Social change through alliances and networks- One of the few things that works 
Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 06:22 AM - The Solidarity Economy & Microfinance
Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA, women's labor and self-employed movement close to one million strong, once said. "A project never changed the world."

There is growing consensus that the old approach to community development, local economic development have not been working because they are not really addressing larger political and systemic issues. This is partly because they are atomized into departments, projects, institutional and individual egos. Growing experience of what works in communities and has been written about in theory is that alliances and networks are one of the keys. This includes effective engagement of government and business. One of the ways that corporations or the private sector are held accountable is through alliances that have legitimate ownership and power at the local level.

This from a conference at Harvard in October of 2014. The Doing Development Differently conference. They found that successful initiatives reflect common principles:

They focus on solving local problems that are debated, defined and refined by local people in an ongoing process.
They are legitimised at all levels (political, managerial and social), building ownership and momentum throughout the process to be ‘locally owned’ in reality (not just on paper).
They work through local conveners who mobilise all those with a stake in progress (in both formal and informal coalitions and teams) to tackle common problems and introduce relevant change.
They blend design and implementation through rapid cycles of planning, action, reflection and revision (drawing on local knowledge, feedback and energy) to foster learning from both success and failure.
They manage risks by making ‘small bets’: pursuing activities with promise and dropping others.
They foster real results – real solutions to real problems that have real impact: they build trust, empower people and promote sustainability.

I would add:

They are political.

All of my experiences with alliances, citizen-driven examples I've seen at all levels from social movements in Brazil to neighbourhood revitalization include advocacy and political organizing. Even the literature supports the notion that the non-profits that have achieved the most impact have done so at a systems or collective level, not organizational. And through what they do in combination with advocacy. This is the little left out bit in all of our conversations about collective impact and social entrepreneurship, doing things differently. It's the only way to clear a path for and sustain the gains that we make.

Local Food Systems, Sectoral Change and the Role of Government, Businesses 
Thursday, January 8, 2015, 06:26 PM - The Solidarity Economy & Microfinance
Participated in a really well-facilitated day-long session through the Our Local Food Team, Ecology Action Centre, on the next phase of their work in local food. This on the heels of a fabulous food conference here in Halifax.

I did a contract with the Public Health Agency of Canada- Innovation Strategy related to EAC and the food team. I was looking at how subsidy can support networks and sectoral-level lasting social change rather than projects and organizations.

Two themes predominated:

- how to move to system or sectoral level change
- how to engage businesses

The following came out of the work that I did in the contract as key considerations:

- Real lasting change happens through networks of unlikely suspects together for a specific purpose i.e. tackle obesity or get kids outdoors. It grows from a small corner of energy and champions. Passion capital is key at the start. We need government, private sector and community organizations and residents to be at the tables if they are to move - and last.

- The term businesses or private sector needs breaking down. Cooperatives are businesses. Small family-owned businesses are private sector. There is so much more than big corporations and foundation grants. In my experience, some of the most exciting stuff is happening in the middle with smaller, local businesses. For example, venture philanthropy pools small business capital into a larger fund that can be used for supporting a food distribution system. Or in San Diego, in a neighbourhood revitalization movement community members contributed their own capital (aver. $500) and pooled $300,000- enough to get start-up capital for a local grocery store. These are a far cry from the cheap, corporate food model.

Government and donors can play the important role of up-front subsidy, risk financing. Later, businesses can participate, particularly if there opportunity for income such as links with restaurants, farmers, distributors. But every business/governance model is embedded in the relationships and the community. The lasting examples have had the unlikely suspects around the table analyzing the situation and making hard decisions about what matters, where funding comes from and how to paddle in the same direction.



Is Transformative Learning Online Possible? 
Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 10:40 AM - Adult and Popular Education
With colleagues Catherine Irving and Joan Francuz, presented a paper at the Transformative Learning Conference at Columbia University in NY October 23-25. The paper describes our experience putting a face to face course in community-based microfinance that I taught for several years online.

Can online be transformative? Our experience is that it can be as powerful and altering as strong face to face education in the right conditions and we are only beginning to understand what that means. The key is leveraging what online learning can uniquely offer. We found three things unique to online:

- Participants are embedded in their work allowing for real-time experimentation in their field work and inquiries. Things are messy, complex, power-ridden in our work. We all need time and space to ask the right questions and experiment with peer supports and conceptual analysis.

- Space and time is expanded allowing for emergent issues to arise. We often don't know what we don't know. Online courses have the time to be more emergent- pulling in resources (human and conceptual) as they arise. In the mix of canned vs emergent content, there is much more potential here to be student-centred.

- Private space and deliberation are key. Literature and our experience has found that online provides opportunities to alter power and gender even personality dynamics. One participant in Egypt reported greater comfort in formulating her thoughts online than being drawn upon in a class. People can draft, revise, even return to earlier dialogues. Critical for those for whom english is not a first language. Or certain frameworks or approaches are new. Even introverts benefit. This collapses the power and space dynamics compared to a face to face environment considerably. The extended time and space allow individuals to take what is relevant to their own life and work- synthesize, integrate.

Local economies in a globalized world 
Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 10:33 AM - The Solidarity Economy & Microfinance


How do small producers and artisans get a leg up in a globalized world? Community organizing and support to local economies for a start combined with solid historical, market and contextual analysis. Taught the Livelihoods and Markets course with Yogesh Ghore at the Coady Institute the last couple of weeks. Such a treat. Yogesh is highly experienced and adaptive. Participants had rich experience to share from cooperative and federation organizing to pushing policy and legislation at national levels. Colleagues from Latin America, CUSO partners, most representing cooperatives and associations- a few government representatives- shared their work in such diverse areas as wild medicinal plants, wild almonds, honey, fruit/jam, cacao, coffee.

Great debates about the extent to which what we are doing is contributing to or building alternatives to the neo-liberal model. We work toward the bottom-up solutions where cooperatives can network and build their capacity to market their goods and do well, particularly in niche markets like fair trade and organic produce. But what of the producer cooperatives who choose to become distributors for large grocery chains. Tapping into a larger system allows smaller coops with capacity issues to focus on what they know-production. Is this an alternative economic model or more of the same? Does it depend whether it is wild medicinal plants or a commodity like coffee? These are the tensions and trade-offs. No easy answers.

Goodbye Dear Karl  
Thursday, October 9, 2014, 08:12 PM - Inspiring
The Cathedral in Mainz

arm in arm
we strolled the cloisters
emptying colour
built from
bird prayers and monks
walking face to face
knowing when to step forward
knowing when to step back
words fully attended
as rare and unlikely as
our symmetry
I can still hear your voice in the corridor
Gudenkenflugem
I can still hear your voice in the corridor
our symmetry
as rare and unlikely as
words fully attended
knowing when to step back
knowing when to step forward
walking face to face
monks and bird prayers
built from
emptying colour
we strolled the cloisters
arm in arm

For Karl Osner

We lost a great man this year. One of my most inspiring mentors was an unlikely one- an elderly German man, a bureaucrat formerly studied theology. We talked about art and faith, poverty and justice. We fought a lot too. He took me under his wing but, in spite of the decades between us and our experience, always as a peer. I learned how much you can learn from a colleague who is really a friend. How important it is for our work not to talk about work. What it really means to listen.

He took me to where he grew up in the Black Forest and areas nearby. We roamed museums and churches. I wrote this poem for him after a visit with him to the Cathedral of Mainz.

Karl founded an approach based on dialogue that brought countless policy makers from Germany and parts of Europe to live and speak with marginalized families. That some of these methods have been reduced to case studies or life stories missed what he intended which was dialogue without agenda. Reflection without a log frame. Who we are in all of this and what it means. SEWA, WIEGO, Mohammed Yunus and others have captured this spirit. We are blessed to have known him and been touched by his humanity. For more on his work and life see the link below.

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