This video makes it clear how wonderfully complex and interconnected life is. ‘Trophic cascades’ invite us to consider how changes in one part of a living system can change other elements of the system and the system as a whole. How did wolves change the behavior of rivers in Yellowstone Park? Check it out.
“In principle, empathy can override every rule about how to treat others.”
-Frans de WaalPhoto by Vamsi Krishna
Yesterday’s post considered the importance and power of the empathic turn in networks-as-change, to ground people in deep connection with living realities, for the sake of greater imagination, justice, resilience and responsibility. Taking cues from experience and the work and studies of others, here are some thoughts for how to cultivate radical “affection” (to quote Wendell Berry) in networks:
- Go beyond abstraction to interaction – go to and meet in real places, explore them, consider how life happens there (see for example Story of Place and Heart and Soul)
In “networks-as-change,” effectiveness is grounded in affectiveness.
In an essay that I continue to revisit, the poet/essayist/novelist/farmer/ conservationist and champion of overall sanity, Wendell Berry, talks about what he calls “the turn towards affection.” Having spent many years reflecting on and pushing back against the unfortunate demonstrated human tendency to despoil landscapes and “the other,” he takes a strong stand for both deep rooted connection and . . . imagination: continue reading
Lumumba, a founding member of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and a widely respected human rights attorney, was in the initial stages of launching a sweeping set of economic reform initiatives, built on a foundation of broad-based civic participation in Jackson.
This post is the third in a three part series exploring the question, “Can collaboration be learned?” Part 1 and Part 2 appeared the last couple of days. This is an edited email exchange between Alison Gold of Living Cities, Chris Thompson of The Fund for our Economic Future, and myself. When we last left off, Alison had posed a series of questions about identifying and cultivating the will to collaborate.
On January 27, 2014 12:33 PM, Curtis Ogden wrote:
Alison, I really like your questions and feel like they would be great to take to a wider audience. I will say that I am profoundly influenced by Carol Sanford’s mentoring in all of this, and the belief that personal development is key to evolving our will, moving from a more self-centered perspective to “other” perspective, to understanding the symbiotic nature of different levels of systems. continue reading
This post is a continuation of yesterday’s entry. It is an edited email exchange between Alison Gold of Living Cities, Chris Thompson of The Fund for our Economic Future, and myself. The point of departure was a question about what it takes to teach people to collaborate, and took us to a thinking about what it takes to cultivate the will to collaborate, beyond skill and having the right attitude . . .
On January 23, 2014 9:17 AM, Alison Gold wrote:
All of this begs the question, how do you know when the will is there? Or isn’t? We seem to keep getting back to this point …
On Jan 23, 2014 at 9:27 AM, Curtis Ogden wrote:
I think that will can come down to two basic factors – having a strong “internal locus of control,” guided by and balanced with “external considering.” continue reading
Thanks to my colleague Ashley Welch for sending along the link to this video while I’ve been feeling a little under the weather. It was a great quick boost and reminded me of how silliness matters in what can otherwise become very serious work. And laughter is a legitimate and effective practice for resilience and development.
Please share with us your favorite silly and/or laughter inducing media!
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.
The other day I was interviewed by Eugene Eric Kim for a project we are working on together, and he asked – “What are some of the keys to creating the conditions for successful networks for change?” I really like the question because it spurred some interesting reflection that yielded a few off-the-cuff insights that I wanted to share, extend, and test out here.
The phrase “Bring it!” came to mind as I was thinking about what is key to creating conditions for collaborative network success, with a number of iterative qualifiers: continue reading
When we at IISC look at problem or an opportunity, we look at it through the lens of love. This doesn’t mean we approach the world with rose-colored glasses: it means that we focus on the transcendent possibilities that are apparent when we hold every person in unconditional high regard.
“Moving the Race Conversation Forward” is a report released yesterday by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation that aims to reshape the way we talk about race and racism in our country.
Seth’s main question is: “Who is in charge of the magic?”
During my early days at IISC, Linda brought me into design and facilitation of an “Innovation Lab” for one of our biggest clients at the time. It was big break, and I took it seriously. Linda, who is quite magical herself, kept reminding me of practical things that I still tend to overlook. At one point she had to remind me that it was important to give the participants a bathroom break!
- 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?
“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
- James Joyce, The Dubliners
The above quote caught my attention in light of much thinking about and work around the importance of being more fully embodied in social change efforts. This year I have personally made some commitments to more intentionally acknowledge and care for my own body, including investing in a rather basic standing desk, and recommitting to a morning workout (this post on the lasting benefits of just a 20 minute exercise routine served as an extra-added push). And I’ve been carrying this commitment directly into my work with clients, not just in terms of focusing on the importance of caring for themselves, but also grounding aspirations they have for their work. continue reading
For the past year, Carole Martin and I have been co-facilitating a “network leadership program” supported by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund called the Community Practitioners Network (CPN). The overall goal of CPN is to further develop a group of proven and promising leaders as individuals, as a cohort, and as “critical yeast and connectors” (my language, not the Fund’s) in support of community and economic development in a region that encompasses northern New Hampshire, northeastern Vermont, northwestern Maine, and southern Quebec. Throughout, we have been actively exploring a variety of leadership and network development practices for growing personal and interpersonal awareness, connectivity, alignment, resolve, resilience, and skillfulness.
In our most recent session, a two-day retreat in Pittsburg, NH, we engaged in discussion about and embodied practice of “vision.” Over the course of the two days, a robust conversation evolved about what makes vision powerful (in light of many uninspiring experiences) and its relevance in a networked world, in combination and contrasted with values. continue reading
When I told Ceasar about the Thrive Workshop he was excited about it. I remembered that when we interviewed him to become President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change he talked about his ongoing work at MIT. He described the university as a place that is focused on making things work in the real world. That certainly is IISC’s orientation. And it definitely is what the Thrive Workshop is all about.
Thrive is not for everyone. Thrive is for you if you are bursting with an idea and you just can’t get yourself to make it happen. Thrive is meant to get you started. Thrive is about getting you out of your head and into the real world. continue reading
At IISC, we began the year with some heavy-duty thinking. We’ll be writing about those ideas in future posts. Today, I want to tip my hat to my colleagues and to IISC’s Board of Directors. After spending a day on Board business, our Board members spent a day with the staff thinking about emerging new directions for IISC.
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.
Sometimes the “breakthrough” is not breaking down.
Sometimes “innovation” is having things not go the way they usually do.
Sometimes “success” is when people are willing to meet again.
The most inspiring book I read in 2013 was Across that Bridge: Life Lessons and A Vision for Change, by Congressman and Civil Rights legend, John Lewis. He built the book around several practices that are essential for social justice work: faith, patience, study, truth, peace, love and reconciliation. continue reading
Sometime around 2040 the U.S. will become a majority people of color nation, according to census projections. Already the majority of our children under the age of one are of color. These demographic shifts are underway and yet racial disparities persist in areas including educational achievement, health, and financial wealth. PolicyLink and the Center for American Progress have teamed up on a project called All-In Nation: An America that Works for All, to make the case that “strong communities of color are critical to America’s economic future.”
The following post has been reblogged from our friend Kim Klien. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
“I would love to give to the Film Festival, but I really have to devote all my giving to my children’s public school.” This sentence, said by a long-time donor in response to a request for funding renewal from a board member at a local Film Festival, helped to start a project called “Nonprofits Talking Taxes.” Starting about 10 years ago, many of us started to hear things like this from our donors. continue reading
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”.
“Stories bring brains together.”
This past week we have featured a couple of posts on empathy (see “Empathy + Equity –> Justice” and “Empathy Connect, Sympathy Disconnects”). In light of these and also on the heels of recent powerful experiences in a couple networks for change around the use of storytelling to deepen connectivity and commitment, I found the video above to be instructive. It is featured in a blog post entitled “How Stories Change the Brain” through the Greater Good Science Center.
Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of Business whose research focuses on “motivation, prosocial giving and helping behaviors, initiative and proactivity.” His work and writing, including his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, seem to have something to offer those interested in and engaged in developing networks for social change, as much of it points to data showing that organizations of all kinds benefit from fostering cultures of giving. continue reading
Last Friday, Curtis posted a clip by Brene Brown. She argues that “empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.” I want to take her thinking one step further. Empathy fuels connection. Lack of empathy fuels injustice.
“Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”
- Brene Brown
Over the past five years or so of supporting self-declared “networks” for change, I have evolved in my understanding of what is new when we call something a network, versus a coalition or collaborative or alliance. On the surface, much can look the same, and one might also say that coalitions, collaboratives and alliances are simply different forms of networks. Yes, and . . . I believe that what can make a big difference is when participants in a network (or an organization, for that matter) embrace new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. So let me propose that network approaches at their best call on us to lead with some of the following: continue reading
I’ve spent time the past week reading through Networks that Work, a handy and concise resource for developing organizational networks, written by Paul Vandeventer, President and CEO of Community Partners, and Myrna Mandell, Ph.D. The book lays out some very helpful pointers for more formally constructed networks. I have highlighted 10 points below that resonate with our experiences at IISC around supporting organizational networks for social change. My comments and extensions are in italics: continue reading
VIDEO LINK: South Africans speak to the Meaning of Mandela
We join the world in mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela; a giant of a man; the very embodiment of the intimate link between power, networks and love. His grace and humility was unrivaled, his insistence on reconciliation was an inspiration to millions. continue reading
When I take time to slow down, as I was able to do over the holiday break last week, my interest is refueled in practices that support our ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world. My line of inquiry is not simply around what can keep us energized, pull us back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but focused on how we can align our internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way and grow ourselves so we can help evolve larger systems. My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology. Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development: continue reading
Much has been written and said in the past month about President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. I think the one important gift President Kennedy gave the country was a certain hopefulness about what people could do at their best and what government could do at its best. Listen (starting at 36:30) to an excerpt from President Kennedy’s inaugural address, read by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. He enjoins the listeners to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” In these days of Washington gridlock and partisan gamesmanship, it’s a message we can stand to hear afresh!
Like Indigenous People’s Day (aka Columbus Day), Thanksgiving is fraught with historically inaccurate mythology. Check out these children’s books that tell a different story, from the point of view of Native Americans. And, if you’re in New England, consider joining United American Indians of New England for the 44th National Day of Mourning. continue reading
In the regional food system network development that IISC has been supporting, we have been making a habit of building certain rituals into our meetings. One is to invite offerings of various kinds to open and close meetings, an opportunity for people to share what matters most to them and bring more of what moves them to the conversation. The following poem has been making the rounds, and has become a favorite for some of the universals it seems to invoke. Wishing you all a deeply nourishing Thanksgiving. continue reading
Ok. That’s a bit of an over statement. But I was truly intrigued by a German town’s experiment in abolishing traffic lights and codes. Sounds like anarchy? Amazingly enough accidents are almost nonexistent.
“The major problems of the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way people think.”
— Gregory Bateson
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Joel Glanzberg. I had been hearing about Joel and his work from numerous trusted colleagues, including Bill Reed of Regenesis Group and Ginny McGinn of Center for Whole Communities. Joel describes himself as a builder, farmer, teacher, writer, storyteller, naturalist, and permaculturalist. And I would add to that, living systems thinker. Joel has cultivated a practice of seeing and working with patterns of life’s processes, and helps others to do this, for the sake of creating healthier and more whole communities of different kinds.
I was especially interested to hear more from Joel about some of the living systems principles that guide his work, and to think about how these apply to what we at IISC do around network development for social change and focusing on networks as human environments. What appears in quotes and italics below is pulled directly from Joel’s website; the comments in regular text are my own:
One of the most important courses I took in college was Justice with Michael Sandel. (These days, anyone can “take” the whole course on video.) In a TED talk, Sandel spells out a way to think about justice and a way to improve democratic discourse. Here are a few highlights from the talk:
“Much of what we think of as ‘rules’ are really just traditions and habits and assumptions that don’t get challenged until some new kid comes along who really doesn’t see the value of dying at the office or getting punched in the head, just because everyone else has.”
Thanks to Laura Moorehead of the Institute for Civic Leadership for sharing this resource with us. Jason Clarke is the founder of Minds At Work, and has been consulting to government and industry for nearly 30 years. In this talk, Mr. Clarke raises a number of interesting points about overcoming resistance to or ambivalence about change. I especially like his approach of helping people move from what is perceived as negative about change to what is interesting to what is positive. Meet people where they are and help them find that space between what is “good” and “bad”- the space of “unusual” or “different.” This is the space of artistry and innovation.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
- Lao Tzu
“Yes, sure it’s great that that community is taking a network approach. But we don’t have anything like the resources they have here.”
“No, I didn’t follow up on my commitments to the team. I acknowledge that. I’m just an “in the moment” kind of person. When I’m with the team, I’m with them. When I’m not, I’m not.”
“No, we haven’t met yet. Someone should take responsibility for getting us organized.” continue reading
Our friends at Third Sector New England (TSNE) have released an informative report about learning networks. From 2004 to 2012, TSNE and clusters of nonprofit organizations joined in a grant program designed to further social change through building relationships and sharing insights that enabled them to better work together to achieve common goals. The resource, entitled “Funding Learning Networks for Community Impact,” includes interesting explorations of the stages in the development of learning networks and the roles and functions that are key success drivers for nonprofit networks. There are also wonderful and resonant quotes throughout from participants of the Capacity Building Fund (CBF) about the power of and key contributors to effective networks, and I wanted to share a dozen that really jumped out, while strongly suggesting you consult the entire report: continue reading
Last Friday, I worked with the Network Support Team (NST) of the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) to facilitate a gathering of over 100 food system and food security activists. This was the fourth convening in the past year and a half, and featured what have become typical elements of fostering connectivity between people (welcoming and introducing ourselves to new people, learning together, making offers and requests) and alignment around the CFSA vision. And to honor what has been growing in the network as both a call for and a question about the possibility of collective action, NST members Melissa Spear, Marilyn Moore, and Jiff Martin created the following exercise to stimulate people’s thinking about how the network could “change the game” in Connecticut and boldly advance the state towards a reality where “everyone has access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food.” continue reading
Since my recent visit to LUPE in San Juan, Texas, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes LUPE’s community union model so different from most of our efforts (IISC’s and the social sector at large). César Chávez spelled described the core premise succinctly. “From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this week the Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) Network held its third annual convening. This marked the move to the third year of the F2P Network’s existence, and another significant milestone.
At the first convening in 2011, there was a mix of enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, impatience, and some reticence. Many were intrigued by the notion of this new form of multi-organizational collaboration seeking to double local food production in 10 years time, boost the state economy, and address issues of food access and security. continue reading
Reporting live from the third annual Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) Network convening, I am relishing this opportunity to work with and watch a successful network move into its third year of existence. There is much more to share about the F2P journey, which I hope to do in a follow-up post to this one, but for now, I wanted to highlight a couple of themes that continue to resonate throughout the convening and contribute to the growth and success of this network.
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.
With appreciations to Carole Martin for passing this along, I wanted to offer this poem as a reminder of the important role of listening in helping to create trust and grounded-ness in the work of social change . . .
Finding What You Didn’t Lose
When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water. continue reading
I just started reading Playing God: Redeeming the gift of power by Andy Crouch, thanks to a book reading group at my church, Grace Chapel. I’m already drawn in by the premise that power is a gift and by his central question: How do we use our power to make people and things around us flourish?
I had a virtual exchange the other day with Jane Wei-Skillern of Stanford University, as we discussed different ideas for going beyond case studies to help engage people in thinking in networked ways. This is what came to mind at the time, and I am eager to hear from others what you have done:
- In the past I have asked people to think about network forms or topologies (hub and spoke, mesh, distributed); assign different forms to pairs/trios and have them think about what examples of that form exist in their lives. What are the strengths of that form? What are its limitations? How might they shift it to be more “effective” in terms of desired impact?
In middle and high school, I challenged (and most likely annoyed) my teachers around this time of the year. I went to school in Plymouth, MA and wondered out loud why Native Americans would want to celebrate Columbus Day. “Shouldn’t it be a day of mourning for them?” I’d ask. I don’t recall any teacher having a good answer to my question or even being willing to engage in meaningful dialogue.
I am increasingly interested in how networks can help to reclaim and reshape marketplaces, bringing them back down to earth and keeping them more stimulating of local economies, helping give value to what is not formally valued, as well as shifting and restructuring flows for greater equity and abundance. So I was delighted to get a number of tips on this front from Lawrence CommunityWorks during a visit there last week. Staff and residents shared a number of ways in which they help to identify and exchange assets as a part of daily operations. For example, here is an exercise called “Marketplaces” which comes from Bill Traynor. continue reading
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.”
Yesterday, Carole Martin and I took the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network on a site visit/retreat to Lawrence CommunityWorks, to see first hand what a network approach to community and economic development looks like. There is much to be said about what LCW has done, learned, and is looking to do going forward, and some of this has already been captured in case studies and articles. Here I want to focus on one important lesson that staff and residents have learned over the past 15 years or so when it comes to taking a network approach. This lesson falls under the caution – “Avoid a Fetish for Structural Forms.” continue reading
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!
“This plane is headed to Dallas. If Dallas isn’t your destination, this would be a great time to deplane.”
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? continue reading
During his presentation at this week’s Council of Foundations Conference for Community Foundations, the Monitor Institute’s Gabriel Kasper talked about the need for innovation in community philanthropy. This included a call to examine orthodoxy in our organizations and communities, that is, the behaviors and procedures that we often take for granted with respect to the way we go about our business. This notion of orthodoxy was developed by the innovation firm Doblin and is further outlined in an article in Rotman Magazine. Gabriel then encouraged attendees to, essentially, “steal like an artist.” So in that spirit, I wanted to share the plenary exercise he had participants go through that I am particularly interested in bringing to some of the networks with which I work: continue reading
Our friend Jane Wei-Skillern recently co-wrote (along with Nora Silver and Eric Heitz) another valuable contribution to the growing “network building” body of literature, entitled “Cracking the Network Code: Four Principles for Grantmakers.” This piece is part of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ learning initiative, Scaling What Works. While the guide mainly addresses funders, it also has something for those outside of the philanthropic world. Its core offering is a set of principles to guide what the authors call “the network mindset”: continue reading
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!
We’ve been in the process of setting our direction here at Rockwood. We’re looking at our purpose, our vision, and how we will fulfill our commitments to the world. It’s been an enlivening and satisfying exploration, and as a result, it has become clear that I need to radically shift my role from one of internal management to external relationship building.
“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet
In their article, “Using Emergence to Scale Social Innovation,” Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze highlight the critical role of self-organization, spontaneous and purposeful arrangement and action without formal or “external” management, in facilitating social change. As self-organization occurs in social networks, emergent and unexpected phenomena flow through the strength and flexibility of connections between people and groups. As Wheatley and Frieze note, these emergent phenomena tend to result in “a powerful system that has many more capacities than could ever be predicted by analyzing the individual parts.” This is part of what constitutes the “intelligence” and resilience of networks. This capacity flows naturally when conditions are ripe for individuals to freely find each other and create. continue reading
Our concept of “self” is not static. It has evolved over time. That’s how we end up with concepts like the “me” generation, and the flagrant narcissism that defines our culture (see example – First World Problems).