A United Nations for Social DAOs? Forefront's Jihad Esmail and the Cabin Operator Residents Discuss New Models for Collaboration
May 10th, 2022

Let’s face it – the DAO landscape can be a difficult space to navigate, even for those who work within the emerging ecosystem. As new DAOs with similar (or perhaps even opposing) goals proliferate, keeping track of developments becomes increasingly complicated. How might this information be shared among DAO participants, and what might that look like?

This question was at the heart of “A UN for Social DAOs,” the first workshop session during April’s Cabin DAO Operator Residency at Node Zero, the DAO’s first city node which sits on 28-acres of Texas Hill Country outside Austin.

Moderated by Cabin Placemakers’ Guild member Aleena Vigoda, who also led the Operator Residency for the week, the session was hosted by Forefront Media and Ecosystem Lead Jihad Esmail (@jaesmail), who called into the residency over Zoom.

This article is based off of a workshop from a session in our DAO Operator Residency program. This program brings together DAO leaders from across the ecosystem for a one week intensive IRL experience. Interested in joining a program? Fill out this form.

From Community to Meta-Community

In introducing Forefront, which sees itself as a launchpad for creators building at the frontier of tokenized communities, Esmail gave a brief history of the project and its evolution. Initially focusing on identifying and promoting the most value-aligned and active DAOs in the space, as the community grew, Forefront began to consider how it might function not simply as an aggregator of content produced by other DAOs, but a meta-community in its own right. “If each community is a country,” he said, “Forefront can be like a United Nations. Each of those communities are members, in addition to the individual members, or ‘citizens’ of those DAOs.”

Using the analogy of a UN for tokenized communities, Esmail identified three areas of support that a meta-community might provide: Community, Media, and Product.

Such a community could not simply bring people into the DAO space and aid in the discovery of new projects, but could also act as a launchpad for creators at existing tokenized communities such as Cabin, FWB, or Krause House, enabling the sharing of knowledge and tools, as well as pushing the frontiers of the space outwards.

Tokenized Communities vs DAOs

Importantly, Esmail distinguished between tokenized communities and product-focused DAOs. According to him, a tokenized community can be defined as “a progressively self-managing and collectively-governed community that works toward the proliferation and development of a common meme using a token as its primary means of coordination.”

This broader definition opens opportunities for tokenized communities to see themselves not necessarily as being focused on product, but rather as a supportive system enabling DAO to DAO collaboration. This output can take any number of forms that work in the interest not simply of a single DAO, but potentially of multiple DAOs that share common goals, or even the ecosystem at large.

Existing Models of Collaboration

These types of collaborative efforts are already underway. Cabin’s embassy network, for example, supports the goals of Cabin as a DAO, but also provides IRL space for other web3 workers to gather and discuss the state of the ecosystem, pushing it forward beyond Cabin-specific initiatives. The Cabin roadmap and its Operator Residency in specific are prime examples of this collaborative model.

Defining Like-Mindedness

By participating in meta-communities such as Forefront, DAOs in the space might signal a like-mindedness and trustworthiness to one another. But since the goals of a DAO can be as varied and disparate as the goals of a company or country, articulation is crucial when attempting to align and collaborate on projects, values, narrative, or economics.

According to Vigoda, DAOs “need to get more specific about what they stand for, and use that as a bat signal to collectively align.” Vigoda brought up the UN’s 2015 adoption of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 individually numbered goals that include “No Poverty”, “Zero Hunger”, and “Gender Equality”, each with specific targets and indicators to measure their success over time. In the context of UN member states, each member acts in their own way toward these shared goals.

Vigoda also used the example of B Lab’s B Corp certification system, which businesses may seek in order to be deemed socially and environmentally sustainable. Such a certification may also be useful with the DAO space, allowing operators to better identify like-minded actors and DAOs.

Value Alignment > Financial Alignment

While financial alignment such as token swaps and alliances can create value for both communities, Cabin Operator resident Nico Shi, design lead and community facilitator at CityDAO, believes that “value alignment should come before all else, or else it won’t be a viable collaboration.” DAOs such as CityDAO and Cabin, for example, may have similar goals, but these shared goals can also lead to competitive mentalities. Tools that might be developed by meta-protagonists like Forefront can help DAOs identify areas of mutual benefit and divergence, allowing them to co-exist and collaborate on those areas that work in their favor, without sacrificing their individually-held values that might diverge.

Still, while alignment on the basis of economics alone may eventually lead to competitiveness, it is an important reality that also needs consideration in order for a DAO to succeed in the long term. To this end, Vigoda made reference to Indigenous gifting culture and how it might be applied to the DAO ecosystem. “You gift not to get, but because it circulates around the ecosystem and contributes to it. At some point you will get back what you gifted,” she explained. This allows for relationships to form, in contrast to a transactional mentality. This could apply not simply to open sourcing, but giving away IP.

This game theory of gifting comes with its own challenges. As Shi noted, “How do you incentivize people to publish a month’s work for free, without having any guarantee any value will be derived from it? It’s ok you have the additional luxury, but what if you are actually relying on IP to help the organization grow? Game theory doesn’t always work out.” Mutual aid fund models might provide a starting point to answer this question, wherein those who have the privilege of gifting allocate a portion of token swaps for these purposes, for example.

As the number of DAOs continues to proliferate, developing tools and new ways of thinking around collaboration will be critical to a sustainable and optimized growth of the ecosystem. DAO operators such as those at Cabin’s Operator Residency are already anticipating those events.


Aleena Vigoda (@vigoda_aleena) is part of Cabin’s Neighborhood High Council within the Placemakers’ Guild, as well as leads ecosystem design at backdrop.so and stewards a media & ecosystem-based project for Forefront.

Datz Daito (@190k) is the founder of Destore, the first DAO-governed retail store where members vote on what to sell via NFT memberships.

Austin Robey (@austinrobey_) is the founding member of Metalabel, Ampled, and Unnamed Fund. He also teaches a class on platform cooperativism at the New School in New York City.

Nico Shi (@syntonikka) is a design lead and community facilitator at CityDAO, and also works as a multimedia artist and game developer.


Text @darryl
Header image @marulli

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About Cabin

Cabin is a decentralized city built by creators, for creators. Cabin believes in the power of bringing people together IRL, especially for decentralized and distributed teams. We are the DAO to help other DAOs accelerate their work by getting together IRL.

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