Archive for Structural Transformation

Jun/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Structural Transformation, Your Experiences

Re-Claiming and Re-Purposing Space


Last week’s New England Food Summit was a unique opportunity to bring a conversation that had begun in the northern more production-oriented parts of the region to a place where access, equity and urban ag are leading edges of the conversation.  Food Solutions New England (FSNE) is leading a charge that challenges the imagination of people in six states to see and work together for a day in 2060 when we are able to produce (farm and fish) at least 50% of what is consumed here.  This challenge takes on unique dimensions in different parts and communities of the region. In Rhode Island, where this year’s Summit was held, this means working with the highest unemployment rate in the country, an ever more diverse population and the reality of very limited space in which to place new food operations.

But as Ken Payne, member of the Rhode Island delegation and chair of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, reminded Summit attendees, a central call is to creatively go about the work of “repurposing space” – physical, moral and economic.

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Apr/11/14//Gibrán Rivera//Liberation, Structural Transformation

Our Interior Condition

The structural vs. transformational debate is alive and well.  I’m glad that Curtis and Cynthia have been dipping back into it over the last few weeks.  It is good to start at the end: the answer is a both/and, it’s not a good idea to get stuck in binaries.


The print pictured above captures it for me.  It is Nelson Mandela’s drawing of the view from his cell at Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 30 years.

Take that in for a second.

Thirty years in jail for daring to stand up for freedom.

The print’s beauty is undeniable.

How is this perspective possible?

There was something in Mandela’s mind, something in his soul, that could not be subjugated.  Oppression doesn’t get more structural than four walls and a padlock.  But they could not take away his freedom.  This is the freedom that breaks chains.  It is the freedom that inspires the world and liberates a whole people.

Nelson Mandela is the icon that destroys the binary.  Structural and transformational integrate in his lifetime.

I agree with Curtis and Glanzberg that “The pattern most in need of shifting is not out there in the world, but in our minds.” And I agree with Cynthia that our mind changes when we become aware that others share in our condition and that our condition is the product of a very specific structure.

But there is something else happening here.

We have an interior condition.  This interior condition is significantly affected by our thinking, but it is more than our thinking.  This interior condition is significantly affected by our objective conditions, but it is more than our objective conditions.  This interior condition is profoundly individual, but it is greater than the individual – our interior is “inter-subjective.” We have a collective interior.

Bringing our care and attention to what is inside.  Nurturing, cultivating, developing, evolving what is inside.  Connecting to one another there.  Actively engaging a mutual awakening – that is the key to changing our thinking and to transforming our structures.  It is the next step to liberation.


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Mar/31/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

What needs changing in here?

Sail Away

This post continues a conversation that Curtis Ogden started last week. (Process is Where Change Happens) It’s a conversation we’ve been having for years at IISC. On one hand, we recognize the importance of understand how thinking shapes the systems we produce and reproduce. And it’s important to understand that inequities and oppression are not just a matter of thinking that can be changed simply by changing our minds. I’ve often been impatient with the “change your thinking, change the world” discourse because I’ve seen it used as an excuse for avoiding discussing the systems dynamics and the resulting inequities they produce. Still, I think there are a few ways in which focusing on the change “in here” can provide power for changing conditions “out there.”

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Mar/14/14//CMcDowell//Featured, Structural Transformation

Liberation Planning


Last week Darren Walker opened the Resilient Cities lunch reminding us that not only do we need to work to make cities resilient and sustainable, we must also work to make them just. As I listened to Xav Briggs, Joan Clos, Toni Griffin and others speak, I thought about my work at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and what working to make just cities means for planning and planners. How does one attend to the myriad issues facing cities: poverty, crumbling infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic collapse? Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/03/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Getting in Shape as a Change Agent

Reflecting on Leadership

Four compelling questions came to me via the monthly newsletter of Conditioning Leaders, led by our colleague Madeline McNeely. She’s reflecting on 20 years of work and asking herself some great questions that we should all be asking ourselves as our year gets into full swing:

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Feb/11/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Debunking Myths, Revealing Truths

Debunking Myths

Bill Gates’ 2014 annual letter debunks three myths about poverty and foreign aid. It reminds me about the power of narrative to drive decision making and action, even when the narrative is not backed up by facts. Here are the debunked myths in short form. Read the full letter for the longer version.

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Feb/03/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Three Big Questions to Change the World


The following post has been written by Royve Holladay at The Adaptive Action. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

Can three questions really change the world? Well, maybe. Let’s think about it for a minute. One thing we know about schools is that nothing stays the same for long.  Each year brings the latest “best practice.” Each week brings a new procedure and its paperwork. Each day, our students pose new challenges. Each hour, the media bombards us with news about the latest crisis. What might possibly help us keep our balance as the world shifts beneath us?

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Jan/26/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Leadership and Personal Development

The following post has been reblogged from our friend August Turak.  Check out more of August’s amazing work!

The industrial age led to the compartmentalization of life.  We turned everything into a silo.  We even siloed ourselves.  Here I am spiritual, here I am fun, here I work…  We have been looking at personal development through that limited lens.  But August Turak points us in a different direction.  He invites us to make “personal development” the central purpose of our lives.   When we make our own evolution a central purpose in our lives we become active contributors to the evolution of consciousness and culture as well as the material changes we want to see in the world.  I hope you enjoy this post from August Turak as much as we did. 

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Jan/17/14//Jen Willsea//Featured, Structural Transformation

Lessons in Emergent Alignment

Lessons in Alignment“We have to rid ourselves of the notion that innovation relies on the genius of an individual. We produce and innovate together only in networks.”

- Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire

 This is our second post about the Social Justice Funders Network. Read the previous post here

  • How might women of color working in philanthropy support each other in nurturing our radical selves?
  • How might funders advance racial justice and racial equity conversations in our philanthropic institutions in order to inform our practice?
  • What is the appropriate role for foundations in support of movements and movement building?
  • How might we be stronger allies to and supporters of youth organizing?

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Jan/10/14//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Amiri Baraka

Here is to the prophets and truth tellers of our day.  Rest in Power Amiri Baraka, we are honored to have you join our ancestors.

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Dec/26/13//Maanav Thakore//Structural Transformation

Creating Space for Collective Healing

How do we make space for collective grief and healing in a time of great loss? By transforming public space and disrupting business-as-usual! Watch this amazing flash mob in Johannesburg to see a moving tribute to Nelson Mandela.

The Soweto Gospel Choir is performing a song written during Mandela’s imprisonment.  The song is entitled Asimbonanga or “We have not seen him”.

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Dec/17/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

A Third Way of Work

Stowe Boyd has posted a provocative and largely resonant manifesto on the future of work.  Our ways of doing business are thoroughly obsolete,  “only 29% [of workers] are actively engaged with work.”  If this obsolescence is true for the private sector, it is even more true for those of us who work for justice.

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Dec/09/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Got trust?

Even before I read in the Boston Globe that trust is at an all-time low in the U.S., I was planning to write about trust. Our colleagues at Interaction Associates have been tracking the connection between leadership, trust and business performance for years. Their 2013 Trust Report reinforces earlier findings that higher levels of collaboration, trust within a company are correlated with higher performance.

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Oct/29/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Breakthrough Public Process

We work in close partnership with the Barr Foundation.  I appreciated this video of my friend Rahn Dorsey, the foundation’s evaluation director, articulating three keys to breakthrough on complex public conversations.  I specially like that Rahn’s understanding that even when the will for change is strong, it takes good process to make a way.

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Oct/23/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Gravity and the Overview

I saw “Gravity” last night.  It was a fun thriller, relatively formulaic; and yet, also of great importance.  It is significant that “Gravity” has been the top seller at the box office three weekends in a row.

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Oct/06/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

How will you use power?

We often focus on the understanding of power as a process and as a social construct rather than a fixed asset. As Beth Roy says, “power is not something you have; it’s something you do.”

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Sep/30/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Washington Gridlock

I have been thinking about today’s post for days. But, with the possible shutdown of the federal government, I wanted to raise a few questions and concerns. We have a (theoretically) representative form of government, which begs the question whose interests are actually being represented by the gridlock in Washington? Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/23/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Where’s the Growing Edge?

Several persistent questions keep us learning and experimenting.

How do we avoid re-traumatizing people of color in this work? Often, people of color in racially mixed learning spaces bear the burden of teaching through telling their own stories. While sometimes liberating, this can also re-open wounds and create resentment at having to prove one’s reality to people who may be reluctant to accept what they have not experienced. And, over time, it can be disheartening to keep extending grace to different people in different spaces for the same mistakes. Racially homogeneous caucuses are one useful antidote. How else can we avoid these dynamics, particularly working in mixed-race settings?

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Sep/15/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Ways of Being: Collaborative Strategies

The following post is part 2 of a 2 part series on some collaborative tools and strategies to help us change our selves, change our organizations and change the world.  We hope you find it helpful.  We encourage you to join the conversation! 

We are compelled by a quote from Theory U, attributed to William O’Brien “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Collaborative tools and strategies are only truly useful in the hands of practitioners whose hearts are big enough to hold the complexities, struggles, hopes and fears that accompany the work of transforming racism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/10/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Distributed Power

I’m proud to call Billy Parish a friend; he is an incredibly sweet person.  I am a fan of his commitment and imagination.  I’ve been hearing about his company, Mosaic, since it was but an idea.  I was blown away to see it featured in today’s New York Times – A Bet on the Environment. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/08/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Ways of Being: Collaborative Tools

The following post is part 1 of a 2 part series on some collaborative tools and strategies to help us change our selves, change our organizations and change the world.  We hope you find it helpful.  We encourage you to join the conversation! 

We are compelled by a quote from Theory U, attributed to William O’Brien “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Collaborative tools and strategies are only truly useful in the hands of practitioners whose hearts are big enough to hold the complexities, struggles, hopes and fears that accompany the work of transforming racism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/06/13//IISC//Structural Transformation

A New Perspective

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Sep/02/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Dialogue Triggers

Appreciating this reflection by my friend Augusto Cuginotti. In the context  of the USA I can already the resistance, “I came to work, not to be vulnerable.” In fact, we spend a lot of time designing spaces that protect us from vulnerability.  But then, how will we ever sail towards what we do not yet know?

 ”Love comes when manipulation stops; when you think more about the other person than about his or her reactions to you. When you dare to reveal yourself fully. When you dare to be vulnerable” -Joyce Brothers

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Aug/23/13//IISC//Featured, Structural Transformation

Thrive where you’re Planted

The following is a letter by Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and member of the IISC Board of Directors. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did and don’t forget to join the conversation! 

About three years ago, I noticed a stick growing in my neighborhood a few doors down from my house. It was right at the edge of the curb, angling out into the street. I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

Last summer I realized it was a fig tree. There were little bitty figs clinging to the branches. I was sure someone from the city would come by and cut it down. Clearly, it was a volunteer fig tree. No one in their right mind would have planted it so close to the street and at such an angle.

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Aug/13/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Engage the Future

How to predict the future?  It’s a bit like the alchemist’s dream, ever-seductive wishful thinking.  We can’t predict the future, not with master plans and not with meta-data.  Too many of the problems within organizations have to do with our frustrated wish for someone – ideally “the leader” – to be able to predict the future and to create stability for us. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/26/13//IISC//Featured, Structural Transformation

Black to the Land

The following post has been reblogged from our friends at and features our newest colleague Mistinguette Smith.  We hope you find it as inspiring as we did! 

Gastronomically enlightened Grist reader that you are, you’ve probably participated in a CSA, or at least heard of them. Community-supported agriculture is so common that in many circles the acronym needs no explanation. (Sorry, mini football helmet collectors, we’re talking about farmers who sell “shares” of their seasonal fruits and veggies, then deliver them to members when they’re ripe.) But a pint of locally sourced strawberries says you didn’t know a black man came up with the idea.

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Jun/27/13//Curtis Ogden//Structural Transformation

The Development Imperative

It would seem that the only way for our organizations to be of ongoing service to the larger living systems of which they are a part is for them to be adaptive and in a state of ongoing learning and development, to have a fluid state of “fit-ness” and ability to contribute generative value to the larger whole. The only way for this to happen is for the sub-teams and individuals that comprise these organizations to also be in a state of ongoing learning and development. In order to help others grow, we must commit to growing ourselves.  The leadership imperative then, is to model a commitment to personal development and to create conditions that encourage ongoing internal qualitative growth.  Management and management alone is “horizontal,” over time becomes firefighting, and eventually flatlining.  Leadership is “vertical” and takes everything to the next level.

What are you doing to create the time and space for evolution?

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Jun/24/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Unfinished March

Thanks to our colleagues at the Economic Policy Institute for “Unfinished March”—an initiative highlighting the original demands of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the work that still remains unfinished. Decide for yourself how many of the demands have been met and what’s still on our collective to-do list. Read the entire report here.

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Jun/21/13//IISC//Featured, Structural Transformation

A Journey with the Social Change Institute

The following post was written by our good friend David Roberts and can be found at  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Thanks for all your work David! 

Trying to change the world for the better — being an activist, social change agent, do-gooder, whatever you want to call it — can be exhausting and dispiriting, especially for young people launching into it full of energy and hope. What activists need most is … well, money. They’re all stressed about funding.

But what activists need next most is, for lack of a better term, recharging. They need to get together and relax, share stories, celebrate each other’s victories, commiserate over defeats, and get back in touch with deeper convictions and purposes. That’s what gives them the energy they need to keep going in the face of setbacks.

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Jun/18/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Social Change Institute

Beauty matters, nature nurtures us, this year’s “Social Change Institute” was a remarkable experience and a real privilege to facilitate. Get people with passion together, in the perfect setting, careful design and good facilitation, and good work is bound to happen.

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Jun/03/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

The Big Picture

This deceptively simple diagram delineates the first step in any collaborative process.  Unless you are defining a strategic plan for your personal development, you can safely assume that successful strategic planning is collaborative by definition.

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May/27/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

The danger of a single story

Enjoy this TED talk by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as she explains the power of a single story to define and limit our humanity. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Here’s to telling our many stories in a way that affirms all of our humanity.

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May/21/13//IISC//Featured, Structural Transformation

Every day is an investment

The following post has been reblogged from Seth’s Blog. He is a genius and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

You’re not lucky to have this job, they’re lucky to have you. Every day, you invest a little bit of yourself into your work, and one of the biggest choices available to you is where you’ll be making that investment.

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May/07/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

What Strategy Is NOT

Photo provided by Alex Pelayo. Check out the rest of his amazing portfolio here!

This post is Part III in a series on Strategic Planning and Emergence.

Your vision is not your strategy.  Neither is your plan.  Your benchmarks are not your strategy, nor your complicated grids.  Your hedgehog or your very audacious goals are not your strategy either.  Your predictions of what the future will look like, no matter how organized and well researched, are definitely not your strategy.

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May/03/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

What is Strategy

Photo provided by Alex Pelayo. Check out the rest of his amazing portfolio here!

This post is Part II in a series on Strategic Planning and Emergence.

It doesn’t make much sense to look at strategic planning without taking a look at what we mean by strategy.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on what people mean when they use the word strategy.  I like the way Thomas Rice, IISC’s founding board chair, talks about it here.  Thomas stresses that strategy is about how you choose to deploy scarce resources in order to achieve your goals.

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Apr/30/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Strategy, Planning, Emergence

Photo provided by Alex Pelayo. Check out the rest of his amazing portfolio here!

I spend a lot of time figuring out how to work with emergence.  You don’t plan emergence, you create the conditions for emergence.  But how does that fit with strategy?  How do you do strategic planning in a world that is too complex for straight lines and long timelines?

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Apr/25/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Immigration Reform and Movement

Hope you enjoy this article as much as we did! It’s a great illustration of the kinds of connections we need to make between movements–in this case immigrant rights and environmental sustainability–to stand a chance of seeing the kinds of transformation we’re seeking.

Philip Radford of Greenpeace and Bill McKibben of recently joined the growing crowd of people calling for comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship.

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Apr/23/13//IISC//Structural Transformation

Justice and Revenge

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Melissa Harris-Perry talks about restorative justice, difference between justice and revenge (Michael Eric Dyson) from this past weekend’s program. Check out her full clip on her website!

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Apr/22/13//IISC//Featured, Structural Transformation

Our Fears and Ending Violence

The following post was written by our dear colleague Frances Moore Lappe. We hope you find it as insightful and inspirational as we did.

In his book Violence, psychologist James Gilligan asked a Massachusetts prison inmate, “What do you want so badly that you would sacrifice everything in order to get it?”

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Apr/09/13//Gibrán Rivera//Inspiration, Structural Transformation

“El Hielo” by La Santa Cecilia

It’s a big week for the immigration debate among our policy makers. If you watch one video today, let it be this one.

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Apr/08/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

The Importance of Scheduling Nothing

The following post has been reblogged from Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner. We hope you enjoy this post along with some of his other blog posts! 

If you were to see my calendar, you’d probably notice a host of time slots greyed out but with no indication of what’s going on. There is no problem with my Outlook or printer. The grey sections reflect “buffers,” or time periods I’ve purposely kept clear of meetings.

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Apr/01/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Power and Persistence

I walk by this tree every so often and have been struck by the power of its roots to move the grate meant to contain them and to break the concrete meant to cover them. What are your roots? How are they giving you the power to break free from constraints?

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Mar/26/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Collaboration for Discovery

In the early days, when “normal” people first started using the web, we saw websites that looked just like our pamphlets.  We used the new technology to do the same thing we always did – until we dared to experiment.

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Mar/18/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Got Bias?

A big shout out to our colleagues at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Their recently released report “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2013” reviews what science can tell us about what implicit bias is and how it works, why it matters and how to reduce it. Here’s a quick recap:

Implicit bias results from the way our brains process data and experience. We’re wired for pattern recognition and our    brains use lots of shortcuts to make sense of the world around us. In and of itself, this isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. But, so many of the implicit associations we make are laden with stereotypes—say, between women and family, vs. men and careers. (Check out the Project Implicit to explore your implicit biases.) We absorb these associations from the world around us and they become part of our unconscious “operating system.”

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Mar/05/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Octavia and Emergence

The following post was rebloged from our friend Adrienne Maree. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

If you are a frequent reader you know of my love and admiration for Adrienne Maree Brown.  She is the one who introduced me to the work of Octavia Butler.  Art, science fiction, futurism – these are powerful exploratory fields.  Here Adrienne begins to capture what Octavia teaches us about emergence, and since we have been on the topic lately, I thought it important to share her post.

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Mar/04/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Closing the Presence Gap

The following blogpost was rebloged from our friends at Speaking Presence. We ope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

(This article, in its original form, was written in 2009 and posted on my website: I’ve since reworked it slightly and wanted to share it in this blog space. The three people described below are each composites of a number of clients who have come through my public speaking programs and services.)

Jane was bright, experienced, and the only female on her work team. Frustrated, she felt that nothing she said at team meetings was taken seriously and her participation was frequently discounted or ignored. When she came to me, she wanted to become more visible as a strong member of her team.

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Feb/26/13//IISC//Structural Transformation

Never Stop Believing

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Feb/13/13//Curtis Ogden//Structural Transformation

Design and Emergence

Working with numerous multi-stakeholder collaborative change efforts, we at IISC are often invited to help people co-create the structures and processes that will move their complex work and collective development forward.  There is never an easy or readily apparent answer and each case is unique to its particular context and nature.  A quote that I’ve found helpful to quell some of the anxiety that comes up around this work, especially among those who want to rush to adopt a structure that others have used and “get on to the work” (more on this false dichotomy here), comes from Fritjof Capra from the Center for Ecoliteracy.  Capra writes about the importance of recognizing and working the dynamics of life. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/08/13//IISC//Structural Transformation

“We don’t need to make it better”

The following post has been reblogged from our amazing friends at Seth’s Blog. We hope you like it as much as we did! 

Improvement comes with many costs.

It costs time and money to make something better. It’s risky, as well, because trying to make something better might make it worse. Perhaps making it better for the masses makes it worse for the people who already like it. And risk brings fear, because that means someone is going to be held responsible, and so the lizard brain wants out.

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Feb/05/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Change is Hard

“Change is hard because people don’t only think on the surface level. Deep down people have mental maps of reality — embedded sets of assumptions, narratives and terms that organize thinking… People almost never change their underlying narratives or unconscious frameworks…”

This is David Brooks, focusing on the woes of a Republican Party that is struggling to reinvent itself.  But the fact applies to all sorts of change.

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Jan/27/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

A Down-to-Earth Economy

The following post has been reblogged from our friends at yes! Magazine. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

Nature surrounds us with expressions of the organizing principles that make possible life’s exceptional resilience, capacity for adaptation, creative innovation, and vibrant abundance.” Read on as David Korten outlines how paying attention to natural systems can help us develop human systems that will sustain us for the long haul.

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Jan/14/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

“The World Needs Us to Be Fearless”

As they neared their 15th anniversary, the Case Foundation published “To be Fearless” as both a reflection on its work and a challenge to philanthropy and the social sector. The following are excerpts from this report, written by Cynthia Gibson and Brad Rourke for the Case Foundation. (“To Be Fearless,” The Case Foundation, 2012.)

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Jan/07/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

“The Icarus Deception”

Everything has changed forever.  It is a time of upheaval and upheaval is not comfortable.  But it is from here that we build a new world.  Fly Closer to the Sun.

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Jan/07/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Six Rules for Allies

The following post has been reblogged from our friends at Community Change Inc.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

Community Change, Inc. is a Boston-based resource for people working for racial justice. Enjoy this resource from their series “Creating the Counter-Narrative, challenging the post-racial, colorblind public discourse on race and racism.” Enjoy this talk by Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance and of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

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Dec/04/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

When Should We Collaborate

I like to describe IISC as a collaboration shop.  We look at collaboration through three lenses.  When looking through the lens of networks we are acknowledging a shift from “complicated to complex” (see image).  We often rely on the Cynefin framework to encourage an attitude of exploration, a more open attitude than the quest for technical answers that obsesses so much of our work for social change.

I had not seen the overlay of complexity and collaboration that Shawn Callahan articulates so well.  I love the work of our friends at Anecdote, and this blog post is a must read:

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Nov/30/12//Jen Willsea//Structural Transformation

Collective Impact Starting with One

I often feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of change that’s needed and how far we have to go to realize the just society we’re working towards. It can feel daunting and on a bad day, nearly impossible.

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Nov/27/12//IISC//Structural Transformation

On Trojan Mice

The following post was written by Harold Jarche. An incredible and informative post, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 

In Organizations don’t tweet, people do, Euan Semple talks about Trojan mice, an idea he got from Peter Fryer at These are small change initiatives, that do not require the coordinated effort of something like a Trojan horse:

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Nov/13/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation


Today we often use the word extraordinary to refer to something amazing, something great.  The overwhelming re-election of the nation’s first Black President through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is a truly extraordinary event.

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Oct/30/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Stay Open

Our paradigm is our lens on everything.  It is how we make sense of reality.  For example, a deterministic paradigm is a lens that makes you see everything in terms of cause and effect.  It gives you a mechanistic lens with which to make sense of the world.  Determinism can be a really useful perspective – one way of looking at things – but it becomes a problem if it is your paradigm – THE way in which you look at things.

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Oct/23/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

What is School For?

“If it’s work we try to figure out how to do less, if it’s art we try to figure out how to do more.”  Regular readers of our blog know that we are big fans of Seth Godin here at IISC.  And if you’ve been to anything I’ve trained or facilitated you have probably heard me rail against the dominance of an obsolete industrial paradigm.

In this video, Godin asks “What is school for?” and he clearly points to all the industrial trappings that are badly limiting how we educate our young – even in “high performing” contexts.  We are in the middle of a significant paradigm shift, and this is one of our most important questions.


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Oct/15/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

What is Good Work?

“No good work is ever done while the heart is hot and anxious and fretted.” Olive Schreiner

I couldn’t agree more! We’re fond of a related quote that “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Bill O’Brien

I know that it’s hard for me to do good work when I’m fretful, exhausted or feeling insecure.

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Oct/08/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

How to Design Culture

The following blog post was reblogged from Emergent By Design.  We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did!  

*Our source was initially and inadvertently omitted. We apologize for the mistake.  

I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of organizations over the years that want to shift their culture to become more diverse, inclusive and equitable. The article we are posting below is about changing culture in general. What specific applications do you see for shifting organizational culture toward greater diversity, inclusiveness and equity?

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Sep/25/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Process and Culture

I’m a process junky.  I believe that good process makes it possible to do things that would be impossible otherwise.  Any effort ambitious enough to try and shift a system from competition to common intention is an effort that must rely on good process.  Good process provides and often temporary social architecture that is designed and facilitated to maximize generative collaboration.

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Sep/18/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

#Occupy – Year 1

I love the fact that the mainstream can’t get its head around what #occupy is all about.  I am glad the movement does not fit a pre-existing paradigm.

I love the fact that occupiers themselves find no consensus on what #occupy is all about.  It means the movement is still emergent and therefore most alive.

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Sep/11/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Emergent Strategy

There is nothing wrong with strategic planning – except when we believe that strategy unfolds as planned.  A good strategic planning process is one that crystalizes our intention.  It is the process through which we articulate a clear vision of where we want to go.  And it is how we come to a clear agreement on which direction we are going to take.  It is not insurance on the future.  The map can never be the territory.

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Sep/03/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Happy 130th Birthday

Happy 130th Birthday, [Organized] Labor Day!

On this Labor Day, let’s remember its origins in the ranks of organized labor. But first, a look at which workers we’re celebrating today.

Who’s unionized now?  (Source: Huffington Post: Labor Day History: 11 Facts You Need to Know)

Service station attendants 96,000

Musicians, singers and related workers 179,000

Bakers 183,000

Pharmacists 232,000

Firefighters: 258,000

Chefs and head cooks: 281,000

Taxi drivers and chauffeurs 286,000

Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists: 718,000

Farmers and ranchers 825,000

Teachers 6.5 million

Not to mention health care workers, police and many other professions.

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Jul/24/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Be Fearless

I met Katya Fels Smyth about four years ago at the Opportunity Collaboration, I remember sitting next to her on the bus to the conference site and being immediately intrigued by her passion and by the very idea of a Full Frame Initiative. It so happens that Ceasar McDowell, our new IISC President is on the Board of the Full Frame Initiative. We are truly proud to have him be our “Fearless Leader.” The following blogpost was written by Katya for the Case Foundation’s  Fearless Campaign.  Here is my favorite line: “be agnostic as to ‘issue’ but laser focused on people”

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Jul/17/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Organizing or Mobilizing

Marty Kearns, our friend at Netcentric Advocacy, tackles an important distinction and invites us to strategize with the difference in mind.  I found this this to be an excellent piece for advocates.

Organizing and Mobilizing – 2 Distinct Strategies in Your Advocacy Effort.

I have been struggling lately to get more clarity on the concepts of organizing and mobilizing. These are terms of art in my world but often see the concepts mashed together.  These terms do not mean the same thing in an advocacy context and BOTH are very important.

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Jul/16/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Engagement before Efficiency

In this post, Jeremy Liu (an esteemed IISC Board member) encourages the community development field “to figure out how to embrace the strengths of our past as a movement, even more so than becoming more established as an industry.” I think this is wise advice for many fields in the nonprofit sector, where so many organizations and institutions emerged from resistance movements and have passed through various stages of institutionalization and even bureaucratization. Jeremy ends with an important invitation for the community development field that could easily be for all of us: “it will continue to be important for our field to question itself, to ask itself what we want to create for our communities, to ask ourselves how to best achieve that vision for the future. We must be prepared to put aside past industrial practices and perhaps embrace emergence and people once again.”

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Jun/05/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation


Last week we started to take a look at Kevin Kelly’s take on the benefits of swarm systems.  We are wondering what are the implications for movement builders.  We looked at how important it is for us to be adaptable.

Kelly also says that swarm systems are evolvable.  He says that these are:

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May/29/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation



I’m a huge fan of Kevin Kelly.  I really think of him as the prophet of the digital age.  He has done lots around complexity.  And he has spent time looking at swarms.  In “Bootstrapping Comlexity,” Andrea Lloyd’s “remix” of Kelly’s book “Out of Control” we find a useful list of benefits and apparent disadvantages of swarm systems.

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May/25/12//IISC//Featured, Structural Transformation

Rice on Strategy

The following post is from IISC’s Founder and Board Chair, Thomas Rice, he writes in response to Gibran’s recent post on Strategy and Tactics


This is a timely conversation to focus on, important on a number of dimensions. But you wisely place strategy in the context of the larger matrix: going macro toward mission, vision and values; going micro toward tactics.
But, first of all, to the definitions. Intuitively, we all know the centrality of strategy, whether we define it or not. The Obama administration is being blamed for “a failed strategy” in pulling us out of the recession; Apple lost the initial technology battle to Microsoft because they had a “flawed strategy”( failure to see the leverage of licensing the product). So, what is this thing we all claim to know so much about?
The word strategy is derived from the Greek(isn’t everything!) strategia, meaning “generalship”, itself a compound of two words–stratos (army) and agein (to lead). Note the implicit connection between strategy and leadership.

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May/21/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Strategy and Tactics


I just read a helpful Upmarket blog post on the distinction between strategy and tactic.  It was almost a relief to know that the business sector also struggles with the distinction.  Confusing these two terms has led to a lot of trouble in our work for social change.

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May/01/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Lessons from Frances

Today is May Day.  A few weeks ago I had the unique opportunity to share some ideas about working with complexity with a group of funders who are committed to social justice.  It was quite an honor to sit in the same panel as the great Frances Fox Piven and the amazing Ai-Jen Poo.

Ai-Jen was recently named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. I’ve been following her work for a while and I can tell you that the mention is well deserved.  Frances has influenced, informed and inspired thousands of people who have committed their life to this work.

In the presence of such an elder and a luminary anyone would be a fool not to take notes.  I thought I would share some highlights from Frances’ talk with you: Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/30/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

How will you use power?

 We often focus on the understanding of power as a process and as a social construct. As Beth Roy says, “power is not something you have; it’s something you do.” I was struck by a contrast as I listened to a brief story this morning about Lyndon B. Johnson.

Biographer Robert Caro described Johnson as having “no power” as Vice President because the Kennedy’s didn’t want him to have any. When President Kennedy was assassinated, he suddenly had all the power conferred by that office. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/25/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Three Years Later

Last weekend I had a most unique privilege.  I facilitated the final retreat of a three-year process.  I have been working with the Barrboletas, the Barr Fellows cohort of 2009, since their inaugural learning journey to Brazil in June of that year.  We have a book worth of documentation.  The fellowship as a whole will be highlighted in the May issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  This post is a celebration of their last retreat as a cohort – they will continue to participate in an exciting plethora of network activities as they are moved and able.

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Apr/23/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

Process sows the seeds of Peace and Justice

Wonder why I’m passionate about collaborative process and strong, creative process design?

Join us at Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work on May 8-9 in Boston to explore these ideas and more!

You can’t have peace or justice without it. Consider the following:

Peace comes from being able to contribute the best that we have, and all that we are, toward creating a world that supports everyone. But it is also securing the space for others to contribute the best that they have and all that they are.” So says Nigerian human rights and democracy activist, Hafsat Abiola. Her words echo those of John Paul Lederach , who wrote in The Moral Imagination that peace is not a condition—a process through which people can build relationships conflicting parties and continually engage to create a reality where “the other” continues to exist.

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Apr/10/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

On Planning


Last week Seth wrote a blog post titled When execution gets cheaper, so should planning.  Provocative statement, specially when planning is at the score of your business!

Here is how he concludes:

The goal should be to have the minimum number of meetings and scenarios and documentation necessary to maximize the value of execution. As it gets faster and easier to actually build the thing, go ahead and make sure the planning (or lack of it) keeps pace.

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Apr/04/12//Curtis Ogden//Structural Transformation

A U-turn for Youth Opportunities

This post comes courtesy of staff from the Center for Arab American Philanthropy who attended the convening in Michigan that Cynthia and I facilitated last week. As the post mentions, youth played a key role in the proceedings, offering up moving testimonials and powerful elements of a vision for moving the state forward to a place of opportunity for all . . .

Concerned with issues of youth opportunity and racial equity in Michigan, the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) hosted State of Opportunity? The Road Ahead for Michigan on March 27. The Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP) was in attendance, representing the Arab American community while the convening tackled structural racism in philanthropy and “cradle to career” grantmaking. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/02/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Simple Tools, Powerful Possibilities


Last week, I had the privilege of spending a few hours with a delegation from Egypt—four young men who were involved in the April 6th revolution and continue to work for democracy in Egypt. They were at the end of a three week tour of the U.S. focused on the role of social media in politics and elections.They were frankly surprised that here, in the country that gave birth to Facebook, Twitter and Google, we not doing more with social media to advance our democracy. Their visit with IISC was to focus on some of the social technology that fuels social change work. Still, I thought to myself, “No pressure!”

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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/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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Jan/30/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Reflect and Strengthen

I asked my colleagues for suggestions about grassroots leaders and organizations doing great things in the world. One suggestion was Boston-based Reflect & Strengthen, which turned ten in 2011.

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Dec/27/11//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation


I’ve been reflecting on five years of work here at the Interaction Institute for Social Change.  As inside so outside.  My life has changed dramatically over the last five years.  And so has the world.  Seriousness about social transformation, commitment to the evolutionary process, a burning thirst for justice – a posture that demands sharp attunement with the present moment.

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Jul/12/11//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Exploded Democracy

I recently came upon the following abstract of a paper we presented at the Sutures Conference in the University of Toronto back in 2003.  I was intrigued by the continuing relevance of the concept and how these ideas continue to inform my work: Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/07/11//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Power and Priorities

“You don’t understand, the United States will not be making cars.”  The film Climate Refugees quotes President Roosevelt speaking to auto executives at the outset of World War II.  Most of us know about the mobilization of American industry to build a war machine capable of defeating the Axis Powers.  Fewer of us understand what it took. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/02/11//Curtis Ogden//Structural Transformation

Systems Thinking and Racial Justice

“Moving from a transactional to a transformational paradigm requires structural change.”

- john a. powell

Systems Thinking and Racial Justice Featuring Professor john powell from Bella Celnik on Vimeo.

Much appreciation goes out to our friends and colleagues in the Leadership Learning Community for hosting this May 16th webinar with esteemed Professor john powell, Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study on Race and Ethnicity, and the Gregory H. Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  IISC has been privileged to have partnered in the past with staff of Kirwan to shed light on the complex systemic nature and inter-sectional realities of racialized outcomes in our country.  You can also check out other interviews, like this one, with Professor powell.

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May/16/11//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

95% Failure

Photo by: vincentevanpig

I was just talking to a scientist friend of mine.  He told me, and I quote, that “unfortunately, in science, we fail 95% of the time, we inch along towards a breakthrough.”  There is a lot of good talk about failure lately, but I don’t think I had ever heard it this way before.  When I heard him say that I felt like I wished it was a widely known fact. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/25/11//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Structural Transformation

Voices Calling



We at IISC have the privilege of witnessing heartful, sometimes heart wrenching dialogue about critical issues in our world from multiple perspectives. We work with passionate laypeople and professionals focused on education, environment and sustainability, public health, peace and justice, youth development, racial justice, city planning and community development, to name a few disciplines.

I’m encouraged by a few themes that are coming up more and more in our work. And, I’m even more encouraged that increasingly, they are emerging as imperatives, not just “nice ideas.”  As we facilitate processes and bear witness to the struggle to bring forth justice, here are some of the voices we’ve heard calling out: Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/14/10//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

No Labels

The “No Labels” political effort feels more like the work of well resourced spin doctors than an emergent political movement that can address the paralyzing institutional polarization that might bring our country to its knees.  I was struck by this quote from a New York Times story focused on Bloomberg’s role:

In fact, though, the rise of the independents represents a movement in exactly the opposite direction — away from party organizations altogether…  This isn’t so much a political phenomenon as it is a cultural one. In the last decade or so, the Web has created an increasingly decentralized and customized society, in which a new generation of voters seems less aligned, generally, with large institutions. and the Tea Party groups, for instance, were born as protests against the establishments of both parties, and they empowered citizens to create their own agendas, rather than relying on any elected leadership. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/21/10//Cynthia Silva Parker//Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion, Structural Transformation

Power and Love


photo by partie traumatic

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This often quoted comment by Dr. King forms the foundation of Adam Kahane’s new book,  Love and Power: A theory and practice of social change. Melinda Weekes and I attended a recent book talk by Adam, attracted to the topic because, at IISC we’ve been thinking through and practicing the connections among power, love, networks and collaboration for years now.  Much of what Adam shared resonates with our thinking. The book builds on the thinking of theologian Paul Tillich.   His definitions are worth taking a closer look:

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May/26/10//Linda Guinee//Structural Transformation

Building a Bridge

Based on the recent conversation we’ve been having here, I thought I’d re-post from last April.

For a while, I’ve been fairly unsuccessfully trying to create a space in my apartment that works both for my heart and for my head. My meditation cushion is there as well as my altar and poetry and spiritual books. It also has my desk, computer and bookshelves overstuffed with books and journals about power, white privilege, race, class, genocide, conflict and social issues. If I’m honest, it’s the most chaotic room in my apartment.

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May/25/10//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Policy and Community


My recent post on the limits of policy elicited a very good conversation.  One of the things that became evident is that in some settings people are so focused on their personal development and their community life that they pay little attention to the issues of the day.  In other settings people are so focused on the fight for justice through policy change that they pay little attention to their own well being or to the hard work of building community. Read the rest of this entry »

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May/07/10//IISC//Structural Transformation

Our Bodies Carry Our Histories With Us

(A re-posting from June 2009)

One of the blessings I’ve experienced in our social change work as process experts and professional facilitators is the exposure we get to have to various fields of social change work. Since last October, my colleague Andrea and I have had the pleasure of consulting with an amazing collaborative of stakeholders, the Springfield Health Equity Initiative, who have determined to build a plan to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the black and brown neighborhoods in the city of Springfield, MA. Even more boldly, these dedicated and thoughtful leaders have also chosen to take up an analysis for their work that incorporates how systemic, government sanctioned, racial discrimination has  played a direct role in creating the egregious disparities in health outcomes we see today among black and brown folk in the U.S., and regardless of class. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/06/10//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Community and Happiness


DISCLAIMER:  Dear Progressive friends, I have not sold out!  I still believe in economic justice and I remain painfully aware of the racialized outcomes of poverty.

I feel like part of my mission in life is to expand the lens with which we look at our quest for social transformation.  One of the points I keep harping on is the point that happiness matters.  And this is why a recent David Brooks column caught my attention. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/15/10//IISC//Structural Transformation

King Day Reflection: Haiti, Katrina & Our Values

Haiti. I’m sure I’m not the only one who watches with profound sadness at the loss of life and devastation by way of natural disaster and makes direct comparisons to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and its blow to the precious people of New Orleans.

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Nov/20/09//IISC//Structural Transformation

Story of the Shoe Store Pink Slip

I heard a wonderful sacred story yesterday. It was shared by a member of SEIU’s in-house training arm (SEIU is the union representing service workers — janitors, custodians, parking attendants, homecare workers, etc.) in a conference I was asked to attend as a guest faculty member on behalf of IISC. The day began with a brilliant invitation to share personal stories exemplifying  “change” in our lives. The true story that follows was just one of many captivating, poignant, death-defying stories my ears had the pleasure of taking in yesterday. What an experience it was! Herein The Story of the Shoe Store Pink Slip (title mine), as told by “L”: Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/03/09//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Time for Transformation

I am an admiring fan of angel Kyodo williams and a few weeks ago she called my attention to a powerful blog post she wrote, “doing darkness,” it has been on my mind since.  I invite you to take the time to read and contemplate it.  Angel is inviting us to take a close look at the distinction between change and transformation.  She proposes – and I agree – that while change is something that can be undone with a shift in context, transformation is something that can not be undone.

This proposition appeals to my own commitment to the evolutionary paradigm, and to an idea of social movement that demands our conscious engagement with our own evolution.  Angel’s in an excellent articulation, and so I would rather you give your time to reading her piece than to anything else I could say about it.

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Sep/15/09//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Bringing Honesty Back

One of the issues with the current funding system is that it tends to invite dishonesty from organizations seeking grants.  And perhaps we should not say dishonesty, but the system certainly makes it easy to fall into the temptation of overstating the case, of presenting an aspirational goal as an established reality.  This pattern is detrimental to everyone involved.  It hurts the funders who will not be able to meet their goals even if they believe they are funding with purpose.  It hurts those being served, organized or mobilized, and it certainly hurts the organizations who get caught in the game.

Part of the problem with the normalization of this often subtle dishonesty is that it actually keeps organizations from staring their own reality in the face.  As a consultant to all kinds of organizations, from foundations to the grassroots, I experience this insidious state of non-truth as a serious obstacle to my own work.  We can’t help an organization move if the organization can not be honest about where it is.  The situation forces us to spend a lot energy surfacing the truth, but if we were starting from truth then we would be able to use that energy to hit the ground running. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/11/09//IISC//Structural Transformation

Remembering 9/11

Eight years ago Today:

  • 8:46 am – AA Flight 11 hits the North Tower of the WTC 
  • 9:03 am – UA Flight 175 hits the South Tower
  • 9:37 am – AA Flight 77 hits the Pentagon
  • 9:59 am – South Tower falls
  • 10:03 am – UA Flight 93 crashes in Shanksville, PA  
  • 10:28 am – North Tower falls

As a nation of families, neighborhoods, communities and citizens, let’s pause to remember the lives and courage of the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives 8 years ago today, on September 11, 2001.

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