How We Got Here

Team Rubicon asked global design and innovation firm, IDEO to take a wildly-open approach to understand how it might consider global expansion. With this brief and an outsider’s perspective, we began the work with no assumptions about what might take shape.

IDEO’s research methodologies are rooted in design, anthropology, and sociology and so the team began by interviewing a small group of current Team Rubicon members and staff, unaffiliated veterans, and disaster relief workers. We explored these individuals’ motivations, values, and contexts to develop an understanding of the American ecosystem of veterans, disaster response, and how Team Rubicon currently fits into the world of veteran service organizations. This approach fueled a wide range of ideas about how we might use design to address existing problems and identify new opportunities.


The team began by looking to analogous organizations, potential markets, the existing success of TRusa, veterans, and disaster victims to inspire and inform the design process. The team sought inspiration from the edge, exploring a range of organizations and movements both extreme and ordinary -- groups as varied as the Hell’s Angels, Chinese restaurants around the world, and National Public Radio in the US -- organizations that have successfully scaled with novel approaches to their business.


  • Passion for a common mission brings all of the independent country offices together
  • Brand is managed centrally, but used by all
  • Have been able to institutionalize provocative, iconoclastic, and risk-taking organizational behavior while being an extremely large global organization and remaining very effective at delivering impact


  • Global HQ part of the organization is incredibly lean and efficient
  • Management and general overhead costs constitute only 1.3% of global budget
  • Pooling of large cash reserves (around 25% of programmatic funds) allows MSF to respond rapidly to crises and disasters as they arise without having to wait for funding. MSF goes where the need is most acute

Teach for All

  • Provides seed funding for the first two years of each new country organization
  • Role and relationship evolves over time as country organizations mature
  • The operating and financial models of the country organizations flex to fit local conditions while the common mission, vision, and principles remain the same

Hells Angels

  • Strong sense of common identity binds various chapters together no matter where they are in the world
  • They aggressively defend their brand and trademark
  • Members pay monthly dues to belong while almost all money made by local chapters stays with those chapters

Chinese Restaurants

  • Good ideas ripple organically throughout the system with a culture that encourages sharing and copying what works
  • Broad standards emerge and are adhered to tacitly, even without a central governing or coordinating body
  • Spontaneous selforganization allows for the concept to evolve and take on different shapes based on local conditions

Alcoholics Anonymous

  • Accessible and easy to understand norms, principles and tools (confidentiality, regular meetings, coffee, etc.) enable the spread of the organization
  • Remarkable consistency comes from a non-negotiable core offering (12 steps) despite being spread organically by volunteers
  • Members are at the heart of the organization while the central organizing body takes on a minimal, background, enabling role


The team chose the United Kingdom, Norway, and the Philippines as research locations because they embody distinctive, and likely, archetypical markets for veterans and humanitarian need that Team Rubicon would encounter as it expands.

The U.K. closely resembles the U.S. in culture, language, veteran population needs and characteristics, and frequency of domestic natural disasters. It is also a Five Eyes nation, working very easily with American military culture and systems.

Norway has a very small, but specialized veteran population, fewer domestic disasters, a proud national orientation towards humanitarian aid, peacekeeping, and international development, a strong social safety net, and a history of deep cooperation and coordination with multi-lateral institutions such as the UN and EU.

The Philippines is a less-developed country with weaker governance, a smaller, older veteran population, and high vulnerability to disasters. It is also where Team Rubicon recently deployed a successful international mission and gained important exposure and access.


The IDEO team spent time working with members of Team Rubicon to understand what has helped make the model so successful. By “reverse engineering” Team Rubicon, we were able to identify the key attributes and attitudes that need to be carried forward and emphasized in any expansion. This exposure to TRusa also helped us understand which markets would be a good fit for a Team Rubicon organization and what existing aspects would need to be adapted to local conditions.


We worked with veterans, disaster victims, or humanitarian professionals in all three markets we visited in order to understand their lives and needs and collaboratively design the global Team Rubicon organization. In the Philippines, we met with many people who had been affected by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. We learned about what happened during and immediately after the storm, what formal and informal systems of support and response worked, which systems broke down, and what they needed most in the first 72 hours.

In the U.K. and Norway, we met with first responders and emergency management professionals who were involved in the response to major floods in February 2014. We spoke with the armed forces and the foreign service, NGOs, and humanitarian and charitable organizations to learn about funding and other fiduciary support, the global response system, who works with whom, and what systems are in place before, during, and after a disaster.

The Way Forward

What we designed at the conclusion of this work are the three complementary models described herein. We were perhaps most inspired by the opportunity to stretch the positive impact of TRg across the two country organizations of TRx and TRready, giving the Team Rubicon movement shape, impact, and potential to scale over the entire globe.