Welcome to a special April edition of the Uncharted Insider.
I am delighted to share major news in our world: Uncharted is merging with Common Future to build a combined, more powerful organization focused on advancing community wealth and inclusive economies in the US.
This merger represents a future for Uncharted beyond my wildest dreams, and I’m emotional when I think about the story it tells: two organizations realizing that we can do more together than we could apart and that the mission of building an economy that works for everyone is best pursued in deep partnership.
You can read the full announcement here, but I wanted to use the space in this Insider to go further by sharing more of the why and the backstory, what this means for the future, and what this means for me personally.
The best thing about Uncharted has been the opportunity to dream in public. Embedded within the DNA of our organization has been the belief that anything is possible. With all that has happened in the last two years, we have reinvented nearly every dimension of how we do our work, how we structure our team, and how we support entrepreneurs.
Against the backdrop of a fast-changing world, we wondered about our future and the best way to serve our mission: while Uncharted would likely continue forward to do great things as an independent organization (we were well-funded and have an extraordinary team), was it possible that the social change we envisioned, the scale we sought, the influence we desired would all be more quickly and effectively achieved if we joined forces with another peer or partner? I became captivated by the idea that we might create more impact if we shifted our focus from growing bigger by ourselves to growing more powerful with our peers.
92% of all nonprofits in the US have an annual budget less than $1M, and 88% of all nonprofits have a budget less than $500,000. The social sector is fragmented: hundreds of thousands of organizations fighting for similar ends but working independently. Mergers and acquisitions in the social sector are rare for many reasons, but aggregating power across organizations instead of optimizing impact and budget within organizations might be one way to effect long-term, durable change.
I was also sensing something deep in my bones: it was my time to step aside and let new, more capable leaders take Uncharted forward. Uncharted has been my first professional love, and I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life waking up every day with the simple goal of doing my best. But I had begun to sense that shy but undeniable tug in my heart that was whispering it was time.
Nothing clarifies long-term strategy quite like realizing you won’t be around. I’ve always found the heuristic of “ten years from now when you’re long gone, what would your successors want you to do today?” to be the most clarifying of all strategic questions, and this time was no different. So I set to work in the summer of 2021 to explore merger and acquisition opportunities.
How it Happened
The board and I worked in secret for four months, not yet telling our team. I made a list of organizations I admired and I started approaching them, one by one with unsolicited emails. The organization at the top of my list was Common Future, and I approached them first with the following email:
(Looking back, it’s amazing how something as monumental as a merger can start with something as insignificant and informal as an email entitled “idea?”. I suppose I am learning the lesson of always having some exposure to wild ideas in your option set.)
I approached Common Future first because they were the most natural fit from a mission/vision perspective, and I had come to admire them for two major reasons:
- Their focus on incubating, funding, and supporting entrepreneurs and solutions centered on inclusive economies
- The way they married practice and policy into this “think-do” tank model that connected early-stage social innovation with large-scale policy change. Uncharted’s model was always focused on finding, funding, and accelerating early-stage social ventures, but we yearned for ways to connect our incubation work with larger policy and system change efforts.
My “idea?” email led to a call, and then another, and another, and within a few months, conversations were advanced enough within both organizations that Rodney Foxworth, Common Future’s CEO, flew out to Colorado in December to meet and pitch to our team (within five minutes, our entire team wanted to work for Rodney).
From there, both teams began the work of merging: org-chart, staffing, strategy, finance, accounting, legal, brand, and culture. The exercise of merging two organizations is a reminder of why so few mergers happen: it is nuanced, strategic work spanning every dimension of a company.
Few things have ever gone as smoothly as the way our two organizations combined. It was a testament to the fit across mission, values, culture, and team that it took less than four months once we were officially underway. But it was also the creative, courageous work of dozens of people across both organizations and the vision of both teams to peer into the abyss and confidently step forward into a future that was as uncertain as it was brimming with potential.
If there is any legacy Uncharted will leave in this world, it is a legacy of putting the humans first in everything we did. I stood in awe as our team cared for each other, led each other, supported me, and planted themselves in that vulnerable space between what Uncharted was and what it could be. Without the leadership and belonging our team created for each other, this merger would not have happened.
The Road Ahead
Last month, Common Future was selected as a 2022 Skoll Awardee, an acknowledgement of both what they have done and what they plan to do in the future now that we have merged with them. They are embarking on an ambitious strategy of incubating, co-creating, funding, and influencing solutions and policies that will build a more inclusive economy and shift over a billion dollars towards communities of color across our nation.
I will not be taking a role at Common Future. They have an extraordinary leadership team, and with the vast majority of the Uncharted Team joining Common Future as employees, the spirit and expertise of Uncharted will be carried forward.
I must tell you there is no team of people I would entrust the future of Uncharted to more than the team at Common Future. They are a team filled with leaders at every level, led by one of the best I have ever worked with in Rodney. I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my career to hand off all that is Uncharted to Rodney, his extraordinary team, and to my exceptional, brilliant, brave Uncharted colleagues as they continue forward as members of Common Future. I step aside with a heart filled with peace.
The Personal Side
What is next for me?
First of all, I will continue to write this Insider every month. I love writing, and the chance to spend time each month wrestling my ideas onto the page has been one of my greatest joys. I will keep exploring similar topics and will release more long-form pieces as well.
I won’t be diving into anything full-time right away, but instead will be pursuing some artistic projects, exploring four areas of personal curiosity (climate, tech+society, future of work, and conscious leadership), and practicing more non-doing and rest this summer.
In the coming months, I’ll be excited to share more of what unfolds. While I am not looking for anything full-time right now, if there are projects or opportunities that are as audacious as they are soulful, let me know. I’d love to learn about them and hear from you.
As always, you can simply reply and your response will reach my personal email. I’d love to hear from you. You can also find me on my website: banksbenitez.com and my personal email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To our current and past team (and board) and to all of our entrepreneurs, it has been the honor of my life to know you and work with you. You’ve taught me that what we often consider impossible is far more possible than I ever imagined, and you showed me again and again that there is nothing as powerful as a committed group of humans, united in vision and anchored in trust. Wherever we are, whatever we will do, may we always be brave enough to keep exploring the uncharted.
With everything I have,
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