The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Concern for the World

The Sydney Morning Herald recently (5-6 May 2012) published some results from a Macquarie University survey which asked 1078 people about their everyday worries.  Many of the results were reasonably predictable.  For example, those under 30 were more inclined (81.4% of them) to worry about work or study whereas only 19.5% of those aged over 60 were so worried.  Not surprised?  Neither was I.

Nor was I surprised that the older age groups were less concerned about themselves: their looks, appearance, image, achievements, being lonely.

The interesting result though was that of concern for what’s happening in the world, government, climate, war, economy, terrorism.  The table below shows the percentage in each age group that said they were concerned about society.

Age Group
Under 30
30 - 44
45 - 59

Without having seen the questionnaire nor any paper associated with this survey it is hard to determine its veracity.  However, assuming the results are at least indicative, then it suggests that those aged over 60 are around twice as likely as those under 45 to be concerned about the world.

What is interesting about this is: what is this telling us?  There could be at least two possible explanations.  One explanation could be that as we age we grow less concerned about ourselves and a lot more concerned about the world.  The other explanation could be that those aged over 60 have always been concerned about the world.  If the survey had been conducted 40 years ago when those now (in 2012) over 60 would have largely been aged under 30 would they have still reported a high concern for the world.  1972 (for those that can remember) was seeing huge anti-Vietnam demonstrations in the US, Australia, New Zealand and many other Western nations.  The anti-apartheid/racism movement was gaining huge momentum as was the feminist movement.  Students in Paris had aligned with workers and had almost brought down the French government just 4 years earlier.  It seemed to be a time that young people were demonstrating a massive concern for the state of the world.

Only a longitudinal study could answer whether we keep our concerns for the world throughout our life or whether we change those concerns as we age.  However, it does have me asking: how much do we care for the state of society and the world?  Are we less concerned, or more concerned?  The 1960s and 70s certainly showed more overt concern by way of the marches, demonstrations, sit-ins and instances of civil disobedience.  But one could argue that there wasn’t a lot of building of alternatives to the systems being railed against.

As we begin the 21st Century though, I do see many examples of alternatives being built.  I read about ways of thinking as to how we can improve society.  Communities are experimenting with alternative forms of exchange, eco-friendly housing is being built, restorative justice suggests that communities can solve issues and indigenous peoples are gaining recognition not just of their rights but also of their wisdom.

I’d like to think then that we are becoming more concerned and that we are attempting to translate that concern into practical action.  How about you?  Do you see greater concern for the world?  Can we presume to hold out hope?

Thursday 24 May 2012

Filming on the Level

In a recent blog (4 Key Issues for Community Development) I suggested that one of those issues was that of wealth/income inequality.

Source: The Equality Trust UK, published in "The Spirit Level"
One of the key contributions to the understanding of that issue was the publication of “The Spirit Level” in early 2009.  The authors (Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett) updated the book in November 2011, including replying to some of the criticisms made of the original thesis.

We all knew of the devastating effects of poverty on those at the bottom of the wealth/income ladder.  What this book showed though, was that there is an undeniable connection between inequality spread and the social ills of all of society, no matter whether you are at the bottom, middle or top of that ladder.

Since Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” (1995) there has been much talk about social capital.  If social capital is the glue that binds communities and societies together then wealth inequality is the anti-adhesive that breaks down those ties.

Wilkinson and Pickett analysed social indicators in a wide range of areas including; life expectancy, homicide, imprisonment, infant mortality, social mobility, numeracy/literacy, obesity etc.  In case after case these two epidemiologists concluded that the higher the gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10% then the greater the social ills across the whole of society.

Now the Equality Trust in the UK (established by Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett and Bill Kerry) are planning to produce a film/documentary based on the book.  If the book helped to bring the issue to the attention of a few policy makers, academics and activists around the world, then the film has the potential to bring the issue to the attention of a much wider public.  Some have likened such a film to doing for inequality what the film “Inconvenient Truth” did for climate change.

One of the biggest leverage points in creating systems change according to Donella Meadows is with the paradigms of the system itself.  The myth that differences in income and wealth are an incentive for those at the bottom to move higher on the ladder is one of the most pernicious of paradigms.  That is why I think that this film is critical to facing one of the 4 Key Issues for Community Development.

In order for this film to be made the Equality Trust is fundraising.  I have contributed to this and I encourage readers of this blog to consider doing so also.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Sometimes I just sits

A Zen master was teaching an eager student from the West.  They were sitting quietly meditating for what seemed like hours to the student.  Eventually, the disciple began to get agitated.  He stopped meditating, poked his master and said “where I come from there is a saying that goes ‘Don’t just sit there, do something’”.  The master smiled and replied “where I come from we too have a saying, it goes like this – ‘don’t just do something, sit there’”.

We could all do with a little just sitting there.  Indeed as community development workers we sometimes need to do just that.

A community is a system complete with resources, inflows, outflows, reinforcing and balancing feedback loops.  Before we intervene in a community system we may just want to sit and observe.  Rushing in with a desire to improve, fix or develop means that we are very likely to miss the relationships and wisdom that already exists in the community.

How many communities (especially the so-called disadvantaged, marginalised or dispossessed communities) have had aid or community workers come into them with grandiose ideas of creating industries or jobs, upskilling the youth or building fancy facilities?  Meantime, local produce is being harvested, bought and sold, young people are taking care of elders and small groups are meeting in different community spaces.

Learning to just sit, observe and ask questions may be a better use of a community development worker’s time than attempting to show immediate, measurable results.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

It’s All A Bit Much

In 1850 it took 3 to 4 months to sail from the UK to New Zealand or Australia. By the time you reached the Antipodes you may well have had a letter written to send to relatives “back home”.  If you put that letter on the next ship leaving port, then it would be another 3 or 4 months before your uncle, aunt or cousin received communication from you.

By the late 19th Century, with the introduction of steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal, travel from one side of the globe to the other had halved to 4 - 6 weeks. The completion of the trans-Tasman telegraph line in the late 1870s linked New Zealand telegraphically with the rest of the World.  A cross Pacific link was established in 1902.  With the use of “telegraph boys” these developments meant that it was possible to get a message from one side of the world to the other within a few days.

A century after sailing for 3 or 4 months, air flight became possible.  Travel time reduced considerably with a flight in 1961 taking 3 days with stops in Istanbul, Bombay, Singapore and Darwin.  By then it was possible to send a message to the other side of the World by telephone making basic communication almost instantaneous.  However, more substantial information (e.g. in the form of a book) still needed to be sent via air taking up to a week or two to arrive.

Airline speeds then quickened so that today (in the early part of the 21st Century) getting from New Zealand or Australia to Europe is often less than a day’s travel. Communication speed though, has rocketed.  Email is only an instantaneous mouse-click away.  Even documents the size of books or bigger are readily transmitted around the World via Internet, often transmitted in a matter of seconds.
Thus, in1850 the speed of travel and the speed of communication were approximately a 1:1 ratio.  In the next century and a half speed of travel increased from 3 to 4 months to less than a day - a 12,000% increase.  Pretty impressive!  Not as impressive as communication though, with the speed of transmission getting faster by a staggering rate of 50,000,000% or more.  In just 150 years the ratio between travel and communication has gone from 1:1 to at least 1:4200.

In other words, we are now communicating substantially quicker than we are physically moving. Yep, the pace of life is faster - its all getting a bit much.  We’re being outstripped by communication.

Think too, of the amount of information that exists.  In 2007 there were 6,580 daily newspapers in the World.  Almost 800,000 new books are published each year.  Even if you were able to read one book a day, just to get through one year’s worth of books would take almost 30 lifetimes.  Even keeping up with the daily newspapers is beyond one person’s ability.  Then there are scientific papers and articles.  By the beginning of the 21st Century almost 700,000 were being published per year, an increase of 300,000 in just 20 years.  And that’s just the printed medium.

The virtual medium, via the Internet, is even more information rich. Between 1995 and the middle of 2011 the number of registered domains on the Internet rose from a modest 15,000 to a staggering 350 million with 150,000 new URLs registered each day.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “future shock” to describe our personal perception of all this as "too much change in too short a period of time".  And that was over 40 years ago!  Not only is life getting faster, it’s getting overwhelming.  None of us can cope!  And why should we?  One of the benefits of being gregarious for us humans is that we can cooperate and work together, pooling our knowledge, skills and experience.

If the speed of information communication has increased markedly and the amount of information is enormous, what does this mean for our collective means of decision-making and problem solving?
Firstly, it means that we can no longer assume that the mechanisms that we used in the 19th and even the 20th Century remain reliable.  Those mechanisms were based fundamentally on the idea that a few representatives could meet together, gather sufficient facts and opinions, discuss and deliberate and eventually arrive at conclusions that the rest of society (or the local community) would accept as good governance or management.

Not much diversity here!
But representation has increasingly been marked by homogeneity of backgrounds, experience and cultural understandings of our decision-makers.  This trend is in stark contrast to the need for greater diversity in order to cope with the demands of an increasing amount and quicker speed of information.

That is but one reason for the need to look for alternative collective decision-making models.  Later posts may address some of these other reasons.  For now though, one of the enticing possibilities for an alternative model is that of sortition.  Again though, an explanation of that model is for another post, although I have referred to the model in previous posts ("A Tick in the Box" and "Icelandic Example").

What is my purpose in posting this?  Simply that it is time we gave some thought to how we make decisions not just what decisions we need to make and what those decisions should be.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Icelandic Example (Sortition in Practice)

The world is experiencing large disruptions just about everywhere we look: calamitous earthquakes and tsunamis around the Pacific, financial collapse in Europe, political unrest in the Arab world and uncharacteristic floods and droughts everywhere.  People are confused, uncertain and becoming increasingly frustrated.  Our lives seem to be battered from all sides.

Who is to blame?  The stock answer is the government.  And so, everywhere there are greater demands for transparency, accountability and better representation in our democracy.  In some parts of the world the demands are for democracy itself.

But democracy is failing to meet these demands.  Is there a way out or a way through?  Often we find the answers to big questions in small places.

Iceland is such a small place with a population of just 320,000 (just four thousandths of one percent of the Worlds population).  “Iceland?” I hear you ask incredulously.  "What possible answer could it have for the rest of us?  It went bankrupt just a few years ago, didn’t it?"

Yes, it did.  In 2008 Iceland’s main bank was nationalised, it’s currency (the Krona) was devalued and it’s stock market crashed.  A Proposal to buy their way out of the financial crisis was thrown out by 93% of voters in a referendum.

Back to the Kitchen

Using the power of social media young people mobilised themselves and others to articulate their frustrations.  In January 2009 thousands gathered outside the Althingi (Iceland’s parliament) banging pots and pans in order to disrupt the proceedings within.  Thus began the “Kitchenware Revolution”.  Eventually the Prime Minister and his Government resigned.  So too did the heads of the central bank and the financial regulator.

The newly elected government included the country’s first woman Prime Minister who acknowledged that “the people are calling for a change of ethics”.  How does she, her Government and Iceland  achieve that?  They look to a different way of selecting their representatives and a new way of involving the populace in the making of policy.  They look to a means of selection that has tremendous merit.  They look to sortition.

In November 2009 almost1,200 randomly selected (sortition) citizens along with 300 invited guests participate in Thjodfundur 2009 (a National Assembly) in Reykjavik charged with planning a future vision for the country.

The Act that set up this Assembly prescribed that the sortition process was to take “due regard to a reasonable distribution of participants across the country and an equal division between genders, to the extent possible”.  Those selected fulfilled these guidelines with ages ranging from 18 – 88, coming from all over Iceland and having 47% women and 53% men.

A Transparent and Open Process

Working in groups of 9 the 1,500 participants came to consensus as to the priority issues and what was to be valued.  Integrity was the value of most importance with others highly rated being: equal rights, respect, justice, responsibility, freedom, sustainability and democracy.

Following the Thjodfundur a Constitutional Council of 25 elected members worked on the draft of a new 114 article Constitution for Iceland based on the vision produced by the National Assembly.  Recalling that the Kitchenware Revolution was brought together through the power of social media the Council utilised the same media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr) extensively with the open proceedings of the Council being shown via the Internet.  Comments and submissions were also made to the Council via this media.  The draft of the Constitution was presented to the Althingi at the end of July 2011 where is is awaiting ratification via a referendum.

What Was Learnt?

One of the 25 members of the Constitutional Council tweeted that “what I learnt is that people can be trusted”.  What about the rest of us?  Surely, we should learn the same lesson.

During its session the Council noted three main themes: distribution of power, transparency and responsibility.  No doubt these themes will be recognised throughout the world, from Tunisia to China, from London to New York, within our own cities, towns and communities.

Yes, small places can provide us with examples to learn from.  Both process and outcome.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Creating A Community (Development) Garden

Community development and gardening have something in common.  They both require tending.  Indeed, gardening is a very useful analogy for the process of community development.

When we plunge our hoe into the earth to begin creating a garden what are we hoping to get?  Flourishing and nutritious vegetables, or maybe vibrant and colourful flowers.  Isn’t that what we would also like to achieve from community development?  Flourishing and vibrant communities.

Image courtesy of
What does a gardener do?  A gardener tills the soil, plants seeds, may add some fertiliser and keeps the soil watered.  Most of all, a gardener has faith that below the soil the seeds are germinating, sprouting and sending shoots towards the surface.  The gardener certainly doesn’t go digging it up to see whether they are sprouting or not.

The same is true of community development.  We must trust that communities have the willingness to sprout.  Those of us wanting to assist the process, to act as community development gardeners, can do so by; adding fertiliser (resources identified by the community itself), ensuring that the growing plants are not crowded out by weeds (negativity, busybodies, red-tape) and that the plants are watered and have access to sufficient sunlight (support, encouragement).

Like a gardener, those wishing to see community development flourish must also accept that the process will take time and that for possibly a considerable period we will see nothing at all at the surface.  All the development is taking place underground.

Community development does not nicely fit the annual short-term funding and accountability cycles of bureaucracies and governments.  Indeed, many of the issues that community development workers are facing are entrenched, generations old or complex.  Sometimes all three at the same time.  We need to accept that noticeable signs of development may not appear for 5, 10, 20 years or more.
But when the signs do appear the wait and the faith in the gardening process will have been worthwhile and the outcome more likely to be sustainable.

In our support and work  for community development then, let us be as gardeners.
“I believe we must learn to wait as we learn to create.  We have to patiently sow the seeds, assiduously water the earth where they are sown and give the plants the time that is their own.  One cannot fool a plant any more than one can fool history.”
Václav Havel, playwright, essayist and first President of the Czech Republic (following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia) reflecting on his part in the creation of the new democratic nation.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

5 Slogans That Define Social Justice

Slogans have long been a part of the human desire to proclaim.  The best of them sum up in just a few evocative words the core ideals of social movements.  Here are five well-known slogans that define the movements for social justice and sustainability.  All except one of them came out of or grew to prominence in that volatile and verdant decade – the 1960s.

Make Love Not War

Perhaps one of the most enduring slogans of all time, "Make Love Not War" has it’s roots very much in the 1960s.  Appealing to the free love, hippie communities of the time with their flowers and beads as well as to the anti-Vietnam war movement the slogan went on to become the most often used slogan of the peace movement.  The anti-Vietnam War movement began slowly in the early 1960s but by the end of that decade millions of Americans and millions more around the globe were demonstrating against the US led war in Vietnam.

The slogan itself has two likely beginnings.  In April 1965 Diane Meyer was getting ready to attend an anti-war rally at the University of Oregon in Eugene.  Before she left home she wrote “Let’s Make Love, Not War” on an envelope and pinned it to her sweater.  That rally was attended by 3,000 but it was the photo of Diane Meyer and her slogan that made the pages of the New York Times. 
Soolidarity Bookshop button
Just one month earlier the Solidarity Bookshop in Chicago printed buttons with the phrase “Make Love, Not War” on them for the Mothers Day Peace March.
The slogan has also famously been used in songs by John Lennon (Mind Games) and Bob Marley (No More Trouble) demonstrating its international appeal.

The Personal Is Political

The origin of this slogan is more debatable with various possibilities existing.  Arising out of the Feminist movement the most likely possibility (certainly for making the slogan widely noticed) is that it was the title of an essay by Carol Hanisch in March 1969.

Hanisch was part of the New York Radical Women group and had earlier conceived of the idea to protest the 1968 Miss America Pageant where participants crowned a live sheep as “Miss America” in dissent.  She wrote the essay in defence of consciousness-raising which was being charged that it was nothing more than therapy.  She was also keen to note that “political” was “having to do with power relationships not the narrow sense of electoral politics”.

Later, Hanisch attributed the actual words of the title to Shulie Firestone and Anne Koedt, the editors of the journal in which the essay appeared; “Notes from the Second Year; Women's Liberation”.

Think Global, Act Local

Most closely associated with the environmental movement, this slogan has become a slogan for many movements and causes, even used within the business world, town planning and the field of mathematics.

Again, the creator of the slogan is shrouded in uncertainty.  Certainly, David Brower (the founder of Friends of the Earth) used the term in 1969, although other possible creators include Rene Dubos, Buckminster Fuller, Hazel Henderson, Saul Alinsky and Canadian futurist Frank Feather.

It’s genesis though can be traced way back to 1915 when Sir Patrick Geddes (a Scottish town planner and social activist) published the book “Cities in Evolution”.  Although he didn’t use this exact phrase the idea was firmly embedded in it’s pages.

We Shall Overcome

Joan Baez
“We Shall Overcome” is better known as a song but it is so often sung at rallies and protests the world over that it has become tantamount to a slogan.  It was the folk singers Pete Seeger and Joan Baez who popularised it as a protest song in the 1960s.  It’s roots go back before that though.

At the turn of the 19th/20th Centuries Charles Tindley had composed the gospel song “I’ll Overcome Someday”.  Tindley’s father was a slave and Tindley was steeped in the gospel movement’s yearning for freedom.

Zaphia Horton brought the song to the Highlander Folk School and in 1947 it was transformed and re-written by Pete Seeger and Guy Carawan.

Many other musicians have gone on to use and record the song  including Roger Waters (from Pink Floyd) who released a version to protest at the Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2010.

Throughout the world the song is known and has been sung by thousands in Prague in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution in both English and Czech.  It was sung in English and Urdu in the film “My Name is Khan” (2010), a film espousing the struggle of Muslims in the modern US.

We Are the 99%

The slogan of the Occupy Movement refers to the concentration of wealth in the top 1% of income earners.  The Occupy Movement is arguably the most significant world-wide protest movement this Century.  The slogan is thought to have come from the name of a blog site put up by an anonymous New York activist who calls himself Chris.

In the same year that Pete Seeger et al were penning “We Shall Overcome” Aldous Huxley was also putting pen to paper and writing to his brother Julian (then the Director-General of UNESCO) about his thoughts on the proposed Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Huxley exhorted his brother to “think of what 99% of the human race want – food, shelter, a secure family life and to be left alone by bosses and busybodies.  Unfortunately the 1% who are interested in power and ideals and ideologies are the ones that call the tune”.

Tawakul Karman
Over 60 years later (in January 2011) Tahrir Square was occupied by over 50,000 people protesting the reign of President Mubarek.  This occupation was just one part of the Arab Spring that shook nations in Northern Africa and the Middle East throughout 2011.  From there it spread: Occupy Wall Street began in September 2011 and by early October had spread to almost 100 cities in 82 countries around the world.
A prominent Arab Spring leader, Tawakul Karman from Yemen, was named one of three recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011, becoming the first Arab woman and second Muslim woman to win the prize.  In a break from tradition Time magazine failed to name an individual as its Person of the Year for 2011, preferring to name “The Protester”.

Is it all just words?

Are these all just words though?  A Buddhist writing notes that our words can define our actions and that our actions can define our character.  As we move through the 21st Century it will be our characters that define our movements.