Archive | May 2013

Digging in: a metaphor for sustainable action

Between my academic and work lives, I’ve spent a lot of time researching various environmental issues. I’ve also spent a lot of time preparing presentations on these issues, and there’s no better way to grab the audience’s attention than a good graph. Especially a logarithmic graph. You know, the ones that start off slow and then hit a tipping point and explode.  Graphs of the human population, or greenhouse gas emissions over time are the best examples.  They’re all scary, they’re mostly all accurate, and they usually leave you feeling like this.

Figure 1: Human Population over time (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population)

I have two problems with graphs like these.  First, I don’t think they’re very effective at motivating people to grab some shovels and do some work.  Second, the upward trajectories of graphs like these make for terrible metaphors.  We’re not building and improving, we’re digging ourselves into a giant hole!  Fixing the metaphor is pretty simple though: just invert the graph.  Now, instead of build up over time, we’re crashing down. To further set the stage for the metaphor, visualize these graphs as physical paths and trajectories (you start at the top of a hill and end up crashing down towards… something).  Then add in Newton’s Laws of Motion (you know, stuff about acceleration, force, and inertia).  If you put a ball at the start of the path to represent “us”, just give it a push and set it in motion.  The trajectory of the ball is down, and it’s picking up steam.

What we’re trying to do at MSC is to find new ways to come together and push back against that decline. To flatten out our global trajectory.   But it’s hard.  Really hard.  Societal norms are entrenched, and the systems that need to change have incredible inertia. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act.  In fact, it means that we should ALL act.  The trouble is that on our own we feel like this thing will flatten us, like we’re throwing a pebble at a charging bull.  But if we all push together and dig our heels in, our cumulative action will have a big impact.  The more we push, the more we can flatten out that trajectory, and the closer we’ll get to halting our decline.  At MSC, we want to find ways to bring people and organizations together, to dig in and make changes.

Brendan Wylie-Toal

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Things I’ve Learned as a Social Entrepreneur

The purpose of this blog is to give readers a glimpse into the behind the scenes workings of the organization and into the people that are MSC.  So here we go.

I thought I’d start this first post based on a presentation I gave recently to a group of senior undergraduate Environment and Business students at the University of Waterloo.  I was asked to deliver a presentation on the Story of MSC.    As a co-founder of MSC, the story is full of layers—some of which are the personal trials and tribulations of a social entrepreneur who has seen her share of successes, failures, struggles, excitement and fear.  It’s been a rewarding and challenging journey without question.   And if there’s one ability that I continue to rely upon, it is courage.

So back to the presentation I gave to the students that day…  I chose to include several slides on “Things I’ve Learned” as a social entrepreneur and I will share these with you now… drum roll please.

Things I’ve Learned:

  1. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Perseverance and resilience are key.
  2. You’re going to make mistakes.  Learn from them and move on.
  3. Surround yourself with people smarter than you.
  4. Never miss out on an opportunity to connect with new people, you never know where a simple conversation will take you .  (More on this later)
  5. You may not have the answer today, but tomorrow is a new day and it’s amazing what sleeping on it will do.
  6. The path to success is messy.  People think it looks like a linear arrow going up, but it’s really an arrow going up with a tangled mess of spaghetti in between.
  7. Celebrate your successes.
  8. Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

So to close off on this inaugural MSC blog post, I’d like to share with you what happened after giving the presentation. Several people had come up to me afterwards, including someone from St. Paul’s University College. This person in particular began to quote #4 on the list above and had an opportunity that she wanted to discuss with me. She didn’t get into any details but we agreed that a starting point would be to have that simple conversation and we were both open to seeing where that would take us. Well, I’m pleased to report that we did have the simple conversation and it has led to a bigger opportunity—of which I could have never foreseen leading up to the day of that presentation. So what’s the bigger opportunity?

Well I have been appointed as GreenHouse Director at St. Paul’s University College — a social innovation community for undergraduate students at the University of Waterloo. This is a new and exciting project for MSC, which will involve developing student experience and learning services that provide students with the social entrepreneurial resources to explore, exchange, test and execute their environmental and/or social justice ideas. So, there you go, who knew that sharing the things I’ve learned would result in a new and exciting opportunity?

Talk soon,

Tania Del Matto