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December 6, 2022

Principles and Questions for Advancing Equitable Wellbeing

“Our drive for wellbeing is universal. Our access to wellbeing is not.”

www.wellbeingblueprint.org/blueprint  

One of my greatest joys is weaving connections between initiatives with which I am partnering. Over the past several months this has shown up, in one instance, as creating bridges and partnerships between the Full Frame Initiative (creators of and conveners around the Wellbeing Blueprint) and a few other networks, including Food Solutions New England and the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network.

What these and many other networks that I am working with, have in common, is a commitment to social (and particularly racial) equity, characterized in large part by a vision of equitable wellbeing and a deeply rooted sense of belonging for all people, in food, public health, legal aid, and related fields. The Full Frame Initiative has developed a robust body of work, that brings nuanced attention to what supports individual and collective wellbeing, systemically. This includes focused attention on different domains of wellbeing, as well as a set of principles that are meant to help people design systems that give everyone access to wellbeing.

Inspired by FFI’s work, I took their set of principles and turned some of what was presented as a set of descriptive statements into questions that might help different kinds of social service providers and policymakers integrate wellbeing into their work. Curious to know which of these catch people’s attention, and what they might and or adjust for their particular system change work.

Principle 1: Start with what matters to people: wellbeing.

  1. Are our decision-making processes being informed by the lived experiences and expertise of people receiving services/most negatively impacted?
  2. Are we defining people by the issues they are facing? Are we seeing them as whole people with their own strategies for navigating systems? 
  3. Are we asking people to make unsustainable tradeoffs in our service models/ policy work? 
  4. Are our services trauma-informed and culturally responsive, recognizing the different challenges and values at play in our lives?
  5. Are we using/supporting “restorative” practices to help repair communities harmed by systemic racism and inequities? 

Principle 2: Push against harms in communities already facing the greatest adversity.

  1. Are we reaching/considering the least resourced/capitalized communities in our area? 
  2. Are we addressing biases in expectations for the outcomes of those receiving services/most negatively impacted?
  3. Are we supporting and creating space for creative solutions, including from those receiving services? 
  4. Are we collecting data on structural/systemic barriers and how people receiving services/most negatively impacted work around these barriers?
  5. Are we reducing barriers to accessing services/policy-making, including cognitive barriers and biases by service providers/policy makers?

Principle 3: Build on social connections and social capital.

  1. Are we removing obstacles to family/community members helping one another?
  2. Are we enabling and enhancing social networks in our policy work, especially for those receiving and providing services/most negatively impacted?
  3. Are we supporting community-driven change? 
  4. Are we hiring/compensating people with lived experience in navigating structural challenges?

Principle 4: Build/support financial security.

  1. Are we ensuring that our services/policies we are advancing do not require (further) financial sacrifice and that they do support or connect to others supporting financial wellbeing?
  2. As we provide direct services, are we also attending/connecting to anti-poverty work and programs?
  3. Are we addressing inequality perpetuated by policies that undermine families’/ communities’ ability to accumulate wealth and savings?

Principle 5: Span boundaries.

  1. In our services/policy work, are we leveraging different and diverse aspects of the human experience, including arts, culture and joy?
  2. Are we advocating for change within and across systems?
  3. Are we identifying and illuminating when policies of one system (including the one in which we work) create barriers in other systems for those receiving our services?

Principle 6: Set our default to sustaining changes beyond the pandemic.

  1. Even as some changes made during the pandemic need to be reversed, altered, or further refined, are we nonetheless defaulting to sustaining whole-person focused and equitable well-being supporting systems?

Find out more by visiting the Wellbeing Blueprint and consider becoming a signer!

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December 1, 2022

Network Weaving for Equitable Wellbeing (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of the one that appeared earlier this week (Tuesday, November 29th), and together both form an extended article that was written for participants of this month’s Wellbeing Summit, hosted by the Full Frame Initiative.

What is network weaving?

“A network weaver is someone who is aware of the networks around them and works to make them healthier.”

June Holley (writer, activist, network consultant)

Network weaving is an umbrella term for the practice of network leadership/stewardship, and it refers to a specific role. If you think about weaving with fabric, it is about bringing different strands together to create a tapestry or cloth of some kind. This can create beautiful patterns, functional garments, and also strength where individual fibers might otherwise be relatively weak. The same goes for weaving connections between people, places and ideas. This is what network weaving is about! 

Network weaving is not necessarily the same thing as networking. Networking is generally about putting oneself at the center and making connections to others that create what is called a hub-and-spoke network (see middle image below). 

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.” It’s always about critical connections.”

– Grace Lee Boggs (author, social activist, philosopher)

A core activity in network weaving is what is called “closing triangles.” This happens, for example, when we connect people we know who do not already know each other. This effectively creates a triangle of connection (see the many triangles created through the connections in the left hand image above). These triangles, by extension, can bring the connections that those three people know together, potentially creating more diversity, intricacy and robustness in a larger network (see image below). This is how we can begin to realize a sense of abundance, if these many connections are actively engaged, sharing, contributing and caring for each other and the whole network. 

The work of network weaving is also about strengthening existing connections, keeping them warm and engaged. This can happen through activities such as asking questions, making requests and offers, and sharing resources of different kinds.  Beyond this core function of supporting greater connectivity, network weaving can also be about supporting greater alignment and coordinated or emergent/self-organized action in networks. Other key moves for weaving and activating networks can include:

  • designing and facilitating processes to achieve a sense of shared identity/destiny
  • curating a variety of resources for and diverse communication pathways between members
  • creating conditions for self-organized and emergent action
  • helping to coordinate joint ventures

What do networks and network weaving have to do with having a fair shot at wellbeing?

“Connectedness is a social determinant of health. The degree to which we have and perceive a sufficient number and diversity of relationships that allow us to give and receive information, emotional support and material aid; create a sense of belonging and value; and foster growth.”

– Katya Fels Smyth (wellbeing/justice advocate, Full Frame Initiative founder)

Wellbeing, as defined by the Full Frame Initiative (FFI), is “the set of needs and experiences that are universally required in combination and balance to weather challenges and have health and hope.” FFI notes further that everyone is wired for wellbeing, but we do not all have a fair shot at  the core determinants of wellbeing, or what FFI uplifts as the 5 Domains of Wellbeing

  • Social connectedness to people/communities that allows us to give and to receive, and spaces where we experience belonging to something bigger than ourselves. 
  • Stability that comes from having things we can count on to be the same from day to day and knowing that a small bump won’t set off a domino-effect of crises.
  • Safety, the ability to be ourselves without significant danger or harm.
  • Mastery, that comes from being able to influence other people and what happens to us, having a sense of purpose and skills to navigate and negotiate our life. 
  • Meaningful access to relevant resources like food, housing, clothing, sleep and more, without shame, danger or difficulty.

The first domain above has clear connections to networks and network weaving. Being embedded and engaged in supportive social networks is a great contributor to individual and collective wellbeing! Beyond this, being connected to others in authentic, caring and mutually rewarding webs of relationships can contribute to a sense of stability, safety, purpose, as well create access to resources (financial and otherwise) that sustain and enliven us. So let’s notice the networks around us, who is in them and who is not, who has access to the five domains (see above) and who does not, and invite others to do the same. Ask, What systemic changes need to be made for greater inclusion, equity and belonging?” And then together, let’s weave our way to everyone having a fair shot at wellbeingll!

“i think of movements as intentional worlds …  not as an unfolding accident of random occurrences, but rather as a massive weaving of intention. you can be tossed about, you can follow someone else’s pattern, or you can intentionally begin to weave and shape existence.”

– adrienne maree brown (author, doula, activist)

For more on network weaving, see: 

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November 29, 2022

Dispatches from the Field: What It Takes to Advance Racial Equity

Last week, the REACH Fund (the Racial Equity to Accelerate Change Fund of Borealis Philanthropy) invited us all to participate in the building of a collective muscle that reflects the future we envision. With Kelly Bates from Interaction Institute for Social Change and Natalie Bamdad from Change Elemental leading the way, we explored the journey of racial equity, trends we should anticipate, and what’s needed from philanthropy to elevate and prioritize this vital work.

Here are a handful of high-level learnings the REACH Team shared after the conversation with Kelly and Natalie: 

  • We must expand our lens for the type of work that contributes to the advancement of racial equity. Racial equity work is about more than toolkits and evaluative reports—it is about data and also storytelling, relationships, process, design, healing, and implementation. As funders, we must acknowledge the value and breadth of this work and its unique component parts.
  • The pie is big enough for everything. Funders must abandon a scarcity mindset in funding racial equity work and choose multiple streams of work to resource. The potential for change is limitless when we collectively approach our work with abundance.
  • Racial equity work is reparations. Racial equity work is reparatory work. As funders, we have to acknowledge the source of concentrated wealth, incorporate this history into our funding decisions, and let resources “flow like a river.” 
  • Philanthropy must grapple with the scale of transformation needed. Part of “readiness” for radical racial equity work is understanding the depth of engagement required to untangle the impacts of white supremacy on our organizations and ourselves. Racial equity work is not one-off, project-based work. It is a years-long journey and a vision that must be embedded into the core of our organizations.
  • We have to design for the future we envision. Ultimately, racial justice requires we exist to serve the future we envision—not simply act against oppressive and oppositional forces. We must center our vision for the future in our organizations’ racial equity journeys and missions. 

The REACH Team also shared that they were meditating on a lesson they learned long ago—one that speaks to their Fund’s very existence, which they are reminded of repeatedly: the work of racial equity practitioners is vital to leading the movement ecosystem towards liberatory principle and practice. The wisdom, approach, and tools of these facilitators, coaches, and healers are essential to supporting the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to dismantle and repair the systems designed to uphold white supremacy—and, importantly, to do so in a way that centers healing and joy. 

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November 29, 2022

Network Weaving for Equitable Wellbeing (Part 1)

The following post was written for those who will be attending the Full Frame Initiative’s (FFI) Wellbeing Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina December 11-14. The Interaction Institute for Social Change has been supporting FFI staff and signers of the Wellbeing Blueprint in developing network ways of thinking and doing as they work to equitable wellbeing in systems ranging from health care to transportation to housing to education to legal aid to food and beyond. Feel free to sign the Wellbeing Blueprint by going to the link above and join the movement to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at wellbeing.

“It really boils down to this: all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (minister, activist, civil rights leader)

What are networks, and why should we care?

Networks are collections of “nodes and links,” different elements that are connected to each other. These nodes or elements could be people, places, computer or airport terminals, species in an ecosystem, etc.  Together, through their connections, these nodes create something that they could not create on their own. This is what some might call “collective impact” or what network scientists call “net gains” and “network effects.”

“While a network, like a group, is a collection of people, it includes something more: a specific set of connections between people in the group. These ties are often more important than the individual people themselves. They allow groups to do things that a disconnected collection of individuals cannot.”

– Nicholas A. Christakis (sociologist, physician, researcher)

Network effects and net gains can include the following (see image below):

  • Resilience – The ability for a network to weather storms of different kinds, literal and metaphorical, and to bounce back from adversity. Healthy networks can bend without breaking. 
  • Adaptation – The ability for a collective to change with changing conditions. Healthy networks can rearrange themselves to adjust and respond to disruptions and perturbations.
  • Small World Reach – The ability to reach others relatively quickly, across different lines of separation or difference (geography, culture, sector, etc.) . Healthy networks have a diversity and intricacy of pathways, so there are a variety of ways to reach many different nodes/members efficiently. 
  • Rapid Dissemination – Related to reach, this is about the ability to get crucial resources out to a wide variety of nodes in a timely manner. Healthy networks can ensure that different members can get the nourishment (information, ideas, money, food, etc.) they need to survive and thrive.

“Connections create value. The social era will reward those organizations that realize they don’t create value all by themselves. If the industrial era was about building things, the social era is about connecting things, people, ideas.”

-Nilofer Merchant (entrepreneur, business strategist, author)

Other “network benefits” can accrue to individual nodes or members of a network. For example, when surveying members of different kinds of social change and learning networks, some of what often gets mentioned as benefits include:

  • Being with other people who inspire and support me
  • Learning about topics relevant to my work
  • Understanding the bigger picture that shapes and influences my work
  • Gaining new tools, skills and tactics to support my work 
  • Having my voice and efforts amplified
  • Accessing new funding and other resources
  • Forming new partnerships and joint ventures

What is a healthy network?

“We are the living conduit to all life. When we contemplate the vastness of the interwoven network that we are tied to, our individual threads of life seem far less fragile.”

– Sherri Mitchell/Weh’na Ha’mu’ Kwasset (Penobscot lawyer, activist, author)

A healthy network is one that is able to achieve its collective purpose/core functions, while also addressing the interests of its members, and continuing to be adaptive to changing circumstances. Some key features of these kinds of networks include:

  • Diversity of membership
  • Intricacy of connections (many pathways between nodes)
  • Common sense of purpose or mutuality; a sense of a “bigger we”
  • Robustness of flows of a variety of resources to all parts of the network
  • Shared responsibility for tending to the health and activity of the network
  • Resilient and distributed structure(s) with a variety of shared stewardship roles
  • A sense of equitable belonging and ability to give to/benefit from the network 
  • Ongoing learning and adaptative capacity

Like any kind of living organism, networks require care and feeding to keep them vibrant. This is where network weaving comes into play! More on this in the post to follow on Thursday, December 1st …

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November 14, 2022

Creating the Next 100 Years

This post is a revision of one that was shared on June 11, 2020. The poem has been revised.

As the world tries to return to the “old normal” of racism in every facet of our life, or to the exhaustion from an overproducing system, let’s resist it fiercely and walk into the next one hundred years together in the spirit of new creation and norms. 

May this poem that I wrote be a source of vision and inspiration.

Sun rays coming through trees, Pikrepo

Let not the slow creep of the old return
Like childish feet come slipping through your doorways

Look in the direction of the sun

Remember the lessons of staying in place?

Wading into presence
Tending to family
Resting your breath
Facing scars
Embracing insecurities
Abandoning perfection
Slowing your heart to hear cries of “I Can’t Breathe”

For the futures of humankind
Erase the “old normal”
Walk toward the light
Grieve the long path of injustice you were in
And stand upright

There can be no turning back
You can look over your shoulder and peek once in awhile
But there is no freedom behind you
Greed, exhaustion, and oppression live there

You said you wanted change in your lifetime?

Keep walking forward
Keep pausing to hear your heartbeat
To hear the people in the streets
And create the next 100 years

And you will not return
Because we will rise forward with the force of 100,000 horses galloping
Tens of thousands of drums pounding
And a Planet alive with millions dancing
Plants growing
Animals running
Seas churning
Temperatures readjusting
Life spilling over into our lineage of children

With Earth healing
We will reclaim the Earth!

And live into a future we’ve never been to before.

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October 25, 2022

IISC at Facing Race!

IISC is delighted to share that a number of our staff will have the opportunity to attend this year’s Facing Race National Conference, presented by Race Forward. Enthusiasm for this flagship racial justice convening is popping, especially given that it’s happening in person for the first time since 2019. 

We are looking forward to being in community with other racial justice practitioners as we gather to gain a  deeper sense of what is needed in this moment and how we at IISC – both individually and collectively – can best contribute. We’re also excited to hear from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, now our fellow Bostonian in his role as director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research.

In addition to attending the conference as participants, members of our team will also be leading workshops!

  •  IISC President Kelly Bates and Director of Practice Miriam Messinger are co-leading a session – Let’s fight the return of the “Old Normal!” – Leading for liberatory systems and racial justice transformation  – in which they will lead participants through a process of co-creating visions of racial justice in practice and strategizing about leading our organizations and networks out of “old normal” white supremacist systems and practices toward liberation and transformation. 
  • IISC Senior Associate Cynthia Silva Parker is co-leading a workshop with Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-Executive Director of Building Movement Project on behalf of the Deep Equity Practitioners Network. Real Talk About Building Organizational Capacity for Racial Equity: A peer exchange. The workshop will offer people who facilitate learning, strategy development, healing, team building, coaching, organizational change, and more to advance racial justice an opportunity to build community and share ideas about engaging tough issues – from getting past performative efforts and moving toward liberation to helping organizations embody racial justice in their operations as well as their programming.

We are committed to sharing reflections once we attend and process the conference experience. Stay tuned!

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October 17, 2022

Care, Trust, Truth and Belonging: Themes From a Network Leadership Institute Re-Launch

Tent where we held the launch session

* * * * *

“We now know what each other is made of. We can start weaving this beautiful tapestry, this community.”

“I don’t want to wait another 8 months until we are back in person!”

“I want others to know about this. I’ve never experienced anything like this. Others should know about this.”

The three quotes above came from participants in the newest Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Network Leadership Institute cohort, at the close of our opening session two weeks ago. After a year of doing an on-line only Institute, we made the decision to move to a hybrid model for this sixth annual offering, launching and concluding in-person during the warmer months (September and June) and going on-line for five sessions during the colder months late fall through early spring 2023.

Like so many, we weighed many considerations before making this choice. As one participant said during the session, “Many of us had to push through vulnerabilities to be here.” Ultimately we felt we really needed to tap into the power of the in-person gathering to ground people and set an energetic tone for the rest of the program. Many conversations were had about COVID protocols that would ensure safety without being overly onerous. This ended up including a wrist band system (see photos below), testing the day before, at arrival and after upon returning home (tests provided by the program), meeting for the bulk of the time outdoors in a tent with plenty of ventilation, light and spacing, and making masks available for those who wanted them, when we met or ventured indoors.

Our COVID care station

The tone we aimed to set from the outset was one of community care and belonging, acknowledging that for some this would be a new and welcome experience, and others may well be feeling anxious and uncertain. Hosting is always a spirit we aim to bring to the Institute, whether in-person or virtual, and includes working to ensure that everyone feels welcome and that their well-being is front and center. This included providing clear information on the front end around expectations and supports, a warm welcome upon arrival, a care package of local/regional food items (appropriate to our common work), keeping food and beverages available and setting a tone of ease and enjoyment (fidget items on tables, art supplies and a diverse music playlist).

Co-faciltator Karen Spiller with the cohort

Since 2016, IISC has been partnering with the FSNE Backbone Team from the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Sustainability Institute, to support and connect people in this region who are committed to advancing the emergence of just, sustainable, collaboratively stewarded and self-determined food futures for all who live here. This network and leadership development offering initiative grew out of system mapping that FSNE undertook several years ago to identify areas of leverage to shift extractive, inequitable and life-depleting patterns of the dominant food system.

More recently, the network has honed its focus on four overlapping impact areas as its unique and essential contribution, complementing those of its partners in the region, to bringing the FSNE vision and values for food system transformation to life. The Network Leadership Institute (NLI) is an outgrowth of both Network Building & Strengthening as well as Racial Equity & Values Leadership, but also touches on the other two areas as well in its content.

From the start, we knew that the main value of any kind of leadership development program would be in the people that came together and the relationships they built with one another. You only need to read about the current cohort to feel how much potential there is in simply creating opportunities for these individuals to connect and identify as more of a collective! From there, we were interested in connecting those involved in the program with other values-aligned change agents in the region. In addition, we looked at giving people an experience of different and diverse places in our region (rural, urban, coastal) and to see their work in a regional context. Lastly, we wanted to offer an opportunity for participants to hone their skills as collaborative/network leaders and social (especially racial) equity champions.

This year’s program integrates all of these elements, again with a particular theme of care and welcome. What we heard from this year’s cohort was how this was very much appreciated and built over the course of the more than 24 hours we were together. Here are some highlights of the programmatic progression that were intended to contribute to our themes of care, trust, truth and belonging:

  • We began by breaking bread together, at small tables, in the tent. Good food, relaxing music and informal introductions were meant to help people land softly.
  • We formally opened, as we generally do during FSNE gatherings, with an offering and a grounding exercise. The offering might be a poem, a quote, a song, a short story, a dance …. We read one of our favorite stanzas of poetry from William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” (see below), again to set a tone for the session, and then led people who were interested (making sure to let people know it was voluntary) through an embodied exercise to ground bodies/nervous systems, honor feelings and any thoughts people might be having as we got going.
  • We were joined by NLI alum Rachel Sayet, a Mohegan tribal member, Indigenous educator, essential oil crafter and Reiki practitioner, to provide some background on the land on which we were meeting and the history and present of Indigenous peoples who have stewarded them. This included the terrible and truthful telling of the actions of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, for whom the town in which we were meeting is still named, as well as efforts by indigenous educators and students in the area to reclaim their foodways and advance food sovereignty.

If you don’t know the kind of person I am

and I don’t know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

  • We introduced everyone to the Welcome Table ritual, through which people share objects that are meaningful to and say something about them, and share a bit of that story. At the end of our session, participants are invited to take their object back and say what they have gained during their time with the group. People always remark how “deep” this goes very quickly in helping people get a sense of one another.
  • We collaboratively built community care agreements, by consensus, first by inviting people to consider their self-care practices and then inviting them into conversation with one another about what might support the entire “village.” We guided them through one of the Liberating Structures practices known as 1-2-4-All for this.
  • We introduced people to a brief history of the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute, the Backbone Organization (convenor, coordinator, communicator and fundraiser) for Food Solutions New England, how it defines “sustainability” broadly (including cultural diversity and social equity) as well as the history and current reality of FSNE. In presenting this, we made clear that this new cohort was already a part of FSNE and we welcomed their contributions not just to the Institute, but its various other programs and initiatives.
From UNH Sustainability Institute
  • We started our second day by sharing a land acknowledgment in the form of a poem (another favorite – “Being Human” by Naima Penniman) that personalizes our connections to the Earth). And we shared an offering with some of the same themes in the form of a quote by Penobscot educator and advocate Sherri Mitchell ((Weh’na Ha’mu’ Kwasset) from her book Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change (see below), which encourages the reader/listener to attune to the rhythms in the natural world for greater ease and alignment.

When we merge our internal rhythms with the rhythms of creation, we develop grace in our movement, and without thought or effort we are able to slide into the perfectly choreographed dance of life.”

  • On our second day we also invited offerings from the cohort members, whoever felt moved to do so. There were three – a short personal story, a reading and a poem. We look forward to more over the course of our next six sessions!
  • We invited people to get artistically expressive through illustrating their River of Life– with crayons, pencils, markers – and naming where they are in their leadership/change agency journeys. They then were invited to share these in trios and talk about how they want the Institute to support them moving forward, and what their intentions were for learning from and contributing to the program and one another’s journeys.
  • We delved into Facilitative Leadership for Social Change, our collaborative skills curriculum for the program, and led off with the practice of “Balancing Dimensions of Collaborative Success: Results, Process, Relationship.” This practice includes a small group challenge exercise (building a tower) that tends to bond people (lots of laughter) and helps them think about the trust, care, truth and belonging that is needed to ensure long-term “success” in collaborative change work.

Mutual trust, holistic care, truth-telling and equitable belonging. Those words were expressed throughout our first session in one form or another, in word and in deed, by the hosting team, guests and by the participants. It was evident how these were not just ideas, but becoming part of the collective body that will carry this program and network forward, as we move into an on-line season. “That’s okay,” said one participant,” as some bemoaned going back to more life on Zoom, “we know each other now. That will stay with us.” And we are delighted to already see one subset of the group looking to meet in person soon in the southeast of our region.

This is how we do and will do it, as the poet Marge Piercy writes in two stanzas of her poem “Seven of Pentacles” (see below image) …

Cohort 6, just before our closing, at The Welcome Table

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

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October 8, 2022

Are you a Decolonizer?

Original artwork for New Yorker cartoon published April 10, 2006, by J.B. Handelsman; Retrieved from https://libwww.freelibrary.org/digital/item/67896

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’ve always been a little proud of myself for having some level of consciousness at that age. And, I’m well aware that there is so much more to learn and to do.

Indigenous People’s Day isn’t just another three-day weekend. It’s a great opportunity to honor Indigenous people and to recognize and grieve the genocide and land theft that is at the heart of the founding of this nation. It’s a day to tell a more truthful story about the founding of this nation: the story of how the land that is now the U.S., which became the basis for wealth and well-being for the original settlers and their descendents, was stolen, swindled or taken by force. We Shall Remain and Unnatural Causes Episode 4: Bad Sugar provide powerful reminders of that history and connections to present-day conditions. Honestly, the more I learn, the more I feel regret, shame, and powerlessness to redress the wrongs. After all these years, I am still looking for ways to be an effective ally to Native American communities and to leverage the considerable privilege that being a U.S. citizen affords me.

Indigenous People’s Day is also an important opportunity to learn what Indigenous communities are doing in the present day and what it means to decolonize. It’s an opportunity to live into solidarity. For me, one powerful step in that direction has been learning from and participating in small ways in the Decolonizing Wealth Project, from which I borrowed the title of this post. The project asks:  

“Are you a decolonizer?” 

“Are you fighting for a more just and sustainable world? Are your efforts to bring about change rooted in a deep love for humanity and the earth?”

My response? Yes, I am fighting for a more just and sustainable world. Yes, my efforts to make change are rooted in a deep love for humanity and the earth. And yes, I have a long, long way to go to call myself a decolonizer. 

In 2019 and early 2020, my colleague Eugenia Acuna and I had the privilege of working with Edgar Villanueva and the Decolonizing Wealth Project to help develop some of the project’s tools and resources. Since then, I have been diving more deeply into Edgar’s work (Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance is now in its second printing!) and taking baby steps toward using money as medicine to heal what’s broken in our world. I got my decolonizer t-shirt (You should get yours too! Proceeds support organizations working with Native-led organizations working on racial justice.), though I still feel like I have more to do before I can actually wear it. 

This year I’m revisiting Edgar’s seven steps to healing and challenging myself to apply them more consciously and consistently in my practice and my life. The steps are so straightforward. They are simple to state and oh, so challenging to do. (No spoilers here! Get the book and find out what the steps are.) As  I reviewed them recently, I realized how often I skip past some of the steps and sometimes even practice their exact opposite. I invite you to join me in digging deeper, reflecting more honestly, loving harder, and practicing grace with oneself and with others more often. How will you open yourself to being guided by Indigenous wisdom as we seek to heal divides and restore balance?

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September 27, 2022

IISC selected as a finalist for a .ORG Impact Award!

IISC is honored to share that we were selected as a finalist in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion category of the 4th annual .ORG Impact Awards. This program – sponsored by the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the people behind .ORG – honors and celebrates inspiring mission-driven organizations and leaders from around the globe that not only demonstrate a passion for making the world a better place, but also work tirelessly to create a positive impact in their communities. IISC is pleased to be one of only five finalists in this category – selected from a record number of submissions from around the world.

The winners in each category will be announced on November 15 and we will certainly be even more delighted should we win that final honor (along with a cash prize!). That said, regardless of the outcome, IISC is pleased with this recognition as a finalist and will be happy to celebrate with the winner should it be one of our co-finalists.

Most importantly, we honor the people of IISC who make this all possible. So much hard work and dedication is behind why we have been recognized in this way. Learn more about us here!

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September 21, 2022

Announcing: Communities of Practice for Workshop Participants

IISC is delighted to announce the launch of our online networks for participants of any one of our three workshops: Facilitative Leadership for Social Change, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work, and Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations

All past workshop participants are invited to join a facilitated LinkedIn group to connect with others. The groups will be a place to share successes and challenges, exchange resources, ask questions, and support each other in continuing to apply and practice the workshop frameworks and tools. 

In addition, all group members will be invited to attend quarterly online gatherings hosted by a talented lineup of IISC facilitators. These gatherings will be a space to connect with others and to continue to build on the content and experience of the workshops. 

IISC has long dreamed of creating these communities and we are delighted to launch this project with the support of The Kresge Foundation. 

If you have attended a workshop and are interested in joining us, please complete this short survey. Survey respondents will receive a link to join the LinkedIn communities starting the week of October 3rd. We are excited to welcome you into the IISC community in this new way as we grow our network of social change practitioners. 

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August 22, 2022

“Entangled” Social Change: From Inter-action to “Intra-Action”

“What is at stake with quantum theory is the very nature of reality. Should reality be understood as something completely impervious to our interventions, or should it be viewed as something responsive to the very existence of human beings?”

Christopher Fuchs (physicist)
Image by Kevin Dooley, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

A mark of a good book for me is one that challenges my thinking, moves my heart, and also resonates in my body. That has been the case while reading Karen O’Brien’s You Matter More Than You Think: Quantum Social Science for a Thriving World. I want to give a big “thank you” and shout out to Fabian Pfortmüller who made this recommendation to me during a rich conversation a few weeks ago.

O’Brien’s book makes the case for bringing a quantum physics lens to the social sciences and to thinking about social change, even as she acknowledges the doubters and detractors who see this as an inappropriate move. Indeed, in posting about the book on LinkedIn recently, I was a little surprised to see a couple of comments attacking the idea of importing quantum considerations into the human realm. In anticipation of this, O’Brien notes that while quantum and classical physics, as well as the “hard” and social sciences, may have different applications, they are not totally separate from each other. Furthermore she writes:

“… given the nature of global crises, maybe this actually is an appropriate time to consider how meanings, metaphors and methods informed by quantum physics can inspire social change, and in particular our responses to climate change.”

So I have been doing what she invites – playing with these different ideas and concepts from the quantum realm and seeing what they stimulate. One I want to lift up here is the notion of subjectivity versus objectivity, and specifically that we are always participants in the world, never simply “detached observers.” This is not simply meant in an emotional sense, but that our very act of observing is actually an embodied intervention and can change what we see and also how we see the world. This “entanglement” (meant more metaphorically here, rather than in the formal scientific sense) asks us to consider how we are already connected, or part of a larger whole.

O’Brien spends some time exploring beliefs as being central to both what is possible and what is actually realized in our lives and world. If we believe we are completely separate from one another, for example. what do we and don’t we consider possible or worth while? If we believe we are more tied or woven, then what might we be inclined to do? The work of Karen Barad is referenced in this respect, pointing out the difference between talking/thinking about “inter-actions” of separate entities versus “intra-actions” among entangled elements within a larger whole. This is not just about a difference in language, but a difference in perceived and acted upon futures.

Photo taken at The Gennie in Craftsbury, VT

What comes to mind is a mantra of sorts that Valarie Kaur puts forward in her justice work focused on addressing the dynamics of othering and oppression, as well as in her book See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love

“You are a part of me I do not yet know.”

Similar to this spirit, john a. powell offers the following in Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society:

“There is a need for an alternative vision, a beloved community where being connected to the other is seen as the foundation of a healthy self, not its destruction, and where the racial other is seen not as the infinite other, but rather as the other that is always and already a part of us.”

I am also reminded of the peace-building work of John Paul Lederach, and this from his book The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace:

“Time and again, where in small or larger ways the shackles of violence are broken, we find a singular tap root that gives life to the moral imagination: the capacity of individuals and communities to imagine themselves in a web of relationship even with their enemies.”

If we treat the so-called “other” (whether human, other animals, plants … ) as apart from us, or as in some sense fundamentally threatening (“the enemy”), then where does that lead? The point here is that reality is not just “reality out there,” it is also what we make of it. We have a say. We matter. What we believe matters. What we do matters. Embracing “a bigger WE” matters. We can “bring forth worlds,” (to quote Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s Santiago Theory of Cognition) at least to a certain extent. And whether this is about imagining or re-membering, acting “as if” we are joined in something larger can seemingly create tangible results, while also acknowledging that dynamics of power and privilege are important to consider in terms of who may be inclined to make first gestures and how these will be received.

“Between me and not-me there is surely a line, a clear distinction, or so it seems. But, now that I look, where is that line?

This fresh apple, still cold and crisp from the morning dew, is not-me only until I eat it. When I eat, I eat the soil that nourished the apple. When I drink, the waters of the earth become me. With every breath I take in I draw in not-me and make it me. With every breath out I exhale me into not-me.

If the air and the waters and the soils are poisoned, I am poisoned. Only if I believe the fiction of the lines more than the truth of the lineless planet, will I poison the earth, which is myself.”

Donella Meadows, from “Lines in the Mind, Not in the World”

* * * * *

A few years ago I was diagnosed with a benign tumor on my left acoustic and balance nerve (an acoustic neuroma). As the tumor continued to grow, albeit slowly, I made the decision to have radiation treatment two years ago (six months into our new COVID reality). What was presented as a fairly straight-forward outpatient procedure turned into quite an ordeal as I had a strong reaction to the treatment. What followed was dizziness, terrible tinnitus, poor sleep, muscular pain, headaches and occasional “nerve storms” in other parts of my body. After a few months of extreme discomfort I went to see a very adept acupressurist and holistic healer who made the observation that I seemed to be trying to separate myself from that part of my body, tensing against it, rejecting it, and the result was further exacerbation. With her help, over several months, I gradually got reacquainted with that sensitive area (really getting to know it for the first time), and through slow and steady integrative body work, began to relax and reclaim that part of me in a way that has brought greater ease to my overall system and life.

Image by  Joe Le Merou, “Peace,” shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

The very energizing thing about that work with this healer is that it has helped not simply to address discomfort in one area of my body, it has positively impacted other parts that I did not even realize were misaligned and/or listless until this crisis occurred. I take it as ontological truth that I am all of my body (though not simply my body), yet for many years (and especially recently) I had not been acting like that (consciously and unconsciously), with real health-related ramifications. Extend this metaphor (separate –> connected, inter-action –> intra-action) to other “bodies” of different sizes. scales and dimensions, and where might that lead?

What excites me here is acknowledging the entanglements that we do not yet know, or cannot possibly hold in our minds alone given the immensity of the world. This is where “thinking and acting in a networked way,” with some faith and conviction, comes into play for me, along with an orientation towards equity. In particular, I think of the encouragement offered in these words from the late long-time community organizer and political educator Grace Lee Boggs:

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”                      

What critical connections and small moves might we make in this intricate, [vast/intimate] and mysterious world that could yield big and needed changes in our communities and lives?

Photo by Gordon M Robertson, shared under auspices of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
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