Nathaniel Calhoun

Nathaniel Calhoun specializes in the intersection of exponential technologies, business strategy and pressing global issues. He combines insights from centers of executive decision making and innovation (like Silicon Valley) and the world’s most challenging environments (like post-conflict countries or world regions destabilized by food insecurity).

Nathaniel consults with governments, development banks and international organizations to design and foster innovations (and policy) that change how marketplaces work. His emphasis on economic resilience and a desirable future of work make his content especially relevant in the times of covid- 19.

Nathaniel helps guide Singularity University’s approach to impact as a Co-Chair of its Global Grand Challenge Faculty. He has moderated and keynoted at events of up to 4,000 people on every continent but Antarctica—and streamed live, nationwide in more than a dozen countries. He co-founded Code Innovation in 2009, which owns and operates the largest digital platform for women’s savings groups in the world. This work has been supported by UNICEF, the Gates Foundation, the British Government and a variety of private donors.

Nathaniel customizes keynotes, workshops and short programs for executive leaders. He also crafts messaging for the general public.

Sample Topics

Covid-19: New Tools for Economic Recovery

The economic devastation of covid-19 is not yet fully visible around the world. Some countries are too busy grappling with public health systems in disrepair to even consider economic recovery. Other countries are in denial about vulnerabilities in the fabric of globalism and international supply chains. In some places, however, all the usual limitations are being set aside to enable new experiments in value creation and economic stimulus. Where people need money, governments are inventing new technologies and narratives about money—ushering in new strategies for local resilience or international cooperation. These experiments are already under way in Europe, Africa and Latin America and have the potential to jumpstart not an economic recovery, but an economic transformation.

A New Wave of Disruptive Approaches to Business

Accelerating technological change is stressing traditional companies and making familiar business strategies obsolete. With dozens of clear examples, Nathaniel introduces a variety of processes and business templates that change the rules of the marketplace—and sometimes of the economy itself. The keynote highlights new companies, cutting edge municipalities, international policy makers and development communities that are changing the way that money is created, property is defined and nature is valued and protected. These innovative trends are linked to how we plan for the future of education, commerce and government.

The Edges of the Digital Economy and the Future of Work

1.4 billion people will be added to the digital economy by 2025. The digital infrastructure that will determine the user experience of these newcomers is just being built—and it will be built on a new wave of innovations. Drawing from his experience running the world’s largest digital platform for women’s savings groups, Nathaniel explores key differences between the digital and financial services that are common to high income countries and newer approaches to financial inclusion. Against this backdrop, the keynote explores the future of economic resilience and the future of work. This keynote paints a hopeful vision for the future that is grounded in global realities.

I Find Your Lack of Policy Disturbing

This is a talk designed to help companies mitigate the risk of technological missteps. Companies that embrace new technologies in an opportunistic fashion in order to gain competitive advantage are often setting harmful precedents without noticing. How should business leaders orient in a time of invasive facial recognition, ambient lie detection, automated smart contracts and biohacking within the workforce? This keynote explores the downside risks of unchecked technological adoption and highlights ways that companies and businesses (or governments) can turn this to their own advantage. How might you backfoot the competition and take an industry-leading position by creating or adopting policies that set your employees and your customers at ease? What does it look like to communicate awareness of and concern for the risks that most alarm your customers and your society?

Exponential Technology 2.0, Beyond the Basics

This talk is designed to lay the groundwork for other sessions that dive more deeply into specific technologies or business strategies. It is optimal for the beginning of conferences or programs as a way of getting the audience onto the same page, with regards to the pace of technological change and its far-reaching implications. Customizations are available when clients wish to deepen the coverage of particular technologies or Global Grand Challenge problem areas.

Systems Change

Nathaniel has been working with the public and social sectors closely for twenty years. This session is designed specifically for these audiences, taking into account their particular concerns and vulnerabilities. Even though governments and INGOs have invested heavily in the space of innovative digital technologies in the last 5-15 years, they are still missing some of the most empowering and relevant technological trends on the planet today. What are the new approaches to platform building that best leverage their minimal resources? What approaches to technology help to build capacity within a workforce while deepening connections with an array of beneficiaries? What new Principles are now guiding investment and policy around the world? How can we break the cycle of moving from one imperfect innovation to the next without ever building a proper ecosystem in which all of the human layers are progressively more resilient?

Pairs well with the Abundance and the Collaborative Commons workshop.

Workshop: 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 20 years into the future and, in parallel, the citizen structure for engaging with the industry in question.

Workshop: Strategy vs. Culture: How to set Exponential Policy

This workshop explores three to five different scenarios where the use of technology could get a company into trouble. It looks at ways that surveillance technology and automation of decision making can alienate a workforce and institutionalize blindspots. It also explores how to avoid technologically amplified discrimination and move, instead, towards genuine inclusiveness. Participants are divided into groups to make policy suggestions based on strategic or cultural priorities.

Workshop: Connecting the Next Billion: A Financial Inclusion Experience

Participants will learn about the difference between operating in the digital economy individually (as many digital natives currently do) and operating in the digital economy within groups, collectives or networks (a situation that will be familiar to the next wave of digital natives). Participants will deepen their understanding of technological strategies for extending the formal economy into the terrain of the informal economy such as digital identities, hyper-local currencies, and digital financial services. Participants will make connections with one another during targeted table discussions about a section of the global economy that is likely new to them.

Workshop: 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 that debate each side of the resolution along with a team that represents the media who are responsible for adding commentary and seeking to sway the judges. Debates are quick (10 minutes each) and voted upon by the room. Topics are especially good at teasing out policy ramifications of accelerating technologies.

Workshop: 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.

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