Discover more from America 2.0 (by Gary Sheng)
It’s High Time We Finally Fund The “In-Betweeners”
This is an open love letter to the public servants who don’t fit neatly within single organizations—the compassionate super-connectors who fill the gaps in-between.
Since 2016, I've been surrounded by people who want to make a positive difference in the world, and one of my biggest frustrations, which I feel a responsibility to communicate, is this:
The fact that some of the most essential public servants are chronically undervalued.
Yes, in terms of recognition, but more importantly, in terms of financial compensation.
I call these public servants “In-Betweeners": people whose contributions to a cause and to society at large don't fit neatly into a single organization. And when they are employed within a single organization, they don't fit neatly into traditional roles.
In-Betweeners are super-connectors and creative "producers" who fill the gaps in-between.
These people tend to be...
extremely service oriented—if you need help they will be the first to offer it;
super long-term focused—thinking in years and sometimes decades;
fiercely focused on PUBLIC GOODS OUTCOMES over partisan concerns (where "party" means a political party, a nonprofit, a corporation, etc.);
relentlessly committed to achieving these outcomes efficiently through effective coordination of many types of stakeholders—so that there is less redundancy among leaders and organizations and more synergistic partnerships;
obsessed with fostering collective intelligence and true democracy at every scale of human civilization.
That all sounds great, right? So why are they struggling to stay afloat financially?
Here are some patterns I've noticed that contribute to this mismatch between the value they provide and how much they are compensated financially for that value.
Do essential work, but work that doesn't yet have industry jargon to describe it, so it's almost by definition under-described and undervalued.
Do work that doesn’t fit into one organization's box, making it nearly impossible to find jobs that allow them to support multiple organizations. Employers often want their employees' full attention on a single organization.
Do "soft skills" work that is historically undervalued, despite its importance in cultivating clients and partnerships that can make or break the success of individual organizations.
Ultimately, we don't currently live in a society with a culture that properly values people with extraordinary relational and spiritual capital who dedicate their lives to the highest service.
In-Betweeners for human networks can be compared to mycelium for natural ecosystems. They are often undervalued and underseen, but they play an essential role in connecting different parts of the network and facilitating effective collaboration and communication.
Just like how mycelium connects trees in a forest and allows them to share resources, In-Betweeners connect different organizations and actors to advance common goals and achieve better outcomes. However, their contributions are often not recognized or compensated adequately, which is a dangerous trend for the future of humanity.
Five Examples of In-Betweeners 🦸🏽♀️
The idea of an In-Betweener might still feel abstract to you, so let me share with you five examples of the most inspiring In-Betweeners I know:
Dr. Denise Mitchem, whose Google-searchable public profile grossly understates the role she plays in the ecosystems she supports. An HBCU alumnus and Harvard Business and Divinity School graduate, Dr. Mitchem is one of the world’s most prolific super-connectors and super-helpers. She calls herself the female version of the "Black Godfather"—a title that is apt for what she has done in her life. She has helped introduce people who would go on to build billion-dollar companies, produce award-winning films, create powerful NGOs, lead successful activist lawsuits, and more. She raises millions for HBCUs and social impact organizations. And from planning private dinners with Maryland's first black governor, Wes Moore, to advising America's richest black man, Robert F. Smith, to today's most prolific civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump, she coordinates so much constructive collective action, yet has received only a small fraction of the recognition and funding she deserves.
Marcus A. Noel, who is a multi-hyphenate creator, entrepreneur, spiritual advisor, community builder, and more. A Forbes 30 Under 30 alumnus, Marcus is committed to building a more righteous and regenerative future; supporting innovation in education, economic empowerment, and healthcare; and cares deeply about uniting Black Legacy and Black Futures. Noel is also a graduate of Morehouse College and the London School of Economics, with additional studies at Peking University in Beijing, China. He mentors future leaders of Gen Z through his work on iCON, is trusted by and stewards the work of the Marcus Garvey Family Estate, and has helped bring together dozens of people who have created highly successful businesses and other ventures. Yet, like Dr. Mitchem, he asks so little for himself compared to what he deserves.
Lael Alexander, is founder of America's first Black-owned consumer electronics factory. Born in 1973, he has spent his life challenging the norm, questioning authority and pushing the boundaries of what's possible. As a young boy, Lael knew he was destined for greatness, but he faced countless obstacles along the way. Despite the naysayers and doubters, he never gave up. Today, Lael is the founder of several cutting-edge technology companies that are disrupting industries. But he's more than just a businessman; he's helped hundreds of young builders get started on their journey toward impact, but he's still criminally underestimated and undervalued for the value he provides to the world.
Elliott Bayev, who is the organizer of an amazing initiative with world-changing potential: Global Unity, which unites changemakers around the world under the premise that the problems we face cannot be solved without global cooperation. He has brought me, Vitalik Buterin's father Dima, and hundreds of global leaders into an active community of practice that has forged hundreds of new generative partnerships. In addition to growing Global Unity behind the scenes, Elliott has run impact niche masterminds, bringing leaders from different impact sectors together for private knowledge-sharing opportunities, as well as run Transformative Impact Summit which spotlighted the work of nearly 100 change-makers from across the world. Despite doing all of this, Elliott has asked for so little in return. Global Unity has already made a difference, but imagine what would happen if Elliott (and his team) were finally funded to do the In-Between work they are so committed to.
Pashon Murray, who is a true innovator and master community organizer. Pashon was a 5-year MIT Fellow and was recently featured in the Netflix documentary "Kiss the Ground". Pashon Murray has over a decade of experience as the co-founder of Detroit Dirt, a local composting and waste collection company that specializes in providing a sustainable option for the Metro Detroit community. One of her many notable projects was a partnership with GreenWorks, an operation that trains individuals through workforce development programs to reduce recidivism. In 2022, she was asked to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Today, she serves as co-chair of the City of Detroit Green Task Force Climate Equity Advisory Committee. While Pashon's organizing and environmental work has been recognized by Forbes and the UN, she is still far less appreciated than she needs to be.
There are many other examples of people like Marcus and Dr. Mitchem that I am not aware of, in part because they focus so little on self-promotion and self-funding.
And to be clear: I’m not saying that all In-Betweeners struggle to pay for their basic needs, I’m just trying to point out that these public servants should be WAY better compensated than they are today for all the good they do for the world.
How We Can Fund In-Betweeners 💰
What can we do to properly value the Dr. Mitchems of the world?
The first thing we need to do is acknowledge that we have grossly underfunded them relative to the value they provide to society.
The second thing we need to do is come up with a name for the kind of role they play. I think " In-Betweener" is pretty good. And for a more academic term, "interstitial organizer" might be a good synonym.
I define an interstitial organizer as a person who devotes their life to bridging gaps between groups or communities and facilitating effective collaboration and communication across different sectors, disciplines, or interests. These people identify ways in which different actors within a field can synergize and coordinate to advance common goals.
The importance of naming this role is this: if we can't talk about the people who are underfunded, how are we going to take action to fund them?
The third thing we need to do is find a way to actually fund individual In-Betweeners.
One thing I'm exploring with Marcus Noel is helping him create something like a MarcusDAO, where each member of the DAO is a sponsor, contributing significant capital to supercharge Marcus's public goods work.
While it's not a quid pro quo type of relationship, the explicit understanding upon sponsorship is that if a sponsor presents an opportunity that Marcus values and vision aligns with, he will at least consider being a part of it as an advisor or otherwise.
There would be a limited number of spots in this "inner circle" of sponsors, which is part of what makes it so valuable (but enough spots where Marcus is not dependent and beholden to any one of these sponsors). This is just one possible model through which these in-betweeners could be supported.
If this experiment with Marcus goes well, I will help other In-Betweeners raise capital for themselves in a similar way.
I am really passionate about supporting In-Betweeners because we need the minds, hearts, and spirits of our civic superheroes to be healthy in order for them to support the health of others!
The impact of poverty on well-being cannot be ignored. Research shows that food insecurity and limited access to quality education, often associated with poverty, can lead to lower IQ scores and hinder personal flourishing. This, in turn, can make it difficult for individuals to support the flourishing of others.
Therefore, it is essential to ensure that all members of our society, including those living in poverty, have access to the resources necessary for their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
If In-Betweeners aren’t flourishing, how can they support the flourishing of others?
The World If We Actually Funded In-Betweeners 🌍
What would the world look like if more In-Betweeners were given the funding they need to thrive and fully unleash their gifts for humanity?
One of the most significant benefits would be a far more efficient allocation of capital, driving systemic change and innovation.
With more funding, In-Betweeners could focus on creating solutions to real problems that affect society, resulting in fewer ideas trying to sell solutions to non-problems. This improved focus would lead to greater impact on society and better use of resources.
In addition, there would be far less redundant work, allowing all of us to focus their resources and energy on creating more meaningful and impactful solutions. They could also avoid multipolar traps, where multiple actors compete for the same resources or solutions.
Chronically undervalued and underfunded, In-Betweeners fill the gaps between organizations and traditional roles to efficiently drive public good outcomes.
In-Betweeners like Dr. Mitchem, Marcus, Elliot, Lael, and Pashon are doing essential work but are not being adequately compensated. This is dangerous for the future of humanity if left unaddressed.
Fortunately, there may be a model for funding them that is non-extractive and allows them to thrive and realize their potential to work their magic for the common good, which involves non-quid pro quo sponsorship.
With more funding, these In-Betweeners could fast-track us all to America 2.0.
A Call To Action For You
If reading this helped you realize that you’re an In-Betweener, I’m so happy to hear that. Feel free to DM me on Twitter. I’d love to hear your story and help you brainstorm how you can get paid for your valuable contributions.
If you don’t identify as an In-Betweener but know one personally, send them this article. There’s a good chance it will spark in them many A-Ha! moments that will inspire them to take action to better support their own needs so they can better support others.
Finally, please share this on social media so more In-Betweeners in your network know they can join the mini movement I hope to form around this.
Appreciate you for reading this. Until next time