Episode 45. Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas of What Could Go Right?

“What if instead of being on the brink of disaster, we’re on the cusp of a better world?”

What Could Go Right? is the podcast of The Progress Network, an “idea movement for a better future. The Progress Network examines issues like population growth, the environment, public health, the future of work, international relations, and the economy – all through the lens of global progress. 

Without succumbing to Pollyanna-ism, Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas, co-hosts of What Could Go Right? demonstrate that optimism can be put to work for achieving a better future.

“It’s funny, if you talk to a lot of our network members, they’re fairly allergic to the term, said Emma Varvaloucas, Executive Director of The Progress Network. “We try not to over-use the term because it has such a bad rap, generally. Optimists are viewed as stupid or sticking their heads in the sand – not that I think that; I think optimists are extraordinarily useful for the world.”

A goal of The Progress Network is to counteract negative, pessimistic outlooks and media coverage of global topics. The podcast amplifies research, thinking and voices that point to a better future, instead of worse one.   

“It’s less that I am convinced that the future will be better or that things are good than I am convinced that we are all responsible for making it so,” stated Zachary Karabell, Founder of The Progress Network. “The future is unknown and we’re all daily responsible for creating it. In so far as you believe, in a fatalistic way, that the future is written and that it’s writing is negative, I think that’s a recipe for individual and collective apathy.”

In this episode of MetaPod we discuss the objectives of The Progress Network with Zachary and Emma. They explain how The Progress Network is building a foundation for alternative approaches to public discourse and engagement on important issues. We also hear examples of this approach and how it differs to that of mainstream media. Examples of what can go right include achievements in global health, stability of international relations, and unprecedented levels of social spending by governments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NB: This conversation was recorded on February 16th, 2022 – about one week before Russia invaded Ukraine. 

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About Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas

Zachary Karabell is the founder of The Progress Network. He is an author, columnist, and investor and president of River Twice Capital. Previously, he was Head of Global Strategies at Envestnet, a publicly traded financial services firm. Prior to that, he was President of Fred Alger & Company. In addition, he ran the River Twice Fund from 2011–2013, an alternative fund that focused on sustainability.

Educated at Columbia, Oxford and Harvard, where he received his PhD, Karabell has written widely on history, economics, and international relations. His latest book, Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power, was published by Penguin Press in May 2021. He is the author of twelve previous books, including The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World, Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Coexistence, and The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Presidential Election. He also sits on the board of New America and PEN America.

Karabell hosts the podcast “What Could Go Right?” and is a Contributing Editor for Wired and for Politico. He is a frequent contributor to Time and The Washington Post and previously wrote “The Edgy Optimist” column for Slate, Reuters, and The Atlantic. He is a LinkedIn Influencer and a commentator on CNBC, Fox Business, and MSNBC, and contributes to such publications as The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs.

Emma Varvaloucas, an editor and writer with over a decade’s experience in nonprofit media, is the executive director of The Progress Network. She was formerly the executive editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, the premier publication covering Buddhist news, culture, and Buddhism’s new home in the West, where she oversaw editorial strategy and production as well as the release of several new ventures, including Buddhism for Beginners.

She is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications, Touching Ground: Devotion and Demons Along the Path of Enlightenment, and Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up, and is currently working on The India Years, a historical narrative of the time spent by today’s most popular Western meditation teachers in 70s-era Asia. She is a 2021 Dialog Emerging Fellow. A graduate of New York University, where she double-majored in journalism and religious studies, she has also studied Tibetan Buddhism at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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