Interview: Kevin Jones, The Value of Buffer Zones

Kevin Doyle Jones, as we are exploring the design for social flows in this book, I wanted to discuss with you the social flows you instigated and evolve through the SOCAP event and your work on  social markets.

As you were sharing some of your background with me, I heard you mention a process for finding patterns that make the marketplace visible and connected. Can you share a bit about that?

You look for activity, boundary breaking, phase change activity. Like a recent story by ImpactIQ on an iconic impact investor, probably the proudest one out there, who asks respectable third parties to emulate his activity. ImpactIQ called bullshit on the extensive report the Sonen Fund had put on on KL Felicitas. This field has been so fragile, it was too risky to do that, but now, it’s mature enough that there is a welcome spot at the table for an independent, critical voice. That recursive cleaning effect of good journalism is a clear sign of a slight, but significant phase change. I can only tell this pattern recognition in particular cases, but the methodology is the same as what I learned as an investigative community journalist; I sent two small town Mississippi sheriffs in Parchman Farm and broke a major insurance scandal the same way: obsessive attention. Sometimes to how people are acting, sometimes finding patterns in flows other people did not see.

You seem to be bringing together people that might not have mingled otherwise, what is that about and why do you think it is valuable?

Several studies have shown that in almost any situation diversity of viewpoints and gender, and race make the group smarter and more viable and resilient than getting the right people in the room. Getting the right people in the room is how you create grain cartels; Cargill and ADM don’t want Vandashiva in the room or anyone who likes here when they make pricing decisions. Markets are about finding a place for the valuable stranger, because multicultural value recognition creates localized peace and a more resilient economy more capable of thriving.

My model is Trebizond, the market on the black sea, the end of the silk road. It was viable and coherent as a safe place to trade and share goods, services and cultural products long after Suleiman had taken over Constantinople, and it was not safe to go there. The Chinese silk merchants, the Arabs with their sandlewood and frankinsense, the barbarians with their finely tanned goat hides and the Byzantine/Islamic merchants with their filigreed metal jars were all safe there, though the Barbarians didn’t invite the Byzantines to their dances at the fire, and the Byzantines did not invite the barbarians to their elaborate soirees. Markets that are firmly in the middle, translating well, are islands of resilience around which social life can coalesce as the power of the nation state and its local iterations transitions into the next form, possibly watershed polities.

To have this marketplace, it would take a lot of trust between strangers, how do you work toward that? What is your approach?

We are looking at how to include investing in indigenous businesses and alongside existing indigenous investors, like Native American CDFI’s and the foundations. Some people are afraid we will be fast moving and extractive. In this case, and this is the first time we have done it, we have formed an indigenous advisory council. It is a pretty stunning group; Amazon tribal chiefs, prominent native Americans, healers, funders. We are going to be on regular calls (the first is this Thursday) to talk about whether this is a good idea at all, and then see where we want to go, and what we want to get done by SOCAP14, and what we will do after that. We have a trusted sponsor group who is leading this, the IFIP International Funders for Indigenous People.

In this case, one white woman who grew up in an indigenous community has helped the trust happen by sending out a panicky email about my (not our) involvement. She sees me as this driven, fast moving white guy. This anxious person did not know I’ve been working with the Eastern Band and Katuah Cherokee for more than three years, and have some indigenous people and allies who speak well of me and what I am doing and have tried to do. That has somehow, made other people rush to be involved.


Huh, so her pointing out a risk around trust helped get people engaged which then built trust. Seems counter-intuitive and yet so clear.  I also hear something about making the space feel authentic. Can you talk about the role you put me in doing vibe maintenance in the early years of SOCAP?

I wanted someone to be paying attention to the flow of the emotions and ideas at the conference and see herself as kind of a roving white blood cell or other sort of meta vibe healing agent. You did a fine job. I should probably re institute the position and give it to another young woman each year. It needs to be a woman, I think. You need to christen these free radicals when the soup has not made yet when you do a convening. Create these vibe ambassadors, who sprinkle the goal into every conversation.

If you don’t do it, people see familiar configurations of power and status and say, oh we’re here to do the same old thing. with the vibe managers, and with intersections where you meet valuable strangers set up ahead of time, you have people pointing out that, no, we’re here to do this, a new thing, something more than you thought, with these new, unlikely allies to get us over the hump we haven’t been able to get over. It’s an essential stone soup ingredient to get a market unstuck.”


The other elements I hear you describing is a neutral territory, as in your example of Trebizond. Can you tell me about that?

My business card is about renegotiating the treaty of Saluda. The Cherokee had had a buffer tribe between them and the people who settled in Charleston and moved north and west into Indian territory. The Catawba were wiped out by small pox followed by a small war. They used to live in the buffer space between the white people’s boxes and the curved network of tribes. on the Catawba Deer Skin Map


The big circular village in the center is where the Cherokee proposed to establish trading relations with the whites; they could go there but not go beyond that infect the other villages; people who were immune to white diseases would be traders. To recognize the agreement meant that the Cherokee had studied the white people enough to decide that they were “people” they knew enough of the white’s origin story to trade, culturally and economically with them. To memorialize that, they did we a “we are all relations” ceremony with them, Mitakuye Oyasin, in Lakota. The head man (the power of the matriarchy is interesting; if his woman leaves him, he may lose the head man status) poured out a part of a basket of dirt in front of himself and poured the other out in front of colonial colonel. “Our land is your land,” he said, acknowledging that they shared the same earth, the same planet, the same ecosystem. The white colonel was overjoyed. He thought there had been a transfer of title to the land and reported that to his superiors. They sent surveyors to the village of Saluda, the village in the large circle on the map, the buffer village against the deadly transfer of the diseases the white men bore. Then they sent soldiers to defend their new territory against the Indians, who thought they’d just done a required initiatory ritual to establish good relations between two people. The end result was the trail of tears. The Regenerative Capital fund will invest with the knowledge that this land is your land and our land.