Nathaniel Calhoun

Nathaniel Calhoun


Global Grand Challenges

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Areas of Expertise

Exponentials  •  Facilitator  •  GGC-Learning  •  GGC-General  •  Moderator  •  GGC-Prosperity  •  Exponential Thinking

About Nathaniel

Nathaniel Calhoun helps guide Singularity University’s approach to changemaking and impact as a founding member and Vice Chair of its Global Grand Challenge Faculty. He has moderated numerous SU Executive Programs and Directed SU’s flagship impact program, the Global Solutions Program (GSP).
Nathaniel closely tracks innovations in emerging decentralized and platform cooperative technologies that create brand new business models and opportunities. He tracks disruptive and precedent setting changes within policy, especially related to governance and civic technologies. He specializes in helping both private and public sector actors to understand how to leverage and prepare for the growth of these and related trends, offering a unique take on the options facing an aspiring “exponential organization.”
Nathaniel also supervises the creation and implementation of digital technologies at a global scale that help alleviate poverty while increasing business literacy along with digital and financial services in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. He does this work through CODE Innovation, a consulting company he founded in 2009 to help organizations like UNICEF and Plan International to use web and mobile technologies more effectively. Code Innovation has received financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to further develop their Self Help Group digital platform, which is growing exponentially in nine languages and more than a dozen countries.
Nathaniel has two decades of experience in the field of education, public speaking, moderation and resilience building. He tracks the threat of technological unemployment and the relative merits of the solutions that humanity is offering around this issue. After living and working in Africa for more than a decade, Nathaniel enjoys helping organizations to think through their strategies with new and emerging markets.
Nathaniel is available for a variety of customized speaking and consulting packages. A sampling of keynote presentations is described below. Talks below can be given in 30, 45, 60, 75 and 90 minute varieties.

Meet the EHF Fellows: Nathaniel Calhoun

Achieving Global Food Security

Global Grand Challenge Awards: Water | Singularity University Global Summit

GGCs | SingularityU Australia Summit 2018

Breaking Technology's Promise

Breaking Technology’s Promise | SingularityU South Africa Summit

Keeping Technology's Promise | SingularityU Portugal Summit Cascais

Global Impact: Let's work | SingularityU Peru Summit

New Approaches to Changemaking | SingularityU Thailand Summit

Speaking Topics

  • Custom-Tailored Impact Coaching

    With appropriate advance warning, Nathaniel will research a client and make targeted suggestions for how they can evolve their strategies to make positive global impact. The recommendations will be divided between social and technological innovations and between recommendations that drive immediate revenue and others that build social and political capital. Each suggestion will be couched within a particular grand challenge area and explained with reference to relevant tailwinds and social transitions. Nathaniel’s past sessions of this variety have driven major strategic changes at Fortune 50 companies. (This session is also available with a workshop component.)

  • Disruptions from the Social Sector

    A new wave of social innovations is reconfiguring how humans cooperate, make decisions and shape the future. Behind the familiar face of the sharing economy lies an incredibly disruptive array of collaborative technologies. Decentralized organizations, platform cooperatives and new tools for governance have enormous potential to upend business as usual. Nathaniel introduces technologies that flatten and distribute organizational power, while optimizing budgeting and decision making and driving educational outcomes along with citizen engagement. These innovations are situated against the backdrop of the open source and creative commons movements and the hum of activity around crypto-currencies and new trust-building technology.
    Specific Business Relevance: The set of trends discussed in this session have the tailwinds necessary to outperform and outlast incumbent firms in age old industries just as readily as newer tech giants. Elements of these social and technological innovations can be incorporated into any business, organization or government. (This session is also available with a workshop component.)

  • Exponential Hedging—How to build a legacy and avoid being picked clean by vultures.

    The strategies that feature in Salim Ismail’s book “Exponential Organizations” and the strategies that Peter Diamandis advocates in his writings typically embrace a high degree of risk. Thousands of companies are trying similar tactics in industries that cannot tolerate many winners. Some business leaders—especially those in charge of privately-held family enterprises and businesspeople with a strong sense of community and place—are hesitant to respond to accelerating technological change with Hail Mary efforts alone. This session explores a variety of ways that companies can embrace risk while simultaneously cultivating advantages within enduring systems such as stable human communities and ecosystems. These hedging strategies also derive strength and legitimacy from emerging technological trends and social innovations.
    Specific Business Relevance: This sessions is particularly relevant for the private or family business that is existentially threatened by new technological developments. The talk offers an entirely different way to contextualize the building of a legacy and the upcycling of corporate assets. (This session is also available with a workshop component.)

  • Exponential Technology 2.0, Beyond the Basics

    This talk is geared for audiences that already have a passing familiarity with exponential technologies—groups that may have attended a first round of SU programming in the preceding years. It takes accelerating technological change as a starting point and then asks, “What Next?” The talk highlights new disruptive trends that create threats and opportunities. Nathaniel details new approaches to funding and policy that create tailwinds behind open and decentralized technologies, describing projects emanating from hot beds of innovation in the Global South. The talk emphasizes and explains why blockchain technologies are insinuating themselves into so many areas of decision making and operations and then makes some thought-provoking forecasts about what these trends will ultimately mean for today’s businesses. Slight customizations are available with sufficient lead time, when clients wish to deepen the coverage of particular exponential technologies or Global Grand Challenge problem areas.

  • Global Grand Challenge Impact Primer

    This talk offers a fly-by introduction to the Global Grand Challenges: Food, Water, Energy, Environment, Disasters, Education, Health, Prosperity, Governance, Security and Shelter. For each challenge, Calhoun briefly articulates the problem space and then introduces cutting edge technological solutions—usually in the form of start-up businesses or organizations that have a particular ability to thrive in challenging, low-income settings. The talk addresses society’s failure to produce a compelling framework for mobilizing action around the global grand challenges and articulates Singularity University’s belief that pervasive challenges contain compelling opportunities. This talk is a staple in SU’s Executive Programs. Detailed talks are also available that focus on a smaller sub set of these challenges or provide a particularly deep dive into one of them.

  • Peak Urbanization and Decentralized Infrastructure

    Regardless of our success digitizing information and the proliferation of information technologies, food, water, shelter and our natural environment remain analog systems. As our population grows and our climate becomes more precarious, how do we intend to supply all human beings with the food, water and energy that they require? Is our centralized, industrial approach capable of engineering supply chains that reach everywhere they are required? This talk starts by challenging the widespread belief that humanity will (and should) continue to aggregate in large cities, introducing the concept of Peak Urbanization. The talk highlights how emerging technologies support decentralized systems better than they support top-down business ecosystems and concludes by predicting what this means for business and government.
    Specific Business Relevance: If Nathaniel’s forecasts are correct, a millennia-old demographic constant (the move towards cities) may be on the verge of reversal. This will have massive ramifications for real estate values, business strategies and customer engagement.

  • The Future of Learning, Work and Business (Taking Technological Unemployment Seriously)

    After a brief overview of the innovations most likely to replace the majority of the world’s existing jobs, Nathaniel digs into the tough questions facing teachers, parents and business people. What does medium-term planning look like in a world where algorithms and intelligent machines are capable not just of grunt work, but also creative undertakings and knowledge work like law, journalism, accounting and medicine? Nathaniel explores the two most common consolations from technological optimists: that the global workforce will re-skill and that we can “race with” the machines. Nathaniel shows these consolations to be inadequate on a global scale and suggests other coping mechanisms that leverage stable human and environmental systems. The talk concludes with an overview of the current discourse on Universal Basic Income.
    Specific Business Relevance: Many companies and organizations are focused on harnessing exponential technologies to lower their expenses and achieve competitive gain. This drives technological unemployment. The shrinking opportunity landscape for large portions of the global population contributes to today’s troubling political climate. Successful companies need to understand technological unemployment and some of the ways that they can get ahead of a narrative that paints them as the bad guys. (This session is also available with a workshop component.)

  • The Surprising Power of Decentralization

    We are entering a time where Industrial age assumptions no longer apply. Ideas like — concentrating power for top down control, optimizing for efficiency at any cost or the need to centralize and urbanize populations are less relevant than ever before. It’s becoming clear that centralized systems are much more vulnerable to shock and disruption than decentralized, distributed systems.

    Could radical decentralization be the answer to staying resilient in an ever-changing world?

    Decentralizing power or infrastructure may sound familiar; but what about decentralizing time, design, value flows or populations? This talk explores the value proposition of resisting centralizing forces in our projects and society.

    With the information from this talk, you will:
    – Explore how exponential technologies can facilitate the decentralization of power, population, ownership, design, time and value flows.
    – Understand where exponential technologies are disrupting the value proposition of the city, and how urbanization might actually peak and decline in the future
    – Explore the potential of decentralization and de-risking ownership through cooperatives
    – Imagine the possibilities of businesses that are built to last a limited amount of time, instead of attempting to outlive changing trends.

  • Workshop One: Scenario-Planning for Technological Unemployment

    After a brief primer on technological unemployment, this workshop centers around detailed national scenarios. Each scenario card explores the particular vulnerability of one country to technological unemployment by exploring the current state of its population, its economy and the industries upon which it depends. Participants are challenged to propose phased solutions to the predicted unemployment by describing interventions to make at 5, 10 and 15 years. The session concludes with teams sharing their scenarios and most hopeful solutions and key insights. Current country cards are: Ethiopia, Nepal, Mexico, Thailand, Liberia and Switzerland. Additional scenarios are possible upon request.

  • Workshop Three: Abundance and the Collaborative Commons

    Here we approach forecasting with a particularly optimistic lens. When data science and new technologies drive us towards unprecedented levels of efficiency and demonetization characterizes the marketplace, what happens to the future of business? We look briefly at the trends pointing towards an open, collaborative, abundant future and then split into teams who contemplate the future of different industries. Scenario cards present an industry along with the trends most likely to transform both the industry and the social context in which it operates. Teams predict the posture and approach of industry leaders 30 years in the future and, in parallel, the citizen structure for engaging with the industry in question.

  • Workshop Two: Hot Controversies Debate

    This workshop centers on twelve different debate resolutions. Each resolution addresses a hot controversy at the center of a Global Grand Challenge. Participants are split into small teams and given different sides of each resolution along with 20 minutes to research and prepare their arguments. Then a series of quick 8 minute debates are conducted during which the participants vote for the winner via applause or available software. Topics are especially good at teasing out policy ramifications of accelerating technologies.

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