systems change

In Resonance with the Living Earth - A World Goodwill Seminar

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I was invited by the Lucis Trust to present on my experience of leading systems change, my understanding of inner change and my love of the living earth for their annual World Goodwill Seminar that was held at the Amba Hotel in London and broadcasted live online.

It was a great pleasure to make connections between The Lucis Trust and the Psychosynthesis Trust - two organisations that have a special source connection with Alice Bailey and Roberto Assagioli having been good friends and Work colleagues.

Here is a link the video footage of the day as well as my presentation below.



It was the summer of 1978 – over 40 years ago.  

 My little 6 year old body lay face down on the wooden dock peering between the gaps in the boards into the clear water below.  As I visually entered the under water world,  I spotted  a round smiling sunfish hiding behind the long stalks of seaweed whose ribbon- like stems were swaying with the current.   A small freshwater crab darted off to the right.   And a school of minnows passed by to the left – there were dozens of them, or maybe even hundreds - they moved together like they were one big fish body.  

I would lay there on that dock for hours just imagining myself as a little underwater creature playing with my underwater friends.

This is how I spent much of my childhood – in a very fortunate and privileged situation growing up in New England in the US – being immersed in nature and in frequent deep relational contact with the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms.   

This shaped who I am today – someone who is very tuned into the intelligence of nature and someone who sees the world as a living system – a wide web of interconnected relationships through which existence expresses its whole self.  

 Fast-forward 40 years to my life now – here talking with you.

What I’d like to do in my time with you today is to share my experience of using the qualities of nature’s intelligence to organize for change – and to explore the question:

“How can groups – informed by natures’ intelligence – help us be more effective in our service of goodwill?”

I would love for you to go away from today with some thoughts for what you can practically in your role as a group member – whether that be in your organization, community or family - so that you can be an even more effective in your service of Goodwill. 

 I will be drawing on my experience of working in and leading groups such as:

·      The Finance Innovation Lab - A social change organization I initiated whilst working at WWF the conservation Charity.  The Lab is bringing all kinds of people together to create a new financial and money system that serves people and planet.

·      In my role as Executive Director of The Psychosynthesis Trust – an educational charity that helps people to ‘know and transform’ themselves through a transpersonal psychological framework and philosophy.   The Trust, seeded by Roberto Assagioli, has esoteric roots as Roberto and Alice Bailey were good friends and worked together as World Servers.   

So WHAT is a group and WHY are groups so important for the context of our time?

What is a group?

Well, think of examples from Animal Kingdom – that might be herds, flocks, swarms, gaggles, forests – or the Human Kingdom – tribes, communities– even the human body is a group – made up of 50 Trillion cells working together.

So for me - a group is a collection individuals working together in relationship towards a common intention – and in this case of Goodwill – serving a purpose beyond themselves for the benefit of the whole.

Why are groups important now?

We are in an in age of rapid breakdown of our human and ecological systems.  As we know from the adaptive cycle of nature – breakdown, death and destruction are natural – think of a forest fire, a volcano, a flood.     After rapid destruction in nature what you normally see is a rapid flourishing of the new.  New species come about that were never able to establish themselves in the old ecosystem.  

What I think is SO exciting in this age of breakdown is that we have an amazing chance to sow new seeds:  new ideas, new stories and new solutions for a different energy frequency for humanity.

However we need make sure that these seeds are incubated in conditions that allow them to become strong, coherent, resilient and well resourced.   Groups are INCUBATORS which will give us a chance to ensure the new seeds of consciousness survive AND thrive.   This won’t happen if we continue to work as individuals or even loose networks of people.

 Over the past few years I have been tuning into the work of Alice Bailey.   And one thing that really stands out for me is her continued reference to the importance of groups in bringing about a more enlightened consciousness.

She says “How can groups form an entity for a focal point for the transmission of spiritual force to a needy and waiting world?  How can we move from a place of personality reactions to a place of group realization?”

Assagioli said “A group is not just a place or a gathering of people, it is also an evolving field of consciousness that gives birth to new ideas and ways of being’.

There are 4 main roles I see in groups in expanding consciousness:  

Their role in:

·      Providing greater collective intelligence:  the challenges we face are complex which means we need to look at the challenges through as many different vantage points as possible.  In groups we can see more of the whole, more of the truth – including seeing the root causes and possible solutions.

·      Offering more resilience:  – working on the edge of change and being in service is not easy as we are going against the grain of cultural and social norms.  We are often seen as outliers.  So we need groups of like-minded and hearted people to help support us emotionally so we can sustain the work and ourselves over time. 

·      Giving access to shared resources:  the challenges we face need infrastructure for sustained effort and holding – and thus human and financial resources.   Groups are important as they are a great way to pool tangible and intangible resources.

·      Having stronger voice: As an individual I might get ignored if I am talking about things the mainstream has not yet seen or understood.   However if a group of us pull together a common narrative for change – it is harder to ignore this just as a ‘ marginalized voice on the edge.’   A group has a greater chance of changing embedded stories in the landscape of our culture.     

However humans are not very good working in groups or between groups – so we need to learn and develop this skill.

Our cultural stories and habits and capitalistic system and incentives celebrate and reward individualistic behavior – so you could say that working in a group is rather counter-cultural and going against the grain of the current paradigm.

 So although working in a group is very challenging - I believe that this is ONE OF THE most important leadership skills we need to learn and teach now.    

Learning from Nature’s intelligence

 So how can we adopt qualities of nature’s intelligence, which have served it very well for millions of years, and apply them in how we work in and organize our groups of humans? 

What do I mean by quality? 

There are many qualities of nature to learn from: creativity, self-organisation, adaptation etc.  However I am going to focus on just 3 today. 

They are:

·      Purpose

·      Diversity

·      Energetic fields


Going back to the Lake in New Hampshire – the lake had its own purpose – to be an ecosystem which provided life for all that is in it.   And all of the creatures and plant forms had their own inherent purposes to.    The crab to be a crab.  The fish to be a fish.  And the seaweed to be the seaweed.   

 In nature, purpose is very clear and this allows pure life energy to flow through them into manifested form.

Why is purpose important in groups:

In a human group or organisational context – having a clear purpose is important as it acts as the North Star around which people can self-organise for their fullest expression.    You think about all of the great social movements in history –the most successful ones had a clear purpose that mobilized people over a long period time.

In an organisational context, what I have found in leading the Psychosynthesis Trust, is that investing time into clarifying our purpose has been so valuable – our emerging purpose is “To help people to know, master and transform themselves”.

 Our organisational purpose- or our ‘why we exist’ - helps people to have sense of serving something beyond themselves, it cultivates a desire to collaborate and gives people a sense of autonomy so that they can make better decisions at their local level.  Overall as an organization we are becoming more efficient, effective and creative  - with more flow and ease.

Our purpose has been developed through our worldview of seeing our organization as a ‘living organism’ having an unfolding life purpose of its own.

 Through many dialogue interviews and workshops with our staff and community- we have tuned into the original founding purpose which Assagioli helped to seed over 50 years ago – and then we are blending this with what we now see as our emerging purpose that is relevant for today’s context.  

We are asking ourselves questions like:

·      What are the needs of the world?

·      What are our talents and skills?

·      What do we have energy for?

What this means as an individual in a group

And what I believe is important for group coherence and flow – is for me as an individual to do the work to understand my deepest purpose relates to the group and its purpose.   And in turn to understand how the group purpose can contribute to the unfolding of my own purpose  - they are interrelated.

I have been doing a lot of work tuning into my own souls purpose.   I am constantly inquiring into ‘What is my deepest and purest essence?  How does my essence want to express itself?’    

It is something along the lines of “Building the Infrastructure for Interconnectivity to Reveal Itself”. 

I love asking big questions and weaving webs of people and potential together.  So my role in groups is often the pioneer, the framesetter, the resourcer.

Questions for you:

·      So what is your group’s purpose and how can you enable better alignment around that?

·      What is your emerging souls purpose? What are you doing to actively cultivate and reveal its clarity?

·      How does your purpose show up in groups – what is your role in the group you are in?   What unique contribution are you making?



Nature example:

Going back to the Lake in NH - I remember one year the town overstocked the Lake with Bass fish to attract more fisherman and tourism to the Lake.   The overstocking of the Bass fish led to a dominant species taking over the Lake. Soon after that the Lake became quite dead. When I laid on the dock after this there is very little movement, very little life.

That’s what it like now in our society - for example systems being controlled by the dominant species of the big banks or energy providers or high street retailers.   

Why is diversity important in a group?

 What do I mean by diversity – whilst I think diversity in terms of gender, race and age is important – I think we are at risk of getting to caught up in appearances of diversity – rather than qualities of diversity.

 Diversity that I am really interested in is different perspectives of thought, emotions, wisdom and energy being able to be expressed in their multiplicity whilst maintaining unity of some sense of a whole.

Its not just from a moral imperative of inclusivity and fairness that I think its important.  But it is also important reasons for our survival and ability to meet some of the greatest challenges.


In the Lake context - it was an ecosystem that was able to sustain itself for a really long-time as there was no one species that dominated – the diversity allowed for adaptation and balance.

I think this will be very important for us to work in groups as climate breakdown really starts to hit – Diverse groups of people coming together to share different skills, capacities and resources helps us to adapt and absorb shocks to the system.

Better Strategies and Solutions:

When I was leading the Finance Innovation Lab, our meetings would include activists, bankers, academics, policy makers and psychologists – together were we able to see many more aspects of the complexity of the problem of the financial system. 

We brought entreprenuers and activists together with policy makers to work out a policy that would make it easier for smaller banks to enter the market.  The policies, when worked on from diverse perspectives were more relevant.

We also brought policy makers and activists together with entreprenuers to develop new business models for finance – new banks, new currencies , new savings products.     The diverse perspectives were able to develop – as the complexity scientists say -  ‘fitness of the new niches’ so that they had a greater chance of survival.

So seeing more of the truth, having more creativity, developing better strategies – and coming up with better solutions – allowed us to be more effective in our change efforts.

And I don’t know about you, but when I am in a group that has diversity- I feel a greater sense of aliveness – more of the richness of life is being able to be expressed through the whole.   

What this means for the individual?

New skills needed

Convening and sustaining diverse groups is not easy and it requires all of us in service of good will to build new skills – this is what we teach in psychosynthesis

I have had to learn to:

·      Holding paradox – in a group there many truths we need to build skills of holding this multiplicity whilst holding unity

·      Embracing conflict as a generative force – finding ways for the group to work though this together and to appreciate difference.

·      Understanding the diverse parts of ourselves– the many sub-personalities that make up my whole – how can I synthesize different aspects of myself – such as my mystic and pragmatist  - so that I have greater coherence in my relationship with myself and others.

So a question for you?

·      How diverse are the groups that you are part of – how could you play a role in inviting in more diversity?

·      So how are you developing your skills to synthesize diversity in groups and in yourself?

Energetic Fields

I loved watching schools of fish at the Lake, flocks of Canadian geese, ant colonies at work.  These fields moved together as one body.   There was an intelligence whole that was greater than the individual parts.

When I was working with The Finance Lab I would find ways to work with scientists to help inform our work.   One person I involved Rupert Sheldrake as I was interested in the role of morphic fields in social change.     I had asked him – What is a morphic field?  He said it is a ‘region of influence’.  ‘A field is shaped by what has gone on before, it has strong habits it has a sense of an illusive wholeness.”

Why are morphic fields important in groups?

Paying attention to the field of the group helps you to tune into the invisible habits and patterns.  It helps you to see what is really wanting to be expressed and manifested – it’s a form of deeper intelligence that is much greater than our limited rational mind and ego structure.   

At the Trust we have been tuning into the organization as a morphic field.    One way we have been doing this is by using systemic constellations.  Systemic constellations is a tool that is helps us to tune into the mysteries, the habits, the forms, the relational dynamics and the goals of the organization.

We have used systemic constellations to better understand who in the history of the Trust has been excluded, what roles are not in the right relational place in the organization, or what truths have been denied or suppressed?

Seeing our organization as a morphic field and using tools that help us to tune into the invisible energies has brought about more consciousness, coherence and flow.   And it has also fun to observe the synchronicities that reveal themselves the more we do our work in this way.  

What this means to the individual?

As an individual, I feel like I am beginning to perceive the world in brand new ways.

Working in an energetic field has also revolutionized how I relate to others –including learning to relate through the sensations and intuition that I am picking up in the field through my body.

What skills can you develop?

·      How can you develop your use of tools to engage in energetic fields - like tools of systemic constellations, transpersonal psychology, learning to facilitate group relational dynamics?

·      How can you develop the different ways you relate to others - including your embodied felt sense between you and another or in a group?


Bringing Spirituality into Politics - Vaclav Havel

Book Review  Vaclav Havel – Summer Meditations

Although I am dumbfounded by the state of politics in the world, I am also excited that this could be the creative destruction we need to give birth to a new way of organizing society.  One that is based on intrinsic values that support human flourishing and embrace complex systems.  

Some of this was expressed recently by Barack Obama in his eulogy at John McCain’s funeral.  Obama spoke of a need for politicians that served a higher purpose beyond one’s self, politicians who were aware of their ego and power and politicians who worked for universal principles that supported all people being equal – sharing our common humanity.

With my more recent interest in what is really shifting politically – it was no surprise that Vaclav Havel’s Summer Meditations jumped off my shelf for me to read.  I feel like I drew a lot from this book – such as learning about his perspectives on leadership and his vision for a new political system.  Thank you Vaclav Havel for the contributions you have made in your life!  You have inspired me as a politician, a philosopher and deeply self aware human being.   Respect. 

So the book was filled with all sorts of great quotes – in the summary below I have shared the ones that really resonated.  There were several themes that really stood out for me.  It feels that these are important reminders for us today as we bring in new political systems.  

  • The importance of one’s own inner leadership and awareness

  • The importance of cultivating and amplifying the intrinsic values that need to we awakened – such as good will

  • The importance of bringing about critical thinking, self reflection and cultivation of ideas – and calling out stuck ideologies that prevent one from exploring multiple truths and perspectives

  • The importance of bringing the whole human at the centre of designing our political systems – this includes spirituality

  • The importance of the interplay between politics, the psyche and society. They are all interconnected and thus politics shape our consciousness and we shape the consciousness of politics.


Some perspectives and quotes  from Vaclav Havel that give us some inspiration for politics.

Building Self-awareness:

“As in everything else I must start with myself. That is in all circumstances try to be decent, just, tolerant and understanding”.

“But I have one advantage, among many bad qualities, there is one that happens to be missing – a longing for love of power.   I see only one way forward to live in truth”.

“Good politics is about having a certain instinct for the time, the atmosphere of the time, the mood of the people, the nature of their worries, their frame of mind.   A good politician has the ability to talk to others, insight, the capacity to grasp quickly human character and the ability to make contact.”


Cultivating good will:

“I feel that the dormant good will in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own to respect the elementary rules of human co-existence.     Good will longs to be recognized and cultivated. For it to develop and have an impact it must hear that the world does not ridicule it.”


Growing ideas – not ideologies:

“Systems are there to serve people. Not the other way around. This is what ideologies forget”.

“Our policies must never be based on ideology – they must grow out of ideas above all out of the idea of human rights as understood by modern humanity.”

“We are on the threshold of an open society an era in which ideologies are replaced by ideas”.


Bringing human spirit into politics:

“I am convinced that we will never build a democratic state on rule of law if we do not at the same time build a state that is humane, moral intellectual and spiritual and cultural.  The best laws and best conceived mechanisms will not themselves guarantee legality or freedom or human rights if they are not underpinned by certain human values”.

“The meaning of the state which is and must remain truly human – means it must be intellectual, spiritual and moral”.

“What is needed is lively and responsible consideration of every political step every decision constant stress on moral deliberation and moral judgment, continued self examination and self analysis and endless rethinking of our priorities.  It is not something we can declare or introduce.  It is a way of going about things.  And it demands the courage to breathe moral and spiritual motivation into everything to seek the human dimension in all things.  Science, technology, expertise and so- called professionalism is not enough. Something more is necessary.  For sake of simplicity, it might be called spirit.  Or feeling or consciousness’.

“All my observations and all of my experience have, with remarkable consistency convinced me that if today’s planetary civilization has any hope of survival that hope lies chiefly in what we understand as the human spirit”.


Supporting self realization and evolution of human consciousness:  

“I once called this coming to our senses [new politics] as an existential revolution. I meant the kind of general mobilization of human consciousness of the human mind and human spirit, human responsibility and human reason”.

“The state if not something that is unconnected to society, hovering outside or above it.  The state is a product of society, an expression of it, an image of it.   It is a structure that society creates for itself as an instrument of its own self-realization. If we wish to create a good and human society capable of making a contribution to humanity coming to its senses we must create a good human state”.

“The concept of HOME is a basic existential experience.  It is a collection of  concentric circles with one’s ‘I’ at the centre.    This could be a place, one’s education, one’s gender.   Every circle every aspect of the human home has to be given its due. It makes no sense to deny or forcibly exclude one stratum for another.   They are part of our natural world and a properly organized society has to respect them all and give them all a chance to play their roles.  This is the only way that room can be made for people to realise themselves as human being to exercise their identities.” 

“Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world it is therefore denied indirectly to all people.  This is only possible when one understands in a philosophical sense that one is ‘responsible for the whole world.’  This sense of responsibility grows out of the experience of certain moral imperatives that compel one to transcend the horizon of one’s own personal interest and to be prepared to defend the common good, and even suffer for it”.

“If everyone doesn’t take an interest in politics, it will become the domain of those who are least suited to it”.

“The culture of healing may be a less visible aspect of life, yet it is perhaps the most important indicator of the humanity of any society”. 

My talk on Systems Change at European Parliament - Giving Nature Rights


I recently gave a talk at the European Parliament at the Nature's Rights Conference.    The event was hosted by 4 forward looking MEPS and was attended by over 100 people.  The idea is to establish a Citizen's Initiative across Europe with the intention of bringing legal rights to Nature.   I am thrilled to be part of this very important work.  For more information and to sign up to Nature's Rights please go to


It was a grey rainy day in the City of London.    I was working for WWF at the time and I was there with our CEO, Robert.   We just left a meeting whereby, after 4 years of negotiations, one of our corporate partners, a large global bank, decided not to adopt the Project Finance Lending policies that we were suggesting.   We walked away from that meeting in silence.

It was the same week that WWF’s The Living Planet Report came out showing that we have lost over 50% of the world’s populations of species- just in my lifetime.

A tear came to my eye.  A sense of resolve engulfed me.  And a question arose “What would a financial system look like that served people and planet?”

I was moved to help WWF think differently about change.

And this was the start of The Finance Innovation Lab.

The Finance Lab, now an independent organization, exists to enable a fair, democratic and responsible financial system.  In its 8 years of existence it has convened a community of 1000s of people who have worked together to successfully:

·      Amplify a new vision for the future of finance, 

·      Grow of dozens of new business models such as renewable energy funds and peer 2 peer banks

·      Shift policy and regulation – such as the Peer 2 Peer Lending regulation that now is enabling a more diverse system.

What I’d like to share with you today are three approaches that I feel are essential in enabling change at scale.  And will be important for us to consider as we create a Citizens Initiative for Natures Rights.

Firstly, it is important to understand complex systems

To be effective in our change efforts we need to work within the context of reality.  And the context of our reality is that we are part of a complex living system.  

And I believe, the more we can see our social, economic, and political systems as complex systems the more effective our change strategies will be.

What does it mean to understand complex systems? 

Two important examples for me include:  

·      Seeing the whole and its parts: The forest has its own unique properties as a whole system such as its micro climate and its intrinsic beauty.   And it is made of many interacting parts – trees, soil and animals.  How do we see the whole AND the interrelationship of its parts?

·      Embracing emergence and unpredictability.   A small intervention such as a match that lights a forest fire can burn down the whole forest in hours.   So, what are the small interventions we can make that have a big impact?

With The Finance Lab we looks at the whole, studies the interrelationships and senses into where best to intervene.   The Lab works with what Donnella Meadows calls ‘the highest order leverage points ’: 

·      shifting mindsets and values that underpin the system,

·      changing the purpose of the system itself and

·      updating the rules and regulations that shape the system.

Embracing a complex systems lense allows us leaders of change to be much more strategic in our efforts and I feel allow us to have a greater impact.

A second approach that I feel will be important in us enabling systems change for Natures Rights in developing DEEP CONNECTION

Another principle of a complex system, as in nature, is that everything is based on relationships.  No one thing lives in isolation - it lives in relationship to another.

This means that our work as leaders of change is relational.  For example, if we think about the great social movements in the world - their real power came from the strength of the relationships .

SO what does it mean to work at a level of relationships?    For me it means that we need to learn to:

Connect deeply with ourselves:

In my role as a leader of change I am constantly checking into:  What is my purpose and what is my own relationship to nature and the wider system that I am part of?

Build deep connections between people:

To enable meaningful change we need enduring relationships.  And we can do this by helping people to find a common purpose. This will act as a North Star that inspires and gives direction over time.

I have also found that deep bonds are built between people when we work at a level of emotions - as 97% of how we make decisions is based on emotional needs than rational ones.  

One of the most moving moments for me in The Finance Lab was when one of our participants, a corporate lawyer, stood up at one of our conferences and spoke from his heart about his relationship to his son and future generations.   This led other people to be more open and soon they were wanting to find ways to work together.

And the third thing we need to consider on HOW we will enable Natures Rights is COLLABORATION

The complexity of our challenges is so great that we need to find new ways to work together.  This is not easy as humans are not used to collaborating in our  culture that is dominated by values of individualism, competition and short-term thinking. 

There are great benefits that come with collaboration such as:

·      Collective intelligence – having diverse perspectives helps you to see the bigger picture and to move into more effective action.

·      Shared resources – pooling financial, logistical and human resources makes the community much more powerful 

·      Co- creation- working together you are able to come up with new ideas, experiment with others and learn what really works

The Finance Lab brings people together who normally wouldn’t meet such as policy makers, entrepreneurs and social activists.  And it is this collaboration that has led to changing rules and regulation in the finance system.

I’d like to leave with 3 questions to consider for: ‘HOW we can enable systems change for Nature’s Rights’

·      What are the strategic leverage points that will have the greatest impact?

·      How can we relate to ourselves, to each other and to nature in new ways that fosters deep and meaningful connection?

·      How can we put processes in place that enable us to work together and collaborate over time?

In summary, through seeing the world through a complex systems lense, through fostering deep connections and enabling collaboration I believe that we will soon bring Natures Rights to life. 

10 Insights: ‘ Collaborative Partnerships: How We Relate For Change’.

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."

Given the complexity of today’s challenges, we need to collaborate much more effectively.  


Collaboration brings new relationships, resources and insights and learning. It cultivates potential for growth and creating the ‘new’.   And collaboration, driven by intrinsic values, ultimately accelerates greater positive impact for people and planet.

However, we are not so good at collaborating.   Our current culture of ‘separateness’ and competition has trained us to work well as individuals.   

So, we need to practice the art of collaboration.  

And to do this means that we need to redefine how we ‘partner’ for collaboration.  How do we relate to each other?  What are our roles?  How do we navigate power dynamics and the messiness of complexity?  How do we relate to others?  How do we make decisions?   How do we evolve and learn together?  

These are some of the questions that I’ve worked with in my 20 years of developing partnerships for change.   And through my practice, I’ve gleaned some 10 key insights for ‘ Collaborative Partnerships: How We Relate For Change’. 

It’s a great idea to work through these questions together, try stuff out in action to test and grow alignment, write it down in a partnership framework and then put processes in place to constantly evolve your partnerships.

1.    Purpose

Purpose is the Northstar from which all decisions are made.  And to be aligned on purpose is paramount.   What is the collective purpose that you are serving?  What is the collective purpose that will keep you motivated over time – especially when things get tough, messy and ambiguous?

2.    Values

Values are the DNA that makes up what we find meaningful.  They shape our thoughts and behaviours.  Greater alignment around values opens doors for better collective action.   What are the partners’ core values that will hold them together, in resonating relationship, over time?

3.    Approach to Change

Our understanding, assumptions, openness and approaches for change vary.   If they vary too much there will be a constant tension which muddies the water when it comes to developing strategy and delivering implementation.   Do you have strong common beliefs around change? 

4.    Strategy

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve long-term positive impact. It is important that partners have a common understanding and agreement on strategic plans and processes.  And ideally have co-shaped it together through understanding ‘the needs in the world’ and ‘what you offer’.  What is your collective strategy and do people feel a sense of co-ownership?

5.    Roles and Responsibility

Collaboration requires the bringing together of a multitude of skills, experiences and talents to meet your aims.   Clarity of roles is essential and enables better delivery, decision-making and dynamism.   What roles do you need for your collaborative work, whether it be strategy, delivery or operations, and who is taking responsibility in each role?   Does each person have full autonomy and support to fulfill their role?

6.    Value Exchange

Practicing collaboration means to practice a new form of value exchange.   It means to move from a transactional reality to one that places a greater emphasis on relationships. What is the value that you are bringing to the collaboration?  What is the value that the collaboration brings to you?    What is the value you are co-creating together?  How are you going to share that value?

7.    Resources and Assets

Pooling, leveraging and creating collective resources is a great advantage of collaborative partnerships.  However with resources come challenges of ownership, power and control.  This is often is what drives relationships into breakdown.   What are your individual and collective resources – such as financial, human, brand, thought leadership?  How are you sharing them?  Where are there likely to be power dynamics around resources and how can you address these in advance for the collective good?

8.    Risk

Collaboration for change at scale means that you are embracing complexity. This means that you are working in unknown territory and you will not be able to predict or control the future.   As much as you’d like to think you can!  So there is a chance you may ‘lose’ what is known to you.   If and when this happens, what might you do about it?  Who is accountable for holding different elements of risk and the risk for the core of the project - is this balanced or imbalanced? 

9.    Attribution

Collaboration is about working together to serve something larger than yourself.  This means you need to let go of expectations of ‘self identity’ and start building more emphasis on ‘collective identity’.  However given that collaboration is about working at the ‘human level’ everyone needs to be recognized for their unique contributions.  What is your process for building the collective identity?  And what is your process for recognizing the individual (person or organization)?

10. Learning and Evolving

One of my greatest learnings in change is that you need to put learning at the centre of everything.  Learning helps you to reflect, make sense, adapt and take better action.   Learning together builds collective intelligence and that leads to better strategies for change – and thus greater impact.   How do you communicate and learn with each other?   What are the regular processes you need to put into place to deepen and accelerate your learning so you can improve your collaborative efforts?

Thinking Systemically - Environmental Funders Network


I was recently asked to write a blog for the Environmental Funders Network (EFN) 

Pioneering funders play such an important role in tackling root issues - we need funders now, more than ever, to take a systemic approach to there funding.  Here's why.......

Thinking Systemically

By Jen Morgan, 3rd December 2015

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” Gregory Bateson

So what is the difference between how nature works and how people think?

As empowered change agents, how can we help to align human systems so that they are in harmony with our natural systems?

This is something that I have been exploring for the last 12 years working at the nexus of sustainability and finance as a change practitioner with WWF-UK and The Finance Innovation Lab.

How Nature Works – A Complex System

Nature is a complex system. Orit Gal of Regents University’s Complexity Studio explains that the characteristics of a complex system, such as in a rainforest or a pond, include:

• Many simple actors whose interconnected relationships make the whole
• A collection of local actions – there is no ‘one actor’ in control
• Many interactions between actors – some interactions have surprising effects
• Actors learn and evolve over time and this leads to changing dynamics and patterns

However, through our prevalent thinking, we have designed our human systems with underlying principles of ‘self’ as independent, hierarchal control, predictable cause and effect and siloed expertise. Our predominant thinking has solidified through the influence of religious, scientific and industrial eras. As a result, we have become disconnected from ourselves, from each other and from the universal operating principles of nature that enable the conditions for life to thrive.

The most important thing we need to do now is to help humanity to change the way it thinks. We are not facing an ecological crisis – rather we are facing a crisis of epistemology. And this is the root cause of all our ecological challenges. This requires us to work at a level of worldviews, purpose, values, behaviours and relationships. Making shifts from ‘I’ to ‘WE’, from ‘individualism to interconnectivity’, from ‘fear to love’, from ‘scarcity to abundance’.
Thinking Systemically

Donella Meadows, a pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer, co-authored ‘The Limits to Growth‘, a seminal piece of work that began a debate about the limits of the Earth’s capacity to support human economic expansion. As a system thinker, she has also helped people to understand systems and how to intervene in systems for meaningful change.

The essence of her thinking is summarised in ‘Leverage Points, Places to Intervene in a System’. In this article, she talks about different leverage points with varying levels of influence. In descending order of effectiveness, she suggests change efforts should focus on shifting:

1. The Worldviews and Values Underpinning the System
2. The Purpose of the System
3. Who Shapes the Rules of the Game
4. The Rules of the Game
5. Information Flows
6. Positive and Negative Feedback Loops e.g. incentives
7. Physical Material Flows

She highlights that the top three most long-term, impactful places to intervene are through addressing the system’s worldviews and values, the system’s purpose and the system’s power dynamics.

But where do we actually focus our change efforts? Most of the of environmental change efforts of UK philanthropists and their grantees have historically addressed the lower order leverage points for change – such as increasing transparency, internalising externalities, and reducing environmental footprints. These are important. We need it all.

However, our efforts for change are seriously not stacking up to the scale of change that is required. We need to think much more critically and progressively about our strategies for change. And this means placing a much greater emphasis on the higher order leverage points that Donella presents.

Acting Systemically

So how can we stimulate change at the root level of systems?

Over the past decade, I have learnt that meaningful long-term change needs convening infrastructure, collaborative communities and personal leadership.

Convening Infrastructure:
Social change takes time. To help to create the enabling conditions for change over time, convening infrastructure is essential to host and grow communities and programmes of work. There is an increased awareness amongst US philanthropists that ‘backbone’ organisations are important convening infrastructure for ‘collective impact’. Backbone organisations clarify context, set intention, build strategy, cultivate resources, and create processes and partnerships that catalyse change at scale. Backbone organisations need the help of philanthropists now more than ever.

Collaborative Communities:
Aligned communities are exponentially more powerful. As we have seen from history, social change is accelerated when groups of people are galvanised by common purpose and find ways to act and move together. To enable an environmental movement in the UK, we need to convene and cultivate a community of change makers, who have a joint understanding of the root issues, are motivated by an inspiring vision, have shared theories and approaches to change, are aligned through a common purpose and have joined up strategies that allow the community to come together to experiment, practice, learn, adapt and leverage their work, relationships and resources.

Personal Leadership:
We are a fractal of the system. As we have learned from complexity science, we are all part of an interconnected system and our local actions influence the whole. So every action we take matters. And our actions will be even more influential if they are all in tune with our personal purpose (and this includes organisational purpose). What is our purpose? What are our values? What are our behaviours? Where are there gaps between our purpose and behaviours? How do we address this dissonance?

What philanthropists can do?

Philanthropists have a very important leadership role to play in pioneering the progressive change that is needed for people and planet. And the timing couldn’t be better. However, we need to take a step back, reflect critically on our efforts, and build better strategies and collaborative cultures.

Here are few thoughts that I believe will make significant shifts for our work.

1. Develop your capacity to understand ‘systems’ and ‘systems change’– take courses, learn from other practitioners, spend time in nature.

2. Invest more in convening infrastructure for change and backbone organisations and support people and projects that are working to address root-level systems change – shifting worldviews, purpose and power.

3. Recognise that meaningful change takes time and that tackling root causes may not produce direct and tangible environmental impact for some time – but when it does it will be significant and lasting.

4. Convene and cultivate collaborative communities for shared strategies, learning and leveraged impact. Do this with within and across the ecosystems of philanthropy and NGO/environmental organisations – and over a longer period of time.

5. Align your purpose and practice with everything you do – this includes things such as aligning programme and grant activity with endowment and reserve strategies.

Jen Morgan enables pioneering leaders and organisations to design and develop systems change strategies – so that human systems can align with the planet’s natural systems. As an intrapreneur within WWF-UK, she co-founded The Finance Innovation Lab – a newly independent systems change organization enabling a fair, democratic and responsible finance system. In addition to supporting systems entrepreneurs, she is an external advisor for the RSA’s Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing programme and a Fellow at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School Centre for Social Innovation.


Attracting Investment - What Works!

There is so much to think about when ‘attracting’ investors to your work.  

It’s a bit like dating:  you need to show you’re the different dimensions of who you are.   First impressions do matter.   And you are aiming to discover if there is alignment – in intention, values and resonance. And often, you might only have a small window of time to see if there is connection.  

This is something that’s been on our minds at The Finance Innovation Lab @thefinancelab as we prepare to take our work to scale.  

Here’s what we have learned along the way in attracting abundance to our work.  We hope these insights help you in your work too! 

1.       Start with a story

Find a way to draw your audience – swiftly and deeply.    Stories connect.  Stories inspire.   What is a short story that paints a picture of what you do?  The more personal the story, the better.   How can you weave in the story of ‘self’ – why did you start your business?   What is your higher purpose?

2.       Narrate the Need

What is the big need in the world that you are meeting?   What is the background to this need?   How will what you are doing help to make the world a better place?   How will this help to change lives?   What are the top three areas of impact that you want to have?   What is your theory of change?

3.       Magnify your Market

Who will benefit from your work?   Why do they need your service?   Can you describe them and who they are?    What is your relationship to them? What value do you bring them?

4.       Present your Product

What is your product?    How does it work?  Can you demonstrate how it works through pictures or a customer journey?  What is the visual representation of your product?

5.       Exemplify Experience

Give examples of your track record.  What pilot tests have you done to test the market and its needs?   What have you learned from this?   What successes and impact have you had so far?   How are you measuring value? Give testimonials from people on how it’s changed their lives.

6.       Underline Uniqueness

What makes you so unique?   How are you different from other players in your marketplace?  What are your strengths and assets?  What special recognition have you achieved?  How are you creating large scale change?

7.       Demonstrate Demand

Show that there is a market demand.   Who is demanding your services? Where is there opportunity for growth?

8.       Top Team

Who is in the team?  What are their talents and skills and experience?  What are your values and culture? How are they recognised in the world?   Who are they backed by?   How do they complement each other? Demonstrate that you have a tried and tested strategy. 

9.       Powerful Partnerships

Who is involved already?  What commitments have they made?   What is there reach and credibility?    How do you work with them?  What is important to them?

10.   Showing Scale    

Be clear on why you want to grow?   What is your strategic focus?   What assets are you leveraging?  How is your model replicable and transferable?  How do you want to grow? Be honest about risks and challenges.

11.   Focused Financials

What resources do you need to grow over the next 3 years?   Who has invested in you already?  What investment has been secured? What is your business model?   What is the specific and clear ask to investors?  

12.   Recapping the Return

Why should people get involved?  What are they ‘buying’? How will their contribution make a difference?  Paint a picture one year from now.  Invite people into your dream.

13.   Basic Behaviour

There are many intangible and emotional things going when one person is attracted to another.  Investors invest in people.   So don’t forget when you are engaging with investors in person:  smile and have fun, show respect for yourself through how you dress, ensure a high quality presentation, including graphics, know your stuff,  convey the love of what you do and have belief in yourself and your work.