Archive for March, 2012

Mar/30/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Post-Industrial Education

“The New American Academy does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student.”

The following post is a commentary from Stowe Boyd – The New American Academy: Post-Industrial At Last.  It called my attention because it makes a link between education and collaboration, learning and relationship. See what you all think! 

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Mar/29/12//Curtis Ogden//Liberation

Are We Really Thinking?

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

~ David Bohm

The great theoretical physicist David Bohm was known for his explorations at the intersections of science and mysticism.  His writings on the nature of thinking have helped to inform some of the current conversations about deeper sources of innovation that transcend individuals and what typically passes for creativity.  His question to all of us is whether we are truly thinking, creating “new sensory orders and structures that form into new perceptions,” or simply recycling old, dysfunctional patterns that are then reflected in the world we physically inhabit.

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Mar/28/12//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

Funders by Other Names

Earlier this year I co-facilitated a learning session on collaborative social change process design and stakeholder engagement approaches for a group of foundation employees from around the country.  As we got deeper into the conversation, some of the participants began to speak to their own doubts about the effectiveness of grantmaking, especially when it only focuses on grantmaking.  “In the larger scope of things,” said one program officer, “our money is just a drop in the bucket.”  “Frankly,” said another, “there are other ways we can add value, but we limit our own validation of these efforts by calling ourselves ‘grantmakers.’”  Interesting.  As we explored other avenues for change agency, it was as if we were tapping into the work going on here in Michigan through the Council of Michigan Foundations. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/27/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured


Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing

-T. S. Eliot, Introduction to Dante’s Inferno.


Our friend and colleague Roberto Cremonini recently shared the above quote with a budding community of practice coming together around networks. It is the epigraph to Imagine, Jonah Lehrer’s latest book on creativity.  It seems to make more sense today than ever before.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are social animals.  Makes me think of the definition of Ubuntu – I am because we are.

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Mar/26/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Sustainability

Fierce Love, Contagious Joy

“We are all called to be warriors of love for transformation.” That’s how Billy Wimsatt closed the Transforming Race conference. “If we’re transforming race, gender, America, we’re doing it from the place of fiercest love.” This is a love for one’s community, oneself, one’s planet and all people that can’t stand idle while people are suffering. A love that won’t tolerate the exclusion or marginalization or degradation of others.

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Mar/23/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Monoculture and Power


At Transforming Race, Dr. Vandana Shiva started her talk with a provocative comment. “I don’t know why the love for monoculture and the love for power are so intimately connected.” She went on to detail the calculated efforts of the British to subjugate the Indian people, in part by imposing the production of cash crops, destroying their ability to produce food and destroying their markets.

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Mar/22/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

From Systems Thinking to Systems Being


The post below is a repost of a piece by Kathia Laszlo on the “Rethinking Complexity” blog from Saybrook University.  It captures a lot of what I am exploring these days about systems thinking as an intellectual exercise to greater embodiment of doing systemically.  Enjoy!

A system is a set of interconnected elements which form a whole and show properties which are properties of the whole rather than of the individual elements. This definition is valid for a cell, an organism, a society, or a galaxy. Joanna Macy says that a system is less a thing than a pattern—a pattern of organization. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/21/12//Curtis Ogden//Liberation

Who Do We Think We Are?

“Ontology transcends interest.”

-john a. powell

At last week’s Transforming Race conference, Kirwan Institute founder john a. powell gave a powerful and compelling presentation about some of the false binaries that he says we have embraced in this country, to our own collective detriment.  This includes pitting “whiteness” against “blackness” and “public” vs. “private” spaces in such a way as to lose sight of the larger game that is happening around us.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/20/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

Let’s Learn to Swarm


“From honeybee swarms we’ve learned that groups can reliably make good decisions in a timely matter as long as they seek diversity of knowledge. By studying termite mounds we’ve seen how even small contributions to a shared project can create something useful. Finally, flocks of starlings have shown us how, without direction from a single leader, members of a group can coordinate their behavior with amazing precision simply by paying attention to their nearest neighbor.”

-       Peter Miller, The Smart Swarm

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Mar/16/12//Curtis Ogden//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Transforming Race

“We will never let the pain have the last word. We’re bigger than the things that happened to us and held us back. Our parents had a bigger vision… We will win this century in the name of liberty and justice for all!”

-Van Jones

Reporting in from Columbus, Ohio, where we spent Thursday helping to kick off the Transforming Race 2012 Conference, hosted by the Kirwan Institute.  This year’s theme is “Visions of Change,” and the tone was set by this evening’s keynote from Van Jones.  His call to was to embrace a “deeper patriotism” where “diversity is the solution to pretty much every problem we face in the new century.”

Melinda (pictured above on the left), Cynthia (right), and I (middle) made our first conference contribution by way of yesterday afternoon’s session on “Facilitation Skills for Racial Justice Work,” a fuller experience of which is available in our upcoming 2 day workshop in Boston in early May, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work.  Follow more of the discussion today and tomorrow via Twitter through hashtag #TR2012 or #TransformingRace.

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Mar/15/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

We Are What We Eat and Measure

The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to Whole Measures for Community Food Systems, a resource that “is designed to give organizations and communities a collaborative process for defining and expressing their complex stories and the multiple outcomes that emerge from their work.”  The guide is an example of what is possible coming out of the training that we jointly offer with the Center for Whole Communities called Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most.  This year we will offer the workshop in San Francisco (May), at Knoll Farm in Vermont (July), and in Boston (December).   In addition, the Community Food Security Coalition will offer a workshop on Whole Measures specifically focused on community food security work this April in Lexington, KY.

The spectrum of those working towards community food security is culturally and geographically diverse, spanning a broad range of people, places and activities. Organizations and individuals working in the food system and building food secure communities create complex relationships and inter-related activities. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/14/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

A Systems View of Opportunity

“If you don’t understand your role in contributing to the problem,

you can’t be part of the solution.”

– David Peter Stroh

This post is a slightly edited version of something I wrote for the upcoming State of Opportunity convening in Michigan.  My colleague Cynthia Parker and I have been working with the Council of Michigan Foundations staff and membership to design this gathering, the focus of which will be philanthropy’s role in increasing social equity in the state.  We are looking forward to facilitating the proceedings on March 27th. 

The quote above comes from a systems thinking expert with whom we’ve partnered in our collaborative change work here at the IISC.  We’ve found it to be a powerful way of introducing the idea that the complex systems (education, health care) that many of us are trying to change to yield better and more equitable opportunities and outcomes are not “out there.”  Rather, to rift on the old Pogo saying, when we have truly seen systems, we understand that they are us!  Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/13/12//IISC//Featured, Inspiration

Fear, scarcity and value

The following post is reblogged from Seth’s Blog. We hope that it will enrich your life and much as it has ours.


The things we fear are probably feared by others, and when we avoid them, we’re doing what others are doing as well.

Which is why there’s a scarcity of whatever work it is we’re avoiding.

And of course, scarcity often creates value.

The shortcut is simple: if you’re afraid of something, of putting yourself out there, of creating a kind of connection or a promise, that’s a clue that you’re on the right track. Go, do that.

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Mar/09/12//IISC//Featured, IISC:Inside

Ode to Melinda

Our hearts and spirits have been moved by Melinda Weeke’s love, passion and commitment to our work.  The following is a small tribute to a powerful and beautiful sister who has forever shaped our lives for the better.  We wish you the best and we will miss you!  We LOVE you. 

Through thick and thin. Truthful you have been.  Hanging with uncertainty

Sashaying with complexity. Witty and musical. Fearless and spiritual

You bring it home. With charm and aplomb. Lead on, my sister, lead on

Gracias – un millón. I love you

And I will miss you

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Mar/08/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

What We Know – Curtis Ogden

IISC Senior Associate, Curtis Ogden, reflects on the question asked in a staff learning session, “What do we know from years of doing collaborative capacity building and social change work?” Recorded at Space With a Soul in Boston.

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Mar/07/12//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

Leverage in Living Systems

Blogging this morning from the Building Energy Conference, New England’s most established cross-disciplinary renewable energy and green building gathering.  If you are here, come visit us at our IISC booth!  One of the big topics of this year’s conference and trade show is thinking in terms of systems.  In this spirit, the following post draws from an email that I recently sent to the convenor of a state-wide system change initiative that is poised to identify strategic points of leverage within the system and its component systems to nudge it in the direction of serving all people equitably in the state and ensuring community food security.  Related to this goal is the desire to support a more robust local economy and to work synergistically with ecosystems.  I believe the questions listed pertain to any complex dynamic system change effort, whether one is talking about food, education, or community energy use and production, and I welcome your thoughts . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/06/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Joy, Community, Connection

Last night we came together as IISC to bid farewell to the great Melinda Weekes; we are proud that she is moving on to be the Managing Director of the Applied Research Center.  But today’s is not a post about Melinda.  It is a post about community.

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Another Journey

Dear Clients and Colleagues,

I trust this finds you well in every way.

This March 16, 2012 will be my last day with IISC.  In April, I begin work as the Managing Director of The Applied Research Center (ARC), headquartered in New York City.  ARC is a racial justice think tank that uses popular culture, media, research and activism to promote solutions, and is the publisher of

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Mar/02/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

What We Know – Cynthia Parker

IISC Senior Associate, Cynthia Parker, answers the question asked in a staff learning session, “What do we know from our years of doing collaborative capacity building and social change work?” Recorded at Space With a Soul on February 6, 2012.

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Mar/01/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Sustainability

“Forward With,” Not “Back To”

Last weekend, while on school vacation with my family, my wife Emily and I went to hear Richard Louv speak at McKee Gardens in Vero Beach, Florida.  If you don’t know him, Louv wrote the books The Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle and is a big advocate for getting kids and adults outdoors to overcome what we calls “nature deficit disorder.”  I have heard him speak in the past, and very much appreciate his work. That said, I was a bit troubled by the public comment session and conversation after his talk.  Read the rest of this entry »

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