Volans 1: From around 2005, I began to worry that mainstreaming sustainability would dilute it. Answer: Volans.
Volans was founded as Volans Ventures Ltd early in 2008 to stretch our horizons and ambitions—and carry forward a range of projects beyond my continuing involvement with SustainAbility. The team began to evolve late in 2007, in conversations between John Elkington, Pamela Hartigan, Geoff Lye and Sophia Tickell—quickly drawing in Sam Lakha and Kevin Teo.
Two early strap lines were: ‘The Business of Social Innovation’ and ‘Helping the Future Take Flight.’
Our work spans incumbents (like HP shown here) and insurgents, supporting breakthrough strategies
As for our name, we have the flying fish (Piscis or Pisces volans) to thank for that. In Latin, volans meant ‘flying’ or ‘flying thing’—which seemed appropriate as we began to work toward a big jump forward in our field and working lives.The family name Exocoetidae is used for flying fish. It comes from the Greek exo-koitos, “lying down outside” or “sleeping under the stars”, which, according to Wikipedia, derived from the common occurrence of sailors finding stranded flying fish lying on the decks of their boats.
(Volans is also a constellation in the southern sky, first described in Johann Bayer’s Uranometria in 1603, which brought to mind thoughts of navigation and the deep structure of things.)
Volans works in partnership with many other organizations, providing a flexible, highly leveraged means to support innovators and entrepreneurs working to bridge—and ultimately close—the great economic, social and environmental divides that pose such a profound challenge to our collective future.
Since 2011, Volans has focused on what it has dubbed Breakthrough Capitalism, launching with the first Breakthrough Capitalism Forum in 2012. This saw the launch of our second book, The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier. The book included 50 Zeronauts, among them Elon Musk of Tesla.
Just looking in Palo Alto: a favorite Zeronaut is Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX
I have driven a Tesla, in Vienna, and no question this is astounding, breakthrough automobile technology. But what really brought Musk into the Breakthrough space, for us, was his astounding offer to share Tesla’s patents with competitors. His goal: to boost the chances that electric recharging infrastructures will roll out across key markets much faster than would other wise be the case.
Our thinking on all of this has been further distilled in reports (for example, Breakthrough and Investing in Breakthrough), in further events (in places as disparate as Abu Dhabi, Berlin, Bogotá, Colombia, London, Mumbai, Nairobi, Potsdam, Singapore and Toronto) and in a new book, this one co-authored with former Puma Chairman and CEO Jochen Zeitz (The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits with Tomorrow’s Bottom Line).
Volans 2: A Jorge Marín sculpture I loved during a memorable walk around Mexico City
The original idea behind Volans was to be able to take bigger risks with a smaller team. With the inevitable ups and downs associated with any start-up, it has been great fun (as the picture below, taken across the road in Bloomsbury Square, suggests) – and I think we have quite an impact already. It is also a huge pleasure that both Volans and SustainAbility are now certified B Corporations. It feels like coming home.
The Volans Core Team when we were about six years old
Sam’s card to me as we began to form Volans