“Ecosystem resilience leads to economic resilience.”
– HRH The Prince of Wales
Recently, I received an opportunity from the City of Louisville, KY, that I could not pass up. They invited me to participate in a two-day Harmony and Health Initiative, built around a visit by The Prince of Wales and his book, Harmony. The events, the book and the Prince’s comments in Louisville, all highlighted the interconnectedness both of the world (air, water, soil) and any solutions to the world’s problems, whether they concern health, the environment, or poverty. An extraordinary group of health practitioners, business, faith, philanthropic and community leaders spoke about these linkages but no one more eloquently then the Prince who simply said “ecosystem resilience leads to economic resilience”. He complemented Louisville as “a model of truly integrated and holistic thinking on a city scale.”
I was able to share my views on interconnectedness along with the other guest speakers in the morning. However, what was even more intriguing was the question posed to the roundtable that I was a part of later in the day. That question was “How could we move away from single issue solutions towards approaches that address the interconnected nature of the problems we face?”
We have been working to do that at Living Cities for the past eight years and have seen and tried a lot of different approaches. My trip to Louisville and the roundtable discussion provided me with a great reason to make meaning from our work over the years. In essence, this is what we’ve learned:
- Practice, practice, practice. While no one really knows how to connect the dots, the only way that we will learn is by trying approaches on the ground, seeing how institutions and individuals respond across sectors and measuring results. For example, our portfolio of 9 cities working on creating economic opportunities for low income people in our own Integration Initiative and 60 cities working on addressing education, from cradle to career, with the Strive Together Network, are showing us where some of the greatest levers and barriers to this type of work reside;
We can’t nonprofit our way to interconnectedness. When we see a problem, we often look to deploy an existing nonprofit or start a new one to solve it. That won’t work for these challenges for two important reasons. One, trends in funding nonprofits over the past few decades, such as only providing restricted funds or little to no indirect costs, have made it virtually impossible for any single non-profit to play the ‘connecter’ role alone in most places. Simply put, most will neither have the bandwidth nor the breadth of relationships and visibility across issues and sectors for it . The other is the need for distributed leadership across institutions, and that has to start with all of the folks who lead each of those institutions . What we’ve seen from our work around the country, also well documented by the Boston Fed in their study of resurgent cities, is that the demand for interconnecting disparate institutions and solutions must come from the top. Leadership from key institutions and collaboration among them provides the right gravitas to bridge sectors, issues, people and problems.
Intentionality and endurance are required. Finally, the nature order of institutions is to stay in their lane. Funding, incentives and history usually support such behavior. What we’ve seen is that interconnectedness only happens when there is an intentionality to do it and to stick with it over time. The natural order can only be overcome and behaviors truly changed when some institution or person is charged with getting up every day and connecting the dots. Strive Together calls this function the ‘backbone’ of such efforts. And funders have to pay for it specifically. They also need to allow the work to coalesce over time. Creating harmony, from disharmony, takes time, money, innovation and patience.
In Louisville, the Prince closed his remarks with the following words,
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. The starting point is to see things differently from the current, dominant worldview which in so many ways is no longer relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves.”
He’s right. If we truly want to solve today’s interrelated problems, we not only need to see differently but act really differently too.