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If you had half a million pounds to experiment with creating projects to improve the mental health and personal resilience of children and young people aged 10-14 what would you do? Where would you begin? Who would you need to help you to make a systemic positive impact on young people’s lives? What daily or weekly activities would you propose children and young people undertake to avoid acquiring serious mental conditions and keep their minds healthy and strong?

We all know that we must brush our teeth daily to insure our long-term dental health and prevent tooth decay and both parents and schools (and dentists) pass this on to children, it is common knowledge. However, when it comes to our mental health, how to stay healthy and well in an increasingly complex world is more ambiguous. We are left to fend for ourselves. In general, our education systems do not teach children what they must do daily, or weekly to look after their long-term mental health and become more resilient to any adverse events they may face. Children may learn techniques or experience tools and ideas that may support them with their own mental well being and resilience at home, but this is in an ad-hoc manner and varies widely amongst families and communities. The Big Lottery Fund has developed an investment fund called HeadStart to give 12 regions of the UK precisely this opportunity: to support multi-stakeholder partnerships in developing new approaches to improve children’s and young people’s mental health and personal resilience.

“What I take is a deep appreciation for every voice in the room today…. It helps hold my passion in some way that there are other people who can genuinely speak with care about the longer-term outcome and vision for women and children. So much on general media is punitive and sexist and racist. Knowing there are other visions and sharing—that is what I leave with today.”
—Workshop Participant

Violence against women is an issue that permeates communities in many insidious ways. It includes family and domestic violence and sexual assault. It crosses socio-economic boundaries in every community and intersects with other complex social issues such as mental health, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and youth crime. Violence against women is a community issue, not just a women’s issue. In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the need to engage with perpetrators of violence against women. The thinking is that a proactive approach is necessary, one that goes to the source of the problem—the perpetrators of abuse—and that also involves working with young males in building responsible attitudes.

One of the initiatives emerging from the Southern Africa Food Lab seeks to create new ways for small-scale farmers to participate meaningfully in the economy. Launched in 2012, this initiative is currently prototyping five innovations in two rural districts of South Africa. A recent learning history by Reos Associate Karen Goldberg is helping all of us involved in the Food Lab to stay awake to how issues of power are not just “out there” but “in here” too.
 
The 1913 Natives Land Act relegated all African people to “homeland” reserves initially comprising just 7.3% of the total area of South Africa. Generally, the quality of the soil was poor, and this land degraded further over generations of subsistence farming. While the Land Act was repealed in 1991, its multiple legacies remain major challenges today. In the words of one of the Food Lab hosts: “The food system in South Africa reflects our current reality and the past. It is characterized through power, and power is about race, class, gender … Unless we put that in the centre of what we are doing, we are not going to shift the system.” 
 

[Picture: From left to right – a member of the hosting team (arm only), a small scale farmer, a researcher, an activist and a retailer build a model of the agricultural system]
 
Imagine for a moment a city that is the best place in the world for a child to grow up. What would it look like? Feel like? How would children grow, learn, and play? How would decisions be made and resources invested? What stories would be told about the value and role of children in our communities?
 
Thrive By 5: Calgary’s Early Years Innovation Lab, co-convened by the United Way of Calgary and Area and the Province of Alberta (Ministry of Human Services), has set Calgary on a course towards collaboratively seeking answers to these questions. In doing so, Lab members aim to transform the early childhood development (ECD) system in Calgary and drastically improve the statistics. Currently, one-fourth of the children in Calgary are not meeting key developmental milestones by the time they enter kindergarten. The Lab’s purpose is to ensure that all children grow, learn, and thrive by the age of five. In taking on this challenge, the Lab also aims to establish Calgary as the kind of city that knows how to collectively solve complex problems.
“I'm interested in the problem of action, not the problem of knowing—unless it's about knowing how to act.” —Zaid Hassan, author of The Social Labs Revolution, in a May 13 tweet
 
I recently read an article in The New York Times about a giant Antarctic ice sheet that is gradually melting into the sea. Evidently, as it melts, it could cause sea levels around the world to rise between four and twelve feet over the next 200 years. It’s sobering to think that, right in front of our eyes, we are witnessing events that could impact all of life on earth for a long time to come.
 
“Knowing how to act” is a question with which every change-maker struggles. I want to try to make sense of this question and pose, if not an answer, then at least a helpful provocation to get us thinking.
 
In practice, when we seek the underlying causes of systemic challenges, we often find them in a society’s paradigms and mindsets. As Emerson wrote in his 1838 essay “War”, the causes of all society-wide phenomena are to be found in “the master idea[s] reigning in the minds of many persons.” This means they are not “solvable” per se, because a group of stakeholders cannot change this kind of “master idea” or paradigm. Understanding this limitation is a good starting point for creating a healthy society, because it redirects us back to ourselves.
 

From the Toolkit

We often underestimate the power of walking and talking. Most of our meetings are sitting meetings. Have you ever thought about how sitting in the same chair throughout a workshop can contribute to our remaining rigid in our positions? How we sometimes feel stuck? By walking together, we can seek inspiration, connect with nature, allow for synchronicities, generate energy and focus, connect with our force of movement, and deepen our collective reflections.

A post-learning journey sensing exercise

The main purpose of this exercise is to practice redirecting and bringing the key different stakeholder perspectives and needs observed on a learning journey into the room. The voices of the stakeholders blend together to create a sense of the whole field.

Reos is a social enterprise that helps businesses, governments, and civil society organisations address complex social challenges.

We convene, design and facilitate multi-stakeholder partnerships and initiatives on issues such as employment, health, food, energy, the environment, security, and peace.

Our approach is systemic, creative, and participative.

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Recent Press

Telling new stories enables us to create new futures. Political leaders in the Americas are beginning to tell new stories about the problems of illicit drugs, and this is enabling them to begin to find new and more effective ways to address these problems.

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