Community Layer Spotlight 4: Jon Ruth

Community Layer Spotlight 4: Jon Ruth

November 24, 2023

Individuals who began their careers in solar, wind, and regenerative finance are increasingly transitioning to crypto public goods. They see this as an avenue to effect more profound changes in the world.

The effects of public goods communities and protocols like Gitcoin offer endless opportunities for making the world a better place than you left it. One such person working to do just that is Jon Ruth, who is building community across multiple public goods spaces in an impressive number of ways.

Gitcoin, known for its quadratic funding model, is attracting numerous crypto enthusiasts eager to maximize their ETH contributions. With this in mind, the community has grown significantly and, as such, requires a dedicated support team for anyone looking to submit grants and get to know the best ways to market their proposals.

Jon serves as the Community Vibes Coordinator at Gitcoin, a role he describes as requiring one to 'brute force your way in' with kindness and helpfulness. In this capacity, Jon is instrumental in fostering a welcoming and vibrant community atmosphere. His responsibilities include organizing community events, facilitating discussions, and offering support to members. By actively engaging in these activities, Jon not only enhances the sense of belonging within the community but also plays a crucial role in maintaining an environment conducive to collaboration and innovation.

In conversation with Jon, we discussed his evolution through a career in solar energy in the US and how that shaped his involvement with Gitcoin and, most recently, the Solar Foundation and Spark, which is using Hypercerts and Proof of Impact to bring solar energy to remote areas around the world.

From Early Ethereum to Gitcoin

Now that the crypto space is well into a second bear market for Jon, he had a sense of caution re-entering in 2020. Since buying a few Crypto Kitties back in 2017 and seeing how the market matured, he found that more traditional artists were dipping their toes in. This gave a perfect opportunity for him to position prior experience in the solar industry and begin building with what is called “regens,” or the regenerative movement.

When re-entering during a bull market, it’s so easy to join a billion different Discord communities and explore what people are building. This inevitably led to Jon finding the emerging DAO tooling space, a catalyst for pooling collective funds to buy NFTs together.

Working on ways to incorporate the “physical and digital world,” Jon’s work in the solar and renewable energy industry gave him a leg up when he started diving into the Gitcoin Climate Rounds early on.

The Role of Customer Support in Community

No matter where your prior experience lies, one of the biggest unlocks to understand is the impact of simply being involved. This cannot be underestimated.

If you’re thinking about joining web3 or are already immersed in the space but not sure how to join a DAO or community team, the phrase ‘just keep showing up’ has been a truth to how Jon found success.

Jon grew up in a family business where he said, “Customer service is king,” and this is an important point to make here. When you’re part of a protocol team, your community members are, in fact, customers to a degree. Users have needs to be met by a product and we need more teams to discover the fact that support is absolutely vital. Especially the kind of support that is insightful yet brings fun vibes to the party and helps people actually enjoy the product.

On Successfully Showing Up

For Jon, showing up each day looked like being one of the people to consistently dig in and help people out, host DAO calls, get others excited about new proposals, and be the go-to person for navigating new folks where they need.

One of the fun things about setting an example early on is that as Jon’s career at Gitcoin advanced and as the protocol itself matured, others took notice.

For example, he noted the effects of the Gitcoin Citizen’s Round, where community members were able to submit grant proposals for the work they’ve done within the community. Jon gave a shoutout to one such member in the Gitcoin Discord called QuickMythril, who has been an immense help. This member was able to submit and win one of these grants by simply helping out. Now, there’s no guarantee that you can go into your favorite community today and have the same level of support, but it shows the potential of what crypto communities offer.

Again, there are so many ways to get involved and show up in the public goods ecosystem within crypto. My suggestion here is to check out the Gitcoin website, follow Kevin Owocki and Gary Sheng, who are incredible community builders in their own right, and see what fits your interests.

As more people come into the space and might be looking to this article as a resource, note that this is not a guaranteed payout. This isn’t for someone who needs to gamble their mortgage or monthly bills on volunteer help, resulting in retroactive funding. However, it is a wonderful way to help out your favorite community, and if you play your cards right and build a network, it could result in more long-term work in the future.

Bringing the Vibes and a Sense of Play

For many community builders in the web3 and crypto space, we sort of fall into these roles where high energy is critical for keeping people engaged and active. Along with that comes the responsibility of planning meetups, events, and community reports in Discord or Twitter.

This front-facing enthusiasm helps people feel like they’re in the right place and lets community members know there is a comfortable space to have questions answered. One thing we’ve all seen while using the various crypto products is since they’re very tech-heavy with loads of jargon, it's easy to get lost in the mystery of it all. Especially for those of us just joining with little knowledge of the tech space. This makes the playful energy a safe landing zone for those in the Gitcoin ecosystem, particularly since a majority of users are in areas that are traditionally unbanked or entirely unfamiliar with crypto.

By now, we’re all familiar with the “customer service voice” of in-person retail and things that build enthusiasm, like Jon's high energy to the various communities he’s part of.

Safety and Security Through Community

Another side of the coin to bringing the vibes to any community is creating a space where people of all experience levels are comfortable asking about scams or troubles. See, just as scams have existed online for decades, they happen just as frequently with open protocols where the vulnerable are left even more open.

Since we’re all essentially carrying our own bank with us at all times, that makes digital literacy even more important, so as community builders, being knowledgeable about vulnerabilities is a superpower.

Memetic Energy of the Sun

The public goods space is much more vast than most realize and has deeply matured in the last few years. Essentially, no matter how you choose to care for the Earth and those living on it, you’ll be able to find many communities to participate (and earn) within. Here are just a few to dig into outside of Gitcoin:

  • The Solar Foundation and Spark: funding off-grid solar in underserved areas like the Global South
  • Public Goods Network (PGN): a new blockchain specially designed for public goods
  • Treegens: Planting thousands of trees worldwide

If you’re anywhere near the public goods space, you’ve likely heard of the term Solarpunk. These people are harnessing the Sun's power to provide energy worldwide but mostly in underserved locations. In Jon’s case, as the founder of Spark, they are using NFTs as Impact Certificates to show proof that someone has funded solar projects at schools in Uganda.

The Story to be Told

These hypercerts tell a story. They tell the story of the impact provided by the people funding these initiatives and the people they are impacting. You’ll hear from those in Uganda who are now able to charge their phone while at school or provide electricity to the kids they are teaching. It’s a beautiful story that truly deserves to be told as most people think crypto is all about speculation and casino gambling; well, it has much more impact than we realize from the outside.

Jon Ruth and Spark are working to hear the needs of these incredible folks in the Global South rather than presume they already know what they require to sustain themselves. They are working toward “providing solar to 50 women in Uganda, as well as a crypto wallet, UBI (Universal Basic Income), so every day they can collect a certain amount of tokens,” which allows greater autonomy for these women and true sustainability.

The beauty of crypto enables Spark and the power of solar energy to create a flywheel where this ongoing collectible token results in payment for phone service powered by solar energy. This brings solar to a community, banks the unbanked, and provides sustainable electricity that improves lives. Micro economies and communities powered by solar energy and regeneration!

The Work Ahead and Lessons From Gitcoin and Spark

In conversation with Jon Ruth, we covered many aspects of community building and what it means to be part of the Public Goods community as a whole. We learned how vital customer service and support are to protocols like Gitcoin and Spark. Diving in and getting involved when time allows is vital to crypto communities, and so is the ability to be open to speaking with people still learning these nascent tools.

Other key takeaways:

Showing up consistently with prior career experience is immensely valuable

Contributing to the public goods ecosystem helps the unbanked live fulfilling lives

Coming back into the crypto community after a break net unimaginable learnings.

Stay up to date with Jon at weekly Gitcoin Twitter/X Spaces and in the Gitcoin Discord.


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Meet the writer

Riley is an online and onchain community builder. She's facilitated online connections since 2012 in areas like gaming, fashion, and education and has been actively building in web3 since 2021 to take identity, governance, and marketing to their intentional, values-driven next levels at the edges of the web.
Riley Blackwell
Founder, Cloud Scouts, freelance community strategist, and writer.
Riley enjoys talking to builders of all stages about identity and community in web3 and spends her free time watching sci-fi films and learn