There’s a story one often hears in conversations about systemic transformation that goes like this…
There’s very little time. The scale of the change required is huge. Hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of small groups working towards change can’t possibly get us where we need to go. They are too fragmented. They compete with each other and duplicate efforts. They can’t leverage enough resources or influence to challenge the entrenched power of the status quo. To fix this problem, we must concentrate our support on a smaller number of much larger groups. And those groups must also do a lot more collaborating and coordinating than is currently taking place.
What if that story is the equivalent of missing the forest for trees?!
That is of course what scientists were doing before they understood just how collaborative, intelligent, and symbiotic forests truly are. As the old industrial growth paradigm dies back, the new collaborative and regenerative one is emerging all around us. Like trees, the initiatives that are growing are not simply small, separate entities, competing with one another for scarce funding. They comprise multiple ecosystems than can hold and distribute the money that is needed for a Just Transition. They move at the speed of trust, which is the only way to head in the right direction.
When clouds rain on a mature forest, the forest allocates the water, based on a complex set of relationships and structures that have evolved over long periods of time. Forests even release chemical signals that seed the clouds and help trigger them to drop their moisture. The clouds do not get down on the ground and study the lakes, rivers, and soil to figure out where their water will do the most good. Nor do they create their own water management infrastructure to contain, release, and evaluate the impact of the essential resource that they provide.
Funders of transformation must learn to be more like clouds if they wish to nourish whole ecosystems of change. The task is far too complex to be managed from the top down. Even the most well-intentioned of funders face huge challenges in sensing what is needed on the ground, especially at the edges where transformational potential is greatest. Many funders who wish to support a Just Transition recognize the limits to their own decision-making capacity. How many of them might be waiting for signals from the forests of transformational initiatives that they are ready to take on the role of receiving, holding and distributing large amounts of money?
Meanwhile, networks of people and organizations that are committed to transformational work have been developing the capacity to act like forests. They have built up trust-based soil through decades of work, learning from successes and composting failures. That soil is now home to a vast mycelial network of relationships, capable of moving information and nutrients in highly complex ways. This is giving rise to diverse ecosystems of initiatives, ready to grow and mature if they receive sufficient nourishment. And these ecosystems are learning processes of democratic governance to move, store, and recycle money in a myriad of collaborative ways, prioritizing cooperation and symbiosis to generate more opportunities for all.
What would happen if funders chose to act like clouds, and trusted the forests they wished to see thrive? What would happen if those who are doing the work on the ground, and those who are working to support them, trusted that they were part of forests and sent collective signals that they were ready for rain? Perhaps we would find that these emerging forests are far mightier than we realized. Perhaps we would discover that the speed of trust is much faster than we thought. Or that we had actually been traveling in the right direction for a very long time.
If this possibility calls to you, please join the Collaborative Funding Dojo, now through June 30th, to learn and practice ways to act on it.