In early May, a group of fellows at the social change laboratory for Creating the Future began to explore the possibility of bringing the lab's co-founders -- myself included -- to south-western Ontario for a series of community conversations.
The challenge: Could they make this happen within eight weeks during the toughest time of year -- the summer holiday season?
Normally, we would expect the group to budget expenses and find funding to cover those costs. This group did none of that. It's not because they had plenty of money themselves -- this was a typical group of community leaders who live in a world of, "there is never enough." But this group knows a different truth: Together, there is always enough. It is only on our own that we experience scarcity.
Assuming Resources Are Scarce
Ask any group about a new project, and early responses will likely be, "How will we pay for that?" as if the only way to make something happen is with money. In reality, we don't need money; we need what that money can buy us.
Sadly, though, jumping first to that money question actually blinds us to the fact that the real things we want are often sitting in plain sight, just waiting for us to use them. That money-myopia negates our power to get things done before we even begin!
The actual things the group needed to make the trip to Ontario a reality were pretty standard -- airfare, lodging and meals, venues, promotions and participants, and all the other pieces that make such a tour possible. Money could buy all that, for certain. But money wouldn't engage people's hearts and minds in making the trip happen. Money wouldn't tell the very story we would be eliciting in these conversations -- the power of community to accomplish together what no one person or entity can accomplish on their own.
So yes, we knew our travel needs, but no, we didn't budget money. Yes, we knew Creating the Future would need the journey to be worthwhile in all ways (mission, resources, strategic objectives), but no, we didn't set a "fee." Yes, we asked community members to make the trip happen. But no, we didn't seek sponsors and funders. The result was a week-long series of events where everyone pitched in what they had and who they were.
Airline miles covered the flights. People graciously hosted us in their homes, providing not only creature comforts but insights about the community. The need for quiet time was provided with the same grace as pots of coffee and directions to the next stop on the tour.
To cover expenses that only money could buy, groups who wanted to be part of the tour were asked, "What is it worth to your community to be part of this?" Small organizations provided relatively large sums. At some events, participants were asked to contribute via a modest fee to attend. Venues and meals were donated or deeply discounted.
Large organizations with huge mailing lists provided their credibility and reach, benefitting all events across the region, not just their local event. Word spread that something was happening, and people wanted to be part of it. Participants at Toronto's sold-out event on Wednesday called friends in London to say, "They're coming to London on Friday. Be there!" No surprise, London sold out as well.
All with only eight weeks to prepare. With no budget. In the middle of July's summer holidays.
The Lesson of Stone Soup
Creating the Future convened five community conversations with almost 300 people across Southern Ontario. In every one of those conversations, people talked about the power we have together that none of us have on our own. What few people acknowledge in that formula, though, is the power of our collective resources:
Our power together lies not just in our abilities but in our collective resources. As individuals and especially as a community, we already have so much of what we need.
A hungry stranger arrives in a poor village, asking for food. He is turned away at every door, as the people barely have enough for themselves. Asking for a cauldron, the stranger announces that he will teach the people in this poor village to make a bountiful meal from something they DID have -- stone soup. Placing a stone in the cauldron, he notes, 'Carrots would make the soup a bit tastier,' and several people ran home to get a carrot or two. 'And an onion,' he added, which was met with a similar response. This went on as herbs and vegetables were added one by one. Finally the stranger removed the stone from the pot. And the whole village feasted.
And so, the answer to scarce resources is NOT to close ranks, but to open the door and invite more people to participate, to share what they have, to create an abundance of broth for the community to share.
Because together, there is always enough. It is only on our own that we experience scarcity.
The term, "collective enoughness," is from the forthcoming book by that same name. Watch for its 2014 release by Renaissance Press.