Social Innovators: Collaborative Support, Feedback, and Dissent as Essential for Social Innovation by Leah Bry

Leah Hoeing2_1

Leah Bry

The new Worlds of Change Social Innovators Column hosted by Sarah Bobrow-Williams will feature Social Innovators discussing their work, challenges and ideas about the emerging field of Social Innovation This month our featured “Social Innovator” is none other than Goddard’s own Leah Bry. Leah completed her Master’s in Sustainable Business and Communities in 2010, while launching Greenleaf, a neighborhood-based nonprofit organization in Denver. GreenLeaf creates social change by teaching organic farming and community organizing skills to youth 15 to 18, making organic vegetables accessible and affordable to low-income urban residents, and empowering youth to take leadership roles within the organization. Leah’s contribution highlights the need to build a culture of collaboration, support, feedback, and dissent.

To me, an essential aspect of successful social innovation is to build into any project dedicated time, space, and process for collaborative support, feedback, and dissent. Working to meet critical “challenges that result in systemic change” and “benefit society as whole” by nature MUST be a collaborative process, whether in design or implementation, and ideally both.

When I think of my most successful experiences doing this work, at GreenLeaf, Colorado Progressive Action, SEIU Local 105, and most recently at Denver Montessori Jr/Sr High School, I recognize that the amazing teams I have been a part of owe our strength and accomplishments to an atmosphere of openness, emotional honesty, and constructive criticism. The group must also be committed to social justiceas  a foundational shared value and have a willingness to educate themselves and each other, including calling one another “in” when we make mistakes.

Social Innovation is hard and successes can seem few because our visions are so big, so ambitious, and so passionately treasured. But if our process of social innovation includes lifting up and developing the leadership and capacity of ourselves and our peers, colleagues, and members, then no matter what we achieve in the short term we have strengthened our abilities to create the world we want to live in. When I think about my visions for a more just, more equitable and peaceful world, they rest on a foundation of people who have the skills to encompass and communicate across difference without seeking to change it.

Creating these spaces to communicate effectively, discuss, learn, challenge one another, disagree peacefully and productively can happen in many different ways. Here are some that I have experienced:

  • Establishing guidelines for participation that are intended to build a safe(r space: recognizing that learning and growing calls on all of us to step out of our comfort zones, take risks and fail, and that we can do so most effectively with the support and backup of our team members.
  • Regular team meetings that include stakeholders from all levels of an organization, and in which each member of a team regularly shares challenges, successes, ways in which they have grown and ways in which they struggle. This encourages all participants to be vulnerable with one another and to reflect together and individually on the work they are doing.
  • Techniques like nonviolent communication and restorative justice.
  • One practice I have used extensively is called Straight Talk – a group feedback process that can be adapted for use one to one, in small groups, and even incorporating a whole organization. It was developed by an organization called The Food Project, and I wholeheartedly recommend purchasing their book, Growing Together, on building strong working communities of youth and adults (it’s not just relevant to working with youth).
  • Organizational leadership that is not threatened by dissent, and welcomes diverse and challenging opinions with action as well as words.
  • Organizations that conduct anti-oppression and social justice assessments and planning processes, and dedicate time and resources to addressing and building team capacity around their social justice values.
  • Teams that combine accountability with humor and human-ness: handling conflict and tough times is much easier when a team can laugh together and when each member is welcomed as a full, imperfect human being with lives outside the workplace or project
  • Workplaces that compensate all employees fairly with living wages and appropriate benefits, including time off, parental leave, etc.

What are some of the ways in which you’ve experienced teams that create a culture of collaboration, support, feedback, and dissent?

Posted in Activism, Community Building, Environmental, Sustainability & Place Studies, Social Innovation, Sustainability, Sustainable Businesses and Communities | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social Innovation Launches at Goddard Along with Social Innovators Columns

Sarah Bobrow-Williams

Sarah Bobrow-Williams

What is Social Innovation? The concept takes on shape with every conversation. Earlier this year I was challenged by a philanthropist to distinguish social innovation education from social entrepreneurial education. Her concern was the latter’s emphasis on “money making” at the expense (no pun intended) of more salient issues – “non violence, gender equality, disarmament, human rights,” etc. I described Social Innovation to her as a framework for guiding authentic, inclusive and transdisciplinary engagement aimed at responding more effectively to the critical challenges we face and resulting in systemic change.

The qualifier “social” in both Innovation or entrepreneurism, implies an outcome that is beneficial to society as a whole, and is typically aimed at addressing a particular yet widespread challenge. In my experience, Social Innovation theory and practice tends to place more emphasis on process, while (social) “entrepreneurial” approaches are more individualistic and tend to be framed by a business or enterprise model. Clearly, Social Innovation is a nascent field, which is what makes Goddard’s new degree program so exciting.

Perhaps the fact that Social Innovation seems not only to be gaining traction across many disciplines, but is outpacing Social Entrepreneurism as an academic concentration, is commentary on the fact that a system that is individualistic at its core is not sustainable. Goddard’s new MA in Social Innovation and Sustainability (MASIS), by design, aims to prepare “activists” to facilitate collective action that is mindful of balancing ecological, economic and social concerns and that is concerned with issues of equity and inclusion.

In designing the MASIS degree we sought input from individuals and organizations committed to building the capacity of communities and organizations to pursue innovative approaches to creating more viable ways of living and being in community. Because these conversations offered insights into the challenges of launching and sustaining meaningful change, we thought, Why not create a space to share and engage with new ideas and useful information from the field?

Stay tuned for our first featured Social Innovator, Leah Bry, in a future column.


Posted in Activism, Community Building, Social Innovation, Sustainability, Sustainable Businesses and Communities | Leave a comment

Queering Sexual Violence: IMA Student Jennifer Patterson Interviewed by Faculty Lise Weil

311928_255826071128095_572497798_nIn her forthcoming anthology Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement (Magnus Books, Fall 2014), IMA student Jennifer Patterson has assembled a collection of powerful, eloquent voices that serve to shift key paradigms that exist around survivors of sexual violence and anti-sexual violence work.

How did this anthology come into being?

I originally started working on it because I was organizing in community- based anti-sexual violence work and I couldn’t find myself reflected in the work being done. And not only couldn’t I find myself in the work, I couldn’t find many of the people I look to for knowledge and experience. The scope was too narrow, too focused on the construction of a survivor that many people aren’t. As is often the case, there was a heavy focus on the binary of man/ rapist and woman/ survivor even though all genders can experience and perpetuate violence, even sexual violence. I started to feel like there needed to be more conversation led by those of us in the margins.

I wanted to highlight that the mainstream understanding of survivor and perpetrator could be conflicting with the reality of someone’s personal experience; that often times many people have complicated histories as both “victim” and “perpetrator”. I wanted to blur the lines between that binary. I wanted us to realize that rape and sexual violence and those of us who experience it are all on this huge continuum When we reduce a multitude of people and experiences to fit the narrative of the white, straight, cisgender women as the “perfect” survivor, we are missing opportunities to come together in a more dynamic way. I get increasingly frustrated hearing about the organizing focused on “violence against women”, as the only solution to ending sexual violence. It’s a limited framework that doesn’t make the connections between personal, institutional, state and community violence. When I think about all the survivors I know or have engaged with over the years, not all of them are women. And not all of the “perpetrators” are men. And many don’t even identify on either end of that gender binary.

On a more personal level, I am a survivor of multiple forms of violence and identify as queer so I came to this work very much from a place of experience.

Why is it needed?

Though I’m not straight, I am white and cisgender and I’ve seen how people who look like me and share some of my experiences are centralized when it comes to anti-sexual violence work; research studies, organizing, prevention work and healing spaces. Survivors are not a monolith yet there is very little space to veer from the more traditional narratives around violence.

There were also a lot of questions that seemed to go either unanswered or unacknowledged in mainstream organizing and non-profit work. For example, knowing that there is increasing hostility and exclusion towards trans women within our larger LGB, queer and feminist communities, when someone or an organization talks about “women” and “female” survivors, who is actually included?

Mainstream anti-sexual violence work is inextricably linked to non-profit organizations, which are now a full-blown industry. Often times this reliance makes people vulnerable to further violence from the state, through wanting survivors to report to the police and an overreliance on the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex. Depending on someone’s immigration status (undocumented), type of work ( sex work) or race/ gender/ class/ sexuality/ ability status, many people don’t have the luxury of being able to rely on the justice system because in wanting to report violence, they risk deportation, criminalization etc. In addition, criminalization of perpetrators, who will find themselves in the prison industrial complex where they will inevitably experience multiple forms of violence, is not a solution to violence, in my opinion. I’m interested in the way our systems and communities fail us. I feel most connected to work that challenges the way we view violence and justice, how we organize against it and respond to it.

10401926_10202575254597255_3073216122382718368_nIn much of the writing, there is a strong sense of silences being broken, of long-pent-up feelings and thoughts finally coming to the surface. How did you find and choose the material?

In general, I felt pretty open in regards to what I was looking to include in the anthology. Because I just wanted people to write what they needed to write, the stories they wished to read, I was open to whatever that meant for someone. And because I am the only editor, I wanted to challenge myself in how I chose the pieces. While I do connect with each of the contributors on some level, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t only choosing pieces because I agreed with them or thought they were “right.” I was looking for pieces that explored our connected and sometimes conflicting identities. I also wanted to look at what is considered acceptable as far as moving forward in this work. I think sometimes there is this idea that in order to challenge something, an institution, larger systems etc, one must have a neatly packaged “better” solution ready to be put into practice. That was something I wanted to move away from. I didn’t expect that each person would have answers but rather that the pieces would provide space for larger conversations.

I ended up picking 35 pieces (I had originally hoped to find 20-25) to include in the book. I also feel privileged to have Reina Gossett, of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and writer, organizer and archivist, who wrote the forward. Reina starts us off strongly by challenging the ways people view violence, justice and who is deemed worthy of survival so I feel really lucky that she agreed to be a part of the book.

Tell us a little about what it took to get it picked up by a publisher.

Well, it was not a short process, I’ll tell you that. I didn’t have an agent so I wrote the proposal (and then rewrote and rewrote) to send to publishers on my own. I had a few people who were incredibly helpful and supportive and they were happy to edit and offer suggestions before I sent it out which was incredibly beneficial. I spent about 3 years submitting the proposal to various radical or small or LGBT or academic presses. It seemed to resonate for a lot of publishers and I got some great feedback but for whatever reason it was still hard to place. For some, it wasn’t academic enough, but then at other times, was deemed too academic. I understood; I made no attempts to make it an “academic” book but there are some pieces that are more academic than others. It’s also critical of the industry of anti-sexual violence non-profit work which I’m sure worried a few presses.

I finally found a home for it at Magnus Books, which I am really excited about. The publisher, Don Weise has been incredibly supportive and it feels great to be working with someone who is as excited and inspired as I am. As of now, it’s slated to come out in October but that isn’t 100% yet.

How does it connect to the work you are doing at Goddard?

This book (and the other work I did in anti-sexual violence work) has very much been a passion project. So while doing the book for the last 4.5 years, I also was balancing my “paid’ work in graphic design and social media management. I hit a wall where my life felt very fragmented, the things that I loved weren’t allowing me to survive and the things that paid the bills weren’t inspiring me as much anymore. I came to Goddard with the hopes that I could reframe what I was doing and connect some of the dots.

This past semester I focused largely on queer survivorhood and the impact on and use of the body after experiencing violence. I’m really interested in the ways that pleasure and pain overlap and how they can be used in some sort of healing process. I’m also really excited about exploring the good/ bad binary; what makes someone a “good” survivor vs. a “bad” survivor. I’m wanting to interrogate and break down the pathologization and stigmatization around the way queer people choose to inhabit, rebuild and utilize their bodies after experiencing violence on a personal and community level. Lots of reading about body modification, in the form of piercing and tattoos, BDSM and 1970′s gay radical sexuality, “writing” the body through creative non-fiction and the body as a source of inspiration and a site for artistic practice. I’m still pulling things together but it all feels really good to be focused on places that often are shamed and stigmatized.

Of course, who knows where I will head next semester!

Posted in Activism, Community Building, Creative Writing, Embodiment Studies & Body Image, Feminism, Women's & Gender Studies, Transforming Trauma | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Radical Edge of the Low-Residencey Model: Faculty Present at NEA Higher Education Conference

Katt Lissard talks with another conference participant

Katt Lissard talks with another conference participant

Katt Lissard and Karen Campbell, faculty members in the IMA/SBC/HAS programs, recently presented a workshop at the NEA (National Education Association) Higher Education conference in St. Louis in mid-March. Their workshop — “The Low-Residency Model and the Radical Edge From Personal Theory to Engaged Work in the World: Individualized Masters Degrees and the Activist-Scholar – The Graduate Institute at Goddard College” — looked at how low-residency programs can play a crucial and radical role in bridging the online/classroom/community divide.

Katt and Karen explain about their approach, “Our individualized, interdisciplinary Masters programs offer working and/or mobile adults access to a radically conceived activist-scholar experience. The

inspiration and exhilaration of coming together for intense eight-day residencies serves to balance the deep, reflective and rigorous work pursued by individuals once they are back “home” in front of their computers and/or engaging in community-based projects testing new theory in practice. At Goddard, students are regarded as unique individuals who take charge of and design their learning while collaborating with peers, staff, and faculty to build a strong community.”

Karen Campbell at the conference

Karen Campbell at the conference

Katt’s and Karen’s bios speak to extensive experience with community-based projects. Kattis a writer, activist and artistic director of The Winter/Summer Institute, an HIV/AIDS theatre project based in New York and Lesotho, Africa. Goddard College Graduate Institute faculty member Karen Campbell’s interests lie in colonial/postcolonial cultural studies. She’s recently returned from Japan where she was involved in social action theatre addressing such issues as the vexed legacies of colonialism, and of the 3/11 earthquake, tusunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Their workshop at the NEA conference drew a lot of interest

Posted in Community Building, Creativity & Imagination, Cultural & Cross-Cultural Studies, Progressive Education, Theater, Drama & Playwriting | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mike Alvarez Wins Fellowship for New Americans

Alvarez_MikeMike Alvarez, a graduate of the Individualized MA program, was just awarded the prestigious Paul and Daisy Fellowship for New Americans. Currently working on his PhD at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he’s studying the cybersuicide phenomenon, Alverez says this of his time at Goddard:

The IMA program has taught me not to be ashamed of my scars. That by articulating these scars, I’m bringing silenced narratives into discourse, which can be very empowering to others. My work on madness, suicide, and human creativity, is really an attempt to map a cartography of the range of human expression – its hinterlands, its buoyant waves. And what Goddard did, is that it made me realize how much I love reading stories, how much I love *writing* stories, and that the stories I read and write are all connected in this magical, ineffable way.

Building on his MA studies, Mike has also recently finished a memoir on mental illness. In addition to his MA degree, Mike completed a MFA degree at Goddard College also, and he has published and presented both scholarly work and creative writing widely.

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Goddard Chef Paul Somerset, and Robin Stone’s Health Coaching

robin_stone_1_150x225Robin Stone, a Health Arts and Sciences MA student, found more than just food for thought at her last Goddard residency. Studying the role of story in helping Black women to reconnect with and care for their bodies, Robin has an eye for how to enhance health. She found some new ideas in the Goddard cafeteria, thanks to chef Paul Somerset, which she wrote about in her blog Health Jones.

An author, journalist and health coach, Robin writes of her mission, “I decided that I wanted to be a catalyst for change for those who wanted to be healthy but couldn’t see where to start or how to get through the rough patches.”

One way to see through challenges is to turn lemons into lemonade, or in the case of Chef Paul, root vegetables into hummus. Read Robin’s article to learn more about the Goddard chef’s approaches as well as other paths toward greater health.

Posted in Health Arts & Sciences, Nutrition | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Writing, Healing, and Community Building with Veterans: An Interview with Seema Reza by Joy Jacobson

6a01a511537316970c01a3fcafa00e970b-800wiA Goddard BFA graduate and incoming Transformative Language Arts student was just featured on the Best American Poetry Website. Seema coordinates the recreational arts activities at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Bethesda, MA, and she’s a long-time writer.

When asked if how the study of TLA is important to her career, she said,

It is, in the sense that I hope to find the methods and language to answer: How do we survive in this work? I spend my day listening to some really rough stories. That’s my job. The goal is to create more people who are doing this work, especially veterans. There are stories that veterans tell other veterans that in some cases they wouldn’t tell me. So how do we maintain our own creative practice? That is an important part of the TLA program. When I’m working with veterans there’s mutual growth. We are together, both of us growing. How do we support the facilitators of this work, particularly when they have traumas of their own? It’s the kind of thing we need people all over the world doing, and they have to have safe outlets for processing it. Artists and veterans are leading these community-building workshops, and I’m interested in seeing that people are staying sane.

Read the whole interview here.

Posted in Activism, Creative Writing, Creativity & Imagination, Transformative Language Arts, Transforming Trauma | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment