Myths of Flatness

"The anger that comes with a sense of injustice, that life is deeply unfair, is powerful and dangerous."
-Katherine Marshall

The Push Conference is over but the posts will continue. I think the best types of conferences are ones where you have new ideas to chew on indefinitely. The session on Flatness was an interesting contrast between the rest of the world's view of U.S. consumerism and how some U.S. companies are working to develop ethical brands. Chandran Nair started the session with an overview of how the exportation of U.S. culture is an unsustainable global nightmare and yet it would be unfair for the U.S. to tell the rest of the world that they can't enjoy the same level of consumerism that we take for granted everyday. If every person in China began driving and eating the amount of seafood that U.S. citizens do, the air would be unbreathable and the oceans would be emptied of fish (or at least the delicious ones). His suggestion was an increase of environmental planning worldwide.

Other speakers on this topic included Jonathan Greenblatt and Katherine Marshall. Jonathan talked about how corporations are trying to buy authenticity through their social responsibility efforts. He gave some examples of when this has worked well (Ethos Water, Good Magazine, Tesla sportscar, and Living Homes) but it can also go bad like the Red Campaign. My favorite quote from Jonathan was "moving people from consumer to advocate is the best way to engage people." This is evidenced by the organic movement and consumer's push to get store to stop using plastic bags. Jonathan is now working for Good Magazine, who's YouTube videos have been extremely popular (they have been described as Sesame Street for grownups) so I have shared one below.

Opening of Push Conference

Tonight was the opening reception for the 6th annual Push conference that I will be covering on this blog. Push's founder described the conference atmosphere as a "zone of discovery" and said that she hoped through our experiences here that we will develop connections to new visions of what is possible and invent a future where we can all contribute.

Push has a history of staring the conference with performance art and this year was no exception. Jenni Wolfson presented the first segment of her one woman show "Rash" about her experience in Rwanda documenting human rights abuses for the UN. A video of one of her performances is above. She had a very powerful message how about the randomness of your place of birth can have such an impact on your destiny. The show was painful to watch because it laid in front of the audience the bare truth about how ugly humans can become, when teachers can murder students and nuns can slaughter church members simply because of ethnicity.

Following Jenni was Dan Wilson, a songwriter and artist, who performed a variety of his songs including his hit "Closing Time", which was written to celebrate the impending birth of his daughter. Dan also wrote "Not Ready to Make Nice" for the Dixie Chicks. His beautiful messages of hope and possibility were a startling juxtaposition to Jenni's show.

The opening was an important reminder to me that art can expose the ugly side of human existence that we would rather ignore and can also show us our greatest possibilities. Both of those viewpoints are important as we look at how we can shape the future. Look for more posts this week as the conference progresses.

The future of futurists

I am SO excited that I was selected to cover the Push: The Fertile Delta conference for this blog. The conference begins this Sunday and the organizers describe it this way:

The PUSH conference is for the curious and courageous. It is a wildly fruitful, catalytic experience for the intellectually inquisitive who have a sense of the changes coming our way. It is for those who need a place to discuss, confirm, collate and explore ideas, so they can invest in the future and lead change.

Yikes, no high expectations there. I have developed a new appreciation for futurists as I have grown in my foundation job. Foundations and nonprofits are often forced to deal with current and past problems because those needs are so pressing and overwhelming, it seems a little too high minded to start thinking about future trends when we can't even get a handle on the present. Futurists seem to have a unique ability to look at the present for clues to what the future may bring. I'm not advocating that all foundations ignore the current problems our communities are facing but a few forward-thinking institutions might be able to influence the future.

Look for my dispatches from the conference coming early next week.