Our Founder’s Story

The genesis of Sovereignty First goes back to 1995, when I encountered a description in the psychoanalytic tradition of how, when existentially threatened, societies fragment and begin infighting. I imagined the power of being able to understand and predict large-scale population and factional responses to large-scale threats. I returned to school and, based on the description and my insight, constructed a model that could be used to make predictions, and could be tested.

I then led teams who developed protocols and tested them in the market by starting businesses based on them. I first applied the models to individuals and families. My students and I established Trauma Dynamics, which continues to research and teach protocols for helping traumatized individuals and families.

In 2003, I formed Shifting Culture, a boutique turnaround consultancy. We applied the model and developed protocols to help organizations. We worked with hospitals, universities, and businesses facing crises, including organizations in New Orleans disrupted by Hurricanes Katrina. By 2007, we had refined the model and protocols into a straightforward organization development model that was able to be applied rapidly, and able to identify efficient short- and long-terms interventions for improving organizational performance.

In 2011, a long-time member of the development community heard me speak, and convinced me that the organizational model should be applied to international development agencies and projects. I followed her advice, and, with Frank Page, worked on a forest preservation and proto-carbon market program in crisis, with AusAID in Indonesia for most of 2012. In 2013, Shifting Culture reformed as Cooperative Capacity Partners, led by Mr. Page.

In 2013, I founded Sovereignty First, LLC. Based in Washington, DC, and Boulder, Colorado. My team spent five years developing our Sovereignty Accelerator, working with guidance and other assistance from the US stability operations community—military, Foreign Service, development, intelligence, peacebuilding, and academic. My teams have tested the different elements of the framework with Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria (countries of interest to our partners; we’ll work wherever a customer wants us, from Norway to Bolivia). We are ready for a full-scale demonstration project with a country, with spotlights on us, both critical and supportive. The Accelerator is built to scale; our goal is to have interlocking frameworks up in every country and many cities by 2040. We are looking for good fits with financial and operational partners.

Eric Wolterstorff