Coalition Building

System-Change: The New Green Economy

People's Climate March, NYC 2014

People's Climate March, NYC 2014

My whole career has been dedicated to systemic change.  I am led by a deep passion and persistent optimism to believe that it is possible to design a healthcare system, or an education system, or a justice system that actually serves communities in a positive way.  

What does it take to change systems?  Usually, it's money. Changing where the money goes in the system.  Different input, different output.

That’s why I’m super excited to be doing some work with Divest-Invest Philanthropy.  Divest-Invest is a movement among philanthropic leaders to divest their holdings from fossil fuels and re-invest in climate solutions.  So far, 500 institutions and 50,000 individuals - managing assets in excess of $3.4 trillion-  have pledged to move their money out of the industries that are directly contributing to global warming and to invest instead in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean tech, sustainable agriculture, water conservation, energy access and climate justice initiatives.  

This is system change at work--an active re-allocation of funds that can change the economic game and lead the transition to a new sustainable economy that protects our planet and the communities most at risk.  

So what does that LOOK like?  I'm only a few weeks into my project with Divest-Invest and I'm already stoked about all the exciting investments that participating foundations are making.  Here are a few examples:

Expanding the Market for Sustainably Sourced Food

In Portland, Ecotrust is strengthening the regional economy by creating direct relationships between urban and rural food producers.  This allows high quality sustainably grown food to reach wider local distribution and become more affordable.  On top of an online platform that connects food growers to local markets and restaurants, Ecotrust is also building The Redd, a working hub that will give farmers a place to sell to large local buyers, like hospitals and schools.   

Photo: Ecotrust

Photo: Ecotrust

Transforming Fuel-Guzzlers into Hybrids

Lightning Hybrids is company that retrofits the biggest polluters on the road-- buses, delivery trucks, shuttles and other large vehicles-- and turns them into hybrids, making them more fuel efficient and reducing harmful emissions.  

 

Converting Urban Spaces to Farmland

Boston-based Green City Growers is turning unused space in grocery stores, sports facilities, assisted-living facilities and corporate offices into small food-producing farms.  To date, Green City Growers have grown "over 140,000 lbs of organic produce, valued at over $500,000, donated 4,000 lbs of produce, & worked with more than 6,000 people on urban farms & gardens which cover less than 2 acres of space combined."

Photo: Green City Growers

Photo: Green City Growers

Foundations, pension-funds, universities, insurance companies, cities and faith-groups who divest from fossil fuels and re-invest in solutions like these are leading the way for a powerful green economy.  Together they are showing that when money is moved in alignment with values over pure profit, it is possible to change the system.

On the Frontiers of Human-Centered Design

This summer I’ve been exploring the whole wide world of social innovation and human-centered design and talking with studios that are leading this work —like Ideo.org, Greater Good Studio, Public Policy Lab, and Design Impact.  When I tell my friends and colleagues that I’m interested in social innovation, they usually respond with, “what does that mean?”  When I mention human-centered design their reaction is something like, “huh?”

Let me explain. The way I understand it, big global design firms like Ideo popularized human-centered design as a core method to create innovative products and services for clients like Apple and Nike.  The principle is that the best way to design stuff that is really transformative for people’s daily lives is to deeply understand the person you are designing for. You need to watch that person go about their day, understand what they are motivated by, see their biggest frustrations first-hand. Then you can prototype a product or service directly based on their needs, and even better, involve that person in helping to improve your prototype by getting their feedback and watching them use it.  What you end up with is a product or service that directly caters to the person you are designing for.  And as a result, what you design is not just more effective, but can actually be transformative in a person’s life.  Human-centered design is definitely not rocket science.  It’s a common sense approach.  But in the design industry, it seems like it was fairly revolutionary to move away from thinking about consumers as “users” and designing for them from a distance.  

THEN (this is the part that’s exciting for me) a number of people from the design industry who had been using this human-centered practice with corporate clients started to say, “Hey, this technique is super effective for coming up with incredibly innovative and powerful solutions that change people’s lives.  What if we applied this design approach to social issues?  What if we used design to create transformative products or services or systems for vulnerable communities?”  And that’s how you get solutions like Greater Good’s work to empower Chicago citizens to help design a better public transportation app that encourages more people to get out of their cars.  Or Ideo.org’s work designing a high quality and affordable solar light for families in Kenya and India living on less than $1.25 a day.  Or Design Impact’s work to strengthen programs helping low-income women in Northern Kentucky get and maintain good paying jobs in advanced manufacturing.  

Now, I LOVE this stuff.  My entire career has been focused on working with local communities to find innovative solutions to complex problems.  Like fundamentally changing the way police and social services were interacting with the community in Oakland, California, so those systems could proactively prevent the homicide and gun violence that was devastating the city.  Or working with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in Washington DC to pilot new healthcare delivery systems across the United States that would better serve high need patients.  I’ve been practicing human-centered design my whole professional life!

And I’m really excited to learn even better ways of doing it. That’s why I’m currently participating in Ideo.org’s Design Kit: The Course for Human-Centered Design.  As a change agent and practitioner, as someone who loves to connect with people, create new systems, design new experiences, find interesting solutions and take action to implement them, human-centered design is an awesome addition to my toolkit.  It’s a super systematic and fun way of collecting insights, discovering design opportunities, brainstorming and testing innovative solutions, and implementing new ideas.  It’s a powerful approach for staying true to the community you are creating with.  And ultimately, human-centered design is a method that allows truly transformative and revolutionary ideas to break through, come to life, and have incredible impact in the lives of the people I care about.  This motivates me more than anything.

I can’t wait to share the solution I’ve been working on with my ideo.org team this last month.  My next addition on human-centered design: coming soon!

The Value of Relationship Building

Wow, the Better Living promotional video I directed is kinda going viral in the world of people who follow the Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management Program.  It's not even officially released yet, but already has close to 900 views, and The National Council on Aging featured it on their website!

I'm pretty sure the video tells such a great story because of the relationship building and teamwork taking place behind the scenes with the UniteHere! Healthcare Committee.  Bravo!

better living comments page.png

Lifelines: Culture Change in Oakland

In 2006, I started working as a community organizer in Oakland, California. I spent the first few weeks on the job driving around West Oakland, meeting with church pastors, families who lived in the neighborhood, teenagers at the district high school, and people who ran local service programs. Everyone was talking about the same thing: gun violence and homicides in Oakland. 145 people were murdered in the city that year. Mostly men, these were the lives of sons, brothers, nephews, fathers, cousins. The community was devastated. And angry.  And wanted to do something about it. 

That’s when I learned about Ceasefire. Ceasefire is a national violence prevention model that grew out of Boston and was gaining traction in other cities, like Chicago.  My community organizing network flew the Boston Ceasefire leaders out to Oakland to tell us what they did to dramatically reduce homicide in their city. What I heard hooked me.

Ceasefire is based on the premise that building strong relationships between local community, social services, and police can fundamentally alter patterns of gang and drug violence.

Violence isn’t random. The goal of Ceasefire is to focus on people actively involved in violent circles, in order to interrupt shootings before they happen. What’s innovative is that the Ceasefire model doesn’t target violent offenders in order to to arrest them. The goal instead was to CONNECT them. To connect young people to real job opportunities beyond drug dealing, to connect young people to supportive social services that could help them make different choices, to connect young people to community members who cared about them, and to connect young people to former violent offenders who had changed their lives and who could help mediate conflicts and disputes. 

This was different! It was a strategy that wove new relationships between community, social services, and police, to take a stand together, in order to protect and support a group of young men who have been marginalized.

It was hard work to get this new strategy off the ground in Oakland. A lot of people said it couldn’t be done. But my team of community leaders and I met with the police chief, we met with the department of social services, we met with job-training programs, we met with church leaders and community-based programs, and we got them to commit to work together for the Ceasefire violence prevention model. We mobilized thousands of people to stand before the mayor and police in support of Ceasefire. We declared: “This is the new way to handle violence in our city. This is what Oakland should invest in.”

And we won!  Oakland hired street outreach workers to build relationships with young people involved in violent circles to interrupt conflicts. The police started partnering with community and social services to connect potential offenders with help. We built an alliance between community, faith leaders, social services and police that hadn’t existed before. 

It was an uphill battle, but we slogged along because we knew that Ceasefire was a new chance for Oakland, a new chance for the next generation of Oakland youth.  We were saving lives, and we were radically changing the culture of Oakland. 

Oakland is still changed. This week, eight years since we started our campaign in Oakland, the East Bay Times ran the headline: "Steps Towards Peace: Ceasefire seen as a cultural shift in Oakland," reporting that Oakland has a 30 percent decrease in homicides. The article states that Oakland has undergone a transformation, that the city is different because of its commitment to build new relationships and persevere to achieve new outcomes for the people who need it most.

I’m proud to have worked, with community leaders, to catalyze this change. I’m proud that over time (which is how culture change works!), we moved Oakland towards more peace and justice for the families and communities who deserve it. Bravo, Oakland!

Photos:Oakland Community Organizations

Photos:Oakland Community Organizations