Briefing No. 7
WHAT WE'RE READING
On the Greenwood Place bedside table
Oak and Ash and Thorn by Peter Fiennes is a lyrical story of Britain’s woodlands.
We all know how useful trees are: they exude oxygen, stabilise the soil and make the rains fall. They provide shade from the sun and shelter from the storms. The vast majority of species on earth - from jungles to oceans - rely on trees for nourishment. Trees are the best natural air conditioner creation affords, sequestering one thousand billion tons of carbon in their bodies and in the soil around them.
But Fiennes reminds us that our connections with woodland go beyond the utilitarian, they are also cultural, historical and personal. He calls out Felix Dennis whose philanthropic legacy created the Heart of England Forest which continues the tree planting Dennis began during his lifetime. He reminds us to treat the woodlands well. We need them more than ever.
HOW SHIPPING CONTAINERS CHANGED THE WORLD
Shipping containers play a fundamental role in the logistics of aid, particularly in humanitarian first-response missions. Adapted containers are also increasingly being seen as part of a solution for urban homeless populations (TempoHousing started building shipping container homes in the Netherlands back in 2002).
We learned a bit more about the shipping container this month. The first shipping container took to the seas in April 1956. By 2017, 90% of all goods were transported in globally standardised containers. Dock workers moved 1.7 metric tons per hour before the introduction of container transport. After containers were introduced they could move 30 metric tons per hour.
Quartz provides a fascinating overview of the history and economic impact of the shipping container. Read more here.
We were reminded this month of the power of the concept of Via Negativa - the negative way - which Taleb discusses at length in his book AntiFragile and picks up again in his more recent release, Skin in the Game.
Instead of concentrating on what you do, the focus turns to what you don't do or what you eliminate (the way that Michelangelo apocryphally told the Pope that he carved his David simply by removing everything that was not David from the marble block)...
Philanthropy - which has nothing to sell - can use the concept of Via Negativa particularly well. It’s interesting to think about where simply by removing a harmful addition can make a real positive difference (removing added sugar from children’s meals?) - without side effects and with little or no cost. There are clearly some places where we do need to intervene (Planting trees? Limiting economic distortion?) but perhaps fewer of them than we think...
There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in... (as Leonard Cohen said)
Staying curious, acknowledging our limitations, noticing that things change, keeping learning, opening up the cracks... Being entrepreneurial about philanthropy demands a great deal of humility - if you do manage to nudge things in the right direction its highly unlikely that the journey you take to get there will be the one you mapped out at the start.
New Philanthropy Capital and Lankelly Chase’s new publication “Thinking Big” points out that our dysfunctional thinking as philanthropists, and the equally dysfunctional thinking of our partners in the non-profit sector, limits our collective impact. It provides some rules of thumb that can help us to recognise and tackle these failings in our own work.
AND...A TIMELY REMINDER ABOUT POWER
It’s a basic tenet at Greenwood Place that lasting positive impact cannot happen unless we empower clients and consumers to own their own priorities and decisions.
So, how do we reflect this in how we behave as impact investors and philanthropists? We were pleased to see this recent article on "Who has the Power", thinking through some of the issues here.
For more linked thinking to this topic, take a look back at the Lean Data impact measurement piece highlighted in Briefing 6.
EVENTS AT GREENWOOD PLACE
We’re heading to the Skoll World Forum next week and also building the programme for an immersive Greenwood Place Community trip to Kenya in the Autumn - where we’ll be talking with low-cost solar companies, community-owned conservationists and agricultural co-operatives amongst others.
We’ve listened to your ideas about the teach-ins and roundtable discussions you’d like to see us host in 2018 and we’re planning breakfast discussions with Hugh Possingham, Chief Scientist of the Nature Conservancy, Stephan Chambers, Executive Director of the Marshall Institute @ LSE and Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation.
If you want to learn more about these or anything else in the Greenwood Place diary, give us a call.