Cheryl Heller

Climate, Poverty, Gender, and the Spaces in Between

This past week in Nairobi, PopTech convened a diverse and illustrious group of innovators from technology, gender analysis, development, micro-insurance, mobile, water, agriculture and funding to have a conversation about community-based adaptation to climate change in rural Africa.

Minds met, ideas and new relationships were formed. In the thick of it, energy focused on discovering and building upon what participants had in common – shared insights, histories, programs with potential synergies, aligned purpose and networks that intersected in surprising ways.

Reflecting in the air on the way back to Brooklyn, what holds the most potential are the spaces in between that common ground. Just as in quantum physics – it’s the relationships between things that determine the nature of the things themselves. Potent questions emerged from the interactions of the group:

The common ground

Climate change is putting the Millennium Development Goals at risk: By 2050, it is predicted that there will be 200 million climate migrants.

Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women, and they are more affected by the stresses of climate change – the increasing challenges in providing food and water, lack of mobility due to social inequities, the invisibility that early marriage engenders, early pregnancy, and even less time for school.

And the gaps between

… placing the burden of responsibility on the drivers of climate change and shifting to an expectation for its victims to adapt. “Changing their behavior is easier than changing ours.”

How can we avoid forgetting our developed world’s own critical need to adapt to a different way of living as well?

…those who believe that gender equality is the answer (and should be the point of intervention) and those who think it’s a symptom of what affects everyone.

How can we fully see and mitigate gender inequality without politicizing it?

…the countless discrete projects aimed at fixing one part of the system at a time and the technology and social platforms with the potential to connect and raise them to a tipping point of real change.

How can we make space for shared experimentation that can multiply, extend and amplify innovation rather than silo our best efforts?

…the rare but encouraging positive deviants who prove that it’s possible to thrive in the same circumstances in which all their neighbors struggle but can’t figure out how to change.

How can we make success contagious?

…the people (in this group and everywhere) who think they have the answers and those who remain willing to ask questions.

How can we avoid being lulled into thinking we know what to do by the self-appointed experts who talk the loudest?

…transparency, understanding, data, access and vulnerable ignorance.

How can technology and leaps of innovation and insight make what is currently seen as impossible commonplace?

…the bottom and the top.

How can we include the voices of the unheard, who have much more disruptive wisdom to offer than the dominant voices we commonly hear?

…the start and the outcome. “Things always fail at the start.”

How can we help rural communities build success into their work by helping them connect to vital information and better decisions?

…our own entitlement and equality in the world.

How do you convene a group of global change leaders in a five star hotel without disconnecting from the people who most need the change?

…all of us who want to collaborate and yet live distant demanding lives.

How can we as a group model the change we are trying to create?

…our species and the rest of the ecosystem.

How can we overcome our fatal habit of pretending that we can save ourselves without saving the rest of life on earth?

As in any challenge where creativity is required to succeed, answers will emerge when we first learn to see the spaces in between, and then accept that they are the only places in which to build a viable way forward.

Agriculture, Environment