Equity must be a central feature of regeneration. And, equity work can be done in such a way that is degenerative. Diversity, inclusion, equitable involvement, and valuation are crucial to regenerative capacity, and regenerative approaches are key to equity, at the individual, inter-personal, organizational and larger systemic levels.
Regenerative capacity is the capacity to generate again. To generate the resources needed for one’s system, from within one’s system. High regenerative capacity means that the system generates all of the resources it needs for its own sustenance, from within the system. Low regenerative capacity means that the system depends on external sources for its sustenance.
Regenerative capacity invokes capacity (the nouns we have), with which we can generate (the verbs we have), again and again, (from the potential we have) as we grow and learn. While the capacity to work depends on our nouns, generative capacity depends on our verbs and nouns, and regenerative capacity depends on our potential, verbs, and nouns. Regenerative capacity is qualitatively different than generative capacity or capacity alone, in that it requires continuous alignment of our potential, verbs, and nouns, as we evolve over time. This continuous alignment of potential, verbs, and nouns requires full engagement of all of those people who are responsible for the potential, verbs, and nouns. This full engagement requires equitable participation in the continuous alignment.
Why is equitable participation critical for the continuous alignment of potential, verbs, and nouns in regenerative capacity? Let’s first clarify what equitable participation means, and then what happens when equitable participation is weak, medium, or strong. Equitable participation requires inclusion, diversity, and equitable involvement.
Inclusion is having relational access structures to resources, being part of the set of relationships with structures of access to the definition of desired impacts in the community, to determining who is to be impacted by specific efforts, to the factors that are used to decide these impacts and what is learned along the way. This is to be included, from the Latin for being made a part of.
Diversity considers the requisite voices, those who have the required unique contributions needed to serve the group’s deeper shared purpose. Diversity considers the processes for how these unique voices make their contributions to the group, honoring what they each bring. Diversity in the contributions needed, in determining what is of value to the community and how the value is to be generated and received. This is diversity, from the Latin for turning different ways.
Equity is treating everyone equally, in how they are invited for and engaged with their unique contributions. This is equity, from the Latin for being equal, treated fairly.
Through ISC’s global research in 125 countries and over two decades of experience in social change systems, we find that the degree of equitable participation determines the degree of regenerative capacity, and that these are both fundamentally determined by the strength of the system’s agreements field.
The system’s agreements field is a whole, a whole that one experiences as a unity, a whole that includes the system’s deeper shared purpose, how it engages people in that purpose, in their unique contributions, in the creative energy their connection and service releases into the system, in the agreements of structures and processes that work with the potential, development, and outcomes in that engaged creative energy, in the ways that the system’s structure transforms that creative energy into the energy of products and services that other stakeholders value and desire, in the resilience of the systems in its capacity to generate access to the resources it needs for this purpose. These are the dimensions of an agreements field, in how it engages and transforms energy into an energy that it transfers to others. These dimensions and their levels within a specific system reflect the choices the people in the system make, either unconsciously accepting someone else’s agreements or consciously choosing their own agreements.
The strength of the system’s agreements field directly determines the degree of equitable participation it is capable of, and the level of regenerative capacity it can manifest. A weak agreements field is degenerative, destroying or extracting value. A strong agreements field is regenerative, creating and regenerating value. This is why the strength of the agreements field is so critical to equitable participation and regenerative capacity, it shows where the choice points are.
The following table highlights the difference in low, moderate, and high agreements field strength for the harmonic generated from the synergy of the unique contributions, the basis of the economic power, the leadership’s focus, what is valued in the culture, the forms of equity, and what people understand by regeneration.
||Low AF Strength
||Moderate AF Strength
||High AF Strength
||remains unexpressed in counterspace (E3=0.0)
||expresses E3<1.0 in experience
||expresses E3=1.0 in experience
|Leadership focus (political lens)
||“the book” – one voice, of the founder
||processes of voice inclusion, to the best we can, for now (2-3 primary relationships)
||what I/you/we want and commit to for us
||Coordination in value-exchange gesture
||“hard,” difficult, at best, lacking AF to engage and transform
||works sometimes, in pockets
||“normal” part of who we are
||embedded resource-extraction structures EFA
||explicit processes of resource co-generation
||transparent resource-regeneration structures EFABCD
When a system is able to generate a sustainable net positive flow of resources in the system, meaning that more is flowing in than is flowing out, the system is more resilient in its regenerative impact. This net positive flow requires equitable participation. The key inflow, whether it is revenues or other required resources, is determined by the value perceived from those who receive the value generated by the system, which requires a clear and continuous relationship with them to understand what they value. This is the degree of impact of the system. The key outflow, in some form of costs, is determined by the responsible ownership of the people who make up the system. As the system grows and ages, unattended costs tend to rise, unless people are creative and responsible in the ways they work with the outflows, continuously learning how to improve the value generated from resources more efficiently. Responsible ownership of all stakeholders within the system requires authentic participation, access, transparency, and communication. Finally, the ability to maintain a net positive surplus of inflows less outflows requires resilience, the ability to shift with changes in the context over time. This resilience requires that the existing elders and powerholders work closely with the emerging and rising leaders, all four generations, building on what has been learned, is happening today, is emerging soon, and will live on in the distant future. These three ingredients of net positive flow—the inflows, the outflows, the ability to continue to generate a surplus—highlight the critical nature of equitable participation.
The weak agreements field is a system of embedded resource-extraction structures. As examples, in the USA, we have the 2008 too-big-to-fail banking bail out. In Europe, we have the residual artifacts of global colonialism. In Africa, we have traditional aid examples from the IMF and the World Bank.
The moderate strength agreements field is a system of explicit processes of resource co-generation. In the USA, we have town meeting in New England. In Europe, we have the BUILDUPON initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the building stock by 50% in the next 25 years, across all member states of the European Union. In Africa, we have the Bokaap initiative to generate its own electricity, food, and water, creating independence from the national grid.
The strong agreements field is a system of regeneration as transparent resource-generation structures. In the USA, we see RE-AMP and EAN VT, where states have taken on sovereignty of their own energy future, moving towards 90% self-generation by 2050. In Europe, Renovate Europe has integrated the legal structures to support “nearly net zero” building standards for the whole EU, drastically reducing energy consumption. In Africa, the SHIRE Alliance in Ethiopia developed local innovation ecosystems for the self-generation of electricity, run and maintained by the local community.
Regenerative capacity is the capacity of a system, of a group of people, to generate its own life-sustaining energy, a key proxy of its resilience. Equity is a critical part of that equation. A system’s regenerative capacity is reflective of the strength of its agreements field, which means that it is a matter of choice. A choice of inclusion, diversity, and equity. Your choice.
A hat tip to my colleague Curtis Ogden for inspiring this reflective exploration of regenerative capacity.