Project Breakthrough

Market disruption and social and environmental pressures are all accelerating. Such times offer huge opportunities for those who drive fundamental, systemic change. Project Breakthrough is a guide to unlocking the mindsets, business models and technologies necessary to lead tomorrow’s markets.

In 2015, world leaders at the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Building on Volans’ Breakthrough agenda, Volans and the UN Global  Compact created a Project Breakthrough to help leaders make sense of this radical agenda and chart a path forward for the Compact’s 9,000+ corporate members. Visit

Why Breakthrough?

While incremental change has its place, it is no longer remotely enough for what comes next. Trying to achieve the SDGs in the context of what author Thomas Friedman calls the ‘age of accelerations’ – where technological progress, population growth and many of the issues themselves identified within the goals, such as climate change, are all developing along exponential trajectories – requires not just new thinking but new politics and economics.

Market opportunities linked to goals are forecast to be worth at least $12 trillion per year by 2030.

Unlocking this value requires companies to break out of incremental mindsets and ambitions, and a fixation with reducing their negative impacts.

Project Breakthrough is helping companies shift to to exponential mindsets and ambitions, focus on the deliberate generation of positive impacts, and design business models that are fit for 2030.

Show. Tell. Enable.

Volans’ approach to the problem was threefold: firstly we want to showcase examples of where the innovation was already happening, secondly we wanted to explain how they worked, then lastly enable the companies to put this insight into use at their company.

Our ability to imagine a better future is key to us building one. Luckily many parts of that better future already exist. To quote the science fiction author William Gibson, “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed”. That’s why Volans sat down with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs who are already building the future today. Edited versions of those conversations are now available on our video showcase on

Speaking with these innovators gave us critical insight into how they think. Sifting through over 40 hours of conversation, certain patterns started to emerge. We synthesized six recurring characteristics into what we called ‘The Breakthrough Mindset’. Read about it in our article for Fast Company, ‘The Breakthrough Mindset: 5 Keys For Exponential Innovation To Solve Global Problems’.

We need Breakthrough Business Models

In 2016 Volans was commissioned to write a paper on transformative business models for the newly formed Business and Sustainable Development Commission. The report, Breakthrough Business Models: Exponentially Social, Lean, Integrated and Circular, argued that in order for companies to generate revenues whilst successfully addressing social and environmental challenges, they need to stop focussing on the business case for action and instead on the business models that will enable novel forms of value creation


Read the report here

To help the Compact’s corporate member companies discover what their own Breakthrough Business Models could look like we created the 6 levers framework. The framework was used at in-person workshops with the companies, for example at their annual LEAD Symposium, as well as being made available as an open resource for their wider membership and beyond.


Building on research from Judge Business School which examined 40 of the world’s most disruptive companies, our framework looks at how six common features across many of their business models can be used to make a radically better use of resources whilst improving access to goods and services around the world.

Often new business models are created to make good on the promise of new or improving technologies. The exponential, or 10X, ambition that sits at the heart of Project Breakthrough is in large part afforded by the exponential progress of technology.

We partnered with PA Consulting to produce executive briefings for 12 highly disruptive technologies.exploring their potential impact on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is these 3 elements – mindsets, business models and technologies – working in unison that will enable businesses to unlock the $12 trillion a year opportunity that the SDGs represent.

However, we believe there can be too much excitement about the potential for disruptive technologies with not enough consideration for the role of business models and mindsets. In this article for Fast Company, John Elkington and Richard Johnson, explain why technologies don’t transform markets, business models do.