(Funding) Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Kent Dahlgren
3 min readFeb 4, 2021

Ruth Glendinning and I are (endlessly) discussing how to help community activists become more effective, and a common topic pertains to money.

One of my favorite ways to illustrate the gap between order and chaos, as defined by our society

Knowledge says: money solves problems

Wisdom says: money delivers different, more complicated problems

Pro-tip: your cause is not going to get funded until you’ve done your homework, and invested properly in an appropriate foundation that’s deeply rooted in your community.

I ask my customers: “what are you going to do when your community learns you have $50,000 in the bank?” Because I can assure you that you’re going to have chaos if you’ve not invested properly in securing their buy-in.

Another, related aside: top-down funding doesn’t really work.

Knowledge says: we should just get a billionaire to fund this.

Wisdom says: if you’ve not invested in a foundation that’s rooted in your community, you’ve just invited the billionaire to become your master, and the last thing we need are more billionaire saviors using our vulnerability as an excuse to expand their predatory, extractive economic model.

We don’t need a savior; we need to save ourselves, on our terms.

For this reason and more, Ruth, Trudy Martinez, and I are working on the Anti-Fragile Playbook, leveraging the work of Future Story Lab and the 214 Alpha Community Activation app.

Our anti-fragile methodology helps communities establish a self-governing foundation that’s deeply rooted in the community’s core values, intentionally investing above all else in wisdom capital.

So when (not if) the funding comes through, the community is able to stand its hold its own against the disruptive tides of hard capital, because it’s rallied around the values held most dear by the community, personified by its most honored citizens: the elderly.

The wisdom of our most honored citizens is our salvation, and it cannot be bought in any other manner.

What does the word honor mean? Let’s dig into this a bit, because many of us have been introduced to the word in the context of a cultural and religious directive to honor our elders.

The Hebrew word for “honor” (ka-bed) consists of the same letters as the Hebrew word for “heavy” (ka-ved); the only difference is a dot in the second letter.

In other words, “honor” means treating one’s elders with the gravity that their position deserves. They have earned their wisdom through bitter experience, and let me assure you: many have spent a lot of time thinking about how they’d give it another shot, if afforded the opportunity.

There’s a pragmatism to this approach: sources of hard capital only fund efforts that have:

  • secured a cross-functional collaboration of other like-minded activist causes
  • secured a steady stream of revenue that tells them the effort won’t be helpless without constant infusions of capital
  • have established a functional self-governing committee that’s rooted in the community
  • has secured community buy-in
  • has demonstrated that its vision addresses the root causes and conditions beneath the problems the activism aspires to solve

A final pro-tip:

  • Start small, fine-tune, and extrapolate
  • Lather, rinse, repeat
  • Begin local, and scale upwards to meet the top-down as they reach to assist battle-tested solutions that are rooted in their communities

So goes a joke among the Inuit:

Q: how do you eat a whale?

A: One bite at a time; preferably with the help of a few neighbors.

It’s that simple.



Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”