Communities Co-Evolving Toward Resilience

Jay Owen Community Development Solutions, Global Citizen

Communities Co-Evolving Toward Resilience

By Greg Wendt, CFP, Stakeholders Capital; founder, Green Economy Think Tank

“The road from here to sustainable, resilient cities and regions is hardly a straight one — there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for success. Infrastructure, politics and finances — not to mention the uniqueness of resources, geography and local institutions — create different obstacles and opportunities for each city.”

The series of Verge Conferences around the globe are among the myriad watering holes for the community of travelers on this road to sustainable, resilient communities. The conference track described above from the recent conference in Fall 2013 included a range of “smart cities” topics: energy, building, production and logistics, urban processes and organization, shared prosperity, information and communication, mobility, transportation and security.

As we know, there are many travelers on this winding road of inquiry who are collectively asking the nature and evolution of our communities where a majority of humanity currently lives.

We are all meeting the myriad effects of a system in crisis: climate change, wealth inequality, crumbling infrastructure, pollution are only a few of the great stresses which humanity is experiencing across our planet.  For example, the current weather patterns of extreme drought in the west and polar vortex in the east of US are two clear forms of an increasingly unpredictable climate. To respond to such challenges, leaders are continuing to gather around the world to address these issues, while at the same time communities are organizing new patterns to define new and innovative pathways to creatively rewrite existing narratives, and redesign the systems in place.

These efforts are enhanced by the recognition that we are infinitely connected to the earth which sustains all life, which can inform every one of the choices we make, the systems we support, money we spend and products we purchase. Our choices are connected to everything else on the planet, and thus have an influence on the biosphere. Further, unless we shift from self-serving, divisive, ego-driven concerns and behaviors to global collaborative ones, we will struggle to successfully deal with the hunger, environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and gross inequality we are presently facing.

As Einstein states:

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

We are in the midst of a crisis of perception, since more and more are becoming aware of the effects of our choices from the past and are suspecting systemic crisis is based on the very way we perceive reality – and thus relate to it.

Such a crisis and opportunity to shift our culture’s experience of reality is not new in human history.  During transitional periods like today, humans have had to change and respond with new ideas, behavior, and tools in response to changes in weather, environment and resources. Hazel Henderson shares in her 1996 book “Paradigms in Progress” that “one of the key elements in all such transition periods and changing worldviews is the shift in perception of what is important, what is valuable, the goals to be pursued and the ways to measure collective progress toward these goals. The old slogans of economic progress, industrial modernization, and a growing GNP now compete with emerging slogans of the new paradigm: quality of life, human potential and the search for ecological balance, social justice and global citizenship on our small, fragile Planet Earth.”

In her latest book “Mapping The Global Transition to the Solar Age: From ‘Economism’ to Earth System Science,” Hazel outlines the tools, vision and components of this sweeping conceptual evolution.

More and more are becoming aware that a deeper paradigm shift is not only needed in the manner in which we function, yet also the very perception through which we navigate this evolution.

As the renowned environmentalist James Speth said: “I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and eco-system collapse, but I was wrong.  The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy.  And for that we need a spiritual transformation.”

We are required to behave differently in order for humanity to survive and thrive on this planet.  Unless we collectively shift from our self-serving, divisive, ego-driven concerns and behaviors to global collaborative ones, we will not be able to successfully deal with the hunger, environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and gross inequality we are presently facing.

An evolution in how we perceive value, and measure it goes hand in hand with the deeper conceptual shift.  Once we recognize the shift that is needed, then we may ask where to begin?

There are many groups and organizations beginning to address these challenges.

In his book “Prosperity without Growth – Economics for a Finite Planet” Tim Jackson shares the view from the standpoint of economics, business and finance:

“There is an interesting overlap between components of prosperity and the factors that are known to influence subjective well being or ‘happiness’. Indeed to the extent that we are happy when things go well, and unhappy when they don’t, there is an obvious connection between prosperity and happiness. This doesn’t necessarily mean that prosperity is the same thing as happiness. But the connection between the two provides a useful link into recent policy debates about happiness and subjective well being.”

Ethical Markets Quality of Life Indicators, co-developed with the Calvert Group in 2000, provide a broader view.  Some of the components of true “quality of life” are our real wealth, which include loving relationships, supportive and vibrant community, good health, cultural and creative stimulation, healthy and vibrant natural environment, contributing to society in a meaningful way, and spiritual fulfillment.

Given most nations define standard of living by a financial measure of economic activity, “Gross National Product” or GNP, we must reexamine outmoded ways of measuring the “product” of our economy and develop means to define the non-financial dimensions of the well being.

For example, the California Human Development Index was designed to measure a more comprehensive view of the progress of our state. The index  

“goes beyond the state’s fiscal and budgetary woes to examine the well-being of its people using the American Human Development Index, a measure based on official government data in health, education, and living standards. This timely report introduces the ‘Five California’s’ to highlight the varied opportunities open to differing segments of the population, and provides close-up snapshots of major metro areas. The report also ranks native-born and foreign-born residents for each major ethnic group, as well as all 233 Census neighborhoods in the state. The report concludes with recommendations aligned with current fiscal realities for protecting and building upon human development successes already in place.”

Applied regionally, there’s much talk about enhancing the coordination between human activity and the living bioregions we call home. The vision is emerging of the city as an actual living system, a living organism, not unlike the “gaia” hypothesis of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis which is the vision that earth is a living being which has inspired much of the environmental movement in the last 50 years. These insights are an emerging a breakthrough in perception, a new paradigm emerged, and growing. The human mind is recognizing it’s collective interconnectivity with all life. This emerging paradigm is an evolutionary step for the collective perception of reality, as if we are all cells in the bodies of the systems within which we live.

The think tank Tomorrows Company in London has a similar perspective – on their regional efforts called “Tomorrow’s London” they share:

“Tomorrow’s London is a vision of the city as a literal, living organism. A city which will enable millions to live, prosper and be fully human – enjoying and contributing to the rich biodiversity which sustains and nourishes life, a ‘city of cities’ pioneering how we all might live together on our shared planet…. Tomorrow’s London is a long-term collective vision and one that is codesigned by communities, businesses, government and our ecology – enabled by forms of governance and leadership that can inspire action and participation across stakeholders and generations.”

If we are recognize that cities are analogous to organisms, then how do successful organisms interact with evolving and changing conditions? As in nature, for humans resilience is facing unknown challenges with new and creative approaches, to maintain the coherency, and continuation, of our well being. Resilience is generally being used in the context of individuals “bouncing back” yet there’s a growing community of groups around the world evolving a new paradigm toward humanity’s relationship with the biosphere.  The Stockholm Resilience Centre states that it’s mission is to “advance the understanding of complex social-ecological systems and generate new insights and development to improve ecosystem management practices and long-term sustainability.”

More and more groups are gathering together in places and working to apply the insights from this pursuit to the management and evolution of managing complex metropolises. In ancient Greece, the term “agoras” referred to town meeting places to develop new guiding principles for the community. These agoras, which means “gathering place” or “assembly” was the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life in the city.  If we are to evolve the emerging global village, we must provide and democratic and deliberative spaces “agoras” where people can engage in meaningful dialogue.

In a similar fashion, the broad range of initiatives, think tanks, convenings, and conferences being held across the globe are just these kinds of spaces.   In nearly every board room, conference center, community center, church there are conversations to address the myriad manifestations of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – VUCA” Addressing VUCA will require far more evolved perspectives than the paradigms which created our society – it will require of us developing increasing capacity for resilience.

There are many organizations with this similar recognition:

ICLEI, the leading group of local governments around the world focusing on sustainability, Clinton Global Initiative’s C40 effort, Rockefeller Foundation, San Francisco Department of the Environment, Fraunhofer Institute and Green Economy Think Tank, were just a few of the many groups at Verge in 2013 who are working to light up the network of cities around the globe.

 During the conference, a group of participants met and agreed to co-produce a series of convenings and integrated processes for the Bay Area by coordinating aligned organizations to building more resilience for the region’s economic, social and environmental priorities.

 This agreement recognizes the promise, and challenge of creating a new form of collaborative process for the region, with all of the groups who are working to evolve smart regions and that many of said groups could work more effectively TOGETHER to evolve the Bay Area’s approach by coordinating their myriad efforts, conferences research efforts, and the like. Currently, there are thousands of events every year in the bay area covering every aspect of what is needed to help the region thrive.

For example, there’s a vast community connected to the Hub in the Bay Area and Social Capital Markets. Hub SOMA (South of Market) in San Francisco hosted over 550 events in 2013 alone, and the same group has been producing the Social Capital Markets Conferences for 6 years. These two efforts alone have produced thousands of panel discussions, events, conversations, keynotes, whitepapers, software platforms, etch which are literally the very fabric and ingredients of the bubbling soup of social, capital, commerce, societal innovation for the region.

The group also recognized while meeting at the Verge Summit that we don’t need yet ANOTHER symposium, or ANOTHER panel discussion, or ANOTHER group rehashing the same exact issues, etc.. The group aims to BUILD on the efforts in progress, and advance the edge of coherent organizational collaboration.

Naturally, new initiatives which come out of projects like this , will inevitably require significant resources – ie money and people – to manifest them into useful solutions. It is the intention behind all of our work to ensure that capital providers, investors, financial institutions across the spectrum are actively involved at every stage of every event so that money can move quickly to support emerging solutions.

Discussions are now well under way with with a number of these groups who are aligned to convene a set of roundtables and conferences to align cross sector initiatives into action towards enhancing the resilience in the region and developing a new framework to optimize the region’s efforts and weave a new patter for coordinated action. Thus far, key partners identified in the conversation include: the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, Social Capital Markets and Hub Bay Area, City of San Francisco, California Economic Summit, Bay Area Impact Investing Initiative, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, California Financial Opportunities Roundtable, Fraunhof Institute, Urban Innovation Exchange, and another dozen or so organizations engaged in the conversation.

A series of events and coordinated activity is being planned through 2015 to convene leaders and discuss new pathways to build on past success. Through this process a region by region template is emerging which can be coevolved around the world and thus rapidly ignite new neural networks globally. The goal is to, as part of this initiative, create a new set of offline processes and connections which will inform the evolution of online marketplaces and venues for exchange. The heart of the matter is not what we do – or where the solutions are – yet how we do it and how we coordinate the network of similar efforts across the globe.

The initiative to build a framework to advance economic development and financing to meet regional needs more effectively in California has already inspired partnerships with a number of regions around the world. Partners in Scandinavia, New York and London are actively involved now in the journey, and our partners intend to build on the California initiative to replicate similar processes in their regions. Furthermore partners in Sweden are working currently to build on the Bay Area initiative and explore this work in a conference being held in May 2014 in Gothenberg.

Our core intention is to improve the quality of life, and to optimize the outcomes from the myriad conversations along the road to resilient communities. We are in service to advance the quality of relationships on every level, for a better life for all children of all species.

by Gregory Wendt, CFP with appreciation to Lina Constantinovici for editorial and research support

Gregory Wendt, Senior Wealth Advisor – StakeHolders Capital; Founder – Green Economy Think Tank; Co-Founder – Green Business Networking,,,,, and Twitter @gregorywendt

For further reading:

World Economic Forum: Shared Norms for the New Reality, The Nordic Way

100 Urban Trends

Adaptive Comanagement for Building Resilience in Social–Ecological Systems

Social and ecological resilience are they related?

Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Initiative:

Sweden’s conferences on Social Capital and Urban Development

Bay Area Council Economic Institute Global Green Cities Archive and

“Making Conservation Finance Investable”

“Thoughts on Reintegrating Urban Ecology”

Ethical Markets Wealth of Networks, Community Development Solutions

The Green Economy – A Wide Shot” – Ethical Markets Transforming Finance video series