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June 19, 2009

At Least I Have A Glass

You know what they say—the glass is either half full or half empty, depending on your perspective. Well, I say it’s both! And the empty part has a residue, splashed up from the full part of the glass, so it’s not completely empty after all. All of this comes to mind as I mark the 10th anniversary since I was in a car accident that left me with permanent, chronic pain. This is the first time I’ve thought about how to mark the occasion. On one hand, there’s cause for great celebration. I’m alive and so are the two of my three sons who were with me that day. My husband has not spent the last ten years raising our youngest son alone. Hallelujah! The accident paved the way for us to buy a home and move our kids from three school systems into one. That’s been good for us all! And, I’ve had to adjust my understanding of what I’m physically capable of doing. That’s where the half-empty part starts to matter.

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June 18, 2009

Daddy’s Back

Next week I return to work after three blissful weeks of parental leave. Well, perhaps I should say three very full weeks (I’m not sure that nights with little sleep and days filled with constantly changing diapers constitute bliss). I am forever grateful to the Interaction Institute for Social Change for having such a humane parental leave policy, for a father no less. This is certainly not the standard in this country.

The flip side of my gratitude is the sadness that comes from needing to leave my two infant girls, and to leave my wife with her hands full. It is certainly much more than a full time job to raise three children, and considerably more to do it well. And I am sad to think of all the parents in this country who do not have anything approaching the kind of benefit we have at IISC, and hopeful that efforts to enact some kind of federal legislation will be successful.

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June 18, 2009

Daddy's Back

Next week I return to work after three blissful weeks of parental leave. Well, perhaps I should say three very full weeks (I’m not sure that nights with little sleep and days filled with constantly changing diapers constitute bliss). I am forever grateful to the Interaction Institute for Social Change for having such a humane parental leave policy, for a father no less. This is certainly not the standard in this country.

The flip side of my gratitude is the sadness that comes from needing to leave my two infant girls, and to leave my wife with her hands full. It is certainly much more than a full time job to raise three children, and considerably more to do it well. And I am sad to think of all the parents in this country who do not have anything approaching the kind of benefit we have at IISC, and hopeful that efforts to enact some kind of federal legislation will be successful.

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June 17, 2009

Scooter Reflections on Social Media Plus – the Sequel

First things first! We learned last night that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved the nominations of Bonnie Jenkins as State Department Coordinator of Threat Reduction Programs (an Ambassador level position) and Eric Schwartz as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration. IISC has worked closely with both Bonnie (currently at the Ford Foundation) and Eric (currently at Connect US) for a number of years and send our congratulations! Both are highly qualified and deeply connected to the community of nonprofits working on foreign policy and peace and security. Very good news. Now, onto the full Senate for confirmation!

As for reflections on social media, there’s a new Clay Shirky TED video describing the shifts based on the new forms of media – the ways that new media allows for a whole new many-to-many communication. He gives examples of the ways the Chinese government has tried to maintain control (in new ways). He also talks about the Obama campaign demonstrating a new way of operating – encouraging and allowing for participation on its website even when the views and organizing were going against Obama’s position. Take a look:

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June 16, 2009

Instituto Elos

When was the last time you heard an Executive Director talk about dreaming and mean it? I don’t mean to be cynical, and I do in fact consider myself an optimist, but I don’t have the best perspective on the institutionalization of the nonprofit sector in the United States. I often feel like words such as “vision” and “dreaming” have become the stale objects of grant proposals. But over the last few days here in Brazil I have been reminded that these words speak of an essential power that makes us human, these are faculties inherent in our evolutionary thrust, and it is time to reclaim them.

From Instituto Elos.

Led by Edgard Gouveia Júnior and a team of brilliant architects Instituto Elos has set out to make dreams possible again. Over the last few days I have witnessed the underbelly of this global capitalist system and human beings surviving under some of the worst living conditions many of us could imagine. This is where Elos has chosen to work. Edgar told me that he deeply believes in the symbol of the Yin and the Yang, he said that it is where darkness seems immutable that we find the brightest points of light.

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June 15, 2009

Where To Go

Like most of our clients IISC is answering the most daunting of organizational questions: Where are we? Where we do we want to go? And how are we going to get there? In other words, what’s our strategy? What is the roadmap that we can use to guide our collective action in the next three years? And while ever believing that we had a handle on the future was an illusion at best, the next three year time frame poses a level of uncertainty that can just knock your socks off.

The economic crisis in and of itself would be enough to challenge the best of strategic thinkers but the fact that we are moving through a global systems breakdown and the complete rewiring of who we are and how we function in the connected age takes the challenge to the 10th power.

And, so we are experimenting on ourselves in the hope that we can create a strategy development process that is short, sweet and doable and that we can bring to the sector.

Strategy guru, Henry Mintzberg, dedicates his book, Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through The Wilds of Strategic Management, to people interested in open fields rather than closed cages by quoting the introduction to Winnie-the-Pooh (Pooh Original Edition):

“There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called Way In, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they come to the one called Way Out, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.”

We are in the open fields and looking for the animal we love the most. We will share our journey as it continues to unfold.

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June 12, 2009

Race and Recession: How Inequity Rigged the Economy and How to Change the Rules

The American economy wasn’t created in a race-blind way and the current recession isn’t race-blind in its impacts. It stands to reason, then, that we won’t get out of the current recession fairly without paying attention to the impact of race as we create solutions.

Listen to this summary of an Applied Research Center report on the issues of race, recession, and recovery.

To read more, go to: http://www.arc.org/content/view/726/136/

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June 11, 2009

Design for a Living World

“Ecological design competence means maximizing resource and energy efficiency, taking advantage of the free services of nature, recycling wastes, making ecologically smarter things, and educating ecologically smarter people.  It means incorporating intelligence about how nature works . . . into the way we think, design, build, and live.” -David Orr

The Nature Conservancy’s “Design for a Living World” Exhibition, which recently opened (May 14th) at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, features ten designers exploring the relationship between the natural world and the products we use. Each designer was asked to develop new uses for sustainably grown and harvested materials and the results are quite beautiful in a number of different ways.

I find the idea of designing for a living (or livable) world to be a powerful invitation for those of us engaged in creating experiences to bring out the best in others (innovation, collaboration). I hear the call to be mindful and respectful of the cultural and ecological contexts in which I find myself, to work with (not against) the surrounding social/natural environment, and to think in restorative (as opposed to extractive) ways. As David Orr, environmental philosopher and author of The Nature of Design, suggests, sustainable design is all about creating harmony between intentions and “the genius of particular places” (we might add particular people). The standard for Orr is not so much efficiency or productivity, but health. So here’s to ours, fellow designers.

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June 10, 2009

Over-Working

Two weeks ago, some of us at IISC had the great fortune of participating in a WTC training called Leading From Spirit. During the training, we had some great conversations about busyness – the ways in which we, as social change activists, process designers and facilitators, find ourselves sometimes being overly busy, taking on too many responsibilities and running from one thing to the next. Some of us mentioned noticing that our ability to do things well sometimes seems impaired by this overly busy approach. (I would add that this is not something confined to those of us working for social justice and social change – but has a special twist when it’s combined with this work, which so requires us to bring forth our best selves.)

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June 9, 2009

The Hub

Emergence is an interesting thing; one might even argue that it is the most naturally occurring of all things – couldn’t we say that the universe itself just emerged and keeps emerging? As we approach the limits of the best laid out planning processes we could come up with we begin to face the fact that a world of increasing complexity cannot be managed like it is a big machine that will produce predictable and measurable outcomes. In this increasingly complex world some of us are seeking ways to align ourselves with the process of emergence, to foster and facilitate it, to serve it with sharp intentionality and to let go of command and control fantasies.

Here is where “The Hub” comes in. I had the pleasure of visiting “The Hub” in São Paulo and I find myself deeply inspired. Emergence Theory demands locality, it proposes that local micro-interactions are foundational to the emergence of new systems. “The Hub” is about co-location, it provides a physical space that is meant to “facilitate unlikely encounters” among people concerned with social change and social innovation. “The Hub – São Paulo” provides a beautiful creative space that is open, flexible and stimulating. Small teams or individual social entrepreneurs can make it their full-time home, or they can arrange to rent space there anywhere from 5 to 100 hours per month.

These social innovators may be focused on anything, and ideally on different things. In fact, given that the “The Hub – São Paulo” is still in start-up mode, I have learned that some of its tenants do not even have an explicit social mission. A space like this, without walls or fixed desks is a space where previously unthinkable projects can emerge, it is an ideal space for the intersection of fields that makes “The Medici Effect” possible – this is how innovation happens.

Hub Hosts are a lot like network weavers. Yes, they take care of details like shared printers and internet connections, but they also work to interconnect tenants using the space. Tenants are encouraged to host events and information sessions where they can share what they are working on and what they are learning. “The Hub” is a truly vibrant space where socially committed individuals can experience life in a network and begin to shed their organizational constraints. “The Hub” is just one response to the need for new forms of human organization, but it certainly is a great one, it is the sort of place from which a new world can emerge.

What other efforts to apply network theory do you know about?

For more on The Hub:
Creating an Ecology of Social Innovation

from the Kosmos Journal

For more on Emergence:
Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale

by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
by Steven Johnson

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June 8, 2009

Deep Change

It is Sunday morning and the last day of a conference that I have been attending called Deep Change: Transforming the Practice of Social Justice. We are at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the beautiful state of North Carolina. The South is a perfect location for this convening for as one of the participants said, “I long for the South to heal because if the South heals the United States heals and if the United States heals the world will heal”.

Eighty frontline organizers, intermediary organizations and funders have gathered here to learn together, deepen their connections to one another and thereby create a shared sense of identity and an expanded field of spiritual activism. This coming together is a fractal, a small slice of a movement renewed and re-grounded in “an ethic of sustainability, spirituality and a broader understanding of freedom’ committed to infusing spiritual practice into the pursuit of social justice.

I am one of the veterans here. My own activism launched 40 years ago as an anti-poverty community organizer on the Mexican border town of Laredo, Texas. Movement work at that time was inspired by and rooted in the spirituality of the civil rights, farm workers and anti-war movements. Many activists were animated by their Jewish understanding of social justice or of their Christian roots in the social gospel. As the movement and sector evolved political analysis and spirituality became disaggregated as the movement turned its attention to building effective organizations and leaders. This detour was probably an important leg of the journey but one that needs to be left behind as we seek new ways to build a just and sustainable world.

My own experience during that time had the wilderness quality of wandering and confusion for I could never understand how or why we had created this kind of oppositional thinking. I am so very grateful and inspired by this new generation of activists who are committed to re-integrating inner and outer transformation in the pursuit of social justice and transformative change.

As part of this extraordinary gathering we were enchanted and changed by our encounters with the artistry and talent of two of North Carolina’s best: Spoken Word poet, Glenis Redmond, and bluegrass musicians, Baby Cowboy.

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June 5, 2009

On, Women, Revolution and Love

I’ve never been much of a feminist. In the crucible of my political coming of age, I internalized a strong message. I could either be a ‘race woman,’ devoting myself to improving the conditions of black people, or I could ally myself with bourgeois white feminists. There were no other choices, and clearly only one was acceptable. A small group of female African American seminary students was working out a ‘wymist’ theory that took gender, race and poverty seriously but I didn’t take them seriously at the time. I constructed my identity primarily around race. Like many African American women who’ve played a prominent role in the struggle for freedom and justice, I would advocate for the community as a whole—no particular emphasis on women. Focusing on women, and especially highlighting sexism and misogyny within the black community, was an especially hard row that I didn’t want to hoe.

In the past two years, I’ve begun to take women’s work – organizing among and on behalf of women – more seriously. Why? Because I’ve begun to see a unique source of power I had missed before. I’ve worked with incredible African American and Sudanese women in the Sisterhood for Peace who working toward peace for the whole of Sudan. I’ve wept as I watched documentaries about the horrors facing women in Darfur and as I read A Thousand Splendid Suns, set in late 1980s Afghanistan. I’ve learned with great pride about Liberian organizer, Leymah Gbowee, who catalyzed the Women in Peacebuilding Network—a movement of women who were sick and tired of losing sons, brothers, and husbands to a 14 year civil war—and whose actions led to the war’s end.

From Sisterhood For Peace.

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