Winning Hearts and Minds

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life  Summer Issue 2017

Humanity has entered a strange period, a time of immense opportunity but also of great turbulence. Around the world old institutions are breaking down, ecological limits are being exceeded and we have an epidemic of loneliness. Many new institutions more fitting to the complexity of these times are rising up, but the pace of change is slow. The most difficult challenge facing us is not really about developing solutions to the challenges we face; it is about illuminating stories that empower us to look beyond a future of adversity and to see one of opportunity.

More of us are losing, or struggling to gain, a sense of purpose or meaning in our lives. Culturally we are between stories and there is a lack of guiding narratives. In this era of extreme individualism it is vital we come together and co-create stories of a thriving relationship with both the natural world and one another. So how do we transcend age-old differences, win hearts and minds and embark on a common goal of living on this planet in ways that are healthier and more collaborative?

For a long time I was part of a group screening scary films on climate change to communities around the country.  We thought that when people ‘got it’ they would immediately begin to make the transition to a low carbon lifestyle. However all we really did was to frighten most people off and by challenging some deeply held assumptions without showing appropriate responses, turn them off. People tend to be very skeptical or dismissive of information that contradicts their worldview.

Documentary film is a wonderful medium though for telling and sharing stories of change and a powerful tool for positive transformation. Recently I was asked to take part in a panel discussion after a screening of ‘Demain’, an award winning French documentry. Demain means tomorrow in French and without denying the scale of the challenge, the film focuses on very positive ways in which everyday citizens are making their communities and local economies healthier, greener and more resilient today. In most cases these were stories of citizens taking power back from governments and corporations which, as author Jeremy Rifkin points out, may be the best way to undo the top-down policies that have set us on the fast track to destruction.

We’ve long bought into the myth that people are only motivated by their own self-interest whereas the stories in Demain are about cooperation, people doing what they need to do together. This September Cultivate will be coordinating the Convergence Festival, a fortnight of events around the country that will highlight stories of citizens engaging in the wellbeing of their communities. On the 23rd the first European day of sustainable communities will be held across Europe to showcase projects that are transforming local places. I think the key to winning hearts and minds is not to try to convince anyone on anything, but to lead by example, demonstrate that something is possible and provide a purpose that’s bigger than they are. A compelling narrative really does inspire us to think and do things differently.

Innovation for Transformation

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life Spring Issue 2016.

“In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

Innovation is a buzzword that is overused and increasingly misused. If we are to adapt to the challenges we face today we have to nurture a culture of innovation that is about more than developing a new app or just staying ahead of the competition. To have real impact in addressing the environmental, social or economic vulnerabilities confronting us, we need an approach to innovation that is collaborative, holistic, and has the potential for transformation.

Over the next thirty years, as we make a rapid transition to a low carbon society, we are likely to see more change and disturbance than at any other period in recorded human history. As the business educator Peter Drucker stressed: “the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” So in many ways it is our thinking and the way we learn as well as the environments, practices and processes that foster cooperation and creativity, that we have to innovate if we are to be resilient with the capacity to adapt to change.

System change and innovation at the scale required needs a mindset change. As George Bernard Shaw said: “progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Recently Pope Francis has called for a “global ecological conversion”, emphasising that it is not enough for us to go through the motions of change – we need a cultural overhaul and a spiritual revolution. Dr. Otto Scharmer, a senior lecturer at MIT, believes that we need a monumental shift of consciousness, a transition from an out dated “ego-system” way of thinking, focused on self interest, to an “eco-system” awareness that focuses on the wellbeing of the whole.

There is incredible untapped energy in our communities waiting to be harnessed. I live in Cloughjordan ecovillage, a sustainability project that is an emerging example of what Scharmer calls, “a living ecosystem of innovation”. With Cultivate I’m based in WeCreate, the ecovillage’s green enterprise centre, which is part of a growing movement of innovation “hubs” that are emerging globally. These physical spaces nurture a culture of mutual support that enable collaboration among different change makers and initiatives. The creative space along with the processes utilised to facilitate collaboration, self-organising and adaptation is what makes these “hubs” really powerful transformational environments.

Restoring Community – Our Longing for Belonging.

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life  Winter Issue 2017

“The hunger to belong is at the heart of our nature. Cut off from others, we atrophy and turn in on ourselves.”  John O’Donohue

Last September I travelled around the country hosting an event called ‘ Stories and Conversations for a Healthy, Happy and Sustainable Ireland’ as part of Convergence, the annual festival that we have coordinated since 2000. This participative session was held in Dublin, Carlow, Cloughjordan, Galway, Cork and Limerick and offered a platform for local projects and social enterprises to tell their stories. We wanted to celebrate people-powered responses to challenges like housing, inequality, energy, food, waste and climate change. Following these short presentations I facilitated a conversation where participants explored questions designed to bring a deeper understanding of common ground, and to discover what holds back or what would help these community-led endeavors to flourish.

The process was fascinating. We heard stories about happy regions, smart neighbourhoods and sustainable energy communities; we listened to people working on biodiversity, permaculture, health and inclusion projects; we heard about new co-operatives and social enterprises that are strengthening local economies and offering meaningful livelihoods; and were introduced to fresh ideas from social innovators that are helping to make their communities healthier and more resilient. There is a wide variety of innovative community-led activity going on in Ireland; we need to hear more of these stories to inspire transformational change.

In the conversations that followed it became clear that it is the passion and enthusiasm of a small number of people that drive these initiatives and they tend to be poorly resourced. However these citizen-driven projects provide an opportunity to connect and cultivate a deeper sense of belonging. One of the biggest barriers identified was the dominant culture of individualism and consumerism, making it very difficult for local projects or enterprises to attract and maintain engagement with their activities, or for people to value what they offer.

It is this story of separation that is making us lonelier, tearing our communities apart, and now threatening the living systems on which our lives depend. We navigate the world together, through stories, and the one that currently influences our behavior, and how our society is shaped, is toxic. It is a narrative that completely misrepresents our altruistic nature and dulls our human values. A new story rooted in community and belonging is emerging that offers path to a healthier and more convivial future that fits our current reality, socially and ecologically.

In his latest book, ‘Out of the Wreckage’ George Monbiot suggests that, ‘it is through restoring community, renewing civic life and claiming our place in the world, we build a society in which our extraordinary nature – our altruism, empathy and deep connection – is released.’  A good life is built through good relationships, when we come together we overcome alienation and social fragmentation. This makes us happier and healthier, and strengthens our ability to adapt to change.  In the last two weeks in May at Convergence 18 we will be facilitating conversations around the country exploring the restoration of our communities and celebrating the people that are nurturing a deeper sense of place and belonging.  Join us!


By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life  Spring Issue 2017

In the ground beneath our feet, out of sight and out of mind, microscopic communities of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes are working away providing vital functions that our lives depend on. The health of the soil therefore is key to the health of our plants, our food and, as we are now discovering, exposure to it has many other benefits for our wellbeing.

It is likely that our disconnection from the living world is at the root of our present mental health crisis and many of the other challenges we face today. We all know that being in nature makes us feel good, and the health benefits of gardening, working or even just taking a walk on the land are becoming more apparent.

Soil is alive; a teaspoon of it can contain billions of bacteria. There is increasing proof that contact with a specific strain of bacterium in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, makes us happier and smarter. This triggers the release of serotonin; reducing anxiety and making us feel more positive. Some soil bacterium can also be helpful in preventing or treating diseases. Our future really does depend on healthy soil.

With intensive agriculture and an increasing urban population soil degradation is a serious problem. It takes approximately 500 years to replace an inch of topsoil lost to erosion. Half of the planet’s topsoil has disappeared in the last 150 years, and 10 million hectares of productive land is lost annually, the equivalent of 30 football pitches per minute.

If we want to counter the damage we are inflicting, we must begin by fostering awareness and nurturing a reconnection to our land. To reverse further degradation of soils we urgently need to accelerate the shift towards more sustainable, regenerative agricultural models and increase participation in the stewardship of our land.

Cultivate, the civil society organisation I work with, are the Irish partners in GROW, a EU-funded project setting out to empower citizens to become active stewards of our soil. Commercial organic growers, students, community gardeners and all sorts of growers will use sensors and other equipment to complete experiments and monitor and better understand their soil. They can then share their own data and learn from the results of the wider community. Increased availability of low-cost sensing technologies has opened up all sorts of new possibilities for collaborative data collection and sense making.

GROW is a citizen observatory, where people of all ages and backgrounds will help with the monitoring of our soils at an EU wide level, assisting organisations like the MET office and policy makers in climate change adaptation and sustainable land use. As well as measuring soil quality these engaged citizens will develop knowledge and practical skills to regenerate unhealthy soils.

Do you have an allotment or own a small farm? Are you involved in a community or school garden? Do you want to develop your knowledge on soil and skills in growing food? Do you want to be part of a movement preserving soil for future generations? If the answer to any of these questions is `yes’ then email to get involved.



By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life  Winter Issue 2015

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”  Lao Tzu

In this Good Life 2.0 column I have been exploring how we might become more effective change makers and play a part in the transition to a way of life where we can thrive in these difficult times. I’ve been highlighting some of the potential responses to the challenges we face, as well as looking at emerging technologies and processes that can help us nurture resilience in our communities and in ourselves.

We shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste, these challenging times could provide a once-in-a-species opportunity to adapt our way of life to one that fits the carrying capacity of our planet and works for everyone not just a few.  In this issue of Positive Life I want to explore an elegant and powerful analogy for change that has been used for thousands of years, the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. This metaphor has recently been further informed with the latest in systems thinking and observations of the evolutionary biologist and futurist, Dr. Elizabet Satoris.

The butterfly begins its journey as a tiny egg on a leaf from which the caterpillar emerges. Right from the beginning of its life a caterpillar’s sole purpose and function is to consume. They are like little eating machines that increase their body weight several thousand times in a couple of weeks, actually growing out of their skin five times before hanging from a twig and getting ready for a radical change. This is called the “pupa stage,” the caterpillar sheds its skin again but this time the new skin is different, its a harder protective shell called the “chrysalis”.  This is where the transformation of the caterpillar to butterfly takes place.

Within the chrysalis the body of the caterpillar starts to break down into a nutrient goo. This is where the magic happens with the emergence of cells that have been dormant in the caterpillar. These are called “imaginal” or “organiser” cells and at first are seen as a threat and attacked by the immune system of the caterpillar. The imaginal cells however are called to action, start to collaborate and come together to create the body, legs and wings of an entirely different being. The imaginal cells develop into the structure it was originally determined to become and after a few weeks and a final struggle the transformation is complete and the butterfly emerges and takes flight.

So what is the lesson of this story for us? We are living in the best of times and the worst of times. The opportunity of this moment is unprecedented with a convergence of new ideas and technologies, a resurgence of community spirit and a yearning to simplify our lives and to do more together. However, paradoxically, these are also the worst of times with the near collapse of the global financial system, government bailouts, stock markets in free-fall, rising negative equity as well as an accelerating ecological, energy and social crises. We have now reached the long predicted limits to growth and its time for us to make the transformation to a different system. We are at a critical turning point in our civilization’s evolution; it’s similar to the stage between the caterpillar and butterfly, a time of transition or metamorphosis.

Our economic system requires us to consume, it could be said that the current purpose of our human system is to consume resources and ensure economic growth.  This makes our society, and us, similar to caterpillars. However as Elizabet Satoris stresses; “the caterpillar is a necessary stage but becomes unsustainable once its job is done. There is no point in being angry at it, and there is no need to worry about defeating it. The task is to focus on building the butterfly the success of which depends on powerful and positive creative efforts in all aspects of society and alliances built among those engaged in them.”

However the old system will fight to protect its interests as the new system struggles to be born, and activists will spend a lot of energy fighting the old rather than birthing the new. The lesson here for the change makers of today is to be more like imaginal cells and to collaborate with others on shaping the systems of a world that works.  Caterpillars are the immature or growth stage of butterflies, the industrial age could be seen as our growth period, which we now urgently need to transcend.

People seem to be getting tiered of our shop-till-you-drop, all-you-can-eat, hyper-consumerist culture and are beginning to explore ways of simplifying their lives. There is a transformation in consumerism going on, and not just in what we consume but how we consume. According to a Euro RSCG Worldwide survey there is an emerging trend amongst significant portions of the global population who are trading hyper-consumerism for a consumption that is more considered and sane. Many people are now exchanging a life of excess and the accumulation of stuff to a slowed down, low impact life of simplicity, authenticity, personal responsibility and community.

New movements and businesses are emerging that facilitate the building of community and people sharing their resources, with an emphasis on use and service over consumption and outright ownership. In this paradigm there is a desire to share and to collaborate.  People yearn to get to know and support each other, to gather locally and to meet face to face. Virtual communities are actually now fostering real ones as people use the Internet to get off the Internet. The rise in car sharing, land sharing, couch surfing, peer to peer lending and crowd funding demonstrate that a new culture of dematerialisation and collaboration is being born.

This kind of culture is more like the butterfly than the caterpillar. The butterfly is very different from the caterpillar; it has very little impact on the earth and provides vital eco-system services through the pollination of plants. Its time for us to move from being motivated from a position of self-interest with an over-emphasis on individualism and consumption and adopting new processes that encourage sharing rather that owning, collaborating rather than competing and working with nature rather than against it.

The transformation of our world is accelerating and is happening at all levels, within our communities and ourselves. The old ways are falling away and new ways will prevail as we recognise the creative possibilities and livelihood opportunities that collaboration reveals. It looks like the crisis is paving the way for a return of the spirit and values of the Meitheal, the old Irish co-operative system in which groups of neighbours helped each other.

This powerful change metaphor is clear for any one engaged in social transformation, as the old unsustainable structures collapse it is time to really work together to bring into existence a life-serving resilient society. A new world is emerging; in the midst of the apparent chaos lets act like imaginal cells and build the butterfly.