Creating Equitable Abundance

December 3, 2014 1 Comment

“We need to reach out to one another from a perspective that makes group membership less determinative of opportunity and more related to enhancement of self and community. We need to increase our sense of abundance and improve our sense of well-being, as individuals and in relation to one another. “

– john a. powell, Racing to Justice

Photo by Udey Ismail

I’ve had a number of conversations lately about mindsets and how they relate to effective collective and net work, especially work for justice. Most recently I had the opportunity to talk to Jim Ritchie-Dunham of the Institute for Strategic Clarity about his research into “thriving” organizations and communities in a number of diverse settings – sectors and countries. What he has noted as a shared and distinct (though surely not entirely sufficient) difference-maker for these groups is an orientation towards abundance.

Jim has recently published a book entitled Ecosynomics, which is also the name of a field he has helped to found, which looks at “the principles of collaboration” and more specifically, “the principles of abundance.” Research from Jim and his colleagues shows that even amidst what may appear to be a scarcity of resources and hope, some groups thrive in large part through the conscious construction of “agreements” that can create more opportunity.

I have questions and look forward to further conversation with Jim about the starting point of these groups and the degree to which dynamics of power and privilege come into play with respect to their respective successes and who ultimately benefits. At the same time, I have been aware in my work how much of a difference it can make for groups to be conscious of their ability to choose how to be with one another, and how this can help get beyond otherwise self- and collective-limiting behavior.

The proof of a network is in the giving.

This is especially true in those networks and collaborative social change efforts I’ve worked with that have an underlying belief that abundance is a proactively and continuously created state, not something that they sit back and wait to have happen. These are the same groups that see their work as not simply building structures and strategies, but cultures, and specifically cultures of generosity and equitable opportunity-enhancement. They are inclined towards leading with an ethic of giving, including extending the benefit of the doubt to one another, and receiving, to “seeing others as legitimate others” (Humberto Maturana‘s definition of love) and beyond that to seeing connection to others as a foundation of health.

Certainly there are settings and situations where this extension is challenging, and perhaps viewed as too risky for some. And yet it is perhaps precisely here, as john a. powell at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC-Berkeley suggests, that people with certain power and privileges, need to reach out with the belief that their and the collective well-being is at stake. Fear of “the other” may be what limits this reaching out, so what becomes helpful is an orientation that sees these connections as enhancements, not deficits, as opportunity creation, not destruction. Do you believe that? Can you imagine circumstances under which this would be true? What would it take? What agreements in your particular community/ies of concern would support equitable abundance?


1 Comment

  • Miriam Messinger says:

    Thanks Curtis. I found myself drawn to these ideas and repelled at the same time. If we look at the last few weeks in the US, it is hard to imagine how community level generosity, embracing, or mindset of abundance could be relevant. And, yet, the only positive images and moments for me have been the power of young black voices to rise in outrage and love to proclaim enough is enough and we are not waiting for you to share power. The essence of abundance–recognizing that power does not have to be seen as a zero sum game.

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