Dr. Etta Jackson is a woman of vision in more ways than one. As a teacher, guidance counselor, and school district administrator over 25 years, Jackson’s career in education culminated with her overseeing the integration of the Whitefish Bay School District Desegregation Program in Wisconsin, as mandated by Chapter 220 Legislation. When she left that job, her inspiration led her to divest of worldly possessions and head out on a 10-year, globe-spanning journey of discovery that she calls a “walkabout.” And when she returned, Jackson founded the Institute for Conscious Global Change (ICGC), where she uses her strong ethical and practical creativity to try to push the United Nations, and thereby the world, in a better direction. All of this led her in 2017 to Antioch’s Graduate School of Leadership and Change, from which she received a PhD earlier this year.
Jackson’s strong spiritual direction and vision is part of what led her to found ICGC. One day, she says, “A strong feminine force told me to go to the computer, sit down, and concretize the ideas you’ve been walking around with in your head for all these years.”
Key among Jackson’s ideas—once she started writing them down—was that there needed to be a different approach to eradicating poverty worldwide. She had always known that the way the UN and many NGOs were doing development was ineffective. “I didn’t see countries moving out of poverty,” she says. At the same, she remembered how after the Second World War, under the Marshall Plan that was developed by the United States, Europe was rebuilt, resulting in economic and social stability and sustainability. She started to think of a “World Marshall Plan.” She explains, “I just couldn’t understand why is it that there was not a Global Marshall Plan to assist the Developing and Least Developed Countries out of poverty.”
In 2007, she officially founded ICGC and began the process of getting Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. This was a long process, involving proving to the UN that her NGO could assist the UN in carrying out its mission. As Jackson explains, “You have to be coming to make a contribution to the work of the United Nations.” To that end, Jackson prepared the Millennium Earth Project, “a visual framework for sustainable development.” She was granted consultative status in July of 2012.
The Development Plan as Digital Map
As ICGC slowly got off the ground, Jackson honed her vision for how to make the biggest impact. The one thing she knew from the start was that the plan “absolutely needed to be a visual platform, as communicated by that spiritual presence.” At first, she thought that this meant graphic design, the only professional visual medium she had experience with. But a breakthrough came when she learned about a type of software called geographic information systems, or GIS.
She found out about GIS in a typically roundabout way. Jackson, who lives in New York City, was attending an event at the Earth Institute at Columbia University that she thought was going to be a discussion of the UN’s Millennium Villages but turned out to be an information session for Columbia’s graduate programs. As she was showing herself out the door, she met another woman who was also incorrectly there. They started commiserating, and pretty soon they were talking about their projects. As Jackson tells the story, “She told me, ‘You know what you need? GIS.’”
Back home, “I started googling, and I thought, this is just what I need.” GIS tools would allow Jackson to overlay digital and digitized maps of all sorts, allowing plans to be created with a level of precision that international development had not previously been able to achieve in an integrated and comprehensive way.
She found a potential partner for a pilot project in the University of Technology in Kingstown, Jamaica, but though they were enthusiastic about the project, the head of the department Jackson was working with said, “Are you crazy? We don’t have that kind of money to buy such expensive software.” That was when Jackson reached out to ESRI, the leading developer of GIS software in the world, to ask if they would donate even $5000-$10,000 toward ICGC’s efforts of trying to change the world. Their website said that they gave grants in that range. When they got back to her, it was to let her know that they were donating the full $100,000-value ArcGIS Server software license. ICGC further added other essential software to complete the suite of technologies needed for it to achieve its development objectives. And the pilot project was on.
As the years went by, Jackson developed a close relationship with ESRI, expanded the ICGC team, and built a proof of concept for St. Raphael, Haiti demonstrating the power of GIS and a new framework called GeoDesign. Geodesign, which according to Jackson will lead to a more collaborative and participatory approach to international development, includes four elements: Geographic Information Science, Information Technology, Design Technology, and, “most importantly,” The People of the Place, which requires consultation of local need, desire, and expertise.
After reading the Executive Summary of Jackson’s Millennium Earth Project: A Visual Framework for Sustainable Development, the director of the Eastern Division at ESRI told her, “This is fascinating. This is the work that we keep hoping the United Nations would do.”
“First You Have to Really Understand What Happened”
In 2017, Jackson began studying toward her PhD in Leadership and Change at Antioch. This study dovetailed perfectly with the way she was trying to effect change at the UN. Jackson says that is “the beautiful thing about the program: it allows you to merge your practice with your scholarship.” Her teachers guided her to find peer reviewed research about GIS and studying the history of the UN at the same time that she was figuring out how best to use GIS to achieve her nonprofit’s goals at the UN. “All of my learning achievements were really about researching more,” she says. “It allowed me to go deeper into the research about the UN and development, poverty, and the history—especially in the developing world and against the backdrop of colonialism.”
One powerful insight came when she was writing a paper on the nature of leadership. “I couched it around postcolonial sub-Saharan Africa,” she explains. “And [the experience of writing it] really highlighted for me the importance of having that kind of background information. Here I was wanting to help these people in Africa, but the first thing that you have to do is to really understand what happened. What is the history of poverty on the continent?”
These questions and the work she did to fill the gaps in her knowledge led Jackson to write her dissertation about “The Role of Geospatial Information and Effective Partnerships in the Implementation of the International Agenda for Sustainable Development.” This dissertation took as its research pilot to study the informal settlements of Manyatta A and B in the port city of Kisumu, Kenya on Lake Victoria. Jackson traveled to Kenya to do this research, forged partnerships with the Planning Ministry, the Chiefs, Ward Administrators, local leaders, and NGOs. She eventually produced not only the written dissertation but also a beautifully-designed, fully-functioning “Story Map” that lays out the development plan in granular detail. The GeoDesign plan of Manyatta has already had an impact, as it has now been integrated into the comprehensive development plan of the City of Kisumu.
Jackson’s written conclusion to this GIS exercise lays out her biggest idea, one she’s spent over a decade making real: “Comprehensive planning is key if we are to move away from a failed model of piecemeal fragmented project-based development to a holistic and integrated model.” She believes this is the key, “if eradication of poverty is to be achieved sustainably.” Her research also led her to believe that involving brilliant locals is of great importance, and that academia can play an important role “in harnessing the skills and talents of the brilliant young adults in developing countries who are yearning to have more say and play an active role in the future development of their respective countries.”
Sharing Her Vision as the Future Unfolds
Today, Jackson is continuing the ICGC’s work of lobbying for a unified, GIS-backed global development plan to achieve the UN’s current sustainable development goals that they spell out in “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” She can lean on her large body of work demonstrating this approach’s feasibility. One great success in showing this came when the ICGC’s Millennium Earth Project Proposal for how to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was included in the documents of the 71st session of the General Assembly. This inclusion means that it is an official document of the United Nations and published in all six official UN languages.
Jackson is meanwhile working with the Missions of Kenya and Jamaica to put on a side event at the UN to showcase her work to the UN community and to raise awareness of how GIS, GeoDesign, and related technologies can greatly move the implementation of the 2030 Agenda forward and accelerate its implementation by the year 2030.
She is also going to focus more time promoting her four books. Naturally, she started writing the first, Understanding Your Choice, after another prophetic vision. That writing process took her to London for seven months, where she was guided by “The Light” to visit many esoteric libraries and archives, which she used as references in her writing. Her latest book, published in 2018, is titled The Idea that is the United States of America: Its Occult Foundation. This book aims to reveal the process of putting America on track to fulfill its destiny and “finish the work begun eons ago of liberating humanity from the bondage of ignorance.” Her other two books are: Unveiling the Secrets of the Feminine Principle and The Role of Consciousness in Governance.
While that unfolds, Etta will try to spend time with her daughter and grandson when she can, given they live in Europe. She feels lucky that at 74 she has been able to accomplish so much. “This is how it all came to be,” she says. “This is my life.”