Are You Building an Ecosystem?

How is your work connected to other organizations and social movements in your communities?

Fellows participate in a unity clap while learning from Chicano Park advocates and movement builders in San Diego.

While it’s natural to develop a laser-focused approach to our individual passions and movement-building work, acknowledging our interconnectedness is invaluable. That’s why the WKKF Community Leadership Network with the Center for Creative Leadership fellowship program recruits leaders who serve in a wide variety of roles, from tribal leader to health practitioner to conservationist. The fellows’ diverse bodies of work are all essential parts of a larger ecosystem working to foster a more equitable society.

By approaching our work from an ecosystem lens, we can initiate transformational change.

Movement Building as an Ecosystem

We know that in natural ecosystems, balance is paramount. Every plant and animal has a role to play. When one population suffers from disease or lack of resources, this sets off a chain reaction that impacts many other populations – even those that don’t seem directly related.

Our human ecosystems aren’t so different. A growing body of research shows us just how inextricably connected various social issues are; the links are endless, including ties between mental and financial health, early education and economic mobility, immigration and environmental justice.

At its core, leadership is a social process. This process creates direction, alignment and commitment – all necessary parts of a greater human ecosystem that brings people together to solve their most critical challenges.

When we recognize the intersectionality of our own work with numerous other social movements, we can begin to shift our perspective from one of competition and scarcity to one of growth, mutual empowerment and abundance.

Stages of Transformational Change Within an Ecosystem

  1. Preparing the change terrain. The change process is initiated by gaining a deep understanding of the terrain and preparing the early change adopters to support change.
  1. Nourishing change processes. The seeds of change are sown and the focus is on building and nourishing the relationships across change agents so that the transformational foundations take root.
  1. Spreading and adapting to change inhibitors. Dominant changes begin to spread across the terrain and adapt to the ecosystem inhibitors that are encountered.
  1. Disseminating change system-wide. Change pragmatists (players who follow after early adopters) are handing off to mature players (those who institutionalize change) to facilitate the change becoming self-sustaining over time.

How to Build an Ecosystem

As we initiate and work through the stages of transformational change, these questions and considerations can guide us in taking an ecosystem-building approach:

  • Map the change terrain. What communities or stakeholders need to be taken into consideration? How is my social issue connected to other movements, and how could our work build on and elevate one another?
  • Know the players and where they stand. Who are the players across these social issues and how are they connected? How do they interact?
  • Build the right relationships. What would an effective network of change agents look like? How might the players influence or be influenced by others?
  • Adapt, adapt, and adapt again. How is the terrain evolving? How are new developments changing the players? How can my work influence other important issues, and how can I build from the capacity of other connected movements?

We can center ourselves in this work by asking ourselves the game-changing question that Dr. Manuel Pastor posited at the WKKF Community Leadership Network fellows gathering in San Diego: Are you building an empire or an ecosystem?

By building ecosystems, rather than empires, we can facilitate transformative change for children, families and communities that goes beyond superficial adjustments to deep, lasting shifts in systems.

To learn more, download Center for Creative Leadership’s white paper, “Transformational Change: An Ecosystem Approach. Lessons from Nature for Those Leading Change in Organizations.”

Source: Center for Creative Leadership

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WKKF Community Leadership Network