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Passing through the luminal

9 Mar

A luminal is defined in anatomical terms as a ‘passage, duct, or cavity in a tubular organ’. I like to think of it as a tunnel, or a tight passageway, with a light shining at the end.

In many ways this describes my experience of working on this project. I’d quit my job in Australia, taken a leap of faith in travelling to India and ended up on a new path – one more aligned with my values, with more creativity and freedom.

Challenging? Yes. Enlightening? Absolutely.

The simplest analogy I can use to explain how it felt, comes from an incident during the first week of my stay in Delhi.

I’d moved into a great flat with my own bathroom attached to the bedroom. One night I got up to use the toilet and found I’d unknowingly locked myself out of the bathroom.

Yes: 1am, a full bladder, and nowhere to go.

Fortunately, my housemate had been working late so I was able to use her bathroom and go back to sleep.

But I still needed my things – my glasses were in there.

The following morning my housemate asks her cleaning lady to bring a young man to crawl through a small window connecting our bathrooms, opening the locked door once inside.

I arrive home early to find the cleaning lady and her friend waiting for me. But there seems to have been some confusion about the ‘young man’ required for the job. They’d brought along her friend’s eight year old son!

I’m looking at the boy (those big brown eyes staring back at me), then up at the window, then back at the boy – think Old Spice Ad, only less amusing.

“Absolutely not,” I tell them. “Do you know how many international conventions on the rights of children we would be violating? Not to mention the extreme risk of skull fractures and spino-cerebral damage occurring? No, I will endeavour to resolve this problem myself”.

Given that no-one else spoke English, here’s what I really said: “No, me go”.

The bathroom window

Bit of a stretch alright

So, with a chair and a lot of hefting and heaving from the two sari clad ladies, I found myself suspended halfway through the window.

My head and chest were hanging into the locked room, one leg swinging like a pendulum in the other room and my other knee wedged up under my chin.

For one very long moment……………………………………………………………..I was stuck.

Going forward felt impossible, yet it didn’t feel like I could go back, not without squashing the women calling out hindi advice below me.

In an adrenalin-fuelled split second I learnt a lot about myself – about risk taking, fear facing and trust. Would I fall head first in the toilet bowl? Would my insurance cover this? Was I wearing clean underwear?…

zen quote to know oneself

Image courtesy of David Schiller's Zen Page-A-Day 2010 Calendar

Taking a deep breath, I visualised my little arms lowering me safely down into the room and then…

I let go.

Next thing I know I’m standing in the room and unlocking the door. I’m shaken (and stirred) but unharmed.

The women and small boy are with me, touching my reddened arms and knees, making sure I’m ok. We’re laughing as they tell me it’s lucky I’m not mota (fat).

It felt good to be on the other side.

zen quote flying

Image courtesy of David Schiller's Zen Page-A-Day 2010 Calendar

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Personal spider diagrams

8 Mar

A friend of mine keeps asking me how my spider webs are going. She’s referring to the post I did about tracking my personal goals early on in the project – Follow the joy. So here are all the ‘spider webs’ from start to finish…

Project Start – 1st September 2010

1 September 2010 Liz Spider Diagram

Two weeks before the Games – 18th September 2010

18 September 2010 Liz Spider Diagram

Just after the Games – 17th October 2010

17 October 2010 Liz Spider Diagram

Project End – 29th November 2010

29 November 2010 Liz Spider Diagram

I learnt a truckload in all 5 areas and I did have a go at doing all the things I set out to do in the original post, some with more success than others.

For example, simply immersing yourself in a different country is a great way to pick up a lot of the history and culture of a place (and I did spend a significant amount of time watching Bollywood films!)

On the other hand, enhancing my creativity by buying some eco-friendly, Indian fashion items was trickier than I thought. Although I did end up with a couple of Conserve India’s fabulous upcycled bags, I frequently left Delhi’s numerous clothes markets empty-handed, going: “Yeah it’s cheap, but at what cost?”

But I want to focus this post on one particular area – health and wellbeing and my response to stress.

This was my most significant change.

We were trying to work with a very big, chaotic event in an unusual set of circumstances.  Corruption claims, flooding, disease outbreaks, tourist shootings, buildings and roads crumbling…there were so many things outside my control that this project became a lesson in letting go.

Around the time of the third spider diagram (straight after the Games) we hit a crunch point where it looked like we might not get any waste directly from the Games.

I was stressed.

My health took a nose dive.

I realised I had a choice: I could continue trying to push things, trying to convince the Games organisers to work with us or…

I could do nothing.

By nothing, I mean that I could stop stressing and trust I’d done enough in my role with Conserve India, that I’d talked to enough people, that synchronicity would reveal itself if I just sat back a bit and let it flow.

Choosing the latter path I intentionally stayed home and rested, instead of going out to chase waste across the city.

And because I stayed home, with ready access to the internet, I was able to quickly respond to a surprise call from the Times of India. It’s almost certain I would not have met the journalist’s deadline if I had been out.

The TOI article in particular, ignited significant ongoing media and corporate interest in our project. It also helped us leverage access to Games waste.

By giving up control and learning to relax more, the project took on a life of it’s own and I felt healthier and happier.

It was almost as if the project delivered me, rather than the other way round.

So, dear readers, we are nearly at the end of this project blog – one more post tomorrow and we are done!

Thankyou for following our journey. Interestingly, the ‘net’ that I wished would appear to catch my fall was literally a net – the internet. The support we received via your comments, emails, responses to our questions (many from total strangers) was truly encouraging.

I’m also grateful for the dozens of people we met in Delhi, who helped us in many varied and significant ways.

And, of course, I’m indebted to the team at Conserve India. For without them, there was no project.

Final project evaluation summary

6 Mar

On my final day at the Conserve India office key members of the Conserve India team and I undertook a simple project evaluation. Together we reflected on our experiences of the project and made some group decisions on what we felt we’d achieved.

Remember our objectives? How we aimed to:

  • create new valuable products out of Commonwealth Games waste – establishing Delhi 2010 as the first Games to upcycle event waste
  • enhance Conserve India’s capacity to improve the wellbeing of Delhi’s poorest communities by selling more of their upcycled products
  • raise public awareness of waste issues and the benefits of upcycling, particularly  at major events.

We used a basic spider diagram as our evaluation and reporting tool. Click on the diagram and read the summary below to see where we ended up in several key areas:

CD2010 project final evaluation spider diagram

The Delhi 2010 Organising Committee

Establishing a partnership with the Delhi Organising Committee (OC) was one of the more challenging aspects of this project. Although we did find supporters within the OC, who directed us to waste materials, we were unable to secure an ‘official’ partnership. At the highest level this entailed the OC formally and publicly acknowledging a commitment to working with us.

The Games Contractors

We had a lot more success approaching companies contracted by the OC to deliver aspects of the Games. We were offered a variety of waste materials by different contractors. A number of these companies were interested in working with Conserve on upcycling initiatives beyond the Commonwealth Games. The team at Conserve India now have new contacts and industry knowledge, positioning them well to continue working with event waste in India.

Conserve India’s Capacity and the Games Upcycled Products

These two aspects were so interrelated I thought it best to deal with them together. Essentially, the biggest challenge here was time – we simply did not have enough time to fully test samples, lock in buyer interest, modify samples to meet buyer requirements and secure a significant wholesale order.

On top of this, Conserve India was already busy meeting current production demands while transitioning to a entirely new factory. We were happy, however, with having made product samples in what Anita called ‘laying foundation stones’: that is, giving something a go and learning from it for next time.

Liz and Conserve India

This was about recognising that our relationship was fundamental to the project’s success. Again this was constrained by time. In three months we felt as though we’d only just got to know each other.

One of the main things we all learnt from working together, was there could have been more discussion in the months leading up to delivering the project. Although this is tricky where you’re in different countries, for a project to be fully participatory all the key players need to be involved in creating it.

The Awareness Campaign

This was our unqualified success. We all agreed that the media campaign we ran during the Games delivered some great results – including generating unexpected interest from big corporations.

The social media campaign was more of a slow burner, but we did increase followers and generate quality feedback and engagement with our supporters through these channels. The blog, in particular, proved to be a great way of documenting our project story in a far more interactive way than any monitoring or final report could do. We learned a lot here.

If we had to do it all again, the main thing we would have changed is to have someone connecting with the Games much earlier in their planning process. Starting the project only one month before such a mammoth event was cutting it a little fine!

Overall, we were happy with the project as it was. Because what it was, was pretty great.

Change theory: working with emergence

5 Mar
Herakleitos philosopher quote

Image courtesy of David Schiller's Zen Page-A-Day 2010 Calendar

I love this quote. It’s an ancient Greek version of ‘what goes up, must come down’.

Herakleitos, the weeping philosopher, argued our only permanent reality is that of change. (How’s that for irony?)

He viewed the world order as ‘ever-living fire, kindling in measures and being extinguished in measures’.

Over 2000 years later, I’m thinking he was onto something. Yep, just looked around me – change seems to be going on quite a bit. Tick.

But I keep wondering how? How does change, especially big change, happen?

In mid-2010 I was introduced to the Berkana Institute and emergence thinking by two insightful facilitators – Chris Corrigan and Geoff Brown.

The concept of emergence provides an elegant framework for contemplating change. As Wheatley and Frieze put it in their 2006 article, Lifecycle of Emergence:

In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas. If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale. However, when they become connected, local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global or comprehensive level. (Global here means a larger scale, not necessarily the entire planet.)

These powerful emergent phenomena appear suddenly and surprisingly. Think about how the Berlin Wall suddenly came down, how the Soviet Union ended, how corporate power quickly came to dominate globally. In each case, there were many local actions and decisions, most of which were invisible and unknown to each other, and none of which was powerful enough by itself to create change. But when these local changes coalesced, new power emerged…

To me, the guts of the theory is that we can learn how to work with emergence by understanding living systems – how they ‘begin as networks, shift to intentional communities of practice, and evolve into powerful new systems capable of global influence.’

Based on this understanding, Wheatley and Frieze argue we can encourage positive influential systems to emerge through a four stage approach: naming, connecting, nourishing and illuminating.

lifecycle of emergence diagram

Lifecycle of Emergence diagram courtesy http://www.berkana.org

I thoroughly recommend reading the full article to understand these approaches better. It’s quite short and, if you’re anything like me, it will chime inside your head for some time to come.

But how does this thinking relate to our project? Well, it helped clarify how we thought change might come about because of what we were proposing to do.

Basically, by creating an upcycling partnership between Conserve India and like-minded supporters within the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games organising system we hoped to:

  • connect these pioneers and positively change how major sporting events are delivered by proving new, valuable products can be made with event waste materials
  • nourish Conserve India with new contacts and knowledge about how to work with major events. We wanted to discover useful product materials; to make and sell new products and generate new income streams, leading to more benefits for Conserve’s staff  and the communities this social enterprise supports
  • illuminate the pioneering work of Conserve India, and other upcyclers, by capturing some of the vast media platform dominated by these major events. We wanted to tell the project story in as many ways possible, and through as many channels as we could, to see if we could find new supporters who would buy the products we created.

We wanted to cast a few small droplets into the river of change we can feel is fast emerging…

Einstein and zen quote

Image courtesy of David Schiller's Zen Page-A-Day 2010 Calendar

To see our original full project plan, otherwise known as ‘Our Best Guess At The Time’, click on our program logic diagram below.

CD2010 Program Logic May 2010

CD2010 Program Logic May 2010

So how did we go?

Tune in tomorrow, dear readers, and I’ll show you…

Upcycling: like playing Hacky Sack with materials…

11 Feb checking out the fence bunting

There were quite a few Games waste materials we identified during and just after the event. But establishing a viable upcycled product range takes quite a bit more than just finding materials.

Can the material be made into products fitting our current brand and organisational capacity? Can we afford to store enough of it? What about the product testing?

And of course, there’s the market development work – not many businesses can afford to produce products without some sort of guarantee they’ll sell.

So we had to be careful about which materials we accepted from the Games. Apart from the PVC banners we actively targeted, we were offered a few other interesting materials:

  • Recyclable waste directly from the Games Organising Committee Headquarters. This was mostly office waste – paper, cardboard and plastic bottles. Although Zitta Schnitt’s fabulous open source PET bottle purse designdid make us stop and ponder for a moment……………………we decided most of the materials weren’t suitable for durable fashion and homeware products.

    Delhi 2010 Games Organising Committee Headquarters

    Delhi 2010 Games Organising Committee Headquarters - inside and out

  • Temporary fencing and bunting cloth – during the Games, many events were cordoned off with thousands of temporary fences. We were offered these materials during the de-commisioning process after the event. We contemplated taking a small number of fences to trial some industrial furniture items (such as lampstands and shelving) as well as simple drawstring gym bags from the bunting material. But due to storage issues and the uncertainty factor regarding sales we had to say no.
Games fences and bunting

Delhi 2010 temporary fencing and bunting material

checking out the fence bunting

You watch the athletes, we'll feel the fence. Scoping out venue bunting material.

  • Unused Delhi 2010 Games ticket envelopes made from Tyvek plastic – this was such an interesting material I’m dedicating tomorrow’s post to it.

So, there’s a lot to do in realising an upcycling business opportunity. One of the ideas we had about securing a buyer for our Games products was to approach upcoming major events – such as the 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games – regarding upcycled merchandise.

Instead of cheap Chinese imports (like these merchandising items at one of the Delhi 2010 retail outlets)…

Merch cushion covers

Is pillow fighting a Games sport?! Random cushion covers on sale at Delhi 2010 retail store

gamesmerch2

Fuzzy plastic cars and things. What the...

…why not products made directly from materials left over from the last mega event?

Can you see where i’m going with this?

Imagine: closing the loop on waste from one major event to the next; like playing hacky sack with materials for as long as you can.

It’s a big idea and one, I’m certain, with many challenges to be overcome. But it’s not impossible to change a human system is it?

We got a little excited by the possibilities and dashed off a few emails to the London 2o12 and Glasgow 2014 organising committees but, alas, no cigar.

Not even a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’ email.

These events are organised many years in advance and perhaps, for the London Olympics at least, the most sustainable products have already been secured for their branded merchandise? This is, after all, meant to be the ‘first sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games’. London 2012 Sustainability Plan, 2009

But when I logged on to the London 2012 shop I was surprised to find little, if any, details about the products other than most came from the manufacturer to the world – China.

Take, for example, a simple drawstring gym bag (sound familiar?) It’s made from polyester and quite cheap at  7 pounds. You could argue the Olympics, in an effort to be inclusive, has gone for low priced merchandise.

But then there’s the Stella McCartney Team Great Britain gym bag at almost 4 times the price – China and polyester again.

Maybe the sustainability credentials for each product just haven’t been made public? Maybe the organisers thought it wouldn’t make a difference to sales.

Maybe.

But it would be nice to have a choice, wouldn’t it?

Follow the Joy…

1 Sep

Hi, this is Liz. For the next 3 months I’ll be managing this blog (and other social media bits and twits) as part of my Endeavour Executive Award scholarship with Conserve India.

I don’t know about you, but my 2009 was just ‘nuts and bananas’ (Southeast Queensland speak for crazy).  The challenges came on all levels – career, health, relationships – everything seemed to be saying ‘change or suffer’.

But change to what? The future seemed uncertain; I was stuck in a proverbial rut. I might still be there but for a strange day reflecting on the question, ‘if not this, then what do I do with my life?’ The answer came out of the blue, as if someone had actually whispered in my ear: ‘Follow the joy’.

So here I am, jamming everything I’m curious and passionate about into one amazing adventure. Weirdly, it’s as if my random collection of previous experiences had also been leading me to this project: grappling with gender and human rights in Nepal, building a jazz festival website (clunky 2005 effort, but not bad for a first-timer), helping make a documentary celebrating sustainable events, assisting townships go plastic bag free, writing for an environmental journal, selling ginger products to retirees at the Brisbane Ekka

baglady

Unofficial shot from my days as the Sustainability Victoria 'baglady'

While drafting the CD2010 monitoring and evaluation framework (yep, for all you project junkies, there’ll be more on that later. C’mon, admit it: project planning is a little bit sexy)……………..anyways…I thought I’d introduce myself by sharing my personal goals for the project as well.

This morning I sketched out this simple spider diagram over chai at my new local chat house:

Liz's spider diagram of 5 goals

Liz's top 5 CD2010 personal goals

Basically, the 5 lines coming out from the centre point of the web represent areas I’d like to work on over the next 3 months. The diagram works by placing a dot on each line to show where you think you’re at (as you can see, am just starting out in most areas). The further out from the centre, the more improved or competent you feel you are. So this is what my first diagram captures:

The Centre – is zero or I got nuthin’

Health & Wellbeing – this is about being kind to my body, specifically with regular yoga practice, getting back to meditation and being caffeine free for a while. Furthest point away from the centre = super zen and feeling good in mind and body.

Computer Stuff – I bought a Macbook 6 months ago but still have so much to learn about using it, ditto for the Adobe Creative Suite – never even used Photoshop before! Furthest point away from the centre = I’ve become one of those people who just rave about Macs and I know the basics of Adobe CS3.

Social Media – closely related to the computer stuff. 3 months ago I’d never even really read a blog, let alone writing one. Same with Twitter and Facebook. Furthest point away from the centre = I’ve become a zealous social media user and advocate.

Creativity – I’d like to take better photos, write well for the web and update my wardrobe with some (low impact) fashion. Furthest point away from the centre = I have a collection of images and writing I love and am swanning around in some unique, eco-friendly, mojo-enhancing, indian fashion items.

Culture – learning some hindi, discovering some historical places and reading books and watching movies on Indian culture are high on my list. At the furthest point I’ve developed hindi conversational skills, I’ve read broadly and feel like I’ve developed greater understanding of India’s history and culture by living and working in Delhi.

We’ll be doing a similar diagram for the CD2010 project as a way of communicating our monitoring and evaluation goals. I hope to publish it here soon.

Cheers,

Liz

(Let the Games change begin!)

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