The Common Good 🤝️
Have we *earned* it?
Well hello again … gm (if applicable)
My background in the non profit space and recent experiences with grants in the traditional sense got me thinking on how I would like to learn more about this topic from the crypto perspective. Like many of you I have been seeing one announcement after another over the last year around “Ecosystem Funds” and was curious as to how these programs work in comparison to some of the programs I have had personal experience with. Many of these Ecosystem Funds are backed by VC’s or other for-profit interests and, upon first glance, are a bit opaque in explaining how the funds will be managed and allocated so I thought this might be a great opportunity for me to learn a bit more on how they operate (and share my journey here).
I won’t lie. I think these funds and their movements could be a valuable source of alpha that would-be sovereign individuals could do better to educate themselves on.
Philanthropy: Origins 🌱️
First, I thought it might be interesting to look at a brief history on the origins of grants and philanthropy and what their original intent (at least outside the Metaverse) was. If history bores you probably best to skip ahead, anon.
A good definition can be found here:
The word "philanthropy" derives from the Ancient Greek phrase philanthropia, meaning "to love people." Today, the concept of philanthropy includes the act of voluntary giving by individuals or groups to promote the common good. It also refers to the formal practice of grant making by foundations to nonprofit organizations.
If you search around on the web for a history on topics like grants and philanthropy you will find a bunch of decades old PDF docs detailing the topic all from different points of view or on specific areas that grants were applied or used … super boring honestly. The site I find the most helpful to learn a little bit on the topic is from the National Philanthropic Trust as it has a visual timeline you can navigate on the site starting in the 16th century all the way to the present day. An interesting quote that greets you on the site I think sums it all up pretty well:
“Wealth is not new. Neither is charity. But the idea of using private wealth imaginatively, constructively, and systematically to attack the fundamental problems of mankind is new.”
- JOHN GARDNER
The more I looked into this topic the more I found parallels to crypto, especially in how the concept of philanthropy started to take hold in the 16th century. During this time of change and great progress for the individual, humanity saw the medieval world fading away including its economic, political, and social structures. For any of you anons that are familiar with The Sovereign Individual (one of my favorite books of all time) you will probably start to see some of the parallels to our world today as digital infrastructure lessens the returns to violence in the physical realm thereby diminishing the power of nation states and corporations.
I know I am hitting you with all kinds of quotes, apologies in advance, here’s another:
Globally, the Age of Discovery spurred an unprecedented exchange of people, goods, ideas, and culture. All of these changes had a profound effect on the rise of modern philanthropy, centralizing need in urban centers, changing who gave and who received, shifting the locus of giving from religious orders to the state, and enabling a global exchange of philanthropic acts and ideas.
Sound familiar? Well, history doesn’t repeat but I have heard that it can often rhyme.
I won’t bore you with all the details but I will close this section by saying the theme I continued to see over centuries when looking into the topic was this: technology and innovation created new opportunities and with that some that benefited decided they would help those that were being left behind in the process.
As the trend (and our society) became more global in nature over the years the divide has only increased and the need for innovative solutions to help contribute to “The Common Good” are needed now more than ever.
“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”
The Common Good 🤝️
So what does this concept mean? Well, in the traditional sense it can be described as:
In ordinary political discourse, the “common good” refers to those facilities—whether material, cultural or institutional—that the members of a community provide to all members in order to fulfill a relational obligation they all have to care for certain interests that they have in common.
In the Metaverse (I think that’s the appropriate term currently for crypto?) we don’t have a centralized governing body (yay!) so that means there’s no Big Brother handing out grants like we see with Nation States and levels of local government underneath. Because of this, the majority of funding is not coming through government entities and instead are made available through foundations, Ethereum Foundation being one of the most notable, or directly through projects like with Uniswap Grants (which ironically enough is a stellar example of success from the Ethereum Foundation Grant Program). Aside from these you are also seeing some interesting new approaches to funding including quadratic funding mechanisms, like GitCoin, and some other interesting approaches including DAO Treasuries starting to enter the arena and offer their own programs.
The criteria for these grants varies widely based on who is offering (and their agenda/where their money comes from) and I was very surprised that there is not a great centralized place where you can track grants other than visiting all of the different websites. The best list I have found is from some guy named Sov and it’s pretty bad and tracking proactively where the money is flowing and who’s in the pipeline for approval is even more challenging than just finding where to go for information.
You also don’t have to look very far to see things that make you start to wonder who is actually making the decisions on how many of these funds are allocated. A very visible example of this is the $20M that Uniswap gave for their “DeFi Education Fund”
Examples like the above make you wonder how much progress we are actually making towards “The Common Good” here in The Metaverse. While we sometimes like to throw stones at governments and “centralized” entities and talk nonstop about how we’re going to change the world with our promise of decentralization the honest truth of the matter is that those “centralized” entities have contributed much more, thus far, to advancing the common good than any of our well meaning dApps. Additionally, much of the funding and growth evidenced in “grants” across the crypto space relate to building of new projects or protocols that don't necessarily help increase equity or access but more perpetuate the current mode of speculation and competition present today.
My hope is that we can figure out a better way to leverage programs like these Ecosystem Funds to address the challenges of access that exist outside our corner of the Metaverse. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great projects that are starting to form and make a real difference and that’s exciting to see happening. We can’t make crypto's answer to philanthropy and the common good “donate with crypto” as that is very much selling ourselves short on what we can actually accomplish. This thread from Vitalik years from the last cycle might be a good reminder of how far we have come (mostly in TVL) and how far we have yet to go…
Next Steps 🔍️
So, where do I take it from here?
Well. Given the amounts on these ecosystem funds and grant programs can be enormous and the details are a bit scattered I thought I would take a first pass at trying to compile some information on the current landscape including:
What are the most prominent Ecosystem Funds that have been announced to date?
How are each of these funds being governed?
What kinds of projects (if any) are they funding currently?
How much of the allocated funding has been used or consumed to date?
Are any of the projects or initiatives contributing in some way to developing public goods that, in some way, benefit “The Common Good”?
I’ve started up a Notion site that you can reach at the link below where I will be keeping track of my research and building information over time. I haven’t found many places where this information is tracked today so thought I would chip in and start to build something in addition to writing for my blog.
Keep in mind it’s totally a work in progress and pretty sparse at this point but I will be building it out over time into something that is (hopefully!) useful.
With that disclaimer, here it is:
A Strong Foundation 🏗️
We have seen some huge numbers announced in terms of liquidity incentives from foundations for developers to build on their respective L1’s/L2’s. This has led to a hyper competitive environment for developers and massive upside for those that can bring successful products to market. I’m going to start by taking a look at one of the more notable ecosystem funds that were announced last year: Fantom!
Fantom announced their liquidity incentives back in Aug ‘21 with a committed total of 370,000,000 $FTM to the cause. Depending on the day and market conditions the value of that can change so check out CoinGecko and do the math if you want on how much that actually is.
This program is not considered a community grants program as it is fully programmatic in how the rewards are paid so there is no decision making by the Fantom Foundation meaning if projects meet the requirements then they receive the incentives. The requirements only apply to TVL of $FTM locked in projects on the Fantom network and have nothing to do with project focus or goals.
I was able to reach out to Fantom Foundation and get an update on the status of the program and incentives distributed to date that I have below:
Fantom does have a community grants program that is governed by the Fantom Foundation but it seems to have lost a bit of steam since the announcement of the incentives program. This article mentions a few grant recipients (some nice projects in here) and on their site they also mention here the grants program is “ongoing”. When I reached out to the team via email to check on the status of the program I was told:
“For the grants, we do give grants to selected projects, mostly infrastructure builders. Grants can go from 5k to 100k, but they're very rare and selected.”
While Fantom seems to have some nice incentives and a working grants program I didn’t really see any projects that are actively contributing to the common good by producing a commodity or service that is provided without profit to all participants of the network. The closest I was able to find to this would be examples like CryptoKek, ZooCoin, and Millennial Finance (all of which received grants from Fantom) as they offer some sort of base level “free” service in the form of charting, data analytics and portfolio tools. I wouldn’t fully consider any of them a public good per se as they all have a native token model and, in some cases, gate access to different tiers of their product based on users holding those tokens. Outside of these few examples, it seems everything else receiving incentives or grants is in large part decentralized exchanges (thanks to the focus on TVL metrics) and then a grant for Coordinape.
Thanks for tuning in and hope that you found this info valuable. More to come in terms of research into this topic so please stay tuned anon! If you have questions or comments please hit me up on Twitter!