Guest post — An Abundance-based Approach to Fostering LOcal Wellbeing (FLOW)

Guest post by Anna Cowen, Meshfield co-founder, architect, urbanist, facilitator, and Vibrancy South Africa steward and John Ziniades, Meshfield co-founder, internet entrepreneur, engineer, facilitator, and Vibrancy South Africa steward


What is the light touch needed to awaken a place into its’ full expression of “grounded possibility”? How can we foster the kind of growing conditions that will support human beings’ capacity to thrive in the face of mounting inequality and poverty, devastating climate change, peak energy and water, widespread resource depletion and eco-system destruction?

These are the key guiding questions that inspire the FLOW project, a new initiative with deep, old roots that is currently unfolding in two South African locales simultaneously.

A sense of “what is possible”: imagine interconnected networks of self-governing, self-regulating, agile communities that are intimately connected to and protective of their locales, each living within the carrying capacity of their place. Communities that know the contours of their landscapes, in their physicality, and communities that are peopled with individuals who know and are known through their relationships with one another. Places where the idea of “work” is fundamentally reframed into something that is enjoyed, not endured, where “work” is expressing the fullness of being human, in all our abundant creativity, in service of both our selves and our communities. Communities that are rooted in the local, yet connected globally, part of planetary networks of iterative learning and rapid feedback, where knowledge is a common good and the enclosure of the knowledge commons a distant memory. Places where everyone has enough – where most basic needs are met through hyper-localized production of food, energy, water, shelter and clothing supported by systems of globally networked, distributed manufacturing using open methods of production. And where trade and learning between bioregions and countries and continents ensure access to the goods and services that can’t be made locally. These are communities where the elderly are honored as the keepers of wisdom, are included and taken care of, and where preventative health care and life long education are knitted into the very fabric of daily life.

The FLOW Project proposes that the ‘growing conditions’ needed to both ground this imagining and to support the kind of innovation, creativity and adaptive capacity that will ensure that sentient life can still thrive on earth require three interpenetrating, foundational dimensions. Each dimension is expressed in both individuals as well as in communities as a whole. The first is a thorough and embodied awareness, understanding and knowledge of the systems that support life, both the natural and human made systems. The second is a grounded sense of self-worth, autonomy and agency. The third – robust community bonds and strong social ties – a sense of communion and belonging. FLOW suggests that if these three cornerstones are strong, and are nourished and replenished on an ongoing basis, then a thick and fecund mesh of ‘grounded possibility’ will develop, enabling the kind of bold new thinking, doing and being that is needed if life is going to flourish on earth again.

The FLOW project goes about building and enhancing these three cornerstones in any given community through three interconnected activities. The first is through developing the leadership skills and capacities of groups of local youth – the FLOW Ambassadors. The second is through making visible, by mapping and storytelling using appreciative enquiry lenses resource flows, natural and human made systems, skills, goods and services, local heroes and heroines. The third is through bolstering localized economic exchange through the introduction of a local currency, a mutual credit system entirely backed by the goods and services of local businesses.

The intention is to create, within FLOW’s first year in any given community:

  • A cohort of trained, empowered local youth in each locale – the FLOW Ambassadors – that will play an awareness raising role in their local communities around the use of the local currencies, general environmental and social awareness and the identification and catalysing of new green and social entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • A first iteration of a functional, context responsive, locally appropriate community currency in place in each town, backed by the goods and services of the FLOW Business Network in each place respectively.
  • A series of FLOW Ambassador generated and community-owned maps (both digital and physical) that include representation of the economic activity in each locale, the resource flows, the unique assets and dependencies of each place, and locally appropriate social and green entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • A series of short movies made on mobile phones by the FLOW Ambassadors that include 30-second “marketing” videos promoting the FLOW Business Network members (also linked to the digital map), a series of 2-minute movies called “Loving Local” that showcase local heroes and assets, 2-minute documentary movies that describe the local resource flows and dependencies, as well as the “Seeds of Transition” movie series – local “positive deviants” that are already demonstrating green and social entrepreneurial activity that can both inspire others, and be enhanced and amplified in their own right.

FLOW has been on the ground since October 2014. See for ongoing updates and more information.

Guest post — Ecosynomics in Ghana — an update

Guest post by Christoph HinskeGlobal Vibrancy Steward

In June 2014, Christoph Hinske, an ISC Senior Fellow based in Germany, was invited to meet with Prof. Dr. Lars Castellucci, a member of the German Parliament, Abdul-Rashid Hassan Pelpuo, the Honorable Minister for Private Sector Development from Ghana, Joe Tackie CEO of the Private Sector Development Strategy at the office of the president and representatives of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation.   The meeting was a success, and Christoph was invited to Ghana.

This October Christoph visited Ghana for a week, contributing a paper and a presentation at the last meeting of the Ghanaian Panel for Economic Development. After inviting the panel to participate in our collaborative and global action research project on sustainable societal outcomes through collaboratively developed abundance-based agreements, members started to see a shared possibility and their unique contributions to it. For example, one panelist asked, “What innovations from the abundance-based practices in the Ghanaian informal sector might improve the impacts and healthy social interactions in the other projects (USA, Mexico, Germany, South Africa)?“

Members of the panel, ranging from ministries, companies, worker unions, academia, donor agencies and youth organizations started to see actionable pathways of how ecosynomic principles foster balanced and inclusive economic development in Ghana.

Now a small and impact-driven group of academics led by the Department of Economics at the University of Ghana, will use the facilities of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation to design a Ghanaian project. Spanning all industries, this project identifies, connects, shares, and scales insights gained from Ghana’s positive economic deviants, “natural experiments” in abundance-based ecosynomic agreements, and unites them in a national multi-stakeholder economic development process.

Strings of Agreements with Money

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Ritchie-Dunham, James L., and Ned Hulbert. 2009. Strings of Agreements with Money, White Paper, Belchertown, MA: Institute for Strategic Clarity, February.

The breakdown in September 2008 of the world’s financial and money systems has created a crisis that endangers the stability and vitality of societies world-wide. We must reshape our now broken systems with new, healthy agreements for working with money and one another. We can restore a social balance and enable the basic needs of individuals and society to be met. Organizations and the larger systems within which they function can benefit from articulating and working with the new agreements. The financial crisis shows us very clearly what is unhealthy.

Strategic Clarity: Actions for Identifying and Correcting Gaps in Mental Models

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Ritchie-Dunham, James L. and Luz María Puente. 2008. Strategic Clarity: Actions for Identifying and Correcting Gaps in Mental Models, Long Range Planning, 41(5) 509-52.

Whether you are making quick resource-allocation decisions alone or collaborating with your executive team to set organizational strategy, what you see, what you advocate, and what you ultimately decide are influenced by the map of the world you carry around inside your head. In some ways, this map or mental model is unique to you, as it was formed through your specific experiences and ways of engaging with the world. This article is based on a decade of research and fieldwork and is illustrated with multiple references to both large and small European and American organizations in the for-profit, non-profit, and governmental sectors. It presents five guiding questions that can help identify and correct gaps in managers’ mental models of their organizations. This approach enables managers to be clear about how to move their organizations in the desired direction, in order to achieve their goals. While useful for professional managers of complex systems, these questions are particularly applicable for leaders of civil society, governmental, and entrepreneurial for-profit organizations. The main contribution of this article is a framework of exercises based on the five questions that integrates traditional strategic dimensions and allows leaders to identify gaps in their mental models, resulting in more effective leadership and improved performance.

Free online course in Strategic Decision Making

I invite you to my FREE online course on Strategic Decision Making, hosted at the Institute for Strategic Clarity.  Just click here.  This is a 6-session course I have taught since 1993 at leading universities in the USA, throughout Latin America and Europe.  With each session, I offer you audio lectures, graphics, related articles, and the occasional case study with an accompanying business simulator, which I developed for executive clients in those firms.

Some Things Are Impossible – Until They’re Not: Solving “Intractable” Business & Social Problems

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Spann, R. Scott. 2007. Impossible, White Paper on Collaborative Holistic Inquiry Project in Guatemala, San Francisco: Innate Strategies, May.

Some things seem impossible. For us in our work, it especially seemed impossible to get a variety of stakeholders – all with different perspectives, different goals, different constituencies, different measures of success – to come to shared understanding and agreement about how to work together to achieve something completely new – something that would advance both the needs of each of the individuals and the collective as a whole. It seemed impossible in corporations, in communities, in non-profits, and in whole societies. And it was… until it wasn’t.

An example. What if we were to tell you that, in Guatemala, we engaged leaders of the national intelligence service and the military policy & leadership institutes, on the one hand, and members of the former guerilla movement on the other; leaders of the Catholic church, on one end of the spectrum, and the leading Mayan philosophers, on the other; the leader of the President’s commission on local economic development, from one end of the hierarchy, and the leaders of local villages, from the other; and so on – thirty different perspectives? And, then, created a simple (well, relatively simple), one-page systemic representation – a “map” – of their combined world views – one that they all understood and agreed represented their world – all of it’s parts and all of it’s interactions. And, then, came to shared agreement about the overall goal of their collective world. And, finally, identified the handful of critical resources (six, in all – out of 140+) that would enable them to move their world in the direction they all want it to go. And they did it by investing just seven days of their time. Some thought it would be impossible. And, it was… until it wasn’t.

A Collaborative-Systemic Strategy Addressing the Dynamics of Poverty in Guatemala: Converting Seeming Impossibilities into Strategic Probabilities

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Ritchie-Dunham, James L. 2008. A Collaborative-Systemic Strategy Addressing the Dynamics of Poverty in Guatemala: Converting Seeming Impossibilities into Strategic Probabilities. In Alleviating Poverty through Business Strategy, edited by C. Wankel. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

There is a growing realization that business development is the most effective weapon in fighting world poverty. How the for-profit model can be harnessed to provide the poor with a share in the world’s prosperity is discussed through actual cases, and nested in innovative theories of business, social sciences, and philosophy.

A Learning History of the CARE-LAC – Institute for Strategic Clarity Guatemala Poverty Project

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Waddell, Steve. 2005.  A Learning History of the CARE-LAC – Institute for Strategic Clarity Guatemala Poverty Project. White Paper on Collaborative Holistic Inquiry Project in Guatemala, Amherst, MA: Institute for Strategic Clarity, March.

This is a learning document rather than an evaluation, although if used well it should also achieve evaluation objectives. It aims to:

  1. Provide a framework for the project participants’ identification of key Tentative Lessons Learned / Observations.
  2. Create a record of the project that will support adapting the approach by others in CARE.

The Learning History is a two-column record where the left column describes what was done and the right column gives context and quotes. The narrative on the left side draws on interviews and project documents. On the right are observations from project participants.  Of course, this selection of voices is merely a sampling of all who participated. It is meant to be suggestive, not definitive – but it also aims to represent the varying perspectives. It is easiest to read through the left column for a stage, and then go through the right column for more detail if desired.  Following each stage section is a segment of “Questions Arising” and “Tentative Lessons Learned / Observations from the stage for further discussion.

Guest post — Network Routines for Harmonic Vibrancy

Guest blog by Steve Waddell

The global, multi-stakeholder issue change networks of the sort I deal with – Global Action Networks (GANs) – have particular assets and challenges in supporting the development of harmonic vibrancy.  Their core asset is that they typically work towards an inspiring vision:  Transparency International and a corruption-free world, the Global Compact and integration of the UN’s highest principles into the functioning of business, the Global Reporting Initiative and robust social-environmental-economic reporting.  These visions are relatively easy to associate with high motivation.

Their core challenge is how they go about doing their work.  They are not a tightly knit entity that is in intense contact, such as with a local business enterprise.  They are inter-organizational global networks where people from participating organizations are very numerous and the amount of time spent on the networks’ work is a fraction of a work-week.   Even for staff, who travel constantly, connecting is an on-going challenge.

Moreover, “the network” is a rather amorphous entity, with a very large number of shifting individuals who are participating as organizational representatives, as the individuals change employers or work responsibilities.

To be successful, GANs must embrace diversity, which poses an additional challenge.  Culture is a big determinant of how people experience harmonic vibrancy and its core components such as fulfillment.  This is even a greater challenge considering that diversity for GANs also means working as business – government – civil society collaborations.

All this suggests the importance of GANs developing routines that can ensure higher levels of harmonic vibrancy.  Of course surveys are one good vehicle for assessing the presence of a higher degree of harmonic vibrancy, but routines are important to giving it lived meaning.  These routines will legitimize and give both meaning and action to the on-going development and maintenance of the five dimensions of HV:  self, other, group, nature and spirit.  Routines are regularly undertaken activities that follow a pattern recognized by participants.  They can be considered in terms of the five harmonic vibrancy dimensions themselves. Some illustrations by dimension:

1. The “self” or “me”:  do you feel that you are fully participating and working to your potential?

Specific moments for this self-assessment can be created at the end of meetings.  For GANs this includes a wide variety of events-as-meetings, such as staff meetings, work groups with network participants, and network-wide meetings such as regularly mandated global ones.  The question here is:  what can I do to enhance my quality of participation.  What agreement with myself should I work on more, reassess, or redefine.  Formal moments after meetings can be taken to provide time for people to reflect and write their thoughts with the suggestion that this is an important part of their own meeting diary.

2. The “other” or “you”:  are others participating fully and expressing their potential?

From time-to-time at the beginning of meetings two participants could talk about their agreements with each other to deepen the understanding of each other’s particular needs, desires and situation.  This would raise participants’ awareness of what at least one other person is experiencing and how their participation and the meeting activities could be better aligned to realize their full potential.  This could be developed into a buddy system, to lead to discussion at the end of the meeting about how to redesign the meeting or the individual’s role in how it functions or in the way work is being done.

3. The “group” or “us” which can mean the network as a whole:  are people fully experiencing the “we” as an energetic, empowering whole?

This could be incorporated into a collective self-assessment routine that could take place after meetings.  This happens sometimes in informal “check-out” processes where people might form circles and give a word or comment about what they’ve experienced.  However, these often occur with substantial pressure to focus on the positive.  Another process around “deltas” (what changes could improve the meeting) allows more explicit support for identifying ways to improve.  For very large meetings, this could be done through smaller group assessment break-outs.

4. Nature and the “environment”:  is there a feeling of “support” and “appreciation” from the greater whole that supports manifesting the potential?

This dimension can be framed as being about feedback from the larger operating environment of the GAN; for GANs, this is about the “systems” that they seek to influence, such as the anti-corruption system for Transparency International and the corporate sustainability system of the Global Reporting Initiative.  In one way, evolution of integrated (social-environment-economic with traditional finance) reporting could move to assess this situation.  It is really about feedback and achievements in terms of broader value creation. Annual report routines could integrate this from a harmonic-vibrancy perspective more categorically.

5. Spirit and creativity:  is there a flowing and development of ideas and innovation that generate a feeling that “anything is possible”?

This could be supported by a retreat-type routine of some parts of the network, where they can assess what they see as impediments to greater success and how to address them.  Various processes could promote and aggregate the outcomes of such routines.

One of the core challenges for implementing such routines is to develop them as activities that do not unduly burden other activities.  This means developing a pacing and interaction between the routines as a whole.  Not every day, nor every meeting need explicitly incorporate the routine.  However, the harmonic vibrancy questions must be common enough in network life to orient people who often work with the network as a small part of their lives, to build the network harmonic vibrancy culture.

Jim R-D Comments

Steve’s work with GANs highlights a major innovation emerging on the global scene, where people are consciously entering a new set of agreements on a massively global-local level – they are deciding for a different future and for learning together about how to achieve it.

We can look at Steve’s suggestions about “routines” from two different vantage points – scarcity and abundance.  From a scarcity vantage point, adding these routines to the already very full agendas of exceedingly busy people is too much – while it might be “nice” to do, we don’t have the time: we are too busy fighting really big, serious issues.

From an abundance vantage point, we cannot afford to not put these routines into practice.  The “cost” to the network of not engaging the full human being, of not bringing out and supporting the best of every participant is too high – to be able to address global issues on a local level, everyone has to be at their best, and these routines do that explicitly.  These innovative routines are a very efficient (low time invested for high value experienced) way of being very effective (engaging people to change the world’s agreements) with a network of committed human beings.

Shifting the Fundamental Dynamics of Poverty

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Spann, R. Scott and James L. Ritchie-Dunham. 2008. Shifting the Fundamental Dynamics of Poverty, The Systems Thinker, 19(7), 6-10.  Reprinted as 2012. The Promise of Systems Thinking for Shifting Fundamental Dynamics, Reflections: The SoL Journal, 11(4), 11-17.

People in Guatemala – smart people – were working harder, hiring brighter people, raising more money, doing better projects, and get- ting improved results. And yet, what they sought to eliminate—poverty— was getting worse. So, we asked what we thought was a relatively straightfor- ward question: “Do you understand the fundamental dynamics of poverty?” As it turned out, no one had an answer— not the government, NGOs, local communities, or business leaders.

We set out with CARE Latin America to understand this complex problem.We engaged leaders of the national intelligence service and the military policy and leadership institutes, on the one hand, and members of the former guerrilla movement, on the other; leaders of the Catholic church and the leading Mayan philosophers; the head of the president’s commission on local economic development and leaders in local villages; in total, 30 diverse, sometimes historically con- flicted, perspectives.