Just back from a Social Innovation/Entrepreneurship festival in Finland. So exciting! It was a bit of a Dragon's den format where I was both a judge and a mentor. Invited by Momal Mustaq, an inspiring friend and social entrepreneur. She started a platform for women around the world to share new freedoms in mobility. It's called Freedom Traveller. See below.
Some of the start-ups at the festival included:
- a mobile phone app that turns it into a hearing aid
- a platform to connect Syrians to volunteers and agencies in Germany
- a platform that connects foodies to informal kitchens
- building materials made from plant cellulose
- a gaming type of app that allows people with bi-polar to detect their own early warning signs for depression
Important to ask what types of social problems businesses can really address. The limits of this frame and approach. There is a "New Public" where citizens and social businesses have stepped in to fill gaps where private sector or government have failed. At best, we find creative paths and new roles. At worst, it is offloading what should be a public function. Business will never be the best tool for ensuring justice and accountability. We still need activism for that.
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Food Systems and Networks
Completed a contract with the Public Health Agency of Canada- Innovation Strategy to help them develop a framework for assessing the system or sectoral level readiness of programs. I did a literature review on mental health, healthy weights, systems change. Then transformational scenario planning with the Food Action Team at Ecology Action Centre to test the a draft assessment tool.
Further testing of the assessment tool across the projects revealed a number of findings. Reach goals may need to be tempered against the establishment of a strong vested network of partners that lay a foundation for governance, sustainable funding, learning and adaptation. Those projects that scored well formed intentional networks that were home-grown, context-specific and highly based on the relationships and aligned incentives of the partners involved. Sophisticated networks had partners that acted in concert to push learning, change practice and affect behaviours and policy. They were able to act on multiple levels, often multiple determinants of health, multiple sites, multiple issues. This included creative leverage of community-based private sector partners such as retail stores and health stores. Each project (set of partnerships) has a “sweet spot” for determining how much and what types of multiplicity is most strategic for the broader influence.
One highly rated project was a self-declared food network- a mix of partners: schools, non-profits, stores and health food stores. Though led by a non-profit they were able to be very savvy in assessing the market for local foods. This business savvy also supported sustained funding and a governance base. They were able to identify specifically where smart subsidy could be used (address financial barriers of First Nations hunters). Community infrastructure (ovens, freezer, gardens, community tables) provided critical points of connection as did events and festivals that supported social networks, belonging and connecting cultural practices past and present. Policy dialogue and influence was intentional and elaborated based on learning and evidence.
Banco Palmas, Brazil - What Role can Community Organizing Play against Structural Violence?
Banco Palmas and Instituto Palmas are known for the community banks that they created with social currencies that transformed local economies and reversed spending to focus on local businesses. They've been leaders in the move in Brazil and globally toward a solidarity economy- one focused on relationships, local, and community accountability. As such, it has potential to link economic and political citizenship both practically and conceptually. However, current realities, crises really, in Brazil have called into question the notion that small and localized is beautiful. BP played a tremendous role historically and continues to play an important role in the community and national dialogue. However, it is important not to let romantic ideals about community organizing cloud us to its limitations in a globalized world.
Community organizing was effective when poverty was visible and tangible. It was possible to lobby levels of government to achieve basic infrastructure and urbanization in combination with tremendous volunteer energy. However, participation in associational life is down and there are concerns about the lack of new and young leaders in the community. The notable exceptions are the women’s association (Emancipadas), cultural groups (reinforcing belonging and identify) and informal dialogue spaces around human rights including social media. In today’s climate of a political and economic crisis nationally, and serious violence and insecurity locally, poverty is not tangible, visible nor locally confined to the outskirt communities, even to the borders of Brazil.
The urgent questions today relate to how far community mobilization and building civic capacities can go in the face of hidden powers such as organized crime and trafficking or rooted problems of gender-based violence? There is even question as to what constitutes poverty today and what that means for collective analysis and action by the community. Clearly, BP methodology of building community capacity for analysis and action is key. BP also continues to be a key player and convenor of dialogue around key issues in the community such as human rights. Is BP focused on the most pressing set of literacies and capacities for the community? Is it the right mix of individual vs. collective capacity? Does it go far enough beyond the narrowly “technical” or “economic” to affect greater economic and political citizenship?
The experience of BP and CP raises interesting questions for existing theory and practice of economic and political citizenship. Conceptually, a frame adapted from Gaventa and Barrett (2012) is helpful to group the elements of citizenship, economic or political:
• Building civic capacities (individual and collective)
• Creating and strengthening associations and networks, informal networks of dialogue
• Holding states and other forms of “visible and hidden” powers accountable
Civic capacities may be built in any type of association or informal convening including, in this context, cultural groups and social media. These capacities are critical for associational life and informal dialogue but even these mechanisms may not go far enough to hold new, hidden, complex and globalized powers accountable such as organized crime. We need to match these challenges with equally complex and savvy forms of citizen galvanizing grounded in today’s contexts with all the leadership, tools of analysis and practice at our disposal.
In terms of practice, Conjunto Palmeiras and Banco Palmas’ success stemmed from organizing around their own questioning about why they were poor and what could be done to address the situation. They are pursuing the same kind of inquiry today. What would the central question be today related to poverty in Conjunto Palmeiras? Some responses included: Why are we still poor? How are we poor? What is poverty, anyway?
For some reason, I've been giving this a lot of thought lately.
I like Adrienne Rich's answer to a similar question, "Can poetry affect social change?":
"Yes, where poetry is liberative language, connecting the fragments within us, connecting us to others like and unlike ourselves, replenishing our desire. . . . In poetry words can say more than they mean and mean more than they say. In a time of frontal assaults both on language and on human solidarity, poetry can remind us of all we are in danger of losing—disturb us, embolden us out of resignation."
Also Seamus Heaney crediting poetry with offering:
"a less binary and altogether less binding vocabulary"
The arresting and nuanced challenge positivist normative ways of thinking and moving in the world. Food for and voice of our authentic selves. What is more political than being completely in our skins?
Jean Baker Miller:
"Authenticity and subjugation are incompatible."
Feminist Arts Conference, Toronto
Had a lot of fun facilitating at the Feminist Arts Conference in Toronto. Inspiring and provocative discussions, art work, initiatives. Queer dance collective that has revived and subverted burlesque, what they call Unapologetic Burlesque. A print collective that used street signs to campaign and raise awareness around street harassment, the Street Talk Project.
Fran Rawlings and I facilitated a session on Claiming space: navigating gender and power. We adapted the flower power exercise (inter-sectionality) and did some human sculptures and dialogue around power analysis and strategies for change. Some great discussions about how we have agency in some areas and not in others, our negotiability. How we open spaces of power in these small ways as well as the ways that we challenge, hold accountable and organize. The general use of the flower power I find much too binary a treatment of oppression.
I was really moved by the work of Karen Miranda Augustine- Painted Love: Requiems for Salacious Sex Queens. Funeral wreaths for women involved in the sex industry with re-used or discarded tires, hair, nail polish. She led a fascinating discussion on eulogy. Click on the link below to go to her site.
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