Imagined Futures with Sascha Mombartz

Who is Sascha Mombartz and what is most important for people to know about you?

Sascha Mombartz is someone who lives in New York. My dad is German and my mom’s from Malta. My dad worked for the German Foreign Service, so I grew up all over the place. When people ask me where I’m from, I don’t really say I’m German. I feel like identity or where I am from is something that defines me in an undefinable way. I feel like I don’t have a ‘home’ in the traditional sense. My definition of home is where I am.

I studied art in New York and I’ve been working in branding and UX design for the last ten years and recently I started working in the community building field. That is a bit of who Sascha is.

For the second half of the question, what is important to me? I have to say it is community. Much of my life has been defined by it. I published with a close friend a Community Canvas which is a guide book and a framework to building communities.

This particular project highlights some of the most important topics in my life which are human centric design, systems thinking and my love for taking very complex things and trying to simplify and communicate them in an elegant and actionable ways.

The better question is why is community important? To be connected to one another and a sense of belonging is something the world needs more of rather than creating another web app or mobile app. We’re losing a sense of trust and there is so much information to process in today’s world and that leads to lots of confusion.

When I talk about community the two fundamental things for a powerful community are belonging and trust. This is best explained by Peter Block who wrote a book called The Structure of Community. He breaks down belonging into three things. One is you belong to it. It belongs to you which means that it’s kind of co-created because you’ve created something or you’ve contributed to it. Second that there is a part of you that’s in it and it belongs to you. Thirdly, you have a longing for it, which is belonging. You know it’s all in that one word.

In the past community happened naturally. When you’re in a village context and the information and spatial movements were limited, so community kind of happened more organically versus now they doesn’t happen in the same way. So we have to be much more conscious about creating and cultivating community.

Today we have a lot of people saying we can fix our lack of community today through technology. For me it is frustrating that people are just throwing technology at shit and then saying that that is the fix but that’s not the solution. It is a part of it but the solution is something deeper. I believe the solution can be found closer to reconnecting with each other and the world around us in a more authentic way.

This interview is for a series called Imagined Futures, where we explore possibilities for our worlds of tomorrow. If you’re thinking about an Imagined future, it can be in a hundred or even a thousand years in the future. What’s important to be in that imagined future? And what are three words that describe it?

Diverse. Generative. Generous.

The three words that describe my Imagined future are diverse, generative, and generous.

Let’s look at an Imagined Future in 10 years. When people discuss the future sometimes it is in abstract terms like“oh I’m going to quit smoking tomorrow”. I believe in the philosophy of “start today”.

I chose the word diversity for the Imagined Future because there is beauty, richness and value in diversity. It’s a great thing. When we create more and more mono cultures that is not a good thing. It’s great to have different perspectives, things, styles, types and in bringing that together it is a wonderful experience for everyone. We can look to the natural world for the best examples of this. It is not enough for diversity to exist but we need to embrace and appreciate it. It is great that we’re different and we accept people for their differences and we make the most out of them.

I used the word generative for my Imagined Future in both the generative and regenerative sense. Our lives are about creating things. We live in an ecosystem and it has to regenerate itself. We have to live in symbiosis with the world. We can’t just extract in the methods we’ve been doing and we’re very quickly feeling the backlash of that. We’ve not been giving back and putting things back into the system. The results are showing all around us. It’s getting warmer, the ocean is being destroyed and it’s sad to watch it happen as this is the basis for the foundation of life on this planet and we are a part of that interconnected web. What we give, we receive in return. There is so much that we can learn from the natural world around. Just as interesting side fact, no one has ever recorded or filmed the birth of a whale. It has not happened. There are mysteries like this that we have yet to discover let’s not destroy our home, let’s help it continue to generate for generations to come.

Generous is an important element of the future because it feels like we are living in a time of transactionality. I mean that term in an extracting way. A lot of the European and Nordic countries their systems work towards a redistribution utopia as compared to the United States. We need to explore the idea that we are paying taxes as a global community and community of countries. We should have more discussions about what can be used toward the collective good of humanity.

A government is just a form of community. We’re all creating it together we’re all paying taxes, we’re voting or we’re doing other things but people don’t feel ownership. People are very proud of their country but that is not the same as feeling like you are a part of it, seen, appreciated and co-creating it. When people think about belonging this idea of it also belongs to you in the co-creative aspect which often gets forgotten.

People are very disassociated from their governments. Being close to your government and the way we manage our world and lives is really important. We should care, we are all in stewardship of each other and our planet. What what we do with the things that we generate and how we redistribute it that needs to be a shared conversation but that takes community and getting to know one another.

I’d love to see a future that is fairer for everyone. People who are seen as successful often take big risks and then make a lot of money. How much of it do they actually deserve? How much of it is built by themselves? How much did they benefit from using public infrastructure that everybody paid for? These are complex and complicated questions, but we can’t avoid them we should take them on in order to build a more equitable future.

How do these elements of an imagined future play out in your day to day life in who you are as a person and the work that you do?

What am I doing to make it happen? Is what you’re asking.

For me it starts with understanding my talents and what I can give to the world. I have a love for complex systems. I work to help people in communicating these systems, making them easy to understand and actionable.

Most of my commercial work is working with startups. I enjoy working with companies that are doing things that are making the world a better place. It is a feeling I enjoy to be able to experience “OK I’m helping them help others”. For me it’s about the everyday efforts no matter how small you believe the change to be.

For me the future is shaped by the decisions we make. We all decide, with each decision. Who do we want to work with? Who do we actually want to help? Who do I want to help? If enough of us do that, everyone’s individual small contributions will make a big impact.

Some of the change that I am most proud of being a part of is helping the Chamber of Commerce in Barranquilla (Colombia’s fourth largest city) build a community of city leaders.

Looking at the ingredients they had they wanted to create change in how the community connected, interacted and collaborated. Since every business is registered in the Chamber and they thought we have all these people that are doing interesting things but they’re not coming together. They’re not collaborating and they’re not exchanging information. As a city they wanted to be innovative and forward thinking and ready for the Third Industrial Revolution an idea championed by social theorist and economist Jeremy Rifkin. When I heard them talk about that I was like wow these people are thinking ahead and it was great to co-create with them.

We did a workshop and capacity building with them. We discussed and explored the ideas of what we think powerful strong community is and what are all the different parts of it using the community canvas as a tool. We taught them facilitation skills and how to bring people together. I think we were a part of equipping the community with a powerful methods for them to bring people together and create this kind of exchange because there’s so many amazing people from big industrial companies to small startups in the city that can benefit from collaboration. When we can bring people together and have them not try to compete with each other but work with each other to find a solution that works for both of them and it lifts everyone else.

I use this example because it is about how I work to support the change I want to see in the world. It is about systems, how you can bring people together and create or redesigning systems that allow people to collaborate, communicate and form community.

What is one thing or an idea that doesn’t exist that you wished did?

An idea that I wish existed that does not exist today would have to be something at the intersection of information and communication. I would like a new product or idea that helps people manage very specific kinds of data.

To be more specific let’s say information in a community.

A lot of people are using Facebook. It is a tool to bring people together, a sort of a community tool if you will. The challenge though is all that data belongs to Facebook. I wish there was a way that it would be easier for people to create their own smaller social networks and ways of managing the information exchange between the people.

According to Dunbar’s Number, we can only realistically maintain 150 or so friends or close connections. You might have 100 but they have other friends and it’s like suddenly we need to manage a lot more information. I’m always impressed with people who are like “oh you need that person or oh yeah I know this person”. For me having a kind of tool that allows us to manage that sort of very interpersonal complexity in an easier way it would be epic and very very useful.

It needs a bunch of other features too that are specific to whatever the communities that you’re building is. Often times when people start communities they’re very passionate about whatever they’re starting a community around. If communities begins with one person or two people it’s a lot of manual labor.

It’s very specific idea and a topic I’ve been thinking about that. Someone, if you’re listening and you up for the challenge, bring this idea to life!

If there is a time capsule that was discovered in a distant future and there’s a message from Sascha on it. What would that message to this future be and what would you say?

Hmm, if there was a time capsule from me in the future what would I say…?

I’d start with a mantra I’ve been thinking about recently which is:

Fuck the rules.
Embrace the play.
Only what you will make will stay.

Play is a vital part of our lives and just having fun with things. I think I sometimes take life a little too serious. I’d like to share with that distant future my joy in being able to make things because after we die that is actually what is going to be left and what others can benefit from. I might include in the capsule some art as well.

Art is a powerful thing that we as humans use to express ourselves through. They’re like artifacts from the past but they can inspire those in that present. That is what you’d find in a time capsule from me in the future.

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