Beth Tener, Principal, shares the history of stories that led to the organization’s founding and focus:
My career began as an environmental management consultant with Arthur D. Little, which involved flying all over the country visiting corporate headquarters and factories to assess how well companies were complying with regulations. The key questions were: Are we in compliance? Do we have management systems internally to maintain compliance and improve? It was fascinating training in how systems work as I would see the same patterns in widely different contexts and industries.
In the late 1990’s, about the time I was getting burned out with the airport-suitcase-expense-report lifestyle, I attended a conference on business and environment by the ocean in Monterrey, California. This event was part of the nascent sustainability movement that called for a fundamentally different approach to the environmental challenge: to shift from controlling pollution and cleaning up waste to designing out the activities that cause waste and toxic pollution. I was inspired by the questions being asked: How could we design this product so it can be fully reused at the end of its useful life and a person living on one dollar a day could afford it? How could we design our factory so there are no emissions?
I saw how shifting from solely a compliance orientation of “you should” to a creative orientation of “how could” had the potential to galvanize the scale of innovation and changes we needed to make, particularly when combined with a focus on changing the design of larger systems. Since then, two key strategic questions have inspired me:
- How do we unleash the changes and momentum needed to create a sustainable thriving future?
- How can I personally be most effective in contributing to this change?
I went on to co-found Sustainable Step New England a not-for-profit organization dedicated to training people in sustainability principles and giving them the tools and resources to take action. Instead of being in the role of the expert ‘swooping in’ and pointing out problems as I had been in my consulting work, we taught people principles of sustainability and facilitated them in finding the actions they could take that were most suitable in their situation. We convened dialogues across sectors to address systemic issues no one organization could solve alone and created networks of “change agents.”
On a personal level, I integrated green values into my choices from the food I ate to the car I drove and built a green home. Despite the best intentions to “walk the talk,” I realized how hard it was to maintain balance and not be chronically over-busy and stressed. In my work, I was advocating that we stop running down the planet yet personally running myself down in the process. In a quest to understand the inner roots of these unhealthy patterns, I studied and practiced Buddhism and yoga and realized what a depth of practical insights these traditions have about how change happens. I also discovered how valuable contemplative practices, retreats, and connection with nature are in helping change patterns and generate vision and clarity for wise action.
Now the world has changed. Many people have woken up to the need for change and are actively leading this within their organizations, communities, and living it in their personal actions. With the rise of a networked world on line, we are seeing the potential for networks of collaboration among these leaders to achieve a much greater scale of impact than any one organziation could by itself.
New Directions Collaborative was founded in response to what is needed now: to accelerate, connect, and enhance the work of the thousands of organizations working to transform organizations, sectors and communities to more fully meet human needs in ways that restore the earth. The Collaborative brings together a network of some of the most creative, talented, smart, fun people I have had the opportunity to work with over the years. We are honored to work with clients in New England and beyond who are at the innovative edge in using networks and collective impact approaches to create fundamental change.