What if you could have a say in what the collective wealth of your country should be financing? What if all financial transactions were transparent and searchable in a database? What if you were rewarded for participating in a cleanup of your neighbourhood? What if the monetary system was designed in a way to incentivize and reward regenerative action as opposed to the mindless exploitation of our resources?
For about six months during 2021, I immersed myself in the alternative economy of SEEDS, which is an attempt at co-creating exactly that: a technology-enabled and people-powered financial ecosystem that is aligned with the principles of regeneration. This piece is a memoir of my deep engagement with SEEDS in the context of the larger regenerative movement. It was like falling in love with someone you cannot have; a very intense and platonic experience, which allowed a glimpse into how finance can be in service of life.
In this article, I will attempt to piece together the complex economy and movement of SEEDS, from its technical backbones, to its spirited community. For the sake of brevity, this article is not an exhaustive account of SEEDS’ inherent complexity, but it does aim to give a taste of its various facets and offers an insight into my personal experience.
An experiment on the blockchain
SEEDS rests on the underlying tenet that behind our multiple and converging crises is a financial and economic system, which creates the incentive structure for degeneration. So long it remains a profitable decision to cut the Amazon rainforest, and possible for a handful of billionaires to profit from a global pandemic that hits everyone else, nothing will change fundamentally.
It all started with the intention to create an application for a peer-to-peer food system, which incentivises adoption by making it better-than-free. After all, why would anyone choose to buy tomatoes from a neighbour’s garden using an app when they can just handle the payment over the fence, in cash? Going through the hassle of downloading an app, which uses a cryptocurrency, has to come with its perks to gain adoption beyond tech nerds with a tender heart for regeneration. The app offers free transactions and is designed to incentivise and reward regenerative behaviour (more on this later).
Cryptocurrencies have gained a bad reputation lately, and no wonder. We have seen a new generation of young investors replicating the same short-term and profit-hungry dynamics of the stock market in, what has been dubbed, the “wild west of finance”, not least for its wealth accumulation model. Additionally, Bitcoin is known for its rampant energy consumption. To enable a financial system to be in service of the planet instead, a more energy-efficient alternative with a different incentive structure is needed.
SEEDS is a decentralised application (dApp) using the Telos smart contract blockchain for one of the most scalable, collaborative and low-energy alternatives on the market. The Telos ecosystem only uses 21 validators who produce blocks and verify transactions on the blockchain, compared to the more than 300 thousand Bitcoin miners who are paid to secure the network. In simple language, dApps such as SEEDS operate in a decentralised environment, free from interference and control by any single authority, enabling its users to transact with one another without relying on a central authority.
Leveraging the potential of this groundbreaking tech, SEEDS is basically a fun experiment on decentralising finance and governance, while making fully transparent who participates in the system and how they behave and contribute to its participatory economy. When I say it’s a fun experiment, I mean it. SEEDS is like a living system that is forever morphing and adjusting to its surroundings, driven by its active players and the collective values they stand for. At its best, it is a global playground of decentralised decision-making models, viable alternative systems, and ideas on how we can reward and scale cooperation.
Gamifying the economy
As I see it, the SEEDS economy has (at least) two distinctive features: 1) the gamification of its economy; and 2) its attempt at modelling it on evolutionary dynamics and natural cycles. I will start with the first.
One of the best features of SEEDS is its attempt at making active participation a fun, game-like experience. The bar is quite low by default, I thought at first, since almost anything is more fun than putting our cross in the ballot for our leader of choice every four years. SEEDS, however, makes an attempt at creating a fertile ground for citizen participation.
Its philosophy is modelled on the insight of James Carse, that all games fall into one of the two categories: finite and infinite. While finite games have the clear objective to ‘win’ the game (otherwise you ‘lose’), infinite games are without an end by design, with its players invested in continuing the play by constantly adjusting to changing circumstances.
“The future is open and unpredictable. This is why the play of an infinite player is not a play but true play. It is not a scripted repetition of the past but the creative labor of imagining an open future, a future that stays open.” (James P. Carse)
The game of SEEDS starts with being invited to download the app, the SEEDS Passport, which functions as a wallet, a forum and voting platform in one. When joining, you gain a ‘Visitor’ title, which can be upgraded to ‘Resident’ and ‘Citizen’ through more engagement. One’s level of engagement is measured by a personal ‘Contribution score’, which tracks the various ways one can add value, for instance, by making transactions in the app, posting in the forum, or inviting individuals and organisations to join, among other positive deeds.
What does ‘positive’ mean? – you might ask. Within the system, there is a certain value bias towards actions that contribute to a “thrivable planet”. While a radical twist on the sustainability agenda of mainstream policies, “thrivable”, on its own, remains just as vague. The SEEDS Constitution outlines a number of values to orient individual participation towards this ideal (Exploration, Reciprocity, and Openness being the first 3), and it supports projects and initiatives that are making a positive change around the planet, whether they take the form of a course on permaculture or a tree-planting campaign. Residents and Citizens can run Campaigns that aim to reward a large number of people who do regenerative action with Seeds (the native currency of SEEDS), or create Alliance proposals to align their organisation with the SEEDS economy and gain a share of its wealth.
Once you gain a citizenship badge, the system unlocks the possibility for you to take part in governance activities. In practice, this means (among other perks) being able to vote what the collective wealth of SEEDS should be spent on, and to what degree. Its direct and participatory governance structure allows people to vote on the currently running Campaign and Alliance proposals. If the proposal passes, they are granted the requested Seeds, with which they reward those who execute it, and thereby growing the movement.
Evolutionary design and biomimicry
As I said earlier, SEEDS is built on an evolutionary model, vowing to align by the “Principles of Life”. It is an acknowledgement of the underlying principles of wholeness, complexity, collaboration, and evolution as an ever unfolding process of learning and self-realisation.
Its design is fractal-like, operating by “a diversity of interdependently coordinated self-governing and decentralised organisations”, which are called DHOs, or “Decentralised Human Organisations” (or “Decentralised Holonic Organisms”, they are used interchangeably). Following the organisational design of holacracy and sociocracy, they have a structure of nested circles, distributing decision making across smaller units that have authority in their own domains.
In practice, there are people working with festivals and direct regenerative action in the Movement Building DHO, others are developing apps and new economic and financial systems at the Hypha DHO, while there is also a dedicated group telling stories and providing informational materials and bringing coherence to the movement within the DHO Tell. There is a coordination unit, called the SEEDS Commons, which supports collaboration between the DHOs and stewards the entire ecosystem. Beyond such thematic groups, there are also so called Bioregions, which are regional network hubs that bring Seedizens (Citizens of SEEDS) sharing the same geographical location together.
Beyond its internal organisational structure, the currency model of SEEDS is also imagined in evolutionary terms and inspired by biological systems with “protocols” that govern behaviour and growth. At the start of the game, 3.14 billion Seeds were created, which made it a fixed supply currency. As Rieki Cordon, the founding visionary behind SEEDS explains, the project is designed to evolve like an organism, from an initial rapid growth towards decay. From an exponentially growing fixed supply currency it is expected to mature and reach stability, and eventually “die” and transform into something new.
As another way to break away from arbitrary, human-made systems, voting cycles and proposals are designed using biomimicry. They follow the lunar cycle (approx. 29.5 days, from New Moon to New Moon) to align with a more fundamental and universal pattern of change. New Moons demarcate the beginning of a new voting cycle, inviting Citizens to spend their “Trust Tokens”, which gives people the tools to better distribute their voice. What is interesting about these tokens is that they are decoupled from equity tokens, which means that having more Seeds does not equal more voice. Rather, one earns them by participation, enabling those who contribute more to have more voice.
Participation for transformation
Despite all the technical underpinnings and complex economic design, SEEDS ultimately rests on a global community of visionaries. According to the SEEDS dashboard, there are currently over 10,000 total members in SEEDS, 500 of them being Citizens. The actual number of those actively participating and diligently voting each cycle is predictably even smaller.
Truth be told, the time it consumes to get to know the system to be able to meaningfully participate is often significant. While my heart was sold immediately when I first encountered SEEDS, it took my mind about two months to get a good grip of how things work and what I could be doing. And the learning never ends. While complexity reflects life, it also selects for a certain kind of person who has the necessary traits and circumstances to thrive in such an environment. Active and dedicated participants are
often highly autonomous and comfortable with uncertainty, but also privileged enough to be able to immerse themselves in this new world without getting an income out of it.
I got initiated into the system by the SEEDS Ambassador Academy, which is a self-paced onboarding programme that helps newcomers get to know the ecosystem and find their place within it. There, I developed relationships of trust and mutual support with many participants. We played together online, in Zoom calls across several country borders and continents, envisioning a regenerative reality. This video is a testament to that. I also supported the movement building efforts by hosting informational calls, creating a smoother onboarding for organisations, and giving presentations at festivals and online events.
In the end, I dropped out of SEEDS after a month-long online detox during the summer of 2021. It was partly an intentional move towards getting more grounded in the local communities of the Netherlands and connecting to the regeneration efforts in the place where I live. On the other hand, I was also caught up in a struggle with getting up to date with the changes and repositioning myself within the elusive and ever-evolving environment that is SEEDS.
With all its limitations and challenges, SEEDS offers an inspiring playground for ideas and experiments that seem outlandish and impossible in our current economies and financial systems. It is a truly speculative and visionary endeavour, which makes an iterative game out of learning new ways of organising, distributing value and bringing forth regenerative action the world over. Cynics beware; dreamers, welcome home.