Posts categorized “Philanthropy”.

What If Everything Ran Like the Internet?

Inspired post by Dave Pollard today on  the challenge of scale and the confusion of control.  Complicated systems require few connections in order to be manageable:

It is because business and government systems are wedded to the orthodoxy of hierarchy that as they become larger and larger (which such systems tend to do) they become more and more dysfunctional. Simply put, complicated hierarchical systems don’t scale. That is why we have runaway bureaucracy, governments that everyone hates, and the massive, bloated and inept Department of Homeland Security.

But, you say, what about “economies of scale”? Why are we constantly merging municipalities and countries and corporations together into larger and ever-more-efficient megaliths? Why is the mantra of business “bigger is better”?

The simple answer is that there are no economies of scale. In fact, there are inherent diseconomies of scale in complicated systems. When you double the number of nodes (people, departments, companies, locations or whatever) in a complicated system you quadruple the number of connections between them that have to be managed. And each “connection” between people in an organization has a number of ‘costly’ attributes: information exchange (“know-what”), training (“know-how”), relationships (“know-who”), collaboration/coordination, and decision-making. That is why large corporations have to establish command-and-control structures that discourage or prohibit connection between people working at the same level of the hierarchy, and between people working in different departments.

Why do we continue to believe such economies of scale exist? The illustration above shows what appears to happen when an organization becomes a hierarchy. In the top drawing, two 5-person organizations with 10 people between them have a total of 20 connections between them. But if they go hierarchical, the total number of connections to be ‘managed’ drops from 20 to 8. Similarly, a 10-person co-op has a total of 45 connections to ‘manage’, but if it goes hierarchical, this number drops to just 9.

This is clearly ‘efficient’, but it is highly ineffective. The drop in connections means less exchange of useful information peer-to-peer and cross-department, less peer and cross-functional learning, less knowledge of who does what well, less trust, less collaboration, less informed decision-making, less creative improvisation, and, as the number of layers in the hierarchy increases, more chance of communication errors and gaps.

But, what about complex systems?

So back to the purpose of this post, to answer these questions: 1. What is it about the ‘organization’ of the Internet that has allowed it to thrive despite its massive size and lack of hierarchy? And: 2. What if we allowed everything to be run as a ‘wirearchy’?

To answer the first question, the Internet is a “world of ends“, where the important things happen at the edges — and everything is an edge. “The Internet isn’t a thing, it’s an agreement”. And that agreement is constantly being renegotiated peer-to-peer along the edges. If you look at the diagram above of the co-op with the 45 connections, you’ll notice that the nodes are all at the circumference — around the edges. There is no ‘centre’, no ‘top’. And the reason the organization isn’t weighed down by all those connections is that they’re self-managed, not hierarchically managed. The work of identifying which relationships and connections to build and grow and maintain is dispersed to the nodes themselves — and they’re the ones who know which ones to focus on. That’s why the Internet can be so massive, and get infinitely larger, without falling apart. No one is in control; no one needs to hold it together. It’s a model of complexity. And, like nature, like an ecosystem, it is much more resilient than a complicated system, more effective, and boundary-less. And, like nature, that resilience and effectiveness comes at a price — it is less ‘efficient’ than a complicated system, full of redundancy and evolution and failure and learning. But that’s exactly why it works.

via What If Everything Ran Like the Internet? « how to save the world.

Dan Pallotta on why overhead matters in the non-profit sector

Dan Pallotta at a TED talk on why overhead matters in non-profits.

Here is the essence of the talk:

 

  1. Non-profits exist to alleviate social problems for which there is no market.
  2. Working at the level of causes means needing to take work to scale.
  3. Going to scale means that we need to grow the resources available (without using commerical or profit making methods).
  4. What is called “overhead” is actually the capacity to do this.

Perlotta makes a compelling argument for increasing overhead in the non-profit sector and talks about why we have to change our mindsets in order to see this as unproductive.  The essence is that in situation where you have a fixed amount of funds, then limiting overhead means you can get more of the funds to clients.  But in a situation where the amount of funds can grow, investing in overhead allows organizations to both meet their mandates AND to grow the scale of donors and impact to reach upstream for deeper change.

Overhead can be thought of in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Operations and capital maintenance, so people have good and safe facilities to work in
  2. Talent and benefits, for people who will never receive a bonus payment in their lives.  Many of the people that work for charities by the way are folks that have been clients of non-profits in the past, so this alos makes good economic sense.
  3. Strategy, learning and research, to ensure that the methods being used are the best avialable and to help organizations makes sense of complex and changing environments.
  4. Communications – connecting with others nto make an overall impact on the sector or issue as well as attracting resources such as talent and money to bring the initiative to scale.
  5. Working with governments to help shape policy to address root causes.  Otherwise known as “going upstream” this helps charities get at the root causes of their client’s distress and not simply be plucking babies out of the river without figuring out who is throwing them in.

The work of fundraising for deep social change needs to make the argument that investing in overhead is an investment in real change and not just meeting client needs.  In many ways it is a BETTER investment, because it means that you can address underlying issues which makes it possible to solve some problems and move resources into other places.   If you want to make real social change, find an organization that has a sophisticated approach to issues and you increase your chances of making shift happen.  None of the clear victories of the last century came without these kinds of activities in place. Eliminating polio? How do you think that happened?

Numbers aren’t everything

It’s an old saw with me, but Dave Snowdon puts it very nicely and succinctly:

Numbers are good, but they are never the whole picture.  Its easy to focus on them, they give the comfort of apparent objectivity and used to support human judgement they have high utility.  The problem is when they replace judgement rather than supporting it.  Of course in the ordered aspects of any enterprise statistics and numbers can do a lot of the work for you, but in a complex situation they can be dangerous.  Applied to ordered aspects (boundary conditions, probes and the like) they have utility, but for the system as a whole they are more problematic.

via Judgement & statistics – Cognitive Edge Network Blog.

 

What does it take to make real social innovation?

Very interesting little article from David Wilcox about the differences between social entrepreneurs and social innovators. Here is how he describes those differences, from a tactical perspective:

 

4 Differences Between Social Entrepreneurs & Social Innovators

Here are four reasons why social entrepreneurs are significantly different than nonprofit social innovators:

1. Two Worlds

Most foundations and many nonprofits came into existence through a significant donor or donation. The people who shepherd the outcomes for those donors must be attentive and accommodating.  Quite simply, donors drive much of the nonprofit world’s activities.

Most social entrepreneurs start with their very personal obsession to improve lives by solving a challenge or inequality, prefer to spend as little time as possible fund raising, and often bring innovations to the table that decades of nonprofit work have not uncovered.

Social enterprises typically begin with a small loan, such as the $46 that funded Professor Yunus and the invention of microfinance. As Yunus points out in every speech he gives, “When I saw a problem, I started a business to solve it.”

2. The Against Position

In branding, claiming the against position means using a competitor’s dominant spend and mindshare to carve out an anti-space—the Un-cola for example.

Social entrepreneurs are quintessential against positioners. At the New York Forum on Africa held in Gabon, Professor Yunus stated it clearly:  “I looked at how traditional banks do business and we did the exact opposite.”

In very practical terms, these stubborn, opinionated entrepreneurs frequently show up after the aid and development models have failed or at least failed to become sustainable. Their arrival on the scene is less a Kumbaya moment and more a “disruptive innovation” one.

3. Core Competencies

Successful nonprofits are either great at fundraising or great at measuring impact. The superstars are good at both. These critical capabilities assemble billions of dollars to accomplish good works and they represent an important innovation source for the world.

Social entrepreneurs fundraise too, but they hate it. Seldom do they surface innovations in fundraising. A primary goal for most social entrepreneurs is to demonstrate that appropriate capacity building enables their innovation model to solve problems profitably and reduce dependence on fundraising altogether.

4. Buying Impact/Measuring Success

Jason Saul of Mission Measurement exhorts funders to stop thinking about giving to charities and to shift to buying impact. As valuable as this change to the donor frame would be, the repercussions would also result in significant reductions in the total charity population.

Funds should flow to the organizations making and reporting measurable progress actually solving key challenges. But impact buying reinforces the prevalent tendency in the nonprofit world to spend significant dollars on measurement. Funding those added “measurement investments” makes solutions more expensive and less sustainable.

Successful social entrepreneurs create business models where measurement is integral to the normal course of solving a challenge. This one innovation actually can make the difference between a profitable and a non-profitable model. Healthpoint Services in the Punjab is the first to couple the delivery of clean water and healthcare. This disruptive innovation touches villagers each day: when they pick up their water they are also exposed to an urban quality healthcare clinic offering services at a much lower cost.

So what does Healthpoint management measure?

Here’s one: At what monthly water subscription price do half the villagers become customers in 90 days? For Healthpoint, measurement is not a separate expense, it is a core business activity.

I do a lot of work in the non-profit, social benefit sector and find that there is a real stifling of innovation there, especially in the traditional services sector.  It’s not that there isn’t an understood need for radical change in how services are delivered, but there are a number of factors weighing against these strategies being created.  Riffing on David’s observations, here are four things that get in the way of social innovation…

1. Funding Ãœber alles

Funding and the attendant accountabilities that come with it determine much of the scope of what can be offered.  Whether it is government funding or private funding, social innovators have to work within highly constrained fiscal environments.  In many cases, they cannot even raise money outside of their operations for fear of losing charitable status.  IN Canada recently, organizations that have been trying to create social innovation in the environmental sector have had their government funding revoked, their charitable status questioned and their operations audited.  In times of scarce resources, leaders are unwilling to jeopardize what little they have to take a risk on new ways of doing things.

2. The For Position.

Most who are working in the traditional and mainstream social services sector are constrained by societal expectation of what services should be.  Some exist in a regulatory environment that makes them little more than non-governmental delivery channels for government services.  In the work I have done over the years in Aboriginal child and family services this has been a huge frustration.  Agencies that want to transform the nature of these services are unable to do so because they get locked into having to deliver services the same way the Ministry for Children and Family development does it.  This is frustrating for families and communities who accuse their own community-based agencies of being little more than Aboriginal faces on non-Aboriginal government services.  Social innovation os hampered by an inability to take an Against position.

3. The wrong Core Competencies

Many mainstream social service agencies have gone to a management model of leadership that values the MBA as the primary qualification.  Increasingly, CEOs of charities are being hired from traditional business schools and they don’t even have the range of experience or innovative approach that social enterprise CEOs have.  This is the result of risk aversion…if we can hire a good manager to be careful with our money, we will survive the funding crises in the sector.  the problem of course is that the work becomes narrowly defined on operational efficiencies and strategies that are about problem solving and fixing rather than taking the long view about the complexity and disruption facing the sector. Relying too much on risk aversion constrains the ability to innovate other than incrementally.  It won’t surprise you that I believe leadership that hosts the margins of the social field for co-creation and emergence is critical to finding and precipitating real social innovation.

4. Becoming a slave to measurements

Alongside the management approach to services and the constraints on funding comes a slavish amount of accountability to targets.  These targets are often chosen because they are easy to measure but they sometimes have little or no relevance to the context.  I like Healthpoint’s metric of asking “At what price do half the villagers become customers in 90 days?”  I also like what is happening in the field of developmental evaluation, which provides a set of tools and resources for working in complexity with safe fail prototyping of new actions.  But in the current climate, with managers and funders demanding easy to see outcomes, their is a hard sell.  A group I have been working with that is trying the impact the social determinants of health finds itself often wanting to know what changes have been happening in quarterly periods.  That is simply not the right way to look at things, but without numbers, funding is held up.  The flip side is that the wrong numbers get the wrong stuff funded, and rarely are the numbers representative of innovation.

Perhaps the biggest reason why social innovation and social entrepreneurship are different is the location of power.  In social innovation power is often vested in the funder and the extend to which the funder is wedded to status quo or simply risk averse is the extend to which social innovation is constrained.  In social entrepreneurship, power rests largely with the entrepreneur and there are many more degrees of freedom to pursue radical innovation.  And it’s your money to lose!.

I think an application of more strategies from David’s list to the shadow list of problems that I’ve seen would accelerate social innovation.  Probably the best way to innovate in the social sector is to steal from social enterprise.  One leader I know makes strong recommendations for her network to watch TED talks as a daily practice, and that simple form of cross pollinating opens minds for sure.

What strategies have you experienced that have acce;erased real, deep and lasting social innovation?

What the new global middle class can do

Here is a case of getting seduced by the numbers and sucked into the wrong thinking.  This article is looking for interesting ways to measure the growth of the global middle class. It does a generally poor job of it.  The whole article is a bit of a dodge.  Using made up numbers to render a quantifiable mark for an abstract concept, concluding in a blithe statement about a billion car pile up.

But the money quote I think is in the conclusion, about what this materialist and upwardly mobile trend in the world says:

The people of this burgeoning middle class also expect their governments to be representative and accountable, and they are sure to put increased pressure on the nondemocratic systems in many developing countries. Seen in this light, the rising incidence of protests and dissent in China, Russia, Thailand, and the Arab world is not surprising.

Which is actually interesting.  And a little understated.  Because I think one of the implications of the growing “middle class” is the fact that the world can become much more connected through alternatively mediated means.  You have power and water, a mobile phone and an internet connection and you join a very interesting club, globally speaking.  Furthermore, people can not only demand accountability from their own governments but from governments whose foreign policies affect them.  I mean, look at the famous photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the Vietnamese girl running scared and naked from her village, which had just been napalmed.  40 years ago no one could do anything about this situation.  These days, photos like that could provoke a massive decentralized response of outraged middle class people.  Such people might learn how to fly planes, for example.  Or leak documents.  Or go all Anonymous.

On a smaller scale, the growing middle class can use its material wealth to do things other than buy cars.  For example, a newly middle class Egyptian could buy food to support an occupation of a park in New York.  The new models of philanthropy can be many to many, inverting the idea of “giving to the poor.”

The article has a pretty narrow and outdated view of its own subject (“First World” – really?) and it ignores the deeper, dare I say, foreign policy implications of a middle class that may yet reach the critical mass needed to slow the 1% and redirect that serious wealth to needier parts the rest of the 99%.

In the rest of the world, I wonder if this is what the new middle class is doing.  In North America we do a whole lot of “I’ve got mine.”  Class mobility in this continent is woeful, and class nobility, especially among the local 85% (of which I am a member) even worse.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many of us there are. It matters what we do with these numbers.

Gratitude for refugees

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of working with the tireless staffs of various Neighbourhood Houses in Vancouver.  Most of these people are involved in the work of Welcoming Comunities Initiatives, working with refugees and migrants to Vancouver.

Yesterday we were in some learning about engagement design using the chaordic stepping stones and the collective story harvest tool, both developed by the Art of Hosting community of practice.  In the collective story harvest, the group of about two dozen listened and witnessed the story of two prominent members of our community who left Guatemala in the early 1990s and came to Vancouver.  Their story was profound and powerful, divided into two parts.  In the first part they spoke about growing up in rural Guatemala, in the shadow of two beautiful volcanoes.  Then, the civil war came on the heels of US subversion of Guatemalan democracy in 1954.  Farms that were previously owned by indigenous farmers were given over to American corporations.  Our protagonists left for the city to get educated and quickly became involved in social activism and revolutionary politics.  One of the storytellers recounted many many tales of friends and colleagues being kidnapped and disappeared, tortured and killed before he finally made the decision to leave his country.  After kicking around a little hea and his wife moved to Vancouver, intending to stay for only a year.

The second part of the story picks up in Vancouver.  When this couple arrived the met up with a beautiful activist in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, Amalia Dorigoni.  Amalia worked with the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, an organization that was at the forefront of Vancouver’s harm reduction practices in the 1990s.  Our storytellers worked with her picking up condoms and needles from the neighbourhood, focusing especially on the area around Strathcona Elementary School.  They later went on to found several initiatives in the Downtown Eastside, especially focusing on Latino men, who move the area as refugees and have a hard time establishing themselves.

There was much in the story that was powerful, but this image of two newly arrived refugees, one of whom was pregnant, picking up needles and used condoms so that children would not be exposed to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS is just remarkable.  I have no doubt that the scores of people who hold anti-immigration views have never done this work.  It just filled me with gratitude that these two, motivated by their powerfully honed sense of social justice, undertook this volunteer work as one of their first contributions to Canadian society.

Later in the day, another man came to me to remind me of something.  He had fled Argentina in the 1980s as a refugee, fleeing many of the same experiences that our storytellers had.  He works now as a community organizer and he reminded me that he is getting paid now to do work that in Argentina he would be killed for.  We can complain about government, he said, but the fact is that they fund this work rather than sending out death squads to kill the people doing it.  So yes, gratitude for that also.

And also, this current federal government is taking a dim view of refugees and immigrants.  This is the most oppressive and anti-immigrant government we have had in Canada in recent memory.  A new legislative initiative is especially hard on refugee claimants who have not yet been granted Canadian citizenship.  Opponents fear that refugees could be returned to their countries of origin if the political conditions change or if Canada reaches a trade agreement or other alliance with the country.  This is a problem because many refugees who come here have a hard time feeling welcomed to Canada.  As a result, many of them are reluctant to obtain Canadian citizenship, opting instead to remain landed immigrants or permanent residents, as indeed do many capitalist immigrants to Canada.

However in the case of refugees, if the political situation in their country changes, and the country becomes democratic for example, and they are able to go back and visit their families, the fear is that they may be denied entry back to Canada.  Obviously if the country of origin is safe to return to, then you are no longer a refugee, right?

Wrong.  When refugees arrive in Canada, they are required to give testimony about what danger they are in.  Naming people or institutions can mean that for the rest of your life you are in danger from those you have named.  If you come to Canada because you are gay, a simple political change in your home country does not mean it is safe for you to be out there, even if you manage to travel back to visit your family.  This must not be allowed to happen.  Simple justice declares it so.

It is important that refugees who arrive in Canada are welcomed and that we do everything we can, through our governments and in our communities to embrace what people bring.  As a friend of mine – an immigrant himself – has written on the issue of the transformative capacity of the stranger: “What if the alien holds the key to unlocking our own alienation?”  That is a worthy question for a world in which we are increasingly intermingled with one another.

Meg Wheatley’s 12 principles for supporting healthy community

I’m a sucker for principles, because principles help us to design and do what is needed and help us to avoid bringing pre-packaged ideas and one-size-fits-all solutions to every problem.  And of course, I’m a sucker for my friend Meg Wheatley. Today, in our Art of Hosting workshop in central Illinois, Tenneson Woolf and Teresa Posakony brought some of Meg’s recent thinking on these principles to a group of 60 community developers working in education, child and family services, and restorative justice.  We’re excited to be working nwith these principles in the work we’re doing with Berkana Institute.  Here’s what I heard:

1. People support what they create. Where are you NOT co-creating?  Even the most participatory process always have an edge of focused control or design.  Sometimes that is wise, but more often than not we design, host and harvest without consciousness.  Are we engaging with everyone who has a stake in this issue?

2. People act most responsibly when they care. Passion and responsibility is how work gets done.  We know this from Open Space – as Peggy Holman is fond of saying, invite people to take responsibility for what they love.  What is it you can’t NOT do?  Sometime during this week I have heard someone describe an exercise where you strip away everything you are doing and you discover what it is you would ALWAYS do under any circumstances.  Are we working on the issues that people really care about?

3. Conversation is the way that humans have always thought together.  In conversation we discover shared meaning. It is the primal human organizing tool.  Even in the corridors of power, very little real action happens in debate, but rather in the side rooms, the hallways, the lunches, the times away from the ritual spaces of authority and in the the relaxed spaces of being human. In all of our design of meetings, engagement, planning or whatever, if you aren’t building conversation into the process, you will not benefit from the collective power and wisdom of humans thinking together.  These are not “soft” processes.  This is how wars get started and how wars end.  It’s how money is made, lives started, freedom realized. It is the core human organizing competency.

4. To change the conversation, change who is in the conversation. It is a really hard to see our own blind spots.  Even with a good intention to shift the conversation, without bringing in new perspectives, new lived experiences and new voices, our shift can become abstract.  If you are talking ABOUT youth with youth in the process, you are in the wrong conversation.  If you are talking about ending a war and you can’t contemplate sitting down with the enemy, you will not end the war, no matter how much your policy has shifted.  Once you shift the composition of the group, you can shift the status and power as well.  What if your became the mentors to adults?  What if clients directed our services?

5. Expect leadership to come from anywhere. If you expect leadership to come from the same places that it has always come from, you will likely get the same results you have always been getting.  That is fine to stabilize what is working, but in communities, leadership can come from anywhere.  Who is surprising you with their leadership?

6. Focus on what’s working, ask what’s possible, not what’s wrong. Energy for change in communities comes from working with what is working. When we accelerate and amplify what is working, we can apply those things to the issues in community that drain life and energy.  Not everything we have in immediately useful for every issue in a community, but hardly anything truly has to be invented.  Instead, find people who are doing things that are close to what you want to do and work with them and others to refine it and bring it to places that are needed.  Who is already changing the way services are provided?  Which youth organize naturally in community and how can we invite them to organize what is needed?  What gives us energy in our work?

7. Wisdom resides within us. I often start Open Space meetings by saying that “no angels will parachute in here to save us.  Rather, the angel is all of us together.”  Experts can’t do it, folks.  They can be helpful but the wisdom for implementation and acting is within us.  It has to be.

8. Everything is a failure in the middle, change occurs in cycles. We’re doing new things, and as we try them, many things will “fail.”  How do we act when that happens?  Are we tyrannized by the belief that everything we do has to move us forward?

9. Learning is the only way we become smarter about what we do. Duh.  But how many of us work in environments where we have to guard against failure?  Are you allowed to have a project or a meeting go sideways, or is the demand for accountability and effectiveness so overwhelming that we have to scale back expectations or lie about what we are doing.

10.  Meaningful work is a powerful human motivator. What is the deepest purpose that calls us to our work and how often do we remember this?

11. Humans can handle anything as long as we’re together. That doesn’t mean we can stop tsunamis, but it means that when we have tended to relationships, we can make it through what comes next.  Without relationships our communities die, individuals give up, and possibility evaporates.  The time for apologizing for relationship building is over.  We need each other, and we need to be with each other well.

12. Generosity, forgiveness and love.  These are the most important elements in a community. We need all of our energy to be devoted to our work.  If we use our energy to blame, resent or hate, then we deplete our capacity, we give away our power and our effectiveness.  This is NOT soft and cuddly work.  Adam Kahane has recently written about the complimentarity of love and power, and this principle, more than any other is the one that should draw our attention to that fact.  Love and power are connected.  One is not possible without the other.  Paying attention to this quality of being together is hard, and for many people it is frightening.  Many people won’t even have this conversation because the work of the heart makes us vulnerable.  But what do we really get for being guarded with one another, for hoarding, blaming and despising?

We could probably do a full three workshop on these principles (and in the circle just now we agreed to!).  But as key organizing principles, these are brilliant points of reflection for communities to engage in conversations about what is really going on.

We love you, take care

From Alex Kjerulf’s Friday Spoing.  Behaviour change at it’s best!

When our master metaphors fail us

Phil Cubeta hits a home run with a lament for what lies at our collective centre:

As you can tell, this post is not about venture philanthropists per se but about language. What saddens me is the impoverishment of our ways of talking about our shared lives in community with one another. To see the languages of love withering, or sequestered behind closed doors, while the language of money thrives in all venues is a cause and symptom of a decline in the moral imagination. We have become people for whom the master metaphor is finance, even as the markets have failed us. This does not bode well for life among the ruins. What will those who think only in money be like when money has become worthless?

via Gift Hub: Bowling under MBA Supervision .

Leading from a platform of reverence

I am helping to design an interesting gathering in June of next year that will be part of a bigger initiative to shift the values conversation around sustainability.  It’s interesting for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the conscious invitation of indigenous peoples, social entreprenuers and leaders who are firmly connected to the biggest and most influential systems in our world.  We’re seeing what we can do together.

The initiative is called Beyond Sustainability: Cultivating a community of leadership from a platform of reverence.  After an intense and creative weekend of designing, here are some of the propositions that we cracked, and some of the architecture needed for shifting values.  These propositions are offered as principles for this community od leaders.  They are in development, and this is version 1.0.  Please let me know what you think:

7 basic propositions for shifting values

  1. We must operate as a community. The era of the lone wolf is over. There are no single heroes who will bail us out of the situation we have created for ourselves. Together we must act in community, bringing the values of our ancient understanding of the village to play on a modern global stage and never forgetting that as human beings we are built to work together and not in separation of one another.
  2. We must operate from a platform of reverence. Collectively, many of us who have been responsible and influential in the systems that shape our world have done so divorced from the consciousness that our ancestors held for the deep connections we have for the natural world. Reverence has been a capacity of human life that has kept us accountable to each other and to our environments for hundreds of thousands of years. Many of us have shed that reverence and have dulled our sense to the awe that is inspired by a deep connection to the earth, to each other and to ourselves. Reverence is our operating system, and connection is our practice.
  3. We need to embrace the practice of crossing boundaries. The answers to our questions lie outside ourselves, in the wisdom of community and collective intelligence In order to access this wisdom and offer ourselves fully, we are prepared to cross boundaries, to travel to unfamiliar places and be there as learners and contributors to an emerging sense of direction. The boundaries that exist between peoples, cultures and lands are artificial and constructed and they have unnecessarily divided us and deprived us of inspiration, wisdom and co-creation.
  4. We have time only to act and learn. We don’t have time to create a long term plan, develop consensus and choose only one path forward. The hubris of this approach makes any plan subject to the political machinations of the interests embedded in dying systems. Those machinations took the last great global attempt at Kyoto and scuttled it and now we are out of time. The time for planning is over, and the time for a myriad of experiments and activities is upon us. Indeed, the future is already beginning to speak through the millions of activities, social entrepreneurs, community organizers, cultural practitioners, business leaders and teachers who are not waiting for the sanction of the whole, but who are instead addressing the challenges head on and devoting their lives to saving humanity from it’s own stubborn refusal to change. And they are also showing the way forward by sharing what they learn in novel and accessible ways.
  5. Our way forward is a conversation about values AND tactics. Exploring values without tactics is wishful thinking and employing tactics without values is reckless. We need to employ the tactics of hope from a platform of reverence, supported by a community of influential leaders who are connected to the systems that need to change.
  6. Social entrepreneurs and traditional peoples are the sources of the world views and practices we need for the world. There are people in the world whose lives are devoted to practices of accessing the sacred source of reverence, crossing boundaries, collaborating with others, seeing themselves in relation to the natural world, and sharing and giving away what they know and have acquired. These fundamental practices represent both the foundation of many traditional indigenous communities and represent new ways of doing business, governance, education and social development. We have tools that will allow us to be in deep connection with one another face to face and across oceans, and these tools amplify and make possible the practices that stem from a platform of reverence Social entrepreneurs and indigenous peoples are sources of powerful and generative world views, guides on the path, and leaders to the future of a shift in the values that underlie global systems of domination, exploitation, disconnection, violence and greed.
  7. As a community we seek to become a system of influence. Only by seeing and experiencing our connections to the global web of human endeavour can we truly appreciate our resourcefulness to this call. All of those involved in Beyond Sustainability are deeply embedded in powerful systems and many have channels and connections to the underlying architecture of power in its many forms. Now is the time to put those resources to work, to help hospice the old systems so that they may die gracefully, to midwife the new and to steward the nascent so that we can accelerate the emergence of a set of values that restores right relationship to the the earth and to each other.

The architecture of reverence

Reverence – a profound awe and respect – is the word we are using for the fundamental set of values that we embody. The platform of reverence is based on three fields: reverence for the earth, reverence for the other and reverence for oneself. Cultivating this reverence is the key to growing a set of values based on deep belonging, deep listening and deep presencing. It is a set of values that connects us fundamentally to the source of life and community that lies trampled by humankind’s unrestrained race to modernity. It is a set of values that is generative and is our biggest asset in helping to create and nurture the systems that will restore balance to human life on earth.

The Beyond Sustainability initiative is an invitation to explore and practice together in this cultivation of reverence, noticing what is born in doing so, and devoting ourselves to helping new ideas grow in fertile and creative ways.

Reverence for the earth – cultivating deep belonging

Human beings are prone to forgetting that we are of the earth, children of the universe, embodied and born out of the mingling of material and spirit, containers for the conscious work of the cosmos. When we forget what we know in our deepest indigenous selves, we grow too big. We engage in the suicidal pursuit of domination and exploitation of the land, air and sea, and we become inhumane in our treatment of others, creating and tolerating unimaginable suffering among all living things. This is no mere appeal to sentimental and romantic back-to-the-earth mindset. We are now acutely aware that the brutal dismemberment of human beings from the natural world has made possible our own destruction and the destruction of many other species.

Deep belonging is captured in the Ojibway word dineamaganik, “I belong to everything” or “All my relations.” It is reinforced in the Hawaiian story of the Kumulipo, in which the very pattern of the universe is imparted to the sources of the material world and the increasingly sacred story that western science tells of evolution and the interconnectedness of all things.

Our first practice therefore, is the cultivation of deep belonging, an intuitive and unshakable understanding of where we come from and who we really are, of how the land and the natural world holds us, and of the patterns of nature that flow within us when we open to them. From that place comes the source of new values and new practices.

Reverence for each other – cultivating deep listening

We rush to judgement, take things at their surface value, outsource meaning making to experts and rely on rumour and innuendo to form our opinions of one another. Human beings have a remarkable ability to refuse to see what is right before us, to hear deeply what is being deeply said, to hold each other in the highest respect and compassion. When we cut ourselves off and stuff our ears full of rationalizations, we become inoculated to the pleas of others to be heard and seen as human beings.

Deep listening makes possible aloha, the Hawaiian art of sharing breath, hishook ish tsawaak, the Nuu-Chah-Nulth awareness of interdependence, and k’e, the Navajo concept of being tied together in a weaving of relations.

Deep listening means being with others in a way that allows us to see ourselves in the other, that invites us to open to the wisdom that is held in the centre of every person, that contributes to an emergent experience of community. Traditional communities cultivate this deep listening through ceremony that makes the communities most precious wisdom available to all. We are prepared to listen in that way.

Reverence for oneself – cultivating deep presence

We cannot come to the work as spectators, bystanders or skeptical cynics. Cultivating the shift in values that we seek is work done by people who show up fully, authentically and devoted to the service of life. It is only out of deep presence that we can become teachers of one another or that we ask the questions and seek the help that we need to move our work forward in the world. Reverence for ourselves and for our preciousness is critical for being fearless and helpful in whatever way we can.

A commitment to the practice of presence means that we invite collaboration in this work from a place of deep intent, offering what we can, and asking for what we need, and not holding ourselves back out of fear or arrogance. We are a community of fully present learners AND leaders, comfortable with not knowing the way forward, but confident in our own abilities to discern and act powerfully from a place of deep and interconnected reverence.