You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
Nearly 15 years after its international launch at the inaugural Global Zero Summit in Paris, Global Zero is rebooting with an expanded vision and mission, a radically reimagined organizational model, and a bigger, badder team that includes all of our friends at Beyond the Bomb — and a few stellar new additions.
This new chapter is years in the making. But first, some context:
The constellation of organizations working to advance nuclear arms control, risk reduction, and disarmament face stark realities of diminishing funding, a volatile geopolitical landscape, and colliding threats. Meanwhile, our policy and advocacy community, like many social movements and professional sectors, finds itself in a moment of generational and cultural upheaval.
The usual approaches to this work that have historically won the lion’s share of peace and security funding — expert-centric and largely focused on academic and policy debates — have carried the nuclear disarmament movement a long way and secured important victories in years past. But progress has stalled, we’ve lost precious ground, the opposition is hardening, and allies are in short supply. The landscape has changed and so must our methods.
In the face of this complex set of challenges and opportunities, Global Zero and Beyond the Bomb embarked on a process of exploration and reimagination of our work — and the future of the nuclear field. Working in deep collaboration with a remarkable cohort of senior leaders, issue experts, rising talent, and funders, we set out to answer the question:
“In this challenging moment, how might we radically reorganize ourselves to achieve new levels of impact while helping the broader disarmament community become a more diverse, more inclusive, more just, and more powerful version of itself?”
We were motivated by three shared beliefs:
1.) Our collective work is less a contest of ideas and more a social and political struggle that requires multi-platform storytelling, sophisticated influencer strategies, seamless organizing and lobbying, authentic intersectional movement-building, and, above all, the aggregation and application of power;
2.) The many challenges facing our advocacy community — scarcity mindset, collective lack of impact, disincentives to collaboration, competing egos and priorities, leaky talent pipelines, toxic workplace and community culture, and systems of white supremacist patriarchy, to name a few — are entrenched and interconnected, reflecting not only a field in crisis but a system unable to achieve its purpose of influencing policy outcomes; and
3.) Because we were dealing with a systems problem, we’d need to take a systems-level approach to solve it.
Rather than tinker with existing frameworks, we gave ourselves full creative license to build something novel that could disrupt the status quo: a completely redesigned organizational model that redistributes power and leverages talent and resources in new ways in pursuit of lasting policy change.
Our hypothesis was that by using the Global Zero brand as a sandbox to concentrate core competencies, talent, and resources — we’d be better positioned to develop resilient strategies, integrate work streams, mobilize partners, and dramatically strengthen our ability to impact nuclear policy over the long-term. And by making better use of available resources to achieve meaningful and measurable impact, we think we can demonstrate the kind of return on investment needed to attract new donors and ultimately expand/diversify the funding (and talent!) available to the nuclear field writ large.
We’d been dreaming in this direction for a while, but a formidable and heartbreaking report by N Square Collaborative on the toxic state of the nuclear policy and advocacy field, coupled with the devastating and unexpected death of our beloved co-founder, Dr. Bruce Blair, galvanized our conviction in this approach. (Bruce’s mantra was always to “think big, act audaciously, and make it happen” — words we carry with us every day.) The decision by the MacArthur Foundation to phase out funding of nuclear policy-related work — constituting more than half of the available resources in the nuclear policy field, and exactly the sort of tectonic shift we anticipated as we began pulling this effort together in 2020 — only reinforced the need for a responsive and imaginative new approach.
From the beginning, we knew we couldn’t do this alone — that we’d need a community we could call on to co-create a resilient design, chart the path forward, and work in close conspiracy in the months and years ahead.
As I reflect on the work we did together, that’s exactly what this reimagined Global Zero is: a product of community, of shared purpose and values, and of a deep sense of longing and possibility.
We spent the first half of 2021 consulting with numerous stakeholders in the nuclear field, and recruited a brilliant cohort of senior leaders, experts, practitioners, and rising talent from 25 partner organizations and funders — 70% women, 30% people of color, representing expertise in nuclear policy, campaign strategy, narratives, branding, grassroots organizing, DEI, organizational development, systems thinking, and social movement architecture. Through the summer and fall, the group undertook an intensive co-design effort to develop a fractal, decentralized management structure held in alignment by clear vision, mission, values, and agreements, and actively integrated by a cross-cutting governance team that spans a range of expertise and lived experience. Once we completed the initial organizational framework, we split into smaller teams to tackle sticky questions on operationalizing values, co-leadership and joint decision-making, and the minimum viable prototype. This phase also included simulations where principles and practices were tested, and collaborators were invited to try on new roles and new ways of working together in the context of forecasted scenarios.
The result of all this work is a pathbreaking organizational model that:
- Carries forward an intersectional, multi-pronged, cross-functional approach to influencing policy;
- Couples feminist and anti-racist leadership principles with an experimental mindset;
- Replaces traditional departments and hierarchies in favor of a flatter partnership where roles are mapped to core needs;
- Opens new career pathways and fortifies the talent pipeline; and
- Prioritizes institutional agility, transparency, systems thinking, and whole person support.
Our new model is movement-forward, values-driven, and purpose-built, drawing on the spirit of optimism and innovation that’s always been at the heart of Global Zero. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen in this, or any, advocacy space. And I’m so thrilled to bring it to life.
So, where are we now?
This consolidation and redesign has completed an initial 4-month “beta test” involving the merger of the Global Zero and Beyond the Bomb teams under a re-envisioned Global Zero brand. We’ve been putting into practice all the inspiring and strategic work mapped out by our team of co-conspirators, identifying bugs in the system, solving for gaps, making new mistakes, and iterating fast. It’s equal parts thrilling and overwhelming, but we’re excited you’ll be along for the ride.
Our plan is to get radically candid about what we’re doing over here — from our internal policies and practices — consent-based decision-making! pay equity and transparency! 4-day work weeks! remote-first operations! — to our advocacy strategies and long-term theory of change, to what I’m sure will be some disappointing experiments, alongside breakthroughs, and many lessons learned.
But most importantly, I want you to know the consolidation of Global Zero and Beyond the Bomb is just the first act of a longer play, and our intent is to stand up an operation that’s open and accessible. There are many policy and advocacy organizations in this space with unique comparative advantages — some of which were represented in this evolution of Global Zero — and we’re eager to push beyond the limits of traditional coalition work and take partnerships to a totally new level. We think we’ll be stronger the closer we come together, and if you’re intrigued by that possibility, let’s be in touch.