For the past three years, IISC has been privileged to partner with Food Solutions New England, under the convening of the Sustainability Institute at UNH, to develop a regional network to support a more just and sustainable food system. As part of this effort, we have pulled together a remarkable and dedicated Network Team, the members of which have taken it upon themselves to be champions, connectors, and strategists for this effort. Having released an ambitious Food Vision, FSNE is now reaching out to diverse partners across New England to make it a reality. The post below originally appeared on the FSNE blog, and is written by Network Team member and CEO of the Witness Project of Connecticut, Marilyn Moore. Marilyn is a strong advocate for racial and health equity and lives in Bridgeport, CT. She was recently elected to the Connecticut State Senate where she is Chair of the Human Services Committee and Vice Chair of the Environment Committee. Her message and ongoing work speak to the importance of putting equity at the center of our efforts to create sustainable systems for food, health, and economy.
More than 15 years ago I began educating women about breast cancer mortality and early detection. Most of my outreach centered around African American women who suffer the highest mortality even though the incidence is higher in white women than black women.
As a lay person, I find that what I don’t know allows me to look at issues from a common sense approach and ask those dumb questions. If every woman gets screened early why are their outcomes so bad? Sometimes the reason is the state of their health and when it is poor, they have poorer outcomes.
After educating over 15,000 women and witnessing first-hand how much they suffer through cancer and sometimes die, I learned that many of their outcomes were poor due to their overall general health. African Americans suffer from high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Some of these women are battling more than one disease at a time. When a friend, who had her first chemo treatment, died at age 42 from a heart attack, I learned she was also diabetic and her diet lacked fresh fruits and vegetables.
We are surrounded by food deserts, the bodegas where most inner city people without transportation shop, don’t offer many healthy choices. Fresh fish, vegetables, and fruits are not available, cost prohibitive, and in the corner stores, unattractive. Urban communities need more local, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods.
As we look towards producing 50% of our food in the New England states by 2060 we must be mindful that if we are going to be inclusive, we must consider those who suffer the greatest health disparities. It’s not only about the right foods being available, but that we all have access.
January 13, 2015
About 20 years ago I was introduced to the field of ecological design called permaculture, not in any great depth mind you, but from what I learned at the time, I was struck by how refreshing, sensible, and vital the practitioners’ perspective and approach were. Since then, and especially in recent years, interest in permaculture seems to have significantly grown (including my own) and its principles stretched beyond sustainable agriculture to human communities. Looby MacNamara is one of the teachers and practitioners who is helping with the more widespread application of permaculture principles. I just finished reading her short book, 7 Ways to Think Differently, which I recommend. In it she unites different ways of thinking (such as systems thinking and solutions thinking) with the underlying philosophical and methodological elements of “regenerative design.”
For me, one particularly fertile area is “abundance thinking.” I have to offer a bit of a pre-qualification that the word “abundance” can be used in certain contexts that I find off-putting, especially when there is little demonstrated understanding of existing structural inequities in society. That said, I think that “leading with abundance” as a mental exercise can provide valuable insights and approaches to social change. Here are a few thoughts, and I invite additions, reactions and push back: Read More
January 6, 2015
“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems.”
An essay that I return to every now and then, including over the recent break, is Wendell Berry‘s “Solving for Pattern.” Published in 1981, the piece essentially considers systemic approaches to more “sustainable “agriculture, though the concept alluded to in the title has wider application. The phrase “solving for pattern” is an invitation to take a larger and longer view of “problem-solving,” to think about interventions that serve a bigger picture. Solving for pattern runs counter to reductionist and mechanical solutions, which lend themselves to more predictable and relatively contained situations. When reductionist solutions are applied to more complex and systemic situations, they are more prone to failure and to exacerbating negative aspects. An example is certain irrigation schemes that channel water in such a way that the larger water cycle is disrupted and nutrients lost to key places in the ecosystem.
“A bad solution is bad . . . because it acts destructively upon the larger pattern in which it is contained.”
A better approach in these situations is to get a sense of the larger systemic picture and pattern at play (which takes more time) and to look for interventions that support overall healthier dynamics in the system. Read More
December 22, 2014
“As long as it remains invisible, it is guaranteed to remain insoluble.”
Margaret Heffernan, from Willful Blindness
Photo by Marie Aschehoug-Clauteaux
As I look back on 2014 through the lens of the work we have done at IISC supporting networks and movements for social justice and system change, one of the most significant themes that I’ve distilled is the value of “making the invisible visible.” This month I’ve facilitated a number of reflection sessions with diverse groups to gauge the development and impact they have felt and observed from our work over the course of the year. I tend to ask people how they see change happening at different levels: self, group, larger systems (organization, neighborhood, community, state, region, etc.). I also like to ask them to reflect via the use of stories, which I find often help to capture and convey developmental processes.
What has come from this sharing is that even though some of the big goals around equity and sustainability remain elusive, there has been movement and a significant part of this development comes down to seeing what had previously been unseen. While the methods for getting to this recognition have varied – from system mapping and analysis to network mapping to structural and power analysis to learning journeys to dialogue and tackling difficult conversations - by creating ample space to see, share and suppose, there has been significant deepening of relationships (to self, other, the work), change processes, and potential impact.
So what is being made visible? Read More
December 18, 2014
“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.”
– Greg McKeown
I’m currently reading Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which I’ll admit I had been tempted to look at earlier in the year and then decided not to for a couple of reasons. First of all, to me the sub-title smacked of a certain level of privilege, given that there are so many people who need more not less – more resources in the face of poverty, more fundamental regard for their humanity and rights in the face of injustice. In addition and seemingly validating of my initial wariness, the book’s opening stories focus on Silicon Valley executives and other corporate players. And yet at the same time I was pulled in by this notion of “essentialism,” embodied in one of the opening quotes attributed to writer, linguist and inventor Lin Yutang:
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
December 10, 2014
“What’s most systemic is personal . . . and interpersonal.”
- rift on a Peter Senge quote
At IISC, one of the three core lenses that we bring to our collaborative capacity building for social change work is love as a force for social transformation. How this lens impacts what we do as practitioners depends on context, though often it comes down to ensuring that there is time for people in the collaborative change efforts we support to connect on a personal and interpersonal level. One way to do this is to invite people to share stories and do this beyond the parameters for their professionally defined roles. I did this recently with a group and as is often the case, there were a few areas of resistance in the collective body. “Why are we doing this?” asked someone with a hint of consternation. That became my opening. Here is what I offer as a response to discomfort around what some people call “touchy feely” exercises.
Why are we doing this?
- In general terms, to expand collective potential.
- To help each of us to be more fully seen and appreciated for who we are, beyond abstractions and implicit assumptions. When people do not feel seen or appreciated they can disengage, or “act out” to get the attention they want.
- To deepen connection, build trust and increase social velocity.
- To test and stretch the boundaries of “appropriate” and “legitimate” ways of knowing and being with one another. Otherwise people can default to ways that privilege those most comfortable with certain ways of being (often strictly professional and cerebral).
- To grow “positivity” – that is, to expand the overall collectively felt sense of positive emotions (which includes pride related to the demonstrated ability to have and hold difficult conversations). Positivity has been scientifically linked with greater physical and psychological capacity to see and take in more (of systems and one another).
I offer these, like a yoga teacher, with compassion for any expressed discomfort or tightness felt in different parts of the collective body. And the invitation is to breathe through this and to see what might be loosened up for the benefit of the whole. For another take on this, I highly recommend my friend Joe Hsueh’s piece “Why the Human Touch is Key to Unlocking Systems Change.”
Curious to hear your own experiences connecting what is most personal and interpersonal with systemic change.
December 4, 2014
In a recent TEDx talk, attorney and diversity consultant Verna Myers shares powerful stories and three concrete ways we can all intervene on our own and others’ biases and help stop the violence against young black men:
- “Get out of denial!” Acknowledge unconscious bias; “stare at awesome black people!” and look for data that discomfirms stereotypes.
- “Move toward young black men instead of away from them. Go away from your comfort into a bigger, brighter thing.”
- “When see something, we have to have the courage to say something, even to the people we love … and not shelter our children from the ugliness of racism. We have an amazing country with incredible ideals … but we are not done yet …