Among the many things that are happening at various levels of analysis and experience, I was keen to listen into what new potential may emerge from the corona crisis. There is ample advice on how to stay safe, keeping resourced and well in this challenging time. There is also much attention spent on how to get back to normal. Both of these thoughts are important. I, however, wanted to make space for is to sense what is emerging that will help us re-start towards a better, just and sustainable economy and society. And how I and others like me can help this shift strengthen and grow.
When I met fellow changemaker Julia Sherbakov during an interview for her Impact Journey podcast, we had so much to talk about that we agreed on a follow-on chat a few days later. Not quite knowing where this may lead, the conversation quickly turned from what issues kept us busy to what we could do about them. Julia shared how much she gets out of her podcast interviews and how she wished she could have a space to explore with others how to bring about a positive change. I shared a same-day discussion I had with the strategy team of the PositiveImpact.Space, where we were exploring how to create an open space for sustainability consultants to meet in this time of crisis. The idea to hold a weekly online space so that changemakers and consultants could meet up was born.
We weren’t sure if our fellow changemakers were ready to work on sustainability challenges, or if they were more concerned about the negative impact the crisis had on their current business. We didn’t really know what they needed. So, we decided to ask them and to add a survey to the initial invitation for the meet-up. Here is what participants shared:
In terms of working reality, our fellow consultants and changemakers were in a difficult time with most of them working about the same hours, yet earning a lot less (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Survey about amount of work and income among participants, April 2020
Also, the focus of their work had changed, with much more of the efforts now focused on communication, on corona and positive impact (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Survey about focus of work among participants, April 2020
While in the first session, there was a clear need to talk about how to keep one’s business going (about 75% selected response), an equally high number of participants said that they see this moment as a defining moment, both for them individually and for us collectively. After a deep check-in sharing why participants attended, it became clear that the group wanted to focus these online sessions on how to co-create a positive impact. We would decide week-by-week how to use the space and what to focus on.
One participant jumped in and brought a very current issue he had with a client: the client was sitting on a large stockpile of potatoes and didn’t know what to do with it. A participant asked if it wasn’t possible to make soap out of potatoes, given that what was needed most right now was soap. We laughed and decided to focus on week two on sustainability issues people wanted to bring in. Many reached out to their communities and during the week, interesting ideas started to circulate. In our second call we learned that the «potato issue» was meanwhile solved: the participant and his client figured out that it was indeed possible to make soap from potatoes and they were working on a solution to realize this idea.
So after deepening the proposed issues and asking for more input, we collectively decided to work on three of them, as outlined below:
We will need to find out for how long such weekly spaces are relevant and to what degree and extent the conversation can also take place directly online. Experience has shown that single-time events don’t enable change and that an ongoing space to share and connect might be very useful for this. Here, now that we have this ongoing option, I am curious to see how such a space may indeed help build a more lasting change. We shall experience this and I shall report on it in a next writing.
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About the author:
Katrin Muff PhD is a thought leader in sustainability management. Her work focusses on enabling the mindset shift of leaders and organizations to create a positive impact. She is a Director of the Institute for Business Sustainability and a Professor of Practice at LUISS Business School. She was Dean and Professor at Business School Lausanne for a decade. Prior, she consulted Swiss universities and co-founded a start-up incubator and consultancy. Her business career covered strategic leadership roles at ALCOA in Europe, Russia and the United States, and at Procter & Gamble in the Netherlands. In 2019 she was invited as panel discussant at Austrian CSR-Day in Innsbruck, Austria, talking about the innovation potential of the SDGs for business. Katrin lives in Lucerne, Switzerland.