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Climate Heroes

A letter to our children on the 2040 we hope for…
Have you seen Damon Gameau’s 2040 yet?  It’s a great documentary, but one thing in particular we liked when we watched it was the focus on impactful, practical climate solutions.

Often, the climate conversation is heavy, with emphasis given to how bad the situation is and how it will only get worse if we don’t act. In 2040, however, Gameau creates a more positive and hopeful narrative by exploring solutions – real solutions, currently in existence – that will make things better if adopted.
Gameau uses Kate Raworth doughnut economics as a framework to explain how and why the solutions are impactful and practical.

One of the solutions Gameau explores is SolShare – a solar energy company that looks to bring affordable clean electricity to everyone in Bangladesh and beyond through smart, peer to peer grids. Customers purchase solar panels and battery storage (the SOLbox).  Then, through an IOT-driven marketplace (the SOLbazaar) they are able to sell excess energy generated back to the grid to non-solar home system users, or those who can’t afford it.

Referring to Raworth’s doughnut, this answers a number of the social shortfalls beyond energy.  It improves health by providing clean energy replacing kerosene lamps, it improves education by providing light by which children can do their homework at night, it improves social equity by allowing communities to share resource, while also providing an income. It also reduces waste, air pollution, chemical pollution, ozone layer depletion and ultimately greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

SolShare’s founder, Neal (who is 22 by the way), explains that the success of the company so far is because of it’s decentralised and bottom up approach.

Another solution that Gameau explores is regenerative agriculture – a farming practice that looks to conserve and rehabilitate the land while farming it.  Adoption is growing in Australia as Aussie farmers suffer at the hands a harsh environment worsened by climate change and a broken system: the introduced European farming methods that aren’t suitable for Australian landscape.

In the documentary, Gameau talks with Colin Seis about his ‘multi species pasture cropping’ practice which repairs pasture topsoil by planting multiple grass species who’s root systems improves the soil's ability to sequester carbon, absorb and retain water and nutrient density.  This in turn means that the meat that eats the crop are healthier and provide more nutrients to the humans who eat them.

Again, referring to Raworth’s doughnut, regenerative farming corrects social shortfalls by providing nutrient dense food which improving health and access to food and corrects for planetary overshoot by reducing one of the worst offenders nitrogen and phosphorus loading, as well as reducing freshwater withdrawals and carbon emissions through sequestration.

Speaking of positive outlooks and solutions…
Have you subscribed to Future Crunch?  Similar to Gameau, the team at Future Crunch aim to ‘change the story of the human race in the 21st century, by changing the stories we tell ourselves’.   The team of scientists, artists, researchers and entrepreneurs create and tell compelling, evidence-based stories about a positive future.  They also collate and share positive, solutions-based global news stories in their fortnightly newsletter.  Check it out here.

And finally…
Taking a slightly different tact, The Guardian has been hard at work on a series called the Polluters  which refocuses our attention on where real change can be made.  For example, they recently reported on the top 20 companies responsible for a third of the world’s carbon emissions, and provided the stats on the politicians most likely to vote against the climate in the UK.

Often the media can make it feel like it’s on us as individuals to make changes to our lives and habits, so this is a helpful reminder that even just a few heavy hitters changing the way they do things will make a lot more difference than we could as individuals.  It provides direction and focus for anyone prompted to act in the wake of the climate strike.


Social Innovation with Clout: Insights from Canada’s social impact ecosystem

From Olivia Clark-Moffatt

In June, donkey wheel foundation, sent a group of leaders from Australia’s social innovation sector to draw insight from the Canadian social impact ecosystem.  The trip visited Montreal and Toronto (some participants also visited Winnipeg or Atlanta), experiencing some top examples of grassroots initiatives through to big organisations and their role in the ecosystem.  TDi Principal, Olivia Clark-Moffatt, was one of the 12 journeymen (and women).  These are her reflections and insights from the trip.

 

What I felt

Canada is familiar and yet foreign. It seems to be a nation with a strong social agenda and greater depth to its shared responsibility for social innovation.  In this way, it feels similar to New Zealand’s national social agenda, and different to Australia's, which perhaps takes on American influence of individualism and protectionism, making social outcomes feel like a ‘favour’.

 

I returned with a feeling of envy for Canada's national spirit of generosity and how established the ecosystem is.  The complexity of developing a generous narrative and building a story of wealth through diversity is a significant challenge for social innovation in Australia.  Perhaps summed up by the Chinese Proverb the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second-best time is now.

 

What I saw

True to TDi’s own belief that business is an important driver of systems-change, the social solutions we visited were driven by entrepreneurs.  Organisations or project teams would proactively solve genuine problems, and then seek reinforcement and mainstream support from Government or research partners.

 

The MaRS centre in Toronto, which we visited, is a great example of this.  It was started in 2000 by 14 civic leaders with a vision for a downtown innovation hub.  They pooled together $14m and garnered support from Government and their networks to build a ‘co-habitation’ space for innovation.  In their own words, it’s a place where innovators – whether in business, research, education, startups – are able to meet, connect and collaborate to solve the biggest problems facing Canada and the world.  Like a living organism, the solutions that have been dreamed up in this environment have created more businesses, jobs and dollars for the economy, self-proving and expanding the centre’s site.

 

At a grassroots level, the initiatives and businesses felt much more commercially sustainable than Australia, while the big players in the system had bigger pools of money, more sophisticated outlooks, more influence (through policy in Government), and more depth (through research partners) all of which amassed to more agency for change.

 

For example, the McConnell foundation, a philanthropy foundation at their heart, who take on so much more than that in order to make change in the eco-system.  In their own words:

“Re-designing systems calls for new financial arrangements, policy innovation, new relations between government, civil society and the private sector, equitable and effective engagement with affected populations, and alignment with values that foster social creativity and mutual respect.”

Then, there were just the completely new ideas that Australia does not yet have.  We visited Wasan Island, which label themselves a social innovation retreat.   Wasan is a private Island where teams and collaborators go to disconnect from the world and quietly, spiritually, in conversation and peacefully solve societal problems.   The seclusion and spiritually of the island give it it’s point of difference and some of the world’s most prominent businesses and thinkers have been invited to have a facilitated conversation.  We talk a lot about ‘slow-thinking’ at TDi – the opportunity to step back and plug into the bigger picture.  I like the idea of a space that provides a different energy for that than the corporate three-day sprint.

 

So, where are Australia’s gaps?

As mentioned at the start of this reflection, I think that Australia has a long way to go in terms of creating and nurturing a culture and environment that believes in social inclusion rather than seeing it as a favour.   We need a better balance of competition and cooperation – less American influence, more Eastern philosophy.

 

For me, the other piece that missing is a maturity in thinking around upfront investment.  We’re a typically risk averse culture which is inhibiting our ability to prove out successful, socially-driven businesses and create momentum in the ecosystem.   We need the opportunity to get a couple of runs on the board to make a dent, generate interest and trust, and to start building tomorrow’s ecosystem, now.

 

A place for TDi in the system

Interestingly, during my time in Canada, I didn’t see anything like TDi in the ecosystem.   There was no body that connected in to both the players at the top end and the grassroots.  I could see us playing the role of aggregator or guild-creator in this system, collating people around ideas, and helping them to build the structures and systems to solve, not just the words (policy and research).  I think this is an under-established area in the Australian ecosystem which presents an opportunity for us. To really think about unqiue ways to bring together social innovators for scale and impact that are true to them (not the charitable nor commercial sectors.)

 

In sum, the best thing about this time away has been the renewal of the call into the unknown. The future is not waiting for us, it demands to be co-created.


TDi's Reading Guide

Annie, CEO – Annie is a perfectly primed systems-challenger, with experience in starting businesses, community leadership, impact-investing, and commercial business.

I have many favourite reading resources.  I’m thankful that we live in a time where information and ideas can be so freely shared.  I’ve chosen Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux. I remember when I first read this about 2.5 years ago it awakened and gave language to a stack of idea I’d been playing with.  I remember thinking “this is great, but is it really possible?”

TDi has begun its ‘teal journey’ and we have a long way to go, but I now not only believe it is possible but it is the future. We’ll be left behind without this type of thinking and practice.

  

Liv, Principal – Liv leads TDI’s Australian business, bringing an entrepreneurial ‘hack’ and spiritual lens to everything she does, and has an ability to instantly connect with our partners.

How to Lead a Quest: a handbook for pioneering executives by Jason Fox – this book combines entrepreneurial Hutzpah with big systems thinking.  I love that it enables genuine delivery around new strategic thinking.  So often great ideas fail to translate properly to the management plan.

 

 

 

 

Anna, Principal – Anna leads TDi’s business in the Pacific, approaching everything she does with curiosity, generosity and professionalism which means she takes our partners to thoughtful, impactful, long-lasting solutions.

Ripples from the Zambezi was recommended to Annie and I by an Australian farmer, living and working in Vanuatu.  We were sitting under the shade of his verandah trying to translate our work into his context, when he interjected and asked if we’d read Ernesto Sirolli’s book.  Turns out we shared a lot more in common than we’d thought.  Since that time, I’ve recommended this book to everyone who is curious about good development and unintended consequences in social change.

 

 

Isaac, Senior Consultant – as our ‘facilitator extraordinaire’, Isaac has a metaphor, case study, quote, or book reference for any situation an entrepreneur is facing.

Mine is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

A lot of my favourite authors said that this was their favourite book, and they weren’t kidding – it’s a gem.  This book will make you uncomfortable in a good way, and teaches you how to get difficult things done.  When people start to lose momentum in their startup, this is the book I buy them.

 

 

Carlo, Senior Consultant – with a varied history in human resources and operations, Carlo is equal parts passion and profession, and he works closely and genuinely with our partners.

My favourite reading resource at the moment is the Stanford Social Innovation Review – an incredible magazine and blog rather, than a book.  Given my masters, I tend to struggle to sit down with a book at the moment, and so the SSIR is my go to source for cross-sector solutions to global problems and an inspiring world view of the social impact ecosystem.

At TDi we make a conscious decision to see the strengths in systems rather than focusing on the deficiencies and viewing them as challenges or problems. We refer to this as an assets approach. What some people might see as ‘problems’ we view as opportunities to design more creatively and innovatively.

This latest article from SSIR is a wonderful example of why this approach is so powerful for our international and local work:  https://ssir.org/articles/entry/cocreating_with_the_base_of_the_pyramid#

 

Shannon, Platforms Manager – the whole world could be collapsing, and Shannon would keep her cool, which is why she keeps the TDi ship running tight.

Mine is Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead… no surprises there probably!  I've been following Brene Brown and her various books and talks for some years now, mainly from a personal perspective post having children. I apply her techniques and learnings everyday at home as well as at work.

When her latest book, Dare to Lead came out, I was quick to grab it. Her tips around vulnerability in the workplace, 'Paint Done' and giving and receiving feedback are so practical and useful. We are now implementing them as common practise at TDi.

 

 

Erin, Consultant – with a natural inclination to understand ‘why’ and connect with people, Erin is good at getting to the root cause of problem or finding lateral opportunities.

I’ve had to narrow it down to a top two.  Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnerman and Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Thinking Fast and Slow is about how our brain works when we make decisions, which is both interesting to understand, and has also been SO helpful in my work.  Navigating human behaviour is the hardest part of any job, but especially when trying to understand why more people aren't socially and environmentally conscious.  I believe that this book is key to helping unlock social and environmental change at scale, through change in behaviour at scale.

 

I like Deep Work because it presents a work practice that resonates with me in our increasingly distracting world.  I have implemented the tips in this book to great benefit of my work output.

 

Ash, Associate – a proud Aboriginal woman and passionate about working for her people and country, Ash is our cultural conduit and an incredibly passionate program manager.

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. It was a lecture series on societal collapse that travelled across 5 Canadian cities. I know from my own personal experience that when you make the same mistake more than once, you start to look at new ways to do business, this applies to life as well. This book is a great example of how we should learn from history and ensure our society doesn't meet the same fates.  It asks us questions that I face every day working in social enterprises and Indigenous Affairs - Where do we come from? What are we? and most importantly, where are we going?

 

 

Elisa, Bookkeeper and Executive Assistant – Elisa uses equal parts heart and mind in her work which make her a grounding force for the TDi team.

I first read Utopian Man many years ago, but it sticks in my mind still today.  It’s a fictional telling of the life of E.W. Cole, the mind behind Melbourne’s famous Cole’s Book Arcade (which operated from 1883-1929).  I think he is a great example of 'Do good and make money'.

His arcade sounds like a place of wonder, with a fernery, musical band, confectionery stalls, monkeys and over two million books all offered at fair prices because he wanted to create an inviting place that everyone could access, not just the wealthy.  However, as a practical man, he made his money from his printing press (which he also used to print thought leadership pieces).

 

I've read elsewhere about how he was able to connect to people through emotion and sincerity which is why he was able to influence. So, I like that he influenced people to think differently through wonderment.  If I had a time machine, I would love to go back and see the arcade!


The art of rule-breaking

From Annie Smits, CEO

 

I consider myself a ‘seasoned rule-breaker’ having dedicated much of my life to challenging systems that don’t work. I spent 10 years as a minister pushing up against one of the biggest institutions entrenched in tradition: the church. What comes to mind for me when I think about Piscasso’s quote learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist is the journey to mastering a trade – from novice, to apprentice, to journeyman, to master of a craft.

 

 

So, what does this have to do with social entrepreneurship and innovation? Well everything!

As social entrepreneurs we desire to break the rules, rearrange the system, and to change how we treat people and planet.  To see the true change in a system, we need to apprentice with the problem before we can shift it or break it.   ‘Apprentice with the problem’ is a saying of the late great Pamela Hartigan.  By this she meant we need to take time to understand the problem before we could truly be of any value as part of the solution.

 

I think a great example that illustrates this for me is how KeepCup apprenticed with the problem of ‘wasteful coffee culture’.  I remember once sitting with Abigail Forsyth, the founder of Keep Cup, who wanted to change peoples’ behaviour around the use of disposable cups.  As a café owner and barista, she spent many years studying people’s relationship and behaviour to takeaway coffee culture – I remember being fascinated by this.  Abigail was confident she could convince people to buy a reusable cup, but that wasn’t the entire problem, it was also continual use of it.  The biggest question she spent her time answering was how do we incentivise people to remember to bring their reusable takeaway cups with them every time?

 

 

Why are we breaking the rules in the first place?

 

For me personally, the most powerful reason for systems-change is exclusion – someone is being left out or not able to participate in a system. I think of our finances system in the West, where bankers and finance experts have created a system of intimidation and closed knowledge that excludes people through the language they use.   I think of equality ‘trade-off’ debate: women can have more power and a voice, as long as it doesn’t leave the guys out.   As a mother of two young boys I don’t want my sons left behind, but I also have a daughter and want her to grow up with equal opportunity in the system.   In fact, some of the most outrageous reasons for exclusion we’ve seen, have been through our work with Indigenous people – for example, laws that don’t acknowledge the rights of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people?!

 

At TDi, much of our work to date has been about helping the excluded to participate in existing systems (for example, our work through YuMi).  But I don’t think in any of these issues its just about helping someone to participate in the current system.   More and more, I’m asking myself the question what if we need to build new and inclusive systems, create a new language and a new centre?

 

If we’re creating a new system, it requires all of us to think and act differently. Who is going to own this problem?  The most powerful place for change is when we own the problem, take responsibility in how we’ve been complicit in that system.  This requires us to be changed as a part of the process, not just a passive expert facilitating someone else’s journey from the outside. An expert comes with all the answers, all the knowledge and all the power. Instead, we need to approach problems from a position of vulnerability, empathy and be open to the process of change, changing us.

 

Be patient grasshopper

Change requires a thoughtful, patient process.  There’s a youthful energy and enthusiasm that comes with rule-breaking that I love, but it also needs to be tempered with patience, to get the long-term or scalable change we are looking for.   We need to observe, participate, practice, practice, practice in a system, before we can make it our own.  There are three qualities that I dig deep for to help me on a patient journey: humility, curiosity and most of all an ability to sit in the messy unknown of a situation before you jump to the solution.

 

Humility: our ability to say ‘we don’t know’ is a constant gift.  It opens space for new ideas, further discussion, and others to contribute to the conversation providing new points of view.

 

Curiosity: our greatest friend. As kids we are born with a great sense of curiosity, constantly asking ‘but why?’ Many of us lose this as we grow older, or it’s considered a childish trait, but I would argue it is through a sense of curiosity that we master a situation.

 

Sitting in the unknown: our ability to suspend judgement is critical to arrive at a solution for lasting change.  At TDi we call it ‘the messy middle’ where we sit in the mess and the unknown before we can come up with a solution.

These three things are hard to do when you’ve got pressure from external stakeholders to ‘have the answer’.  But a true response will take time and thoughtfulness.  This isn’t the easy journey, and might mean that, like Abigail, you sit alongside the problem or behaviour you are looking to change to understand the levers and relationships which affect long lasting change.


The Full Monty the movie, and the next economy

From Anna Moegerlein, Principal

 

The Full Monty is one of my favourite movies. Recently I stumbled across a chapter by J. K Gibson-Graham (2006) describing the film through the lens of the next economy. It took my appreciation to a whole other level.

 

The Full Monty is set in Sheffield in the England shortly after the closure of the steelworks. A group of unemployed men gather each day at the Job Club. Some are looking for work, others have given up all together. Then a male strip show comes to town and a small group of the local men, led by Gaz, decide to put on their own show to rival the Chippendales.

 

Things don’t go so well initially. There’s an excruciating scene where one man is auditioning for a part in the group. He fumbles, stops halfway and runs out. This is followed by a hilarious scene with an older black man who stuns the group with his charismatic dance moves. The film strikes the perfect balance between funny and sad.

 

What Gibson-Graham so deftly point out is that The Full Monty is a story of economic transition that actually goes well. The central characters give themselves permission to embrace a more flexible male identity (that includes vulnerability and creativity), they’re thoroughly successful in their enterprise and are celebrated by their community.

 

In their book, Gibson-Graham talk about how important identity and agency are to successful economic transition, and specifically to an economy that is more inclusive, more equitable and not dependent on fossil fuels. In fact, they suggest that the task of building this new economy is more about performing different economic identities (identities that moves beyond ‘homo-economicus’ to include work/business that integrates purpose, as well our interdependency with the natural world, among other things), than it is about macro-economic planning. I’d suggest it’s both, but the stories we tell ourselves and our national economic narrative is absolutely putting the brakes on change.

 

Gibson-Graham’s book also reminded me of how important community is to any transition. People need hope, agency and the encouragement of their peers. There’s also that point where you let go, step into the unknown and see what happens.


The stories we tell ourselves

If you have ever dreamt of a society with great wealth, distributed fairly and intended exclusively for the wellbeing of its people then maybe you have dreamt of Europe’s first great civilization – the Minoan empire on the island of Crete, 4600 years ago.

The Minoans created a seafaring empire. Their ships sailed to all points of the Mediterranean peninsula for trade. They built well-developed roads connecting 100 cities across the island of Crete.

For 500+ years they lived in peace. The Minoan capital of Knossos had no defense walls and no army. The capital did not feel threatened by the other cities in their domain, nor any of its citizens. Its rule of law relied upon equitable distribution of wealth and strong, connected leadership.

The Minoan palace was the heart of the city. It had 1,400 rooms, which housed schoolrooms, government services, artist workshops and theatres. Wide corridors and large rooms made space for thousands of citizens to come and go.

Archaeologists found impressive multi-coloured wall paintings depicting day-to-day life and the Minoan’s reverence for nature. People, animals and plants were joyously painted in bright colours. It is also clear from these paintings that women had an important role in all aspects of society; if not higher than men, than certainly equal. They competed on an equal basis to men in the athletic games, even in the most daring events.

 

 

The Minoan civilization came to an end in 1630 BC when a volcano on a neighboring island triggered a tsunami and ash clouds. Archaeologists found that the buildings had fallen outwards as they collapsed, presumably full with water.

Today the Minoan society seems quite remarkable. First that it existed and second that it is so little known. A European civilization that was well off and shared that wealth and power among its citizens, and revered the earth’s living systems? Doesn’t seem possible. But it was, and it lasted for 500 years. 500 years of a different world-view, standing in clear contrast to most, if not all, ancient (and many modern) European civilizations that have sought to accumulate wealth and power. It can’t help but inspire optimism… and we can’t help wondering, what might we begin to build if we truly believed in our own wisdom and generosity?