The School of System Change Launches in London

Back in February I attended opening days of the School of System Change, a cross-cultural gathering orchestrated by Forum for the Future in London.

Here are some of the notes that I scribbled down during opening days:

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The world is a system that is constantly changing. Through storytelling, we can co-create what is needed to address complex challenges. Stories are a map for understanding the world, a microcosm of what’s happening in the larger whole.

The goal of the School of System Change is to build a community of people practicing those skills. We are alive and part of this ecology, this system.

What is the shape / thread / wave of your life? What is the context? Life is change, is motion.

If you frame things too quickly, it becomes your prison.

Sin crisis no hay crecimiento.

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Walking away from the thing often means circling back to it. Challenge your own story. Create a structure, a framework, but recognize when you’re holding onto old stories, and have the strength to let them go.

What is the story that you always tell yourself about your life? What happens when you let that story go, and tell another story?

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We can understand ourselves as agents of change. There are many roles.

(At the moment my role is Connector / Amplifier / Disruptpr / Archivist. I move between).

We can look at change through the lens of relationships. Working smarter means getting out of our silos.

People don’t like change. People fear change. To admit that your theory is wrong is really hard.

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London is dense with layers of time.

Become cunning. Bring others in. Give them the opportunity to become part of the change. Rather than telling them something, bring them on board.

System change is about partnerships. How can we create spaces where those relationships are built? People are very busy. We need to find spaces to step out of  busy-ness and reflect.

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#resist together (Paris)

The Latin root of the word “conversation” means “to turn together. Human communication is a dance ritual.

We live in language. Language is a place. You’re a different person in a different language.

Find the part of the system that you can twang. Seek a journey for maximum wobble.

The future is a figment. It doesn’t exist. The future is a product of the present.

Institutions aren’t immutable. They can be redesigned and reinvented. Think for the long-arc, the 100-200 year future.

Leadership in systems change requires that we have:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Courage (to look deeply at ourselves & our strengths and weaknesses / biases; to know them; to listen to others).
  3. Joy (because it’s hard to overcome the barrier of time and attention)
  4. A group of people who believe in the need to change and define the problem together.
  5. Fail fast. Fail forward.

What does your ideal future look like, feel like, etc.?

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textures of home, other side of the pond

How do we get people who have the power to change the system involved in system change?

We must have the patience to listen and seek to understand perspectives that are different than our own.

A map is a tool. A systems diagram embodies structure and causation.

What is the behavior in the system that we want to change?

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You don’t create systems change. You create the conditions for it. Do the thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect the right outcome.

Keep options open. Do stuff and see what happens. Then re-frame your strategy, noticing things that were completely outside of your strategy that work well.

What is the underlying assumption of the system?

Everything is in a state of flux. Things are always in the process of becoming, just as a murmuration of birds flows and shifts.

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Image via alain delorme

Tensions make life rich. We have to deal with tensions that can’t be resolved. Unsolvable tension is, sometimes, good.

Things emerge when something changes that suits the local conditions.

Embracing complexity means embracing that the world is more systemic and emergent than we’d like to think it is.

~

Here is some audio I recorded from other participants on their thoughts on Basecamp’s opening days.

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Support Climate Justice Storytelling at the UN Climate Talks

Hi all! I’m part of a group of 13 youth delegates from SustainUS going to the UN climate talks in Morocco this November.

If you’d like to be involved with the climate movement / support us, that would be massively helpful!

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We’re focusing on climate justice storytelling, and will be bringing stories from COP22 to media outlets back home.

The Paris Agreement has been signed, but we can’t wait for 2050. The transition from fossil fuels needs to happen (and is happening) now. This is the decade to take direct action to prevent catastrophic global warming.

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I have 10 copies of a poetry chapbook left & a handful of postcards from driving across the country that I would be more than happy to send your way. If you’d like a letter or a book of poems in exchange for a donation, let me know!

Thanks so much for your support. If you can’t donate, sharing this link would be a great help, too.

Big love,

Devi

Christmas Island

As ever, I am interested in the intersection between poetry and storytelling, how the voice in a poem can leap from the page (or screen) and tell a story of its own.

This story that Nacanieli Seru told me in Nukuloa-i-Gau, Fiji has been haunting me for nearly three months. While I didn’t have the audio recorder on while he told it––it’s not explicitly a water story or a climate change story, either––I think it belongs here.


 

Christmas Island 

They told us to turn our backs. We stood on the beach, all 300 of us from the Fijian Navy Reserves. It was a beautiful, blue day on Christmas Island, the day they tested the British hydrogen bomb.

I could feel the heat. The top of the explosion was like ice cream. Billowing fire.

Some of us, when we came back, our hair fell out. Most of us, when we came back, had miscarriages.

I knew something was wrong when albatross fell out of the air, dead. Birds farther away flew into buildings, blind.

My son was born two years later. He was always sick.

Sakiusa Seru died at age forty-nine. In the autopsy they couldn’t find anything wrong.

It’s a thing you wouldn’t wish on any parent, having to bury their child.

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Interview with Story Collector Monica Niki Elenbaas

Do you have a story about Hurricane Katrina to share? 

August 29th, 2014 marked the 9th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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In reaction to the fact that she heard almost nothing in the news about the anniversary, Niki was inspired to collect stories. Her work focuses on people who volunteered in the aftermath of the hurricane, as well as those who were helped. Niki’s goal is to ensure that this part of the story is told for the 10th anniversary next year.

Here’s to storytelling as a form of activism and memory.

 ~

What is motivating you to collect stories about Katrina?

I have held a variety of roles—from small to national—leading volunteerism. And I have a very personal connection to what happened during Katrina because of family members. I feel like the national attention of the 10th anniversary provides an excellent time to gain attention for the win:win:win of volunteerism.

What is your own Katrina story?

My brother-in-law and his wife prepared for Katrina as best they could, by “buttoning up” their home and her dental practice. When we talked with them on Sunday, we were concerned that they planned to stay slightly inland from Pass Christian (at her parent’s house). When the storm finally arrived, I was glued to television and the internet while the rest of the world went on, not realizing the magnitude of what was going on.

It took two days before we were sure they were fine. It took a month before we could fly into New Orleans and then drive through roadblocks and devastated (and yet uncleared) area after area to get to Pass Christian to help them with recovery. Even typing this now makes my anxiety level rise in a disconcerting way.

America went on with professional sports and stupid television and news of terrorism. By the time I was back home (after a week of helping with recovery), no one cared. I couldn’t sleep. I was so anxious over the fact that our country had moved on.

We have been back about a dozen times since the storm. People outside of the area think the disaster was in New Orleans, and they think recovery is in the past. We know better.

How do you see Katrina as linked to issues of water and climate change?

I see Katrina, as well as issues of water and climate change, as all related to the damage created by our culture of greed.

What do you hope for the future?

I hope that the best keeps coming out. Countless Americans have given their time and energy to disaster recovery, and their work goes largely unsung. I hope that we stop glorifying terrible role models like Justin Bieber or the latest NFL abuser in favor of our best heroes.

What is the power of storytelling in creating this future?

Each of us needs to tell and tell and tell.

If someone wants to share a story with you, how can they be in touch?

Monica-dot-Elenbaas-at-gmail-dot-com

 


 

nikiAs past national director for volunteer service and learning for the YMCA, Monica Niki Elenbaas has seen over and over how service benefits both the giver and received. Personally, helping family with recovery after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast led to a life-changing experience with the clean-up. Nearly a decade later, the recovery is far from over and that the storm’s continuing impact reveals a great deal about the best and worst of our country. Niki is collecting stories about people who volunteered in Katrina’s aftermath, as well as those who were helped, to help ensure that this part of the story is told for the 10th anniversary in 2015.