Love, community, and investing without money

4 05 2015

Many years ago I was fascinated by an idea that described the different “currencies” people use (or invest) in their pursuit of personal relationships, love, and human connection. I don’t recall when or where I first encountered this concept, but I now understand it to be based at least in part on the work of Dr. Roderic Gorney, who posited that love, passion or sentiment, rather than being emotional in nature, were instead actions. His 1973 book, The Human Agenda, spoke of “the new abundance” and theorized about man’s “conscious control over his values and his future evolution”. No wonder the concept resonated with me! Gorney was a protégé of renowned anthropologist Dr. Ashley Montagu, who studied human love and its currency. He too saw love as an action, and wrote that it supports both the survival and the wellness of a beloved.

What I actually remember about my first exposure to the concept was that we each express our love and affection in different ways, and that it’s possible to observe someone and identify the currency they invest when they are expressing their love for another. My father, for example, spends time and gives of his workmanship with those he loves most – he may verbally express his love infrequently, but he’ll build a beautiful bookcase or come over and repair my plumbing as an expression of his love for me. Quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch were The Five Love Languages identified by Dr. Gary Chapman in 1992. Some individuals freely talk about their love (poems, words of affirmation), physically demonstrate their affection (a hug, a kiss), invest their attention (homework help, listening intently) or creative endeavours (handmade gifts, home-cooked meals). Still others will spend money on gifts or give of themselves through service (volunteering, teaching). Wilkinson and Grill (1996) identified sixteen relational currencies. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that my currency is most often quality time, followed by gifts (often small tokens, just because).

Just recently, I was listening to Ideas (with host Paul Kennedy) on CBC Radio and heard Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (2014) talking about similar concepts – but with an unmistakably economic bent. Joined by a panel of respected guests, the conversation focused on things like the sustainability of a “sharing economy” and whether (if it lasts) it benefits business, society, or the state. Different in many ways from the concept of relational currency, it nonetheless sparked for me a reminder that we all invest in society and in community in our own ways, whether or not it’s money we spend. Yet, we seldom hear about currencies other than monetary ones when discussions turn to economic models or sustainability within communities.

Wendy Strgar (“Fairness is Love’s Currency”, HuffPost, 2013) points out that “most of the world’s most urgent crises can be traced back to unfairness both in the distribution of natural resources and the capital that serves as the accepted currency to make things happen”. And yet, she points out, “for all the buzz words on growing the good economy, like social return and triple bottom line — the investment community remains largely locked into fear-based models of investing, which requires financial returns and limited risk. The truth is that even among the wealthiest money is not experienced as a currency of freedom and love, but rather fear — of loss, of failure, of self”. This, for me, is akin to the work that Hildy Gottlieb and the team at Creating the Future have been doing over the past decade or so – concepts like “collective enoughness”, stone soup approaches, and “Pollyanna Principles” (the name of Hildy Gottlieb’s 2009 book). This notion of a limited “accepted currency” leaves out so much of what individuals (and collections of individuals) invest in their communities and society on a daily basis.

Frequently cited examples from the Internet-enabled sharing economy (aka the peer economy, P2P, or collaborative consumption) include Airbnb, RelayRides, and SnapGoods. The CBC Radio panel mentioned Uber – controversial for its oppositional impact on the taxi industry – and, interestingly, they talked about car owners in Europe who are taking their own independent approach to the ride matching model (thus eliminating the need for a central Uber structure at all). Still, even this progressive panel seemed dismissive about the economic influence of a model without money. Yes, it’s there, they seemed to be saying, but it’s not really worth much.

The sharing economy has been described as disruptive, and holds appeal for many who see it as a softer, gentler alternative to commercialism. So-called millennials are said to be distrustful of big brands and consumerism, drawn instead towards alternative models. Still others see potential for the collaborative consumption concept to transform economic ideals, pointing out that Ebay began Paperclipas a peer-to-peer model and has proved what scale and empowered ordinary people can do. I remember the young man who listed a paper clip for sale, and eventually traded his way into a house. It was suggested of his remarkable story that folks can and will find value in anything if the conditions and circumstances are right. Would you trade a golf club for a skipping rope if the incentive was right? Might the incentive be stronger or more powerful if it’s a human need rather than a simple transaction? A needed wheelchair for a child, for example, might prompt more generosity in an exchange than would otherwise be expected.

Harvard Business Review has suggested the sharing economy “is not about sharing at all”, that it remains a commercial exchange despite using cyber distribution in place of storefronts. “Most successful services associated with the sharing economy are essentially all about convenience, cost efficiency and ease of access rather than sharing and social interactions”, according to Christoffer O. Hernaes (writing for TechCrunch). He also suggests that these services often replace rather than encourage social interaction and are not premised on altruistic objectives. His notion conjures up images of lonely shoppers, short on time, perched in front of their screens looking for bargains. But isn’t the peer economy about sharing and trading, recycling within the marketplace, and a more conscious consumerism? Doesn’t it empower those whose currency might otherwise be insufficient – like an urban farmer bartering eggs for art lessons? Maybe the feel-good factor I thought was inherent in the sharing economy isn’t as significant as I imagined. It certainly doesn’t echo the notion of relational currencies that sees us each having different currencies and spending or investing those as a reflection of ourselves.

Wendy Strgar said “fairness is a measure of the heart. It comes when we trust that there is enough for everyone and when we really get that there is no other — no over there, but rather that we are all in this together”. She hopes for a day when we “measure our returns based on the vibrancy of the communities we create”. Hildy Gottlieb has been blogging about “inviting social change funders and investors to recreate how social change is resourced, to align the values of their means with their intended ends”. The converging ideas here are about shifting focus away from the transaction and instead considering what we have to contribute, and to what end. For me, it can be anything from swapping books with friends instead of buying them, or rescuing a pup from the local animal shelter. Anyone can barter, volunteer, or invest of themselves in countless other ways that are not necessarily monetary.

I’ll be continuing to follow these different concepts in an effort to better understand how communities and the individuals within those communities can benefit. For others interested in this topic, on June 5th Carolyn Sechler and Ellis Carter will join Hildy to talk about Benefit Corporations, or B Corps, a fascinating model of purpose-driven business – you can catch the Making Change Broadcast at www.creatingthefuture.org and participate via Twitter using #CTFuture.

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Starting with the end in mind…community engagement

18 05 2014

From the wonderful folks at Creating The Future (www.creatingthefuture.org), here’s a simple but effectively twisted way to look at community engagement (hint: it’s not the way most have been doing it):Listening

 

http://blogs.creatingthefuture.org/communityfocus/community-engagement-planning-starting-with-the-end-in-mind/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CommunityFocusThatCreatesTheFuture+%28Community+Focus+that+Creates+the+Future%29

 





Talking about children…

17 04 2014

ngugi_wa_thiongo“Talking about the survival of children is not an act of charity. Children are the future of any society. If you want to know the future of any society look at the eyes of the children. If you want to maim the future of any society, you simply maim the children. Thus the struggle for the survival of our children is the struggle for the survival of our future. The quantity and quality of that survival is the measurement of the development of our society.”

Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o





Calling all dreamers…

18 01 2014

IdealistAmi Dar and the team at idealist.org are about to start something, and practical dreamers everywhere will want to hear about it. On March 11, 2014 they will launch “a new network – online, on the ground, in cities, villages, schools and workplaces” to join together people all over the world who want to work together on 3 global challenges. But the challenges aren’t hunger, or poverty, or disease, or world peace (or then again, maybe it is about that…). The challenges Ami and team have in their sights are big challenges, but they may surprise you. As he puts it, “These challenges are quiet—you’ll seldom hear about them in the media—but they affect all of us. And if we can tackle them, all our other problems will be easier to deal with”.

  1. A big gap between our good intentions and our actions.
  2. Our problems are connected, but we are not.
  3. The world is full of good ideas that don’t spread quickly enough.

The goal is to bring together a network of people to tackle these challenges – “an ecosystem of possibility”. To find out more about the project, the March 11 launch, and how to join in, here’s the link: http://www.idealist.org/March11

 





Hamilton Changemakers

13 07 2013

park_kids

What if all children in Hamilton were thriving? What would that make possible? What conditions need to be in place for that to happen?

 

These were the central questions that brought together a room full of Hamiltonians this past week to think about creating the future we all want for our community. The afternoon gathering was hosted by the Community Child Abuse Council, Alternatives for Youth, and Hamilton Food Share. These three agencies have applied some of the thinking and approaches developed by Creating the Future, a “living laboratory” devoted to social progress co-founded by Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis. As local early adopters of this work, these agencies have been inspired to pursue vision-driven change in what many would see as very different areas of endeavour – child abuse, addiction, hunger. In fact, all share similar visions of a thriving community.

Seeing an opportunity to join together in this shared pursuit, these 3 organizations invited their key partners and supporters to gather for a conversation about what would be possible if we all aimed for the same goal: a thriving community. The resulting “Gathering of Changemakers” event brought together 40+ community leaders, thinkers, and visionaries from across a wide swath of the Hamilton community, including health, social services, policing, business, service clubs, funders, and others. Special guests, Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis of Creating the Future, engaged the gathering in a series of discussions focused on highest potential and the steps needed to realize our shared vision of a thriving Hamilton.

inspire

 

And what a conversation it was! We learned that while we may sometimes disagree on the “how”, we share the same aspirations and values – we want everyone in our community to thrive, knowing that our community overall will thrive as a result. And, despite some early doubts about whether this goal is actually achievable, we learned that we already know what is required to make our desired future happen. Just as we’re able to get to the airport on time when we leave on a trip, we are able to identify the steps we need to take in order to get to our shared goal. We work backwards to figure out what we need to do (e.g. what time to set our alarm so we don’t miss our flight). The starting point is our vision, and from there we simply need to identify the favourable conditions that will get us there. It’s something we do every day, in virtually every part of our lives, but we aren’t doing it in our efforts to achieve the future we want for our community.

It’s going to take practice. We’re going to have to ask different questions, and challenge some of the assumptions we’ve inherited about people, systems, and the impact each of us is having on the future of our world each and every day (whether we do so consciously or not). And we’re going to need more Hamiltonians to join us in this ongoing conversation. We’ll be working on these things, and talking to each other about next steps. And we know this isn’t going to result in overnight change. But imagining what would be possible if all children in our community were thriving has us excited enough to keep moving forward in this direction – finding our commonalities, working from our shared values, and aiming at the highest possible potential for the community we all care about so deeply.

Stay tuned!

 

 





5 Days in Tucson

5 03 2013

After a few years of waiting and wanting, I finally got the opportunity to travel to Arizona last week to take in one of the amazing immersion courses offered by Hildy Gottlieb and the team at Creating The Future (www.creatingthefuture.org). It was worth the wait. Described as a course for “changemakers”, the week brought six of us together (the immersion courses are always limited to a maximum of 10 participants) with Hildy and with CTF co-founder Dimitri Petropolous for an up-close-and-personal exploration of the values, principles, approaches, and thinking that help to aim us (and others) towards our highest potential. Hard work, that. But when done in the company of awesome thinkers and community builders, it was both exhilarating and transformational. I came away feeling like I’d got my mojo back…inspired to reach higher and inspirebetter equipped to bring clarity and vision to my life, my profession, my community. How awesome is that!? The work Hildy and Dimitri are doing has resonated for me since I first stumbled upon The Polyanna Principles and began to explore the thought framework behind Creating The Future. What they’re doing is open and accessible – meant to walk the talk and act as a living laboratory so that we can all see what it looks and feels like to engage community and create an intentional future. Even their board meetings are completely open, online, and welcoming for anyone who cares to join them (just one of many examples of their efforts to show and model while they do). I think it’s the authenticity behind all of this work that first drew my attention and continues to engage me most.

Thanks Hildy and Dimitri. And thank you to the amazing changemakers I had the privilege of spending this wonderful week with. I can’t wait to apply my learning, to hear about your successes, and to build on what we started.





Success Together

24 02 2011

Many readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of Hildy Gottlieb’s work  (Creating The Future) and I apply a number of her concepts and principles in my practice (thanks Hildy, you spread the love so generously). One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is a topic Hildy has ranted about many times, and a fundamental question Hildy is always asking: what will it take for the community benefit sector to achieve genuine success (or, the flip side, what’s stopping that from happening?):

Success in the Community Benefit arena doesn’t come from being the smartest and the fastest and the best. Yes, you may become the best funded organization. But success in the Community Benefit world is about – well – Community Benefit! And none of us can do that on our own. It is clear that this sector’s potential can only be reached if we link arms together to create the healthy, vibrant communities we all want. To accomplish that, many of the systems we rely upon in this sector will need to shift, from competitive systems that keep us apart to systems that encourage and nurture interconnectedness and interdependence. [Hildy Gottlieb]

Amen to that.

So, I’ve been thinking about that shift and how to support it. I’m wondering about the figurative linking of arms and how that might tangibly or literally be accomplished in a typical community. There are no shortage of inspiring examples on a global scale (just in these past weeks the Middle East is full of them). Examples can also be found within the ranks of the collective impact movement (see: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact/). So what about here, within Hamilton neighbourhoods? How do small community efforts grow to become community benefit successes? That’s been occupying my mind of late, and steering me to seek out viable answers. It seems vital that our local community benefit organizations be encouraged and supported in efforts to join together…to find strength in numbers and influence in shared vision. I’m not talking about merely “collaborating” here, where agencies remain independent and separate while joining together (or appearing to do so) for select purposes. That kind of collaboration has been a diversion for many organizations (particularly small ones with very limited resources) and ineffective for many others. As a requirement of many funders, collaboration has become a challenge for organizations who might be far better served by genuine efforts at unified, targeted advocacy and action. Time-consuming and ineffectual partnerships have kept more than one organization from realizing true innovation. Carefully assessing when, how and with whom to partner is a missing step in many collaborations…it’s often simply a requisite step in the grant application process. To shift from “expected” collaboration to instead focus on shared community outcomes (or collective impact) will take some time and some genuine effort. But I can hear Hildy yelling, “yes, but think of the possibilities if it happens!” and that very thing is what has me giving this considerable attention.

Be the change, the Gandhi-inspired mantra, requires that we model our efforts according to the outcomes we seek. When it comes to local community benefit and the sector upon which so much rests, that means some considerable adjustments will be needed. Stay tuned.