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.

Unlocking Gifts and Dreams

This summer, I consulted with New Day Church to develop an organizational and leadership development series called Gift and Dreams.  

I designed unique creative tools to help New Day members identify their individual talents, share their collective dreams for their church, and explore areas for new growth

New Day had a blast with the series.  Check out what they had to say! 

It's a New Day!

This summer I consulted with New Day Church in the Bronx on three things I love:  organizational strategy, leadership development, and creative empowerment.  

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be leading New Day in a series of workshops that help members celebrate their gifts and talents, illustrate their visions for the congregation, and guide members towards a deeper level of participation in church ministries.

I’m excited to see what happens! 

Back to Basics: Part 3, Role-play


Role-plays are one of the most valuable training tools there is, especially in peer-to-peer learning environments.  

Role-plays easily transmit nuanced and complex information and are essential for teaching behavioral techniques.

I used role-play as the primary tool to model for UniteHere! members how to get respect in the hospital. Studies have shown that patients who STAND OUT to their doctors when hospitalized receive a higher quality of care.  Patients who play a more proactive role get their doctors to pay more attention to their treatment, and are at less risk for costly and fatal mistakes.  

But respect is a tricky thing to teach.  It’s nuanced and complex, and it’s grounded in behavior.  Perfect for a role-play!

I designed a short skit, to be played by UNITEHERE! members, modeling behaviors to help them stand out with hospital staff and receive a higher quality of care. The role-play is not only a great interactive learning technique, but it allows everyone in the training to witness what respect looks like, and what people just like them did to get it.  

The peer facilitator can sum up learning like this:

What did the couple do well to make sure the doctor and staff respected them? (let group answer, write down responses)

  • They asked the nurse when the doctor was coming so they could plan
  • They asked the nurse to coordinate the medicine
  • They made a plan of their questions and wrote them down in advance
  • They asked the doctor questions; they had their own agenda
  • They helped each other in the interaction with the doctor
  • They wrote down what the doctor said
  • They followed up when they didn’t understand something
  • They asked the doctor to be connected to an “inside” helper so they could get more support.

Using role-play as a tool in peer-to-peer learning is the best way to transmit complex information.  A facilitator could tell their peers, “These are the things we should do in the hospital to make sure we get good care,” but without the role-play, it’s hard to understand how to implement those techniques.  Role-play lets everyone in the room SEE it.  

Even better, role-play is a chance for participants to immediately practice the skills they are going to need if they are ever hospitalized.  How often in life do we get a dress-rehearsal for hard situations?  By role-playing these techniques, there is a higher chance that UNITEHERE! members will be able to remember and DO what they learned if they are ever hospitalized.  

Back to Basics: Part 2--Discovery


How do you write a peer-to-peer adult education curriculum that guides participants to find answers for themselves?


It’s much more interesting to learn something through investigation than to be told the answer upfront. Plus, something you discover yourself is easier to remember in the long-run.

Discovery can happen any time someone has to look for an answer.

For example, to teach participants about the danger of taking too much pain medication, the peer facilitator can use this exercise.

“Partner up with the person next to you and look at this label of a common over-the-counter medicine.  Answer these questions together and be prepared to report back to the group." 

What is the recommended dose? Hint: It’s under DIRECTIONS (ask group to respond)

  • 20 mL every 4 hours
  • only use with dosing cup provided

What warnings does it give you? (ask group to respond)

  • Don’t take more than 6 doses in in 24 hours
  • Don’t take with other drugs that have Tylenol (acetaminophen)
  • Severe liver damage can occur if you take too much, or combine with another drug that has Tylenol (acetaminophen)
  • Ask doctor of pharmacist before use if you are taking blood thinners
  • Ask a doctor before use if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, heart disease, thyroid disease, trouble urinating, persistent cough (such as asthma).
  • Do not use if taking prescription MAOI (certain drugs for depression, psychiatric or emotional conditions, or Parkinson’s disease).  If you do not know if your prescription drug contains MAOI, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Based on these warnings, what actions would you take next time you need to take an over-the-counter medicine? (ask group to respond)

  • Read the label!
  • Ask the pharmacist or my doctor before taking!


Is this information still dry and dense?  SO. VERY. YES.  But the act of DISCOVERING the answers and sharing with others is empowering.  And it gives participants practice in a critical real-life skill (reading labels) to protect their health.

Using discovery as a tool of peer-to-peer learning takes the pressure off the facilitator to be the expert, is much more interactive than talking AT people, and makes participants contributors in their learning.

This style of learning lasts; people can actually implement and sustain it in their lives.  Here is Deliverance, talking about how the skill of reading labels has helped his family.  

Back to Basics: Part 1, Crowdsource


How do you write a training manual that helps a peer facilitator guide their co-workers towards learning new behaviors, without having them read a script of Do’s and Don’ts AT people?


Crowdsourcing is a great teaching tool to create a peer-to-peer learning environment.  First, the person facilitating doesn’t get stuck in the role of “expert.”  Second, people participating in the workshop have a chance to share their own knowledge and experience, and learn from others. Crowdsourcing creates an atmosphere where everyone can feel empowered.

For example, in a session where the key learning outcome is for members to recognize the danger of taking too many over-the-counter and pharmaceutical pain meds, the facilitator can begin by asking questions.

  • How many of us have pain from repetitive physical stress on the job? (Ask for show of hands)
  • How many of us take pain medicine regularly? (Ask for a show of hands)
  • How many of us take pain medicine on a daily basis? (Ask for show of hands)
  • Can you give some examples of what kinds of pain you have? (Allow members to share)
  • What kinds of pain medicines do you usually take? (Allow members to share)
  • How many of us know someone, and it could be ourselves, that has taken pain medicine every day for years? (Ask for show of hands)

Crowdsourcing member experience on pain medication does a few things simultaneously.

1. It includes the facilitator in the discussion, illustrating that they are not separate from the other participants.

2. It lays the foundation for explaining the problem.  The facilitator COULD begin with an opening such as, “Pain medicine is a big problem in our society.  30% percent of people report taking pain medicine every day.”  But that style would not be as authentic for the facilitator, and it wouldn’t be as engaging for the participants.  It’s UNITEHERE! members, not “people in society,” that this training is for.

3. It fluidly positions the training to move forward into discussing the risks.  Once everyone in the room has shared about their pain medicine usage, there is a natural opening to explore precautions.

Simple techniques like crowdsourcing allow a written curriculum to be led by anyone!  And it’s a great way to involve members in their own learning.

Here are a couple UNITEHERE! members sharing the big-picture benefits of learning through crowdsourcing.

Back to Basics

This summer, I was commissioned by UNITEHERE! to design a 10-month adult education curriculum that teaches hundreds of  food service workers in Los Angeles, Orange County, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Connecticut, and New York City to make smart choices about their health.

This curriculum had 3 major parameters:

1. Cover complex topics such as:

  • appropriate use of over-the-counter medicines and pharmaceuticals,
  • what to do if you are hospitalized,
  • managing anxiety and depression,
  • sticking to a healthy exercise routine

2. Can be easily taught by UNITEHERE! members, who are not experts in medical terminology and intricate medical systems.

3. Be participatory and engaging for members who are likely to be tired by the time they come together in the evening to focus on managing their chronic conditions.

Over my next few posts I will cover some of the tools I used to hit these parameters and make topics like “Oral Health” if not FUN at least dynamic and interactive.