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Interview: Connect 2012 - long form v1.0
Interviewer: Jim Prues
Interviewee: Ben Roberts
Location: Connecticut United States

Question Answer
PRE-INTERVIEW
1 Describe your interest in being a change agent, i.e. working to create positive change for the greater good. How would you characterize your current activity level? (Choose one) 100% engaged

2 Describe how this compares to the activity level as a change agent that you might desire for yourself. (Choose one) Good where I am and also open to new opportunities

3 List any movements or organizations you are involved with that might be synergistic with other initiatives to create positive change. World Cafe Community Foundation

Unitarian Universalist Association


4 In addition to being interviewed, are you also interested in conducting interviews as part of the Connect 2012 initiative? Yes

INTERVIEW
5 Q1(a): As you reflect on a time when people came together in a powerful way for positive change, choose one that stands out for you. Tell me your story about that time and any part you, your family and/or friends might have played in it [if relevant].

When the anti-apartheid movement was going on here in the states, there was a campaign to remove investments from South Africa. Don't recall personally seeing protests where I was, but lots of activity around it, which I was sympathetic towards. The "divestiture" campaign, where university endowments and other major institutional investors were encouraged to remove companies that did business in S.A. from their portfolios, turned out to be a key step towards the collapse of the Apartheid regime

Many years later, I become an investment adviser specializing in Socially Responsible Investing, which really came into its own as an industry as a result of the divestiture movement. I heard the story that Bishop Tutu came to the states and thanked a number of people involved with SRI. He said the end of apartheid would not have happened without the SRI movement.

I got to know some of the folks who Tutu had personally thanked, and had a sense of just how powerful the efforts of a few individuals can be.


6 Q1(b): Why this is an important story? How has it influenced you? What lessons does it offer going forward?

YES! Magazine just mentioned the fall of Apartheid as an event from which we can draw inspiration. Few people expected that a country with that history and that attitude might turn around so quickly. But this demonstrates that major changes can happen very fast when critical mass is reached. A small number of people, hitting the right lever, can have a substantial impact. And we shouldn't presume that it has to take decades for major change to occur--it is entirely possible that we are already on the cusp of such transformation and we simply don't see it yet.


7 Q2: At this time in history, what challenges do you see in the way we choose to organize ourselves politically, economically and socially? What opportunities do you see in the ways that things might be shifting, awakening and/or emerging in response to these challenges?

The challenges I see are that we're coming out of.. Most of the systems I see in place today emerged out of the Industrial mindset, so the assumptions are 100 to 300 years old and include an emphasis on the power of the individual and breaking things into little pieces to understand them. Plus the attitude of unlimited resources, which is unhealthy. Now, our footprint is massive, and our systems aren't developed for that. So the systems are breaking down and careening out of control.

When you're not in harmony, when you're in overshoot mode in terms of the carrying capacity of the earth and in overshoot mode socially, the danger is then that things will collapse politically, economically and socially. That's our challenge.

If you look at any of our institutions, there are clear signs of that happening. It's a global phenomenon.

The opportunity lies in the fact that an increasingly large number of people appreciate that this is going on. This awareness has been growing for perhaps 50 years or more, and people have been developing alternatives and solutions. And of course we now have the technology of the Internet and this growing sense of connection among people. They're not just individuals out there on their own, cogs in some machine. Some folks are suggesting a new level of consciousness is emerging in humanity. A new awareness, a new era.


8 Q3 Context: Imagine we’re a few years down the line and people like you have been hugely successful in moving us towards lasting and far-reaching changes that benefit all people and the planet as a whole. Wherever you look, there are dramatic improvements in how leaders behave and how communities interact. As you walk through your city, town or village and talk with others across your country and around the world, you see evidence of positive change spreading everywhere.

Q3(a): Describe the differences you, hear, feel, and experience in your everyday life.

What I see is people connecting with one another--a new spirit of connection that's emerging. Whenever there are challenges, people gather in many different forms and collaboratively work together to solve them.

People coming together in delight. So instead of coming together in struggle, in compromise, it's more just the opposite. As we come together, we find abundance and good will. The massive waste--of energy, resources, people-- that was embedded in our old systems becomes an opportunity for enormous transformation. It's incredibly powerful creating abundance from this past waste. It feels really good to be actively involved in this process.


9 Q3(b): Describe the differences you see, hear, feel and experience in the way we choose to organize ourselves politically, economically and socially.

Power and decision-making have been pushed down to the lowest possible levels in society. People are much more involved in things that effect them most directly. People are engaged, interesting in making change, and decisions happen at the lowest level possible instead of having decisions dictated from on high.

Economically, there's far more happening at local levels. We've moved toward localizing food and energy production. More and more people are finding it possible to work in ways that speak to their highest calling. We're figuring out how people can support themselves by pursuing their passion instead of taking a job just to survive. Even the work that might be considered menial or unpleasant is being re-imagined and re-organized so that is no longer the case. Our tolerance for dehumanizing working conditions on a global scale is approaching zero. We've come to understand that "efficiency" doesn't justify the equivelant of enslavement.


10 Q3(c): What did people do early on that helped to generate such positive outcomes?

We protested the unjust and fundamentally destructive nature of the old paradigms. We talked with one another a lot to educate ourselves and create new ideas and new thinking. We formed lots of groups of different kinds, all stripes and colors where these conversations took place, and collaborative actions emerged.

We got money out of politics here in the United States in 2013. A wave of disgust came over the citizenry as a result of the debasement of our politics due to all the money in the 2012 election cycle. The coalition that formed to do that crossed the whole political spectrum, so people from the left and right learned they could work together and share a common goal. So we stopped vilifying those who disagreed with us.


11 Q3(d): What role did you play in making this happen?

I made snacks!

I convened conversations - on the Internet, conference calls, face-to-face. I assisted others in creating these conversations. I helped to organize and energize the community of conveners, hosts and facilitators of dialogue, so that we were able to create an infrastructure for global conversation to flourish in generative ways.

I worked to make the people I was closest to aware of the urgency and importance of this global shift.

I helped design a plug-in that generated maps of online text-based conversations so that people could be involved in much more generative conversations in that medium.


12 Q4(a): What skills, talents and/or resources might you have to offer in service to collaborative work that emerges via the connect 2012 initiative?

I bring an understanding of dialogue and of the process of convening people and of the ways that technology can work to support that.

I'm a good public speaker and I have the ability to help synthesize ideas that cross disciplinary lines - a generalist mindset.


13 Q4(b) What is the nature of this potential offer (as a paid service, barter, gift, a combination, etc.)?

All of the above.


14 Are you interested in developing the infrastructure of Occupy Cafe in support of this initiative or in other respects?

Yes, of course. Ultimately, I'm interested in developing Occupy Cafe so that it's self-supporting, so that it doesn't NEED me anymore...


15 Are you interested in collaborating on the production of a short video or a blog post based on your stories and vision?

Sure.