The Persistent Web of Modern Social IllsIn our modern society, we are faced with a host of complex social problems.
In response to such conditions, governmental agencies, corporations, and over one million nonprofit organizations have initiated countless programs to attempt to implement solutions to this array of societal maladies. Yet, despite the crucial improvements brought about by their myriad projects and plans - focusing on community and human services, education, the environment, health care and social justice - these problems stubbornly resist elimination, and in many cases progressively worsen.
We believe that these social ills persist because, while providing crucial stopgap measures in specific areas, the vast majority of palliative programs work in an isolated fashion on purely symptomatic treatments, while leaving the interrelated root causes of the various problems unchecked. In many cases, this approach takes the form of futilely throwing money at problems, a strategy which, in the United States, has left us with mediocre math, reading, and science performances in our schools, and a health care system that rated 37th in the 2000 World Health Report, despite spending far more per student and patient than any other country in the world. Other, non-monetary devices are also employed in this futile "quick fix" fashion, such as in the attempt to improve education through simply increasing the number of standardized tests or attempting to reduce crime by simply increasing the number of police on our streets.
As a result of this relatively superficial prevailing methodology – one which prioritizes reactive, narrowly-focused programs over those which target more fundamental, higher-level causes - few of these programs deal with the core belief systems that underlie both the problems themselves as well as the lack of adequately widespread public involvement in their solutions. As explained by Paul Brest, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation:
“It may be that the progressive or liberal foundations have focused much too much on projects and less on thought. We work on school reform, we work on population programs, but not primarily trying to change people's views about population, but trying to reduce population in overpopulated countries. You don't change ideas like that. Maybe you actually change the world in other ways. My bet is that you're so far upstream when you're trying to change ideas that the leverage is much greater.”This concept was captured more simply, precisely, and famously by Henry David Thoreau when he said “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
Root Solutions: Sustainability and DiversityThe proverbial root solutions to these modern “evils” can, in our opinion, be found and united under the canopy formed by the coalescence of two major concepts - sustainability and diversity. Both of these concepts will prove absolutely indispensable ingredients in any successful environmental or social solutions, as well as in removing the barriers to awareness and implementation of such solutions. In 1991, Otto Soemarwoto defined sustainability thus: "Sustainability is the ability of a system to sustain the livelihood of the people who depend on that system for an indefinite period." Sustainable development was similarly defined by the U.N. Brundtland Commission in 1987 as “…that which meets all the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Diversity is a term whose definition has been fragmented by many disparate groups usually referring to their more specific agendas such as biodiversity or racial diversity, for example. Here, we refer to diversity in its most broad sense as variety or multiformity in all areas, including biodiversity, cultural diversity, educational diversity, as well as diversity in artistic, economic, medical, and all other manner of social endeavors. The overlap of these two concepts was expressed in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's 1986 criteria for sustainable development, the fourth of which reads “provision of social self-determination and cultural diversity” and in the criteria of Steven Viederman, Vice President of The International Society for Ecological Economics, whose fifth criteria for sustainability in 1993 read “diversity-- both human and biological--will be preserved, defended, and encouraged.”
The importance of sustainability and diversity in alleviating the types of societal ills previously mentioned is more obvious in some areas than in others. For instance, the necessity to act as wise stewards of our natural resources, encouraging biodiversity and conservation for the future is quite intuitive. Many of us, thanks to the work of so many environmentalists and scientists in recent decades, have come to realize that natural resources are finite and that we are dependent on them, as well as on our fellow species in the community of life, for our survival. Furthermore, many of us realize that genetic diversity provides the foundation for the resilience of a living ecosystem.
However, it is a bit less obvious that a similar diversity of ideas and ways of life form the foundation for the resilience of a society. Just as variety in nature improves the odds of some species and individuals weathering any potential crisis that may arise, so do a variety of artistic, economic, educational, and social experiments – tested in the crucible of a heterogeneity of lifestyles - ensure that, whatever unpredictable forces arise, our society will be able to rise to the challenge. Just as it is essential for us to harness our natural resources in such a way as to maintain adequate supplies for future generations, so must we design our artistic, economic, educational, and social systems in a similarly sustainable fashion if we hope to make significant strides towards long-term social solutions.
Also less than obvious are the implications of the application of sustainability and diversity in all of these areas on the mental and physical health of individuals and communities. The institution of these principles serves not only to maintain the availability of food, water, housing, and artistic and educational opportunities today and in the future. It also creates an atmosphere and attitude of hope and optimism conducive to mental and physical health, rather than of apathy, cynicism, and despair. Thus, it can profoundly impact what, on the surface, seem to be purely personal issues, such as depression, drug abuse, and physical illnesses.
This aspect of sustainability has been recognized by a number of world governments and organizations, each of which include lifestyle factors such as alcohol and drug-related illness, smoking, and suicide rates as key indicators of their sustainable development programs. A sustainable society, at its root, offers a hopeful and progressive view of the future, rather than one of deterioration and decline. A diverse society is one in which a multitude of potential approaches can be implemented and studied, in order to determine optimal intervention strategies in areas such as homelessness and suicide.
The inextricable link between mental and physical health and sustainability was highlighted in Principle I of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which states that “Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” Von Schirnding and Mulholland, in their World Health Organization report to the United Nations, conclude that “The goals of sustainable development cannot be achieved when there is a high prevalence of debilitating illnesses and population health cannot be maintained without ecologically sustainable development.”
Systems Thinking: A Tool For Moving Sustainability and Diversity Beyond the Boardroom and the ClassroomIncreasingly recognized for the invaluable role that they will necessarily play in any long-term solutions to today's most pressing problems, these dual concepts of sustainability and diversity have received steadily growing attention in academic and corporate circles. A plethora of journals have arisen focusing on sustainability and diversity as a new paradigm in business and education. Sustainable economic and environmental policies comprise the focus of numerous agencies and nonprofits, including the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the President's Council on Sustainable Development, the Sierra Club, Worldwatch Institute, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Smart Communities Network. The Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes track the financial performance of the leading sustainability-driven companies worldwide, employing measures ranging from the corporate ethics that inevitably influence long-term stability to the preservation of biodiversity as key criteria. University courses and seminars on biodiversity, cultural diversity, sustainable economics, and the like abound. In addition, the terms themselves have grown in usage among the general public. However, we believe that a deeper understanding of these concepts and of their importance is still lacking in the populace at large. Moreover, many of those who are aware nonetheless maintain great resistance to a desperately needed transition towards true sustainability and diversity in our society.
How can we create a deeper understanding of the need for sustainability and diversity among the general public, as well as continue to encourage the growing awareness among academics and businesspeople? An emerging field called Systems Thinking offers an exceptional tool by which to help people understand the importance and meanings of sustainability and diversity, as well as offering explanations of why we have not yet begun to move confidently towards them. The relation between systems, sustainability and diversity was captured by Richard Norgaard, a member of the Environmental Economics Advisory Committee of the Science Advisory Board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Board member of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and past-President of the International Society for Ecological Economics:
"Sustainability . . . implies that the overall level of diversity and overall productivity of components and relations in systems are maintained or enhanced."The Sustainability Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization in Vermont, explains this relationship even more clearly in their philosophy:
“We believe that unsustainability does not arise out of ignorance, irrationality or greed. It is largely the collective consequence of rational, well-intended decisions made by people caught up in systems – ranging from families and communities to corporations, governments and economies – that make it difficult or impossible to act in ways that are fully responsible to all those affected in the present and to future generations.”It is the goal of the field of Systems Thinking to help shed light on these systems and the ways in which they keep us locked into old habits, preventing positive change and progress. Systems Thinking elucidates the various cycles, patterns of behavior, and structural and temporal factors which underlie the interactions between components of complex systems. In doing so, it offers us insight into the places within these systems, known as “leverage points”, at which we can most effectively and powerfully intervene to improve the systems' efficiency. It also brings to the forefront the role of the belief systems – or mental models – of the human participants in those systems. In achieving these ends, it powerfully explains the stubborn resistance of systems to change – a phenomenon known as policy resistance – as well as why seemingly positive interventions so often lead to counterintuitive declines in performance.
Systems Thinking originated in the work of computer pioneer Jay Forrester, currently of MIT, who initially applied it to the understanding of technological and industrial systems. Since then, its principles have been employed to powerfully improve systems in other areas, most notably business and education. The application of Systems Thinking in these arenas was greatly bolstered by the work of Peter Senge, Forrester's colleague at the MIT Sloan School of Management, founder of the MIT Center for Organizational Learning (now at Society for Organizational Learning), and author of The Fifth Discipline, which was identified by the Harvard Business Review as one of the seminal management books of the past 75 years.
Applied to broader social and environmental issues in the manner that it has been applied to business and education, Systems Thinking holds the potential to help us better understand our place in the complex modern systems that surround us, our interdependence with ecological and environmental systems, and to effectively implement changes in our communities that will move us towards a diverse, sustainable society. Through its explanatory power in the area of policy resistance, it will also help to reveal the cultural myths and belief systems that currently prevent us from moving in that direction on a wider scale.
But, as yet, Systems Thinking has remained primarily confined to the business and educational communities. Most current Systems Thinking resources are either complex and tailored towards those with special knowledge or else are extremely academic and not marketable to a general public that demands entertainment value as much as it does information. Thus, an understanding and awareness of the paradigm of Systems Thinking, along with a subsequent comprehension of the importance of diversity and sustainability in solving our social problems, remains lacking. Systems Thinking needs to be presented more widely in laymen's terms in an intriguing and entertaining fashion, so that it may become dispersed into the public consciousness, and used to inform the creation of myriad social and environmental solutions, just as it has informed business and educational solutions.
Daniel Quinn and Ishmael: Bringing The New Paradigm of Systems Thinking, Sustainability, and Diversity to the MassesFor the past twelve years, the work of author Daniel Quinn has begun to accomplish that very goal, helping to bring the ideas of Systems Thinking, sustainability, and diversity into the mainstream in an unprecedented manner. In 1991, Ted Turner, Founder of CNN and Turner Network Television and Time Magazine's 1991 Man of the Year, established the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship, offering a prize of $500,000 (the largest ever for a single work of literature) for a book offering creative solutions to global problems. 2500 entries were received, and a celebrity panel, including famed science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury and 1991 Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer, chose Ishmael by Daniel Quinn as the winner. Bolstered by Quinn's subsequent books including The Story of B, My Ishmael and Beyond Civilization, his speeches, and his other writings about the systemic nature of our social problems, Ishmael has gone on to become a phenomenon.
Ishmael Inspires Dialogue and Action in the Public InterestBecause of these qualities, Quinn's work encourages dialogue and action on the need for, and method to transition to, a more sustainable way of life. It offers a coherent vision of this philosophy, from which naturally flow solutions to so many of the problems that continue despite the work of countless well-intentioned individuals and organizations. While many movements focus on offering resources directly to needy constituencies, akin to giving a man a fish, Quinn's work focuses on inspiring understanding and motivation, leading them to seek positive action and additional understanding of their own accord, akin to teaching a man how to fish for himself.
Once readers begin to see their lives and communities more systemically, going beyond the cultural myths that have kept us embedded in unsustainable lifestyles, they begin to get involved in new and innovative ways in their communities. Time and again, Daniel Quinn's work has proven effective in motivating readers to take concrete action that benefits the public and to get involved in their communities to create positive change in nearly all of the aforementioned problematic areas, especially in the areas of business, the environment, education, health care, population issues, and social justice.
The inspiration, understanding, and activism in the public interest that are effectively promoted by Quinn's work and its surrounding movement occur on three major levels:
One story that particularly embodies the profound influence that Quinn's work has had in the business world is that of Ray C. Anderson, CEO of the multi-billion dollar Interface, Inc., the largest commercial carpet manufacturer in the world. Anderson explains:
"For the first twenty-one years of Interface's existence, I never gave one thought to what we took from or did to the Earth, except to be sure we obeyed all laws and regulations. That is, until August of 1994. At that time, our research division organized a task force with representatives from all our worldwide businesses to review Interface's environmental position and asked to give the group an environmental vision. Frankly, I didn't have a vision, except 'comply, comply, comply.' I had heard statesmen advocate "sustainable development," but I had no idea what it meant; I sweated for three weeks over what to say to that group…Later, someone sent me a copy of Daniel Quinn's book, Ishmael. I've now read it six times and I'm here to tell you that [author Paul] Hawken and Quinn together, will not only change your life, but make you understand why it should change. They did both for me."As a result of this life change, inspired by reading Ishmael and The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken, Ray Anderson committed Interface towards a course of sustainability based on the replacement of petroleum-based energy with solar energy, recycling, and the elimination of waste and harmful emissions from its operations. In the process, Anderson has gone on to become a stellar model of hope for a more sustainable paradigm in the business community. In 1997, he was named co-chairman of President Clinton's Sustainable Development Council. In 1996, he received the Inaugural Millennium Award from Global Green, presented by Mikhail Gorbachev, and won recognition from Forbes Magazine and Ernst & Young, which named him Entrepreneur of the Year. In January 2001, he became the first corporate CEO ever to take home the George and Cynthia Mitchell International Prize for Sustainable Development.
Through his commitment to making his company's operations environmentally-friendly, his subsequent presence and service on related committees and conference panels, his funding of the Alliance to Save Energy, which helps children design energy-saving campaigns for their schools, and through his own book, Mid Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model, Anderson has reached thousands of other corporate executives and employees, as well as the general public. His work has already inspired important progress at other companies, including General Motors, offering a prime example of the incredible ripple effect that can occur when a key mind is changed.
Clearly, Ray Anderson is a role model. Yet, as Daniel Quinn explains, there is another, perhaps even more important role model, whose importance can be easy to overlook:
"Ray Anderson is not an example of how to live but an example of how effective it can be to change someone's mind--in this case, the mind of Ray Anderson. In writing about Ray Anderson, I'm not holding HIM up as the model to be followed, but rather the person who persuaded Ray Anderson to read Ishmael."We can directly trace the cascade of critical positive changes that have flowed from the work of Ray Anderson - as well as that of the many others listed in Attachment 2 - back to the moment when someone handed him a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. We at the Friends of Ishmael Society are committed to creating more of those moments and inspiring more models of progress such as Ray Anderson in all areas of our society by working to bring Daniel Quinn's ideas to a larger, broader audience, and supporting the veritable engine of positive change that can be fueled by his life-changing ideas.
The Friends of Ishmael Society: Publicizing, Coordinating, Informing and Growing the Community of Daniel Quinn ReadersDaniel Quinn maintains his own website at http://www.ishmael.org which is devoted to promoting his writings and ideas themselves. He and his wife have also set up a second website called New Tribal Ventures at http://www.newtribalventures.com which offers additional tools and merchandise for those hoping to spread his ideas. Furthermore, he speaks occasionally at conferences and events, and continues to write and interact with readers. However, in order to maximize the chain of positive influence stemming from his unique series of books and ideas, many readers felt that it would be advantageous to create an organization focused on coordinating the movement resulting from his work that would pursue the following aims:
The Friends of Ishmael Society: A Charitable and Educational Organization Serving the Public InterestAt this time, in order to optimize our ability to achieve our aims, The Friends of Ishmael Society wishes to be recognized as a non-profit, tax-exempt, publicly supported charitable and educational organization under IRS code 501(c)(3). Admittedly, it may seem strange to attach such importance to any one author's work and philosophy as to merit tax-exempt status for an organization revolving around his ideas. A few examples do exist, such as the 501(c)(3) organization, the Ayn Rand Insitute, which promotes the work of author Ayn Rand and her philosophy of objectivism. But, rarely do any author's ideas influence the public with the scope and intensity of a writer such as Rand. We feel, however, that Daniel Quinn's work and philosophy do in fact merit similar attention, and the support of a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, because of their proven ability to open minds and effect change in extremely crucial areas of interest to the public on a wide scale.
The Friends of Ishmael Society's Past and Present ActivitiesSince the launch of The Friends of Ishmael Society website in March 2002, we have engaged in the following activities towards promoting our aforementioned aims:
Creation and Maintenance of The Friends of Ishmael Society's Website at http://www.friendsofishmael.orgThe creation and maintenance of The Friends of Ishmael Society's website have comprised 90% of our time to date. The website serves as a central point for the constantly growing community of Daniel Quinn readers and supporters and currently receives hits from, on average, 166 unique visitors per day. Its various sections serve a variety of functions including:
MarketingThe remaining 10% of time not spent on our website has, to date, been spent on creating and collecting materials to promote Daniel Quinn's work, and the resulting local groups, throughout the community. Such materials include educational pamphlets featuring Quinn's speeches and writings, displays for use in libraries and at colleges, flyers, signs, and promotional products such as bumper stickers and bookmarks. The majority of these tools are available free for download through the Promotional Tools section of The Friends of Ishmael Society's website.
One other marketing project to which we committed a significant amount of time and energy was the creation of a website at http://www.readishmael.com in June 2002. This website represents our first attempt to market Daniel Quinn's books on a broad scale to a more mainstream audience not yet familiar with his work. It features an essay explaining the importance of systemic thinking in laymen's terms, introduces the most powerful stories of the influence of Quinn's work in our society, and allows the reader to easily link to the most relevant resources for newcomers to his work. Averaging 121 unique visitors per day, it was conceived and written by members of The Friends of Ishmael Society's board, and features additional ideas and artwork by other members of the Ishmael community. Over the past 14 ½ months, ReadIshmael.com has directed over 5400 unique visitors to pages on Amazon.com featuring Daniel Quinn's books, and directly contributed to nearly 200 purchases of Quinn's books and related items, while indirectly contributing to many more.
The Friends of Ishmael Society's Future ActivitiesUpon obtaining tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization from the IRS, we plan to continue in our mission even more effectively through the following activities, listed in order of the percentage of time that each will comprise, and summarized, along with our past activities, in Attachment 3:
The Friends of Ishmael Society's School Essay ContestIn keeping with our emphasis on promoting Quinn's work in the educational system, The Friends of Ishmael Society will sponsor an essay contest for high school students quite similar to that run annually by the Ayn Rand Institute. This contest will help introduce the next generation to the ideas of Systems Thinking, sustainability, and diversity at a young age, and encourage them to employ critical thinking skills and creativity to apply these concepts in innovative ways. The details of the contest are in their beginning stages currently, as we decide which of Quinn's works will make up the focus of the contest and who will act as judges, supporters, volunteers, and funders. Preliminary discussions have already revealed interest on the part of several key figures in the Ishmael community. We currently plan to hold the initial contest during the 2005 school year. Preparing for and carrying out this activity will comprise 30% of the organization's time in 2004 and 2005, with that percentage diminishing in subsequent years as structure and administrative operations become established.
Continued Maintenance and Upgrade of The Friends of Ishmael Society's WebsiteAs a central resource for information about our organization, news about activities and groups in the Ishmael community, tools to encourage wider readership and usage in schools, and for the collection of funds, it is imperative that our website be not only maintained to meet these goals, but upgraded for maximum efficiency. This will involve such improvements as a more user-friendly design, the addition of database functionality for more efficient data storage, and the implementation of more interactive features that allow greater networking and input by our supporters and constituents. Board members, especially Chris Hardie, Oshyan Greene, and Howard Ditkoff, will incorporate input from the Ishmael community, and begin instituting these improvements in 2004. This upgrade will comprise 30% of the organization's time in 2004 and 2005, with that percentage diminishing in subsequent years, once a new, fully functional website is established.
Additional MarketingWe plan to increase our marketing of Daniel Quinn's ideas and work, and to support the efforts of other readers and local groups to do so, by providing tools and ideas, as well as by beginning to provide grants funding such activities. Marketing will encompass some or all of the following:
Book DistributionThe Friends of Ishmael Society already receives numerous requests, especially from teachers and youth organization leaders, for access to multiple copies of Daniel Quinn's books. We have been able to coordinate efforts by local groups to fund two such requests. However, we will make the ability to respond to such requests more frequently and completely an important goal of our organization. We will do so by raising funds that aid in the acquisition of books for worthy recipients, including teachers, schools, and libraries, as well as by supporting and promoting existing organizations, such as ShareIshmael.org and Outreachbooks.org, that already concentrate on this activity. This activity will consistently comprise 10% of the organization's time.
Creation and Promotion of Educational MaterialsEducational materials about Quinn's work specifically, as well as more general material regarding Systems Thinking, sustainability, and diversity will be created and promoted to the public either for free or at cost. Board members, especially Mark Merrit, will carry out this activity, which will consistently comprise 10% of the organization's time.
Provision of GrantsThe Friends of Ishmael Society will provide grants to individuals and groups throughout the world in order to support worthy projects that further our mission and goals. Grants will be awarded at the discretion of the Friends of Ishmael Society's board. This activity will initially comprise only 5% of the organization's time, increasing to 15% of our time in the long-term as funds allow.
Creation and Maintenance of an Office/Conference CenterOne of the very long-term goals of The Friends of Ishmael Society will be to establish an office/conference center that would act as a central institution for the promotion of Daniel Quinn's work, and the principles of sustainability and diversity. At this office will work a small staff dedicated to maintaining our website, fundraising, and pursuing the stated activities of the organization. This location would also feature a conference center at which to host events and networking functions among those interested in Daniel Quinn's work, Systems Thinking, sustainability, and diversity, as well as activities designed to provide education on these issues to the general public. We do not anticipate devoting any time to this activity for the next several years, after which it will comprise an increasing percentage of the organization's time.