it’s almost impossible sometimes to fight corruption and stop corruption. Rather, what you need to do is promote integrity and have it a positive force. And that will then… 

You know, it reminds me a little bit of, well, my lawn, and I got a lot of dandelions. And I go out and I dig up those dandelions. And about a week later, they’re back. My dandelions are my corruption. And I finally figured out when I brought in a service, that the only way you can kill dandelions is with really good, strong grass. And that’s the way to do it. And hearing you, it sounds like that’s somewhat of a metaphor to what you’re describing. 

Fredrik: That’s exactly right. But the integrity is from the unexpected place. It’s from the community itself. It’s not from the institutions. So, if we had gone the traditional route of going to the police, it would have been a catastrophe. Had we gone to the courts, had we gone to politicians, had we gone to the media, none of these things which are the traditional ways of trying to fight this thing, they would have led to people being killed. It would have been very, very dangerous. 

If you have gone to court, the success rate – and again, I’m just speaking of this dear country, which is, of course, in a terrible state, Afghanistan, the success rate of the anti-corruption commission over these first four years was exactly zero. They didn’t have a single major conviction, whereas we were achieving success rates of 60-, 70% regularly by the people on the ground. Now, no one went to jail, but they were able to get the project to where they were contractually meant to be. 

And they were able to do that because they emphasized integrity. They emphasized their own rights. And they went there as a community – never an individual, that’s very dangerous, but always as a community – and saying, “Look, we found the contract. This is what you were meant to do. And we expect you by next week, and we’ll work with you to make sure that the contract is doing exactly what it’s meant to do.” 

We don’t just want their feedback. We don’t just want a survey. We want them to be able to hold the project to account.

Denver: So interesting. Before we get a little bit deeper into your work, why don’t you put us all on solid ground here and share with us the distinctions among inputs, outputs, outcomes, and impact.

Fredrik: Pleasure to do that. So, the input is, for example, money, is energy, is something that makes your project happen. It could be natural resources. It can be labor. The output and some distinguish between outputs and activities, it is the results of what you’re doing, that’s the immediate result. So, for example, we have trained a thousand people. We’ve delivered, we’ve built a certain amount of road. But the outcome is the reason we were, in the very near, in the short-term, is why we are doing this

And so, a simple example is we’re distributing a million condoms because we know that if kids use those condoms, it may reduce teenage pregnancy, for example, and sexually transmitted infections. But a million condoms doesn’t mean a million users of the condom. So, if the ultimate goal is children’s wellbeing, in the short run, we need to know the outcome. Are they using them right? Is it really reducing teenage pregnancy? Because if they’re not using them and using them properly, it’s not going to contribute to that.

And what we find is that it’s usually quite expensive and often difficult to capture the outcome and certainly the impact data. And so, what very often happens is outputs are reported. How many meals were distributed? How many homeless people’s lives were touched, et cetera? But is their life really different? Has it really changed as a result? Are we really reaching the goals as intended? 

And what we have found— so this goes actually to the heart of your question, Denver, is a different way for the beneficiaries… People often don’t like that term, but the people who are meant to benefit from the project. For them, a beneficiary is no different than a customer. A beneficiary is someone meant to benefit from something. And are they actually benefiting? 

So, what we’re saying is we don’t just want their feedback. We don’t just want a survey. We want them to be able to hold the project to account. Just like in the example I gave you, all the roads in Afghanistan. Don’t survey them. Make it possible for them to truly hold the project to account. 

Denver:  You’re seeing that in a lot of philanthropy finally now, that when philanthropists are working in communities, they’ve always had advisory councils in those communities, and they’re changing them to accountability councils, and that’s a completely different way of looking at it. 

And as long as you’re talking about beneficiary feedback, talk a little bit more about it. I’ve had David Bonbright on the show from Keystone Accountability. And I think he calls it “constituent voice,” but you call it “open beneficiary feedback.” Tell us about that and what are some of the key elements to making that work.

Fredrik: So, the key question really related to this – Is that community? Is that beneficiary? Constituency? I don’t care what you call it. But are the people who are meant to benefit from the project, are they actually able to change it to reflect both, at the minimum level, what was meant to happen? That’s the very basic. But then if they’re even able to take it further and appropriate it and own it, all the more so. But the minimal threshold is, is it achieving what it was meant to do? And what we want beyond that is, of course, for people to take ownership of other positive outcomes. 

We know that across a range of fields, from addiction to other issues, if people don’t own their own health and their outcome, you can do whatever you want, it’s not going to happen. 

Denver:  If it does happen, it’s going to last for a nanosecond, and it will be gone. 

Fredrik: And they’ll be right back in rehab. But the principle is no different here. People really have to own the change. And yet, the intermediate organizations are generally very, very reluctant to give up that power. They are terrified of what this will show. 

So, I’ll just give you one other little example. In another country, we found a lot of projects done by a major UN agency that were simply not optimal. They were not working. They were not properly done. And because the security situation was such, they hardly sent out inspectors. So when the contractors knew about this, they knew they could get away with anything. Our local partner asked that UN agency for the contracts. The UN agents refused to provide. They said we don’t have to. Why? Because they’re the UN. 

Then what they did was to lobby the donors, then usually the donors work. The donors didn’t have the contracts, but they had the proposal, so they shared the proposal with that organization. And with the proposal, they knew that there were only three or four templates of the schools. So with those templates, which is not nearly as good as the contract, they were able to do the work. They were able to fix 70% of the schools without any involvement from the UN agents.

And this is the problem with the intermediaries and whether the intermediary is a well-known NGO or a UN agency. And it’s not to cast aspersions on the UN, but they are very, very reluctant to have these issues come to light. And yet, for the people on the ground, they know that this may be a once-in-10-year chance of getting that kind of investment into schools or into whatever. They are desperate to make sure that these projects are actually working. 

The FieldApp enables people on the ground. It’s a very easy-to-use application. It has to be used right now on a smartphone, but it’s very, very easy to use for people on the ground to first help themselves. It’s not a survey.

Denver:  You’re so right. I deal with a lot of them. And you speak to any UN agency, you speak to any NGO or intermediary, they all want to give up control… and they can’t. It’s impossible for them to do it. They’ll give you  lip service, but when it really comes to it, it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s a really hard thing to do. And we’re sort of conditioned that way. It’s sort of the 20th-century thinking of ‘I’m in charge, and I do this.’ 

Well, in terms of getting this information from these communities, one of the tools you have is the FieldApp. Tell us about that and how it works. 

Fredrik: So, Denver, thank you. You’ve really done your homework, and indeed, and I really appreciate where you’re coming from with your candor. But look, we created TrueFootprint for two reasons. 

One is when, as my previous organization, we were interfacing a lot with the development agencies – the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and aid agencies. And they were super reluctant. We have this curious thing. They have given us millions of dollars to do our work. They had great evaluations on results. And we said, “Can we now apply the same method to just a tiny fraction of your own project?” And not a single one of these entities wanted to do that. Even though we have champions within their organizations that said, “Oh, absolutely. This would be groundbreaking,” it was blocked on the country level, on one level or the other. That was one reason. And the other reason is the emergency of the climate change situation we’re in.

And so, for those two reasons, I created TrueFootprint with my co-founder in order to address the huge issue that is the sustainability and climate change transition, but also to work with other constituents, notably the private sector as well.

And so, what are we doing differently? I’ll just give you a taste of one major thing here, but you asked about the FieldApp. The FieldApp enables people on the ground. It’s a very easy-to-use application. It has to be used right now on a smartphone, but it’s very, very easy to use for people on the ground to first help themselves. It’s not a survey. 

So for example, smallholder farmers in Uganda used it to help each other with technical advice, to get real-time technical advice. And then a beautiful thing that happened was a problem they didn’t even know about when we started. A group of farmers was getting free seeds from a vegetable oil company, and the vegetable company would buy the sunflower harvest at the end of the season. One farmer, Ronald, found that only half his seeds had  germinated. He put them in the app, took pictures. And then one by one, other farmers said, “Oh, we have the same problem.” 

Now, he didn’t know who all the other farmers were. So, this just spread ,and they found that over a hundred farmers had the same problem. The vegetable oil company gave them 50% compensation in time to plant the seeds and save that harvest. And they said this would never have happened otherwise. Because Ronald was now able to see what was going on, he went to them, he mobilized, he got it done, and within days, they had the compensation. In any normal scenario, they would have lost half the harvest, more than half their income. They would have been desperate. And it wouldn’t have done the seed company any good, or the vegetable oil company, because they would have lost goodwill with the farmers.

Big change needs to involve many, many more people and it needs to benefit many more people.

Denver: Also the farmers think it must’ve been something they did wrong, and then they might have a sense of maybe I need to get out of farming.

Fredrik: Exactly. So, you can see how this is not a survey, this is a sales engagement and monitoring. But the byproduct of them doing this is we’re able to capture some incredible data on outcomes and impact. How is this changing their lives? So, this is something we’re doing now live in 26 countries. 

But what we are trying to disintermediate, Denver, is for example, access to carbon credits. So carbon credit projects tend to be non-top down. And if you’re a big operator, you’re running a big project, and you’re simply running a top down. What if we could do this bottom up? What if we enabled small holders to generate their own projects as a collective, as a co-operative, so that they can access those monies without all the layers in between? And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do because the big change needs to involve many, many more people and it needs to benefit many more people.

Denver: In looking at the FieldApp, I see how we can identify those problems. Is it often a challenge though, to go from problem identification to problem solving? Obviously, with the seed company, that was a great example. But I just wonder whether that’s an unusual one or whether that is commonplace, that once we identify, we actually can find a solution. 

Fredrik: Clearly, not every problem has an immediate solution. But what I did over that decade of learning on over those 3,000 projects, was to see exactly that you can achieve an incredibly high rate of resolution. In context ratio, if you’ve put this in the news, if you’re taking this to the police, if you’re complaining to the authorities, your rate of resolution would be near zero to 5% if you’re lucky. So we’re going from a baseline where things never improved. Why are people so poor? Because so many things are not being delivered and executed on properly. So, if we can increase that range of resolution to 20-, 40-, 50%, Denver, it’s already such an incredible game changer. It’s an absolute transformation. 

Denver: I see with organizations all the time when they say “If you have a complaint, come to us. It’s an open door. We’ll deal with it.” They never get a single complaint. Nobody in their right mind is going to be the person to say “I’m going to go in there and raise this flag.” And they’ll say, “Well, we tried.” It never, ever— well, I can’t say never, ever, but almost never works. 

Fredrik: It almost never works. The international committee of the Red Cross has a hotline. It’s been used by their own staff members, so for certain, legitimate complaints. It has never been used by an end-line beneficiary on the ground. 

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria has a chief ethics officer, well paid and very well-intentioned person. They advertise their hotline, their free email, their everything all over the world. This is an organization that works with more sex workers and more men who have sex with men in countries where both are illegal than anyone else. There are human rights abuses galore affecting these two populations. In the first four years, the hot line was used zero times. 

When people are genuinely empowered, they are discovering the issue. They are making it happen. They are gathering the evidence because they care about it. It’s a very, very different paradigm

Denver: Wow. That’s incredible. The worst thing about that though, is that these organizations feel that they’ve discharged  their responsibility of doing it. I see this often in diversity, equity and inclusion, and they do a training for staff. But if you take a look after that training, those organizations more often than not do no better than organizations who have not had that, when they do their resume with different types of names and who gets the interview and things of that nature, but they feel… it makes it complacent sometimes is what it does.

Fredrik: Denver, we’re really kindred spirits, but yes. So the most egregious example was simply Fox news. They said that “Not a single woman complained on our hotline, so how can there be issues?” So, a hotline is not what I’m describing as you realize. 

When people are genuinely empowered, like Ronald, they are discovering the issue. They are making it happen. They are gathering the evidence because they care about it. It’s a very, very different paradigm. This isn’t the hotline to the seed oil company. This is something that enables them to map out, look at different issues, and truly be able to take it forward. 

Now, if we wanted to close the loop on this, they need to be rewarded for this. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t get… So there’s an intrinsic reason for doing it. They’re doing it for themselves. We’re not paying them, by the way. This is really important. We never pay the people we’re working with. Not for that, at least, because if you’re not caring to help yourself, who are we to say that it’s important. So, they are doing it for themselves first. But then afterwards, yes, there are other opportunities. For example, in the form of carbon credits. They should be able to benefit from this if they’re doing outstanding work over there. 

Denver: To make this even more tangible to folks, let’s talk about an industry you’ve done an awful lot of work with… and tell us what has happened there… and that would be the mining industry. Share that with us. 

Fredrik: Well, thank you. So, one number that people may not be so aware of is when you think about the total picture in terms of the environmental footprint of what we wear, drink, consume, use our computers, across most industries, 70-plus percent are produced at the very beginning of the supply chain. And when you add the last mile to the first mile, you add the last mile, you get above 90% in almost all categories. Everything in between – transportation manufacturing, retail – is less than 10%. 

So, for example, Walmart. It’s a big retailer. It’s the biggest. The entire carbon footprint of Walmart compared to what goes through Walmart, Walmart represents 4%. So even if Walmart became carbon neutral tomorrow, there would still be 96% to take care of. 

So now, we come to mining. Mining is the ugly side of the beautiful Tesla, of the beautiful things we aspire to. Where does this stuff actually come from and what is the carbon footprint? And not only carbon footprint, but environmental footprint more broadly, and the social footprint of what is happening at the base of the supply chain. So, lithium mining in Chile for example, has many terrible aspects to it. And it’s a very water-scarce country, but the area where the lithium mining takes place has terrible water issues. Most of your listeners will know about the situation in the democratic Republic of Congo, where most of the world’s cobalt comes from. 

So what we have been working on there is to see how we can take an approach that not only measures the impact in a different way on the ground but that is truly rewarding what is happening on the ground, not just from a compliance mindset, but really in terms of having positive social, developmental impacts. 

Now, the truth is Denver, we’ve done quite a lot of work on that, but we haven’t progressed nearly as much as we would like to. And there is a gap here. There is a lot of very superficial compliance, and that is actually not digging deep to make sure that we’re having anywhere near the minimizing at least of the negative impact, let alone having the semblance of a positive impact on the ground. Now I wish I had  reports on more positive things happening, but we still have a very long way to go.

Denver:  These sustainability reports are pretty incomplete. There is no question about that. 

You were in the NGO world. Now, you’re in the private sector, the business world. And I think one of the reasons you did that is that you wanted to be able to have greater leverage and to scale the impact of this intervention to a much higher degree than you could in the non-for-profit. How has that been working out? And what has been sort of the change? What have you noticed, and how have you been able to increase that leverage? 

Fredrik: It’s not as straightforward as one might wish, but I think it gives incredible degrees of freedom. So we are social business at its core. We’re set up in the UK. We don’t have the legislation that you have in the US in the same way. So we’re simply a company limited by guarantee, but we’re very much a social business at its heart. In fact, what we do is impossible without people’s direct find. As I said, if we’re not paying the people on the ground, if they don’t find it useful, they’re not going to use our solution. So that’s the biggest litmus test that there is.

What we have found is that we are in a market where, yes, everyone is looking to be doing something or at least to be seen to be doing something. But there is also a lot of uncertainty as to what they actually want to be doing. And we know that the biggest sources of data in this sector– there’s a bit of a challenge because the biggest data sources have a low level of correlation with each other as to the performance of companies. The market leader by far is MSCI, and what MSCI measures is very interesting. It is how companies manage the risk of ESG, not their ESG performance. And you could say that has its own logic and it has a logic, but it’s not the same as the actual use and performances of that. 

What operating as a business enables us is to have many more degrees of freedom than we did as a nonprofit. And so, the fact that we are operational in 26 countries in 11 languages in the short time that we had, really would not have been possible in the previous operating model that we had.

Denver: Not by a long shot. It’s not the same. You’re right. 

Fredrik: It’s not the same. So, it’s an answer to say that what we’re finding is we have definitely some kindred spirits, not quite as many as we had hoped. But what operating as a business enables us is to have many more degrees of freedom than we did as a nonprofit. And so, the fact that we are operational in 26 countries, in 11 languages in the short time that we had, really would not have been possible in the previous operating model that we had.

Denver: And I hate to say this of somebody who loves the nonprofit sector, but one of the greater freedoms you have, it would just seem to me, is you have the freedom to fail. And it’s often very hard to fail with donors’ money. And it shouldn’t be, and it’s one of the big mistakes that I think the NGO sector makes, but it is still very difficult; in a business that’s R&D.

Fredrik: Well, you put that better than I could’ve. You’re absolutely right. This is one of the most precious things about it. And so, we have our investors and indeed, of course, there were certain things that didn’t pan out, but we’ve had that flexibility indeed. 

Denver: Knowing what you know now, Fredrik, and you’re a social entrepreneur, is there anything that you would have done differently when you first started out? Maybe I should ask: Is there anything you would have done the same?

Fredrik: So one of the things I say about myself is that I’m obviously a very slow learner because it took me, as I said, it took me a decade. So, you can say either I’m persistent and I really went for it, or I’m just very slow because it really took a long time. 

So, could we have done things differently? So, I take comfort in the fact that, the founder of Dyson, James Dyson, that it took him some 5,134 prototypes until he felt he had it right. So, trying, trying, trying again. I wish there was a shortcut to that, and I’m not totally sure there is. Now, the person who does find the shortcuts and the ways to close the feedback loops on innovation, the duration, and being able to fail faster will definitely have my huge admiration, and I’d love to learn that. So, I wish, Denver, that there was a faster way to fail and learn… that it didn’t take quite as long. 

But the other thing is in terms of my learning, where I definitely failed to an extent… I was, in the aspiration and hope that once I have these strong results, that I would be able to convince these mainstream organizations to allow this different approach to be at least part of their repertoire. Not do anything different, but part of their repertoire.

I had hope after hope that this would happen. And it’s not that we didn’t have champions within the organizations that said “Yeah, we must do this.” And that turned out ultimately to be a frustration. And again, we may have done it wrong, so it may be entirely our mistake how we went about it. I don’t see them having adopted this. So it’s not because they did it with someone else. If they had done it with someone else, it would have been great. We didn’t succeed in that regard. And so, my lesson from this is the one that we’re trying to apply now, is the means of disrupting is: you have to do it a bit outside the system.

And if we look at the largest… there’s a comment made to me by my friend Arthur Wood, but if you look at the 20-, 30 largest NGOs in the world, they are the same 20, 30 that were there 20-, 30 years ago. Very little change. Whereas if you look at the 20-, 30 biggest companies and who  they were 20-, 30 years ago, they’re not the same. 

Denver: Not the same at all. That’s exactly right. 

Fredrik: There’s very, very little disruption. It’s an incredibly static environment at the top end. Now, should everyone aspire to be a billion-dollar NGO? No, that’s not the point. The point is how stable that arrangement is. 

Denver: Well, that’s a very good insight because, again, in my own little brain, I try to interpret it. Sometimes we spend too much time fueling the idea and not enough time anticipating the friction of people accepting the idea. And that really is something we run into. 

But I had a guy on the show a couple of months ago, and maybe this was his point of persistence. He said, “The reason I’m sticking with it,” he says, “that very few people come up with more than one great idea in their lifetime. It’s not like there’s a whole bunch out there. And I had one, and I’m sticking with it.” And he eventually broke through. And I thought that was really …even when I look at people who write books– they write eight books, but it’s really the same book, seven more times, you know what I mean? They just do that. So, you just stick with that idea. 

Tell us a little bit about Catalyst 2030, why you’re involved, and what the progress has been, and what you’re learning from how that collaboration is going. But first tell us what it’s intended to do.

Fredrik: So it’s an idea that other people have had as well in different forms, is –  why can’t the social sector collaborate better, work better? And if we could only work across silos and work together a bit better, you may be an incredible innovator. Maybe I’m a half good innovator, but if we work together to benefit a community, and if we’re going to bring five other people along and not just fight over the same pile of money but actually see how we can benefit a community together, surely we can make something  possibly great happen. But it turns out that that’s not so easy. 

And so, Jeroo Billimoria had the incredible idea of bringing together Fellows recognized by Ashoka, Schwab, Skoll Foundation, and Echoing Green, and starting with a small cohort— some of them had gotten recognition from more than one of these organizations, including her, from three of them—and then seeing if there was enough buy-in to create something new. The big organizations, it was the first time that these four were working together. It did not happen before. And none of them provided funding. They didn’t believe this would work. And so, it was truly done by social entrepreneurs for social entrepreneurs. And that’s the beauty of it. 

Now, we are not great at collaborating. Everything works against it. You’re given a fellowship because you, not only as an organization, you the individual have done something great. If it’s a team – no, you can’t get a fellowship as a team. You get a fellowship as one person. Funding, of course, is siloed. Projects are temporal and siloed. And so, there is nothing in the system that encourages this. And yet we know intuitively that if we could make this work, surely there is something much better that could happen.

We know we’re nowhere close to achieving the SDGs by 2030. COVID has made it much worse. So, we’re now looking at achieving them by 2090 and some. So by then, not only will we all be dead, but the planet will be fried and all the rest of it. So this notion of working through silos, working collaboratively, and then the incredible thing was how much volunteer time has gone in. A phenomenal amount. There was no money, and yet people volunteered. So now, there are over a thousand organizations that are members, working in I believe 180 or so countries. 

Denver: Wow. 

Fredrik: The collaboration on the ground is still thin. There is some. So we initiated this to a footprint of collaboration that has been operational now in 26 countries, so that is part of what we’re doing. But that’s step-by-step. So that still has to be happening because without the actual collaborations… It can’t just be advocacy. It can’t just be sharing. But there is a ferment of ideas. So there’s a lot happening there. 

And to your audience, if you are a social innovator and social entrepreneur, and this sounds like it could be interesting, by all means join. So there are national chapters. The aim is to have quite a few of them. There’s a beautiful initial cohort happening. And this is a very vibrant community. It’s still finding its footing, but after just over a year since its official launch, to be at over a thousand organizations is not bad. But it’s not about the quantity. It’s really about the quality of that engagement. And I think it’s quite remarkable. 

Denver: I do, too. And I think that it also is a lesson to be learned there that we tend to focus too much on outcomes and the outcomes of meeting the SDGs by 2030, as you said, ain’t going to happen. It’s going to be maybe 2090 or whatever. But we don’t focus enough on the process. And it’s the process here that is going to be the thing that is going to last and put us all in so much better stead going forward. 

So, it’s an interesting organization. I love watching it, love talking to people like you who are key members of the whole thing. 

Fredrik: Just to share with you for a moment, the working group that we’re involved with because you’ll realize that this is the red thread in the work that I do, but it’s a people-driven development. So how can we change international development and philanthropy so that it is truly bottom up? And so, the people on the ground have access to the best innovations, can tell us what they need… and when it happens, can tell us how it works. So they can rate what’s going on, and we can bring those resources far more directly to the ground. So that’s the collaboration that we’re looking to make happen. 

Denver: And to your point on philanthropy, sometimes philanthropy is the one that sets up this paradigm where we don’t collaborate because we all compete for the same grant. We’re all sending in our own proposals. And the whole system is designed to be a competitive one and not a cooperative one.

For listeners who want to learn more about TrueFootprint, tell us about your website and some of the information they’re going to be able to find there. 

Fredrik: Thank you, Denver. So it’s simply TrueFootprint.com. And if people have ideas that they think can be helpful from the point of view, really of putting communities at the center of the climate change and sustainability transition, we’re very open to suggestions. So, thanks for giving me that opportunity to share.

And obviously, if you’re interested in working with other social entrepreneurs and innovators and sharing what you’re doing, by all means, get in touch with Catalyst 2030. And if you want to get in touch with me and find out more, you’re welcome to do that as well. 

Denver: Fantastic, Fredrik. And thank you so much for being here today. It was a great pleasure to have you on the program. 

Fredrik: Denver, thank you ever so much. Really a pleasure.

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