Openforum Introduction

The Openspace Ventures Team consists of 25 team members from 11 different nationalities. Before venture, we come from backgrounds in technology, private equity, banking, strategy consulting and even media. Every week we get together virtually to “shoot the breeze” in a moderated session on a topic of interest. Sometimes it is core to our business of investing in Southeast Asian tech. Other times it is at best tangential – either way it helps us to talk it through Openspace style and distil a few more things about our market, our companies and ourselves. In the ever-present spirit of Open-ness, we also want to share it with you, albeit a few details and names redacted in case their sharply political views aren’t to your taste.

Race, Nation, Region or Species – To Whom are you Most Loyal?

Moderated by Shane Chesson

We sought to better understand the question above and to comprehend the cores to our own identity. To whom do you feel more loyal, or asking the question in a more expansive way (which a structured member of our ops team requested) – who would you go to war for? Who would you choose if one affiliation competed with another? What would you fill on your IC card if it said “Race or Other Chosen Affiliation”?

This question helps bring out the essence of the behavioral science concept of in-group preference and out-group hostility. This is built into us all to some extent and it has a lot of implications for social structures, voting, team dynamics and yes even technology product choices.

We started by voting on the big question above – Race, Nation, Region or Species – To Whom are you Most Loyal?

From our limited sample space review, regional bonds are the weakest – only one die hard regionalist who was quickly identified and disparaged. National bonds, followed by racial bonds and global bonds (ie species preference) are the strongest. But, who amongst the globalists, will be our in-house Peter Thiel and vouch for seasteading?

Stay tuned.

Race vs Nation

Melbourne in the 1960s vs Melbourne today

Racial and national bonds came up strong in our straw poll – but what if they come into conflict? Which would you choose?

Team members first helped us fully understand that the nature of race is broader than just skin colour. Its culture and characteristics are thousands of years old. It’s closely connected to family (which the moderator intentionally did not include on the loyalty checklist…).

The conversation transitioned to arranged marriages, in particular, a popular Netflix special which pointed towards people well removed in most ways from their racial/cultural home but still ready to adopt some of its more intricate rituals. Point was made, it’s easy to tease about racial stereotypes – good for comedy. However, even in that show and definitely in real life, you can see that the world is changing. Arranged marriages are voluntary and subject to suitability from the primary participants, and lots of people (including in our team) have bypassed these traditional rites. Evolution is happening and the world is becoming greyer steadily.

We also discussed Singapore in particular. It is a proud multiracial society but could it one day be a “post-racial” society? This one stirred up a few emotions around suburban tank driving and flag flying at the same time and we agreed to continue the conversation over drinks.

Nation vs Region

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Openspace’s perspective on the region is clear – it’s a great place to invest, and to create meaningful impact on large societal issues. We have a large population and while there are distinct countries and races involved, the region is at peace and becoming more integrated over time. Technology companies and VC’s like Openspace can help support this ongoing integration.

However, the team was realistic and acknowledged that the notion of region does not yet pull on the heartstrings. How can you have more loyalty to your region than your country until there is a more fulsome integration and more cross-country liaisons and careers?

Singaporeans shared that when they grew up, memory was fresher that several previous conflicts were actually intra-region. Of course, now we have stability and co-operations within the region, but where is the common nemesis for the region as a whole to band together and face against? Others commented that the EU experiment has stalled, some incredible progress but in time of stress national loyalties still come to the fore.

Can ASEAN create a regional identity over time and engender loyalty? And could this create an even stronger thesis for investing across the region into a relatively common consumer/business experience? We all agreed however, that there was no better time than now for creating stronger linkages in ASEAN as the region bounced back relatively strong from Covid-19 and as other superpowers are facing off.

Loyalty to the Human Species

Seasteading – DeltaSync Octopus City  

Whilst our poll indicated significant inclination towards species preference and globalism, there was also a touch of pessimism echoed within our ranks on the world’s current ability to collectively solve large global problems. As the political arena has been moving more towards nationalism, United Nations and other collective bodies may have plateaued in terms of their influence.

We discussed how these winds could change and again came back to two things 1) the common nemesis and 2) the Reset. The common nemesis needs to be even more obvious than global warming. Could the pandemic help this process or would it need a Martian invasion? Speaking of Mars, would a colony there be a great way to reset our existing ideas of nation and race and fighting to come First? We also touched upon seasteading and the idea of setting up a new society in neutral waters and whether that was a good way to both deal with global issues and abandon national laws and constraints on our thinking. Unfortunately, our in-house Peter Thiel had dropped off to take another call and time was short so the conversation did not endure.

However, we ended this idea on more positive note around the role of technology. Technology can quickly lower existing barriers of race and nation. Could a multiverse (whether in Roblox, Fortnite or Animal Crossing) actually help build a new form of tribal loyalty that can be harnessed for good? We agreed this is a difficult space to diligence (given even our young tech savvy crew has never even tried Animal Crossing) but also concurred that the digital consumer should definitely be more ambivalent about nation/race over time and there is reason for optimism that general political mood will change. We also reflected that the global move towards a consistent language around ESG, Impact was encouraging and the role of tech and venture can be important.

Conclusion and Implications for Openspace

We decided to conduct our straw zoom poll again to see if any changes. The biggest change was that some people had scheduled too tightly their next meeting.

But also, we had loosened up a few of the race loyalists and shifted their perspectives. But understandably, it’s part of a long conversation we want to keep having.

What does this mean for investment strategy and Openspace? Being in venture means we have to be aware of human psychology and preferences. We were clear that there is no homogenous Southeast Asian customer for us. Yes, they might be getting closer together but for now we need to also understand, embrace and where required solve for this diversity. Our decision making and discussion structures should incorporate the right blend of different countries/races/regions. We also feel that our efforts towards understanding impact across our portfolio and contribution to global goals can also help make all of us more “species aware”. Additionally, we have the ability to play a part in new tribe creation (definitely online, maybe through our favourite live streaming platform) that can be harnessed for good ends.

We are proud of what we have built in these directions and agreed to revisit these topics with an even more diverse group in 12 months’ time.