Big Green: A DAO’s Mission to Disrupt Philanthropy - Identity Review - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

A self-proclaimed “restaurant guy in [his] non-tech life,” Kimbal Musk is launching a mission vastly different from his brother Elon Musk’s typical space ventures. Bridging his interest in Web3, food equity and community building, Musk is turning his philanthropic focus on DAOs starting with his newest venture, the Big Green DAO.

The billionaire Tesla board member announced on November 30th the launch of the first nonprofit-led philanthropic DAO with Musk’s food equity nonprofit, Big Green, which he co-founded in 2011. Working with Matthew Markman, a Ph.D candidate and “DAO facilitator” for the metaverse gaming community Decentraland, Musk is hoping to create food justice by leveraging blockchain solutions for the Big Green DAO and engaging community members and organizations in a collective decision-making role over its treasury and grant donation process.

The Big Green DAO said they are a “first-of-its-kind experiment to radically reconceive and restructure grant-making, disrupting embedded power structures by putting nonprofits in the driver’s seat.” In an interview with Musk and Markman, Coinbase reported that the DAO’s roadmap is scheduled to last a year (November 2021 through September 2022), during which they will distribute over $1 million in funds from their treasury. 

The need for the support of charities have skyrocketed after a year of enormous financial and social strain, and Musk’s vision for Big Green DAO’s experiment could set a new standard for how charitable organizations around the world operate on the new internet. 

Big Charity for All

The Big Green DAO has released a white paper explaining their solution, which Musk reports has been met by positive response from the public. Big Green shares that their DAO will utilize a multitier system of an executive “DAO Committee” and a broader voting “DAO Community” to govern. 

Big Green will rely on the DAO Committee to ensure all governance proposals comply with the focus on food justice so the DAO can remain registered as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The current treasury will be built atop a Gnosis Safe multi-signature wallet, which will be guarded by at least two executors from the committee. The current version of the white paper says that the inaugural DAO Committee members will serve staggered terms of one to three years, where only Big Green will have a permanent seat.

The DAO community, on the other hand, will mainly drive voting on grants distribution. Markman is aiming to experiment with ranked-choice voting via Snapshot’s DAO voting platform. To join the DAO, participants will have to make a “tax deductible donation to the Big Green DAO Treasury” in order to receive one DAO governance token. Using this ERC-20 $GARDEN token, participants will then be able to vote on various initiatives such as giving and funding distribution. Big Green’s current white paper said that the DAO will distribute 20% to 30% of its treasury for tokens. The rest will be left for management costs.

Leaner and Clearer

On comparing their model with other traditional charitable work, Musk said “I do think they have good intentions, but they’re spending a fortune on their overhead, and there isn’t a lot of transparency.” Much of the general public seem to share the same sentiment. 

A recent study reported that the proportion of people who said they trusted charities “quite a lot” or “a great deal” fell from 63% in late 2019 to 59% in mid 2020. One of the largest reasons cited was the lack of trust of simply not knowing how the money is spent. Over the years, various scandals have involved “big charities” using donations to inflate CEO salaries or expensive campaigns. 

The desire for more transparency, then, is especially important for the younger generation who happen to be more digitally native. Around 60% of this demographic agree that seeing the impact of their donation significantly affects their decision to give. Ultimately, Musk and Markman hope their experiment will disrupt the philanthropic sector by aligning the needs of their community members with their larger food justice goals. More importantly, they hope that their vision for philanthropy will generate social impact on the new web. 

A Collective Experiment

The global pandemic brought about a renewed sense of purpose when it came to reprioritizing how we give. In May 2020, major philanthropists committed at least $10.3 billion globally according to Candid, a major grants tracker. The acceleration of charity has led many in the philanthropic sector to dig deeper into their abilities to invest in the right people and infrastructure to ensure their organization’s impact. 

“If this doesn’t work, we’ll go back to the drawing board and try it a different way,” says Musk. After the year is up, the Big Green DAO will “pause and assess to what degrees the DAO structure has allowed the organization to reach its goals.” 

Ultimately, Musk and Markman want to bring impact-driven people together to increase adoption of these technologies and social structures, and they hope to build a community that is committed to seeing their thesis play out.

The Big Green DAO says it will support organizations that are “advancing food and gardening, including (but in no way limited to) food justice, school gardens, home gardens, urban gardens, food advocacy, and regenerative agriculture.” Funds will be distributed at the discretion of the DAO’s community, starting this November.


Ivy Tsang is a Tech Innovation Fellow at Identity Review from the University of Southern California, where she explores the intersections between the Arts, Technology and Business of Innovation. 

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