One of the initiatives emerging from the Southern Africa Food Lab seeks to create new ways for small-scale farmers to participate meaningfully in the economy. Launched in 2012, this initiative is currently prototyping five innovations in two rural districts of South Africa. A recent learning history by Reos Associate Karen Goldberg is helping all of us involved in the Food Lab to stay awake to how issues of power are not just “out there” but “in here” too.
The 1913 Natives Land Act relegated all African people to “homeland” reserves initially comprising just 7.3% of the total area of South Africa. Generally, the quality of the soil was poor, and this land degraded further over generations of subsistence farming. While the Land Act was repealed in 1991, its multiple legacies remain major challenges today. In the words of one of the Food Lab hosts: “The food system in South Africa reflects our current reality and the past. It is characterized through power, and power is about race, class, gender … Unless we put that in the centre of what we are doing, we are not going to shift the system.”
[Picture: From left to right – a member of the hosting team (arm only), a small scale farmer, a researcher, an activist and a retailer build a model of the agricultural system]
Imagine for a moment a city that is the best place in the world for a child to grow up. What would it look like? Feel like? How would children grow, learn, and play? How would decisions be made and resources invested? What stories would be told about the value and role of children in our communities?
Thrive By 5: Calgary’s Early Years Innovation Lab, co-convened by the United Way of Calgary and Area and the Province of Alberta (Ministry of Human Services), has set Calgary on a course towards collaboratively seeking answers to these questions. In doing so, Lab members aim to transform the early childhood development (ECD) system in Calgary and drastically improve the statistics. Currently, one-fourth of the children in Calgary are not meeting key developmental milestones by the time they enter kindergarten. The Lab’s purpose is to ensure that all children grow, learn, and thrive by the age of five. In taking on this challenge, the Lab also aims to establish Calgary as the kind of city that knows how to collectively solve complex problems.
In 2012, Reos met with leaders across the community living sector in Vancouver, Canada. Our aim was to ascertain whether and how key service, community, and government organizations might better cooperate to help people with disabilities live a “good life.” In this sector, a “good life” is defined as the things that make life good, but are often hard to secure for people with intellectual disabilities: loving relationships and friendships, opportunities to work and contribute to the community, asset accumulation, self-determination, and other forms of integration into everyday community life.
Tanya Sather and Richard Faucher of the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI), a well-established organization serving 800 people with disabilities in Burnaby and the greater Vancouver area, shared with us their vision for continually improving BACI’s ability to support a “good life” for the people they serve, even amidst increases in demand and cuts in government funding.
We began working with BACI in 2013, first identifying key tensions and opportunities, and then setting a course for BACI’s “growing internally strong,” in Tanya’s words. Presently, the central focus of the engagement is to propagate “learning loops,” a practice and toolkit that regularly engages all employees in creatively and incrementally improving BACI’s services and operations.
The challenge is interesting, subtle, and rewarding. People with disabilities are highly individual, so BACI must continually adjust its services to meet varying and emergent needs, while also complying with government regulations and managing hundreds of employees. It is an incredible task.
The Electricity Innovation Lab, or e¯Lab, is a group of thought leaders and decision makers from across the US electricity sector who have come together to address critical barriers to the economic deployment of distributed electricity resources. e¯Lab is convened by Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank whose mission is to drive the efficient and restorative use of resources, and is supported by Reos Partners.
The growing need for reinvestment in the electricity infrastructure, climate change and other environmental concerns, an increasing focus on grid resilience, and the rapid development of new business solutions to leverage the changing cost of technologies are fundamentally changing the electricity landscape in the US. As a result, rapid innovation—as well as change, cooperation, and conflict—are occurring at the “seams” in the electricity sector, where no single stakeholder or industry group can control the outcome. The most important new sources of competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing electricity sector are therefore not technology or market position; they are the ability of innovators to work efficiently and effectively in complex multi-stakeholder environments. Shifting the electricity sector will require engagement and innovation across traditional institutional boundaries.
Communities around the world are subject to increasing shocks. These shocks range from the environmental, such as extreme weather events, to the fiscal, where public services are cut. In some cases, these shocks are predictable. In the UK, for example, it’s possible to figure out which communities will be hardest hit by cuts to public services, such as health care, well in advance of the cuts occurring. Where climate change is concerned, we are starting to see patterns—repeated flooding and heat waves causing extreme damage to property and, in the worse cases, loss of life.
There were many reasons to start looking at food insecurity in southern Africa in a new way, but the 2008 global food crises were the most compelling. Rapid food price increases sparked fears of supply shortages, initiated riots in several countries, and drew fresh attention to hunger and the struggles many households face to put enough—and sufficiently nutritious—food on their tables. This renewed sense of urgency brought people from across the food value chain into a Southern Africa Food Lab (SAFL), convened by Milla McLachlan and Ralph Hamann. The vision of the multi-stakeholder Lab is “a food system that nourishes the land and all people.” Its intention has crystallised into “generating creative responses to the problem of hunger. We facilitate dialogue between diverse groups to raise consciousness of the interdependencies and injustices in the food system. We foster novel ideas and commitments to enact positive changes for the food system to thrive.”
Over the past decade, many Latin American countries have experienced a rapid rise in the number of lawsuits that seek to protect people’s fundamental right to health. This “judicialization” of health is the result of a complex interplay of factors: Public health systems in the region are weak; the costs of providing good healthcare greatly exceed the resources available; and this gap between resources and need is widening. Meanwhile, other factors are converging as well: Citizens are increasingly informed about their rights and prepared to enforce them in court; the influence of the pharmaceutical industry is increasing; and judges often do not have the technical information and expert advice they need to make sound legal decisions in this arena.
Over the past three years, Reos Partners has supported the World Bank Institute to explore this phenomenon through a series of regional forums bringing together a diversity of stakeholders to exchange stories of recent cases and events, map out patterns, discover shared questions, and create innovative strategies to be tested and learned from in practice.
Reos Partners is working with Bamyan Media, a small media company currently based in Cairo, Egypt on the following challenge:
How does a startup with no track record in Egypt, make and sell a Reality-TV show that supports and develops social entrepreneurs in Egypt on a massive scale?
Following the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 and the broader Arab Spring, Egypt is in the midst of an enormous social change and faces fundamental questions about its future. The iconic Tahrir Square continues to buzz with protest and political activity. It's a time of instability, uncertainty and opportunity for change.
In this context, Reos Partners was approached by Bamyan media who had previously produced a successful TV show in Afghanistan about social entrepreneurship.
Changing education at scale: lessons from Camp Snowball
Camp Snowball, a program supported by Reos Partners, is building students and educators’ capacity for systems thinking to better navigate the complexity of the world they are inheriting.
For the past two summers, Reos Partners has joined with the Waters Foundation Systems Thinking in Schools Project, SoL Education Partnership, Cloud Institute for Education for Sustainability, and Creative Learning Exchange to co-create a multi-faceted camp program designed to build students’ and educators’ capacity in systems thinking, education for sustainability, youth engagement, and organisational learning while building a learning community to support them after camp is over. By embedding these toolsets system-wide – in classrooms, schools, school districts, and communities – we hope to create better student outcomes.
A fundamental tenet of scenario-based planning is that the future is uncertain and unpredictable. To help planners and decision-makers sensitize themselves to the unfolding events that are most relevant to their challenges and questions, many scenario projects include a “learning-forward” component defined by specific tools. Reos is currently leading the Western Electric Coordinating Council’s (WECC) scenario project, focused on long-term investments in electricity transmission systems in the western regions of Canada and the United States.