Now I AM afraid of doughnuts

A reflection on the launch of the Leeds Doughnut

I was incredibly excited to attend the launch of the Leeds Doughnut, but I never expected to come away with a fear of doughnuts. Especially since, on the day, everyone praised the circular sugary snack as being something no one was afraid of. 

Yet, in that fear, I found hope.


I have been inspired by and working with Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics ever since discovering it. Her theory helped answer some of my most pressing questions as an ethically minded economic strategist by using some neat logic and presentational magic to help us think about the end rather than the means. What are the outcomes of all this economic activity?


One of the last projects I instigated at the York and North Yorkshire Economic Partnership was to bring metrics related to the Doughnut's ecological ceiling and social foundation into our decision-making process. The aim was to invest more time and funding into activities that delivered actual benefit and change.

It wasn't an easy process, but like the Leeds Doughnut City Portrait, we took our lead from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a mixed bag of indicators that tell us how well we're doing, or not doing, on global sustainability.

However, despite being conceived at the Rio summit in 2012 and adopted by the UN in 2015, the goals have been criticised for lack of progress.

I have recently been studying the radical social innovation process 'Theory U', established by MIT's Otto Scharmer. There is a simple concept at its heart, best expressed by a quote Otto uses from Bill O'Brien, former CEO of Hanover Insurance:

“The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.”


During the Leeds launch, the team from the Doughnut Economic Action Lab (DEAL) introduced a wonderful way to get right to our interior condition and understand the concept of the Doughnut.

Rob Shorter, the DEAL Communities and Art Lead, ran an amazing session where we made our own doughnut on the ODI Leeds floor using two concentric circles of rope. 


Something magical happened when he invited us to walk through the space we'd created. 

Despite having worked with, applied and presented the concept for several years, this was the first time I had ever connected with the concept on an emotional level. It was a game-changer. 

Stepping over the outer circle, beyond our ecological ceiling, I felt fearful; scared for the future of humanity so blithely ignoring our planet's carrying capacity.

Then stepping into the centre, under the social foundation, I felt a profound sense of sadness.

It truly shook my core. 

Embodiment and gestures are practices that Theory U promotes; standing there in the doughnut, I felt the impact powerfully.


So it absolutely goes without saying that I am in. In for bringing the Leeds Doughnut to life and in for creating change here that can ripple out from our cities to places and communities around the world.

Because as much as we face challenges, these can undoubtedly become opportunities. Particularly if we take up the techniques demonstrated at the launch to scale up emotional engagement with the Doughnut in communities across Leeds, just as there are moves afoot to animate Sustainable Development Goals by turning them into Internal Development Goals.

Through engagement, we can build a foundation. Through ambition, we can make a movement.


I was inspired observing the Amsterdam Doughnut's ambition for their local environment, with their magnificent question, "How can our city be as generous to nature as the surrounding countryside?" Our portrait could and should be more ambitious, especially if we want people to get involved. No one is getting on board for 'a little bit better'; radical change is what's needed and what people will back.

With engagement and ambition, we can build a strong movement. Through engaging businesses, we can create real change that ripples out from Leeds as it did in the Industrial Revolution.


There was a disappointing but understandable lack of other businesses in the room, which is a problem when it comes to change. The Doughnut is a systemic approach; we can't run around playing whack-a-mole when social or environmental problems pop up. We need to create change at the system level, and that means changing the agent of transformation within the Doughnut: business and the economy.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not standing, carping from the sidelines. This is a movement I want to help move forward, these are my constructive suggestions for how to do that. 

We have a fantastic foundation in the Leeds Doughnut City Portrait and some great techniques to engage with the 'interior condition' of Leodians.

I'm in. Bring on the sprinkles (you had to be there).

I felt the fear, but I know hope.

By Tim Frenneaux
Entrepreneur, innovator and consultant - helping build a better world

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