Monday, October 17, 2011

The Power of Diversity

This past week I was in a small unincorporated community in Trinity County California for work. The community, like many rural communities in the west, has been impacted by the loss of its main industry, timber. This week made me think of the role that diversity plays in our systems and in the ability of people to make change in their communities.

Throughout the week I saw examples of how important diversity is. A major reason why this community was so negatively impacted by the loss of the timber industry is because there was a lack of economic diversity in the region. Before the timber market failed in the 1990's, jobs relating to the timber industry equated to more than half of the total jobs in the county. Also, much of the other businesses in town were indirectly supporting people in the timber industry and when this industry left the region, it sent ripples throughout the community, effecting every business in town.

The failure of the timber industry was a directly related to new regulations in the federal government protecting endangered species on National Forest land and resulted in an 84% decline of timber harvests from 1986- 2001.

I learned two new terms this week which are appropriate for this conversation, communities of interest and communities of place. The latter was a main driver for the collapse of the timber industry and the implications it had on local communities. Communities of interest are groups of people who have coordinated and common goals surrounding an interest. The two communities of interest in this story are the timber industry and the environmentalists. These communities each had very targeted views. For years, the timber industry advocated and lobbied for the ability to continue timber harvests on National Forests. With growing concern for endangered species anthe industry's impact on the health of the forest, the environmentalist community was able to raise money and litigate against the interests of the timber industry. Each community of interest had power and yielded it to effect dramatic change on the landscape and nearby communities.

The views of the communities of interest lacked diversity and therefor targeted all their efforts on one or few possible outcomes. The timber industry used it power to ensure that it could take timber off the forests without regarding issues around landscape level ecosystem health and endangered species habitat. In return, the environmental community used its power to ensure that these actions were stopped without regarding the impacts this would have on the families and not realizing that an abrupt change to timber practices would actually decrease the health of the forest.

Enter collaboration and the community of place.

I have the privilege of working with some amazing collaborative groups who are working to address the issues that stem from the power that communities of interest yield. These collaborative groups are all unique and all share a common story; a group of diverse stakeholders who used to not speak to one another got together to help solve really tough and divisive problem. These groups are bringing environmentalists and members of the timber industries together along with members of the local community. By doing so they are ensuring that diverse viewpoints and needs are heard so that best practices can be developed. This will help to ensure that drastic shifts don't happen as a cause of targeted interests.

The key here to me is how crucial it is that diversity be honored as a way to create a more sustainable future. Not only the diversity of people and all their individual intricacies and gifts, but of communities and their interests. Diversity throughout all levels can help to promote a stable and resilient approach to solving problems. By honoring diversity, we can help to give more people the privilege of helping to build a sustainable future. 

My goal is to remember that diversity itself comes in many different forms within the people I interact with everyday, the places I work, the interests I work on, and the communities I choose to be a part of.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful post Caleb, linking diversity to collaborative and creative solutions. It is remarkable how often people are so entrenched in their positions and interests that they miss opportunities to work together.

It may be interesting to write a follow up note on your stakeholder dialogue from intensive 2, reflecting on how hard this can be in practice and sharing your lessons and takeaways, and in particular what role you can play to move people beyond these positions/interests to something of greater value to all.