Zaadz - Virtual Community Takes in New Meaning An Interview with Siona van Dijk by Peter Moore and Werner Brandt
One of the fastest growing areas in cyberspace is the emergence of social networks—MySpace and Facebook come to mind. Wikipedia defines these networks as a social structure made of nodes (generally individuals or organizations) that are connected by one or more specific types of relations. Now comes Zaadz, intentionally giving social networking some value-added meaning and purpose. Recently we had a chance to interview Siona van Dijk, the Synchronicity Coordinator for Zaadz.
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For a start, explain your job title, Synchronicity Coordinator. With pleasure! Zaadz is a young company, so we all wear many hats. I was hired to fill a communications role, and this is still the bulk of my job; I’m responsible for both internal and external communications, from working with the media and press, to writing the newsletters, to helping ensure that the overarching vision for the company gets translated into the day-to-day practices and projects that turn this potential into a reality.
The title Synchronicity Coordinator is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that acknowledges the role coincidence and connection play in the work place. I’m sure anyone who has been in business for a while would confess readily that they’d never have been able to predict the trajectory that got them to where they are today—my title is a nod to that fact.
What is Zaadz? We’ll start with the word, “zaad.” It’s Dutch for “seed.” How much potential there is in a tiny seed! This power reminds us of the amazing potential within each of us. We thought the idea of creating a company that inspires and empowers you to bring your “seed” to actualization would be pretty powerful. So, we created “Zaadz.”
How did Zaadz come into existence, and how did it become what it is today?Zaadz is the result of the marriage of the two great passions of our CEO (and resident philosopher), Brian Johnson. He created Zaadz with a friend of his after feeling torn between his interest in, on the one hand, entrepreneurship and the business world, and the realm of human potential, philosophy, psychology, and spirituality on the other. I don’t think there’s anything that Brian loves more than inspiring and empowering people to find their greatest strengths and to grow these gifts—and Zaadz was the result of his decision to grow a business around this passion of his. As to the how... well, that happened one member at a time. Currently we have over 57,000 members.
What does Zaadz do? Well, we’ve been working on growing our essential foundation: we’re a social networking site with a purpose. Zaadz is, at the core, a community of individuals committed to the idea of changing the world by being the change. We’ve already got an amazing—and growing!—crowd of impassioned people who are clear about their values and their dedication to positive development—on both the personal and planetary level.
What does Zaadz have to offer that other social networking places such as MySpace and Facebook don’t? Oh, goodness. The people. The community. The feel of the place is so different; it’s a little like what your favorite locally-owned café—the one where the owner loves wandering around and chatting with customers, where the locals have drinks named after them, that hosts neighborhood meetings and book clubs—has to offer that a chain of fast food restaurant doesn’t. Sure, they both serve food; sure, they’re both technically in the same category of establishments, but the atmosphere and the people and the general feel of both are indescribably different. Zaadz is like that café.
How can Zaadz lure people away from virtual reality into a place of action? Is it really possible to change the world through dialog? Or is this more an illusion of change than real substantive change? Why would we want to lure people away? I’m not sure that I see the need to distinguish between one “reality” and another.
For me, life—and changing the world—is about practice. I see Zaadz as providing a community of practice, an oasis of people committed to learning from each other, and learning what it means to speak and act and react from a place of peace and compassion. I’ve found that no matter how dedicated I am to understanding and true connection with others—even those I don’t see eye-to-eye with—it can be hard sometimes when everything else in my environment feels bleak or angry. The more I spend time with those who can model what it means to stay true to myself and my own commitment to peace and appreciation, the easier it is for me to act that way in all areas of my life—even when things are difficult. And so I’ve found Zaadz to be wonderfully beneficial for this reason; it’s something I’m able to “carry with me,” in some sense, wherever I go.
And when it comes to dialog... well, I know that I, personally, have been deeply transformed through these conversations. There’s something about connecting with another human being, halfway around the world, and having them impact me in such a way that I question my beliefs, or expand my ability to empathize or take the place of another. And when I think of thousands and millions of these little individual transformations occurring, and catalyzing other transformations in turn, this, to me, feels world-changing.
I don’t know. Sometimes our mission seems grandiose, and other times it feels so humble! One of the things that I love about Zaadz is that a little note from a stranger—from Germany, let’s say—can put a smile on my face in the morning, and this impacts my entire day. I’m more inclined to talk to my neighbors, to not be upset by the traffic, to actually connect with that otherwise-invisible person begging on the street, to respond kindly to things that might otherwise upset me... it sounds so small, but again, the collective power of these little gestures, to my mind, makes a real difference.
How do we move beyond preaching to the choir? I don’t see what we do at Zaadz as “preaching to the choir.” I see us as supporting those brave souls who are taking a not-yet-mainstream approach to their livelihood, and to empowering those individuals in such a way that they can serve as beacons and models to others.
We’re not interested in arguing a point or trying to force others to adopt our passions; what we’d rather do is provide a model of success and satisfaction that’s attractive, so that others want it... and so that they’ll come and ask, instead, how they can create a similarly fulfilling life.
Considering the distribution of wealth in the world, aren’t we excluding a large segment of the population. How can we reach the less privileged? Well, that’s an assumption! How do we know that those who are less wealthy are less privileged? Some of the most impoverished people I know have the most money. And what would it mean to reach these people? They might already know the message we’re trying to spread.
Speaking more seriously, though, I feel that what we’re doing with conscious capitalism—that is, encouraging people to break from the daily grind, to find out what they love—be it writing or accounting or building houses or serving others or cooking or organizing or creating new technologies—and to DO that, is a way of changing the distribution of wealth.
Because one of the things that characterizes conscious capitalism is the CIRCULATION of money. If I love what I’m doing—if I’m living a life that’s fulfilling—why on earth would I want to stockpile money? I’d rather spend it on services and people and projects that I care about, because I’m not storing it up for some imagined future. I’m living my life NOW. So again, by inspiring and empowering people to make a living doing what they love, we’re helping our society as a whole ease away from that sense that we need to stockpile or hoard, and to participate more in community.
Conscious capitalism seems to be an important theme for Zaadz. How did this come about? What is its premise? Well, our company was founded on the principles of conscious capitalism, so it is a big part of our day-to-day work. The easiest way for me to discuss conscious capitalism is to return to the name of the company: Zaadz, from the Dutch word for seed. Again, think of the potential that’s stored in a tiny seed! Inside that little speck is all the information necessary to grow an beautiful flower or a tremendous tree. Part of what we firmly believe at Zaadz is that every human being contains, stored within them, that same latent potential—the blueprint that they’re meant to become. And our goal at Zaadz is to help provide the environment necessary for each of us to discover and grow that seed.
Of course, discovering one’s “seed” is only part of the story. Once you find your purpose, your calling—what it is you love to do—we believe the next step is to go about making a living by doing just that. Again, whether your passion is caring for people by being a doctor, or demonstrating your ingenuity and love of mechanics by working with cars, or playing with ideas and engineering new technologies, there’s a place for you. And this is one route into the idea of conscious capitalism.
Because conscious capitalism involves aligning your personal values with the ‘value’ you carry in your wallet. It’s about making money in a way that doesn’t cause you to compromise what you believe in, and it’s about spending money in the same way. After all, it’s just as possible to start from the other side—by researching products and practices that are in alignment with what we care about, so we know our money is going to support sustainable ventures and people and companies that don’t harm the Earth and that value their employees and the community of which they’re a part. Both approaches are based in the same idea: that notion of being aware of how we make and spend our money, and making sure that our check book accurately reflects what we care about.
So to sum up, the market is a necessary—or at least, valuable!—aspect of human interaction, and conscious capitalism merely entails bringing a certain awareness to the marketplace, and valuing the human and planetary connection that our dollars represent.
Individuals use social networking like Zaadz or MySpace to communicate around all kind of issues and personal interests. How do you envision the dynamics changing when whole networks like Zaadz’s members and Alternatives readers and advertisers meet in cyberspace? I’m prepared to be amazed. Really; it’s a mystery to me! I’ve been involved in community and group work for a few years, and no matter how much I learn about the dynamics involved when inspired individuals come together, I’m always surprised and humbled at the outcome. I have a hunch that Zaadz, as we grow and as more like-minded individuals join, will be the same. For me it’s that sense of being a little kid on the cusp of a birthday ... that delightful sense of anticipation and wonder. I’m as curious as you are to find out.
Considering the possibility of rapid growth, how confident are you that you can provide the infrastructure to meet this expansion? Utterly confident! We’ve got a phenomenal development team, and we’ve just entered into a partnership with an absolutely wonderful company called Engine Yard. They’re a young business that specializes in providing clients who use Ruby-on-Rails (the open source platform on which Zaadz is written) with the necessary hardware and support to keep things running smoothly. We’re incredibly excited about this new connection, and we’re looking forward to a blazing-fast—and easily scalable—site this summer.
Currently it would appear that a vast majority of the people in the world are unaware or unconcerned with issues of sustainability, cooperation vs. competition, etc. From the perspective of Zaadz, are you hopeful that a growing percentage of people are coming to care about these issues and willing to do something about it?
Well, the site’s been growing rapidly, so from our point of view, interest is definitely growing. I think just looking around at what’s been making the news these days—from overwhelming interest in green and sustainable living to the comfort people have in talking about spirituality and meaning in their work to the number of Baby Boomers who are looking to contribute to the world and the Gen-Xers who are realizing that they want jobs that matter to the young people who have a definite interest in making sure our planet continues to be a livable place—that it’s obvious the number of people who are investigating their values and discovering that they share a philosophy compatible with the one we have at Zaadz is growing.
And I’d actually suggest that the majority of people DO care about these things! It might not be what the mainstream media reports, but I’ve found that when I look at my personal experience, and when I think about the people I talk to on a daily basis, I find that it’s rare that I meet anyone who doesn’t care about these things. It might take a little time, but I’ve discovered that, overwhelmingly, we do share a similar set of core desires. Most of us want to make a difference—we want lives that have meaning, and we yearn for fulfillment and satisfaction. We want to find and pursue our calling, and to be appreciated for what we have to offer the world. So while these deep concerns might get colored over by the distractions of our day-to-day lives, they are still THERE. And the more we can do to encourage conversation about and awareness of these deep cares, the better the world will be for all of us.
Is there one more question you wish we’d asked? Hmm. I do wish you’d asked a bit about zPro! I’ve spoken a bit in the abstract about how Zaadz is committed to supporting those people courageous enough to make the leap from the 9-to-5 and start their own businesses—be it an independent practice or their own restaurant or store. The intangible support of a community that values such efforts is wonderful, to be sure, but we’re a business ourselves and we know how difficult it can be to nurture and sustain such a venture. (Also, there’s the fact that we had such an incredible time growing our own company—and we’d love it if everyone could have such a positive experience!)
Anyway. Because we understand the importance of the practical nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship and owning a small business, we created a series of tools and practices to support the practice. Some people see big business as threatening to the small ones—but we don’t see this as being true at all! Small companies have something to offer that larger corporations struggle with; namely, the ability to build one-on-one, meaningful, personal relationships with the people they serve. And so what we’ve done with zPro is created a fleet of features designed to emphasize this strength. Our newsletter 2.0 (the first newsletter on the market to include social media) helps entrepreneurs build micro-communities around their businesses—and allows for relationship-driven marketing.
Again, for me, this is one of those wonderfully win-win endeavors. I, personally, would much rather buy from and frequent those stores and service-providers that I know—I’d much rather know my dollars are going to feed a family in my neighborhood, or to support the venture of someone in my community whose values I share. And so I can’t help but love that, with Zaadz, and with zPro in particular, we’re rekindling some of those authentic connections, and helping small business owners to enter into those niches and nooks where big business doesn’t fit.
You asked earlier on about action. Anna Lappe, an activist I admire, once said that every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the world you want. I have a deep appreciation for the power of business when it comes to shaping the future, and our lives, and so I’m both confident and excited that Zaadz—our entire community—is going to have a significant impact in the world.
Siona flits between the interior and exterior of the Zaadz community; she’s responsible for everything from relationship development to community cultivation and corporate communications. An avid traveler, runner, and writer, as well as a long-time practitioner of various mindfulness disciplines, Siona’s odder passions include systems thinking, organizational dynamics, and the endless interplay between order and chaos. She takes her work seriously, but laughs at herself.
You can reach Siona at: http://siona.zaadz.com/
To join the Alternatives community on Zaadz, or to sign up for our free newsletter, please visit us at http://alternatives.zaadz.com/
Peter Moore is Editor of Alternatives Magazine, also Business Director of Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat & Conference Center. He can be reached at [email protected].
Werner Brandt is owner of Netforest, Inc., a computer consulting firm. He spends much of his time offering his services to organizations working for a sustainable future. He writes a blog at http://dharmaseeds.org/ and can be reached at [email protected]. You may reach Werner at: http://dharmaseeds.zaadz.com/.