Abigail Abrash Walton

S6E6: Can We Bring Resilience, Innovation, and Joy to the Climate Crisis?

A conversation with Abigail Abrash Walton about new strategies that can lead us toward a just and effective response to the climate crisis.

Episode Notes

Innovation. Resilience. Joy. These concepts are not always top of mind when we think about the climate crisis. Is that a problem? Today’s guest, the scholar, educator, and leader Abigail Abrash Walton, says that taking action like this can be an antidote to despair. In fact, this kind of small, local action might be the only thing that will help us break our dependence on fossil fuels and build a more sustainable and just future.

Visit Antioch’s website to learn more about the MS in Environmental Studies that Abi directs. And learn more about Abi’s work and research on her faculty page.

This episode was recorded on March 22, 2024, via Riverside.FM and released on April 3, 2024. 

Antioch University produces the Seed Field Podcast.
Host: Jasper Nighthawk
Editor: Johanna Case
Digital Design: Mira Mead
Web Content Coordination: Jen Mont
Work-Study Interns: Carrie Hawthorn, Stefanie Paredes, Georgia Bermingham, Lauren Arienzale, and Grace Kurfman.  
A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland.


Abigail Abrash Walton serves as an administrative leader and faculty in Antioch University’s Department of Environmental Studies. Her recent engagement includes contributing as an invited reviewer for the 2020 U.S. Government Review, Working Group II contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, as a founding Steering Committee member of Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy, and as an advisory board member of the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment. Her areas of research, practice, and public engagement have focused on extractive industries and affected communities, fossil fuel divestment, mission-aligned leadership, and climate resilience.

Transcript S6 E6

S6E6 Transcript – Abi Abrash Walton

[00:03] Jasper Nighthawk: This is the Seed Field Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk, and today we’re joined by Abigail Abrash Walton for a conversation about cultivating resilience, innovation, and joy as we confront the climate crisis. 

Now, if you’re anything like me, joy is not the first word that you think of when you think about our climate today. Every single year seems to be warmer than the last, and when we look at the climate news, it’s almost universally bad. Like sea surface temperatures are rising more than even scientists’ most pessimistic estimates of a decade ago. Arctic sea ice will soon be a thing of the past, they tell us. Megafires, floods, debris flows, wet bulb heat waves. I’m gonna stop, back up a little bit, and recognize that these words are powerful and scary, and we all are living in kind of a soup where they’re floating around in our minds. For myself, I find that it can be really hard when I’m thinking about all of these scary things to take action. And oftentimes, when I am thinking about all of the climate impacts, the magnitude of the threat causes me to be paralyzed a little bit. I know that I’m not the only person who feels this way. In fact, I think hundreds of millions of us are experiencing this paralyzing fear as we look towards our climate future. If I’m right, and this is stopping millions or tens of millions or hundreds of millions of us humans from taking action to address climate change, that is a massive problem for our society, for our species, and for other species, for our whole planet. And this is why I’m so excited to get to talk about joy and innovation and community resilience with our guests today. These words feel like antidotes to the other ones that freeze us and make us feel powerless. At least that’s my theory. And so my big question for our guests today is, how can we cultivate resilience and innovation and joy as we confront the climate crisis? So our guest, Abigail Abrash Walton, is the perfect person to help explore this question. Abi is the director of Antioch University’s Master of Science in Environmental Studies. She directs the Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability concentration in that program. And she’s also the director of Antioch’s Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience. Abi has based her work out of Antioch for over two decades. And in that time, she has served in many roles. And because we’re talking about innovation, I should mention that she was the founding director of the Center for Academic Innovation. Abi came into academia from a practitioner’s background. She spent over a decade in international human rights research and advocacy. And since becoming a scholar, she has been prolific. Just in the last few years, she’s led research teams that have produced published articles, as well as several detailed reports. One of these recent reports explored how the Northeastern United States can navigate the climate impacts of the coming decades. Another project resulted in a practitioner’s guide to centering equity and climate resilience planning and action. Abi herself is a 2016 graduate of Antioch’s PhD in Leadership and Change. And I’m excited to talk with her about her doctoral research as well. So with that big introduction and our kind of running start into the questions we’re going to be confronting today, Abi, I’m so happy to welcome you to the Seed Field podcast. 

[03:47] Abigail Abrash Walton: Thank you so much, Jasper. It’s a real pleasure to be here. 

[03:50] Jasper: So we always start the show by asking our guests to disclose their positionality, especially when it’s relevant to the topic that we’re discussing. And today we’re talking about the climate crisis. And I think most of our listeners know that climate change is having disproportionate impacts. So much of the pain globally is concentrated on folks who live in poorer and less powerful nations. And here in the US, the impacts are often falling hardest on poor people and on Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks. So with that in mind, it’s useful for listeners to know on my side that I’m white. I’m a cisgendered man. I’m not living with a physical disability, though I do experience anxiety and depression. I have a college degree and a master’s. I have steady housing and income. And I should say I’m the parent of an 18-month-old. So for the last two years, I’ve been seeing the climate crisis with a new urgency. So that’s my position. Abi, as much as you’re comfortable, would you share yours? 

[04:50] Abi: Sure. I’m happy to do that. So I am the proud mother of a college sophomore who’s studying astronomy and astrophysics. That’s one of the identities that I have. My pronouns are she/her. And I am a multi-ethnic white person. You mentioned that I’m an alum of a PhD program at Antioch. I grew up in Reston, Virginia, which was the first modern planned community in the United States, part of the Newtown movement. And Reston was built on basic principles of social justice and inclusion and belonging. It was the first place in the state of Virginia where an interracial couple could purchase a home, because everywhere else in the state there were restrictive covenants that prevented that. I grew up in a place that was very intentionally embracing that spirit of belonging, creating spaces of belonging, and overcoming all kinds of barriers. And I’ve been, in terms of my own positionality, extremely privileged in both my youth as well as my adult life to have been really immersed and connected with people who were thinking about transformative approaches to achieving different forms of justice and also different forms of beautiful and joyful sustainability. 

[06:20] Jasper: I appreciate you sharing a little bit more than just kind of the checkboxes.

[06:25] Abi:  Yeah. 

[06:27] Jasper: Because we bring all of our past experiences with us to the work that we’re doing. And that kind of context is so valuable. So I want to start off talking about resilience, which I think plays into some of the things you were disclosing there. And you are the founding director of our Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience. And so I wanted to ask you, why do you put those two things together? 

[06:52] Abi: That’s a great question, Jasper. So when we think about the concept of community resilience, many different fields have different definitions, whether you’re talking about the disaster risk reduction field, whether you’re talking about public health, whether you’re talking about national security. But there’s sort of some core elements to that definition. And they’re all structured around this idea of communities being able to be prepared for encountering challenges and withstanding those challenges and recovering from those challenges. And when we began to think about how this Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience would be positioned, we were also really clear that there needed to be a strong focus on social justice and on innovative solutions, understanding that technical solutions only get us part of the way. And at the end of the day, the solutions are really about social cohesion and connectedness and thinking outside the box in terms of what’s going to actually allow humans, as the world’s dominant species right now, to sustain ourselves through the climate disruption that we’re already experiencing firsthand. 

[08:12] Jasper: Yeah, that idea of what will allow us to sustain ourselves through this thing, there’s so much energy directed towards heading it off like it’s not going to happen. And it’s like, no, it’s definitely going to happen. 

[08:26] Abi: It’s already happening. 

[08:27] Jasper: Exactly. So you mentioned a focus on social justice and the ways that resilience can happen in communities that are on the front lines of climate harms. And I’m hoping you can talk me through some of the ways that our government and our society has taken actions that make these frontline communities less resilient in the past. 

[08:50] Abi: There’s so much research and practice focused on things like redlining in communities of color in the United States. 

[09:01] Jasper: That’s the practice where people couldn’t get home loans if they were Black to buy in certain zip codes.

[09:08] Abi:  Yeah, exactly. And also, coincident with that type of practice is all of the legacy and the history of environmental injustice in terms of where we cite our most toxic industries, where we dispose our most toxic waste, where we put people in those frontline communities really in harm’s way by design. 

[09:31] Jasper: I think about here in Los Angeles, where I live, the way that freeways were built in the ’60s right through so many Black neighborhoods. And today, those neighborhoods experience much higher rates of lung disease and asthma as a result of the idling cars of the famous LA commute. I live in West Hollywood and am over a mile from the nearest freeway. And I don’t bear those health risks. 

[09:58] Abi: That’s right. So you’re describing through your own personal experience what it means to be relatively privileged in terms of your access to clean air, probably to clean water, and also what it means for people who are living with a disproportionate burden in terms of those environmental challenges. And we look at the single most effective way of combating climate change through mitigation, and that is stopping the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. And when we look at the places of extraction, when we look at the places of processing those fossil fuels, we are taken to the East Bay in San Francisco, where there is processing of fossil fuels going on. We go to Cancer Alley in Louisiana on the Mississippi River to those frontline communities where fossil fuels are being turned into toxic substances, whether it’s plastics or whether it’s actually petrochemical industry processing of fuel sources. And so we can really understand through that that we can achieve incredible gains in terms of both climate change mitigation, but also in terms of social justice and centering equity by simply stopping the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels that are the human-caused climate change that we’re experiencing now. 

[11:28] Jasper: I really appreciate you walking us through some of the ways that communities’ resilience has been systematically destroyed and undercut over centuries here in this country and also around the world. But I want to focus on the tangible efforts to mitigate and address this. So you brought up one, which is simply phasing out fossil fuels will have a massively powerful impact, for instance, the people living next to the freeway who have heightened levels of CO2 and all of these particulate or in Cancer Alley in Louisiana. But in a broader sense, how do leaders and activists work to cultivate resilience in communities? 

[12:10] Abi: So the number one thing that comes to mind when you ask that question is fostering connection, fostering solidarity, fostering networks of belonging, spaces of belonging, and collective action. And those are the antidotes to the challenges that you’re naming. And they work time and time again and have worked time and time again throughout human history. So these are tried and true methods. And the good news is that, I mean, it’s not rocket science, right? And you asked the question earlier about what’s getting in the way, what’s dividing us. And we’re experiencing right now, at least in the United States of America, these really extreme forms of division and polarization that so many people feel. And the first policy change that I always think about with that goes back to the 1996 Telecommunications Act that Congress passed and that was enacted into law. And that opened up the airwaves to many hundreds of different cable stations. It allowed for the siting of cell phone towers without any kind of local oversight or control about that siting. And we can think about all of the positive things that have been unleashed through that legislation that is now the law of the United States. But we can also look at the flip side of that, the shadow side of that, and the invention of the smartphone, and the emergence of social media, and the emergence of different ways of really diversifying our communication. And that all has been really positive in many, many ways. And there is a shadow side. And that shadow side is that we don’t all have access anymore to the shared narrative that sort of kept us cohesive in terms of our understanding and analysis. And of course, I’m being really simplistic in saying this. But in a graduate course that I taught, Political Economy and Sustainability, I used to go around the room and ask students where they were getting their news and analysis from. And most of the time in a classroom of maybe 16 to 20 graduate students, there was no overlap in their answers, which means that it’s a totally different landscape from the world that I grew up in, where there were three major television stations, and everybody was listening to Walter Cronkite, or Dan Rather, or whatever. But my point is that with the diversification of that, we don’t have the same communication structures that help us to have a shared national understanding and that allow us to become tribal, right? All the algorithms that people talk about and the ways that the analytics are sort of putting us in touch with people who share our views and with information and analysis that share our views that may or may not be fact-checked. 

[15:23] Jasper: The phrase that I sometimes hear thrown around is like the filter bubble. It’s like your little world where everyone agrees with you on Facebook or Instagram or your TV channel of choice, and you never encounter your opposing views. You also were talking about the ways that being on our phones all the time or being in our digital communities can also impact our relationships just physically with our neighbors. As much as that is lost, that also gets back to your concept of these rich community networks and that aspect of resilience. Do I have that right? 

[16:03] Abi: Right. I talk with my students about this all the time. We all have spheres of influence, and it’s a question of how do we engage with those spheres of influence? How do we use them to advance visions of a more perfect union? And so I think you’re pointing to something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, which is the power of being connected in real time, in real spaces, with other people who, as you mentioned, are your neighbors. They’re the people you run into at the post office or in the public park near your home or wherever it is that you find yourself. And in those spaces, you are able to interact with people who might be coming from very different lived experiences, from very different perspectives. And I learned early on in my time living in a small New England city that there’s a certain strength to being co-located in those ways and connecting in those ways. Because at the end of the day, in terms of local government decision-making, ideology really didn’t have a place. What really mattered was, was the budget going to be there to be able to plow the roads when the next big ice storm came through?

[17:25] Jasper: Yeah, local issues. 

[17:26] Abi: Right, some basic public works issues that really bring people together, rather than divide people. Because you’re actually living together in community at a scale that the ancient Greeks said was ideal for democracy to function. If you got above a certain size, it was just too big. And people couldn’t have those connections, couldn’t have those same spaces where discourse was occurring, where shared meaning was being created. And so I’m a big fan of local government, local decision-making, local action. I don’t want to be too simplistic about that. But I think there are real ways in which, under certain conditions, that can function very, very well. 

[18:5] Jasper: Yeah, although I will say, as somebody who grew up in a small town, and still my family lives there, and they’re very involved in local government. And I think that some of the divisiveness of our national politics is very much trickling down in local school boards, or all sorts of different commissions and city councils. These divisive, hard line, hard right people coming in, and there ends up being more conflict than maybe in an earlier age. 

[18:47] Abi: Yes, that’s happening. And it’s something that any person who might be listening to this podcast could get involved in. It’s actually very generative, oftentimes, to get involved in local initiatives, whether it’s serving on the school board, or serving on some other board or commission, whether it’s actually running for local office, whether it is just being involved in civic organizations. Maybe it’s a bowling league. Maybe it’s coaching Little League. Whatever it might be, things that connect you with your neighbors in your community across different silos of identity and positionality are just really important ways to build that social cohesion and connectedness. That going back to your original question about how do you define community resilience, that’s so important for fostering community resilience and being able to strengthen it and sustain it.

[19:50] Jasper: Yeah, and a positive vision of a shared future. That’s beautiful to think about one’s spheres of influence. We’re not all Joe Biden, where our sphere of influence is literally the entire Earth. Most of us, it’s much smaller, but no less profound for it.

[20:05] Abi: Yes.

[20:06] Jasper:  I want to talk a little bit about tactics, because you just brought up getting involved locally by joining a board or finding a volunteer opportunity where you can play an important role. And that seems to me like a strategy that we can use or a tactic as we try and bring some positive change to our world. And I know that you have studied innovation. You’ve led a center on academic innovation. And you’ve thought a lot about the ways that innovation can be a part of the activist toolkit. And when I was thinking about tactics and innovation before our conversation here, I was thinking about the ways that activists sometimes get the upper hand. And I was thinking about in the ’90s and into the 2000s, there were all of these new democracies being born. As the Soviet Union fell, there was the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and so many other kind of nonviolent revolutions where a populace just kind of stood up and the army would lay down their weapons. And that was it. There a new order came in and new democracies were being born. And now we live in this period where I recently saw that over the last 10 years, we’ve gone from 70% of people living in democracies to now it’s like 48% of people on this earth live in democracies. And these kind of authoritarians have figured out how to run sham elections, how to silence dissidents. You think about Vladimir Putin in Russia or Narendra Modi in India or Orban in Hungary, Assad in Syria. These forces of illiberalism have come up with playbooks that seem to defang some of the nonviolent organizing strategies that were really powerful in the 20th century. And so it seems clear to me that we need new strategies to kind of stay a step ahead of this authoritarian playbook that has adapted to our old strategies. 

[22:09] Abi: Yeah, well, so I also want to say that it’s important to go back to the tried and true. Nothing works better than collective action, right? Advocacy and organizing go hand in hand. And when we look historically at countries that have faced real challenges in terms of shifting to more democratic forms of government, we always see ordinary people found ways to come together to engage in creative and powerful forms of civil disobedience, different forms of nonviolent direct action, different forms of organizing, sometimes underground organizing, to really build the power and build the social movements necessary to bring about shifts in governments. And there’s no substitute for that. We can’t collectivist our way to a more democratic future or a brighter future. And we have been sort of living in privileged times in terms of our economy for decades. And we’ve also seen growing income and wealth inequality in the United States since the demise of an active and strong labor movement in this country. And so we’re beginning to see, at a very basic level, that kind of organizing coming back to the fore and beginning to build again. And nothing that humans create is perfect, right? But some systems are time-tested and proven and evidence-based and do work. And we know that the ability to organize, the ability to really bring together people around different kinds of goals, different kinds of initiatives from an advocacy standpoint, engaging people in discourse, right, there’s an understanding that democracy is born through conversation. If we’re not actually having conversations, if we’re not having discussions with one another, we really can’t hope for any kind of shared narrative or understanding that allows us to remember our common values, that allows us to transcend the divisions and the polarization that have really been, I think, intentionally, in some ways, fostered and that hurt us as a nation. And so finding those spaces, cultivating those spaces for what some folks at Antioch call messy conversations, right, but have the conversation. Maybe it’s a crucial conversation. That’s another thing that we talk about in my Leadership for Change course, right? Crucial conversations where the stakes are high, where emotions run high, and where opinions differ. Those are spaces for really bringing our best facilitation skills, our best intent, our best ways of showing up, our best selves to engaging with one another to find those shared and transformational paths forward. And they are there, and they are possible. And uniting people around those shared goals is the work of leadership. I have to be an advocate for government because I’m not an anarchist. And I wanted to state that as a part of my own positionality as well. I really do believe that governance is important and that it becomes even more effective when people engage with it, right? It’s not just going to the voting booth every two to four years. It’s really engaging. 

[25:51] Jasper: Yeah, I appreciate you laying your cards on the table that you’re not an anarchist and you believe in government. I also hear you talking about the specific actions that people can take to see themselves as a node of power, a node of resistance, as kind of an active participant in these systems, to see the ways that in my lifetime there’s been such an emphasis on technocrats, benevolent, brilliant rulers, who are part of the 1% with PhDs, almost economists running everything, and the idea that they’re going to nudge us into behaving better or that there’s going to be a totalizing solution to the climate crisis imposed by Barack Obama or something. And this has not only proven not to be true, I think it’s had the strong impact of demobilizing people and making them feel like the only time that they exert any power is when they’re one of 300 million people casting a vote every four years. It was interesting that you clarified that you are a fan of government, which I am too in many circumstances. But you’re giving a revision to the pattern of government that we’ve been living under in my lifetime. 

[27:09] Abi: Yeah, I’m just going to go back to the theme, nothing that humans create is perfect, right? And we all have spheres of influence. And our work is really never done. And systems are really important. I mean, socio ecological systems go through phases of change. And that we know. And those systems can go through periods where it’s business as usual. The system, it’s in a conservation mode. It’s functioning in a very stable way. But we know from research that systems inevitably are going to move from that phase into a phase of change, a phase of collapse or release. And from there, they’re not going to fall off the cliff to a black hole of the universe. They’re going to go into a third phase, which is reorganization, right? And that’s the space for innovation. That’s the space for transformation, is taking systems and really thinking about, how do we want those systems to evolve so that the system is transformed to achieve the kinds of improved outcomes that we think are really important? And then once we’ve got the shape well considered, once we’ve got the policy mapped out, once we’ve got the system design in a better place, how do we then really strengthen and build up those systems so that they serve us well, knowing that at some point in the future, those systems too are going to change, right? Nothing is perfect. Nothing lasts forever. And that’s the creative work of innovative, creative humans, is to constantly be stewarding, to constantly be engaging with, to constantly be attentive to, what are our systems? Are they serving us well? How do they need to change to serve us better, given the times that we live in, given the conditions that we’re in? That’s really the thing about it, right, is that it is very creative work. And I will say that part of what I learned from the international human rights work that I did was working with people in places that were coming out of authoritarian regimes, coming into spaces that were more free and open and democratic, and yet still operating in spaces where there was not just sometimes the threat of violence, but the actual act of violence directed at people who were courageous enough to call for change, to call for the protection of human rights values, to call for environmental protection, to call for indigenous rights being respected. And in those spaces, the one thing that really struck me above everything else was the fact that those defenders with whom I had the privilege of interacting and learning from, they maintained strong community among their organizational colleagues, across networks of solidarity, really strong relationships, strong connectivity, and also above everything else, humor and joy and fun. And that’s what sustains us, right? If we think about resilience, it’s not some dour, drudge, terrible kind of thing that we’re engaged in. It’s really finding this combination of beauty and efficiency that is elegance, and finding the humor above everything else that neuroscience shows us opens us up to the possibility of change. When we laugh, we unlock these wonderful parts of our brains that make us more resilient. 

[31:06] Jasper: Well, that’s maybe a good place to talk about joy a little bit. So you’re talking about joy and humor and laughter and kind of the sense of play that you experienced with these activists and organizers resisting authoritarian regimes. But I wanted to talk about your 2016 PhD that you did here at Antioch. And I know that for your dissertation research, you interviewed 18 leaders of large foundations who were managing often giant sums of money that they would invest, and then they’d try and use some of that money every year to do good in the world. And each of these leaders who you were talking to had recently made the step of committing their organization to divest from fossil fuels. And my understanding is that they also experienced some type of joy around this decision. Can you tell us about that? 

[32:05] Abi: That was such a fun piece of research to do, primarily because of the interviews that you’re referencing, right? Getting to talk with these philanthropic organizational leaders who were positively deviant leaders. They stepped outside the accepted norms of their sector, of their industry, to take action that was not at all within the norm, right? Divesting from fossil fuels, not at all within the conventional investment advice of their financial advisors. And to do that with courage and to demonstrate real leadership in doing that. And the most surprising thing that came out of that study, from my perspective, was that when interviewing these folks and asking them to talk about the decision to divest, the tone of their voices changed. Their demeanors changed. The energy was unleashed in terms of their voices, thinking about that really pivotal moment of making that decision. And they described those moments with words like joy and satisfaction and liberation and pride, right? A feeling just this powerful unleashing of positive emotions that they associated with making that very bold and positively deviant decision to divest.

[33:32] Jasper: It makes me think of this culture that we have among executives, but also kind of just among everybody who works in the US. There’s this emphasis on balance sheets and performance reviews and five-year plans and making the optimal decision at every point. And I imagine it would be such a relief to be able to make a big decision on the basis of morality instead of your strategy.

[33:57] Abi: At the end of the day for them, the thing that was consistent across every one of those organizations and leaders was that for them it was mission alignment. It was aligning their values and their vision and their mission with their behavior. And this comes out of psychology, right? We know that one of the most uncomfortable spaces that a person can find themselves in is when their vision of what they want to be and see in the world is out of alignment with what they’re actually doing. It’s a deeply uncomfortable space. And the result of my research was understanding that mission-aligned leadership of really walking the talk, of bringing the behaviors into alignment with those values, those visions, those missions of those organizations, was really the thing that determined the decision at the end of the day. I mean, yes, many of them cared about climate change. For sure that was a motivator. But that mission alignment was far and away the consistent through line for every single one of those organizations. 

[35:12] Jasper: It’s interesting, this idea that being able to act in alignment with your values or with your deeper mission can feel liberating. It makes me think of the moral harm, the moral injury that we suffer when we’re forced to take actions that don’t align with our moral code or don’t align with what we see the actual end of the system that we’re working and should be. And it seems like there’s almost a solution that more of us could use here. 

[35:44] Abi: Sure, yes. I mean, when we’re out of alignment, what happens? We’re depressed, right? Yeah, or burned out. We’re burnt out. We don’t feel good. And it’s not just about the morals or the values. What I learned through this research and what’s been confirmed by other studies that have looked at fossil fuel divestment as a form of collective action and a form of sort of social movement organizing to focus on climate advocacy and energy transition, what ended up happening is what I was talking about earlier. The systems of those organizations went through a profound change where that status quo conservation phase of following the advice of conventional financial advisors and maintaining fossil fuels as an important part of an investment portfolio was jettisoned. And instead, those resources were shifted to investing in renewables, to investing in climate solutions. And what happened was that this actually, in a number of cases, transformed the organization’s systems where they moved from there being a complete firewall between their investment decisions and their grant making to eliminating the firewall and to getting rid of those silos and unleashing incredibly positive and generative interactions between the programmatic side of the organization, the program staff, and the investment committees of the board, people who were making the decisions about how to steward those financial resources. And again, that was described by participants in my research as being hugely positive change in the way that they actually organized themselves and did business as philanthropic foundations. And so that’s something that I think we can be thoughtful about within our own spheres of influence, right? Where are there the opportunities to transform the systems that are creating the harm? Where can we look for transformation of those systems to create the kind of social justice and sustainability or resilience outcomes that we all want to see in the world around us? 

[38:13] Jasper: Yeah, and that seems like it kind of ties everything that we’ve been talking about here together. The idea that these additional connections would, I’m sure, make more resilient organizations and would increase the joy of working together so that the feeling, if you’re on this investment committee, even though you work for an organization that’s doing good, your sole objective is the highest return. Now, suddenly, you’re actually engaged in the work itself. It seems like it embodies a lot of what we’ve been talking about here. 

[38:46] Abi: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. It’s taking a more holistic approach. It’s not confining to a narrow silo with only one very specific objective of maximizing return. It’s really thinking about the impact of that investing across social systems, environmental systems, and sometimes governance systems, and really being thoughtful about how can we do even more. And so that was another real shift for these foundations is that, as one of my interview participants said, that organization went from being an organization that gave out maybe a half a million dollars of grants a year to realizing that they could take the full value of their corpus, $7 million, or more than $7 million, and they could be achieving the kinds of outcomes they were seeking with their grant making through using and deploying all of their financial resources through better forms of investing. 

[39:49] Jasper: Yeah. So we’re almost out of time, but I want to ask a last question and return to the grounded things that we can actually go out and do, because most of us don’t have $7 million or necessarily work for an organization like that. Though, if we do, your research will be of great interest, and we’ll link to that in our show notes. But I wondered if you could share a few things that you think our listeners could go out and actually do to help build resilience in their communities, to find innovative approaches, and to access some of that joy of positive action. 

[40:23] Abi: Yes. Find your people. That’s my number one advice. None of us need do this work alone. And the best kind of effective change work is done collectively with others. And so find the people who have a shared vision. Find people who make you laugh. Find people you enjoy spending time with. Find people who you want to be having those conversations with and make common cause with them. And that seems maybe sort of simplistic, but it really all does belong and begin there. And then finding the existing structures that you can use to make the kind of change that is meaningful, whether it is the school board, whether it is the parent-teacher organization within a school system, whether it is your neighborhood association. We formed a neighborhood association in my community many years ago. And it was wonderful. We made new friendships through that. We achieved important changes for our community that people were really concerned about. And it doesn’t take a lot of money. It takes time. It takes interest. It takes openness to the possibility that you might actually benefit far more than you think you might from coming together with other people to take action. 

[41:45] Jasper: Well, that is such a beautiful place to leave it. Thank you so much, Abi, for coming on the podcast. 

[41:50] Abi: It was a pleasure. Thank you, Jasper. 


[41:57] Jasper: You can find many of Abi’s research projects and publications listed out on her faculty bio on the Antioch website. We’re going to put a link to that bio in our show notes. We’ll also include a link there to more information about the Master of Science in Environmental Studies that Abi directs. We post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more. The Seedfield Podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Johanna Case. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. Our digital designer is Mira Mead. Jen Mont is our web content coordinator. Carrie Hawthorne, Stephanie Paredes, Georgia Bermingham, Lauren Arianzale, and Grace Kurfman are our work-study interns. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland. Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode. We hope to see you next time. And don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been the Seedfield Podcast.