RADIUS Fellowship for Radical Doers: An Exercise in Systems Change

Written by RADIUS Fellow Amy Lubick
It happens to a lot of us: we’re going on our merry way through life, doing our thing in our own little box, when suddenly we realize – actually, there is a much bigger problem upstream of the problem we’re working on – we’re just making a life preserver and there is a flood coming. Don’t get me wrong, we need those life preservers, but someone really needs to be looking at what is causing the dam to break in the first place (or the dam being built might be the problem, as in BC, but that’s another blog post).  We then discover we need to change the system upstream to stop the flood.  I was first introduced to the concept by Upstream, which focuses on the social determinants of health – their video sums it up nicely:

When I first heard about the RADIUS Fellowship, I wasn’t sure it was for me (sounded wonderful, but I’m not an entrepreneur), but I applied with an entrepreneurial spirit and have felt so lucky to be part of such an amazing group of people from all walks of life and areas of social, environmental and economic intervention. These are super smart folks to be sure, but the passion, dedication, and general selflessness has been a gift to behold. All of our sessions were helpful, some were mind blowing, some very eye opening, but I almost wish our session on systems change, with Darcy Riddell, had been earlier, as I think it might have been a key one for me. It was a great one to end on though.
Everyone in the cohort is trying to accomplish some sort of change in the system or a system, and the one I think most about is health, outcomes of which generally overlaps with socio-economic status. In a province and country that is becoming more unequal, that’s something that needs to be addressed.  Though we are all so busy, I have had some wonderful conversations with some of the other fellows, sharing ideas, examples of organizations that are actually accomplishing things in the health sector, and trading connections where we can.
IMG_4545Until our session with Darcy, I didn’t know we were actually laying the groundwork (or potential groundwork) for Scaling Out, defined as the “replication or dissemination, extending programs that work, engaging and impacting more people and communities (based on the recognition that many good ideas never spread or achieve widespread impacts).” Outside of RADIUS, I have been meeting all kinds of amazing folks with wonderful ideas who have been trying to find ways to apply this principle. I have read about fantastic interventions that don’t actually get scaled, such as programs that have really worked in BC to decrease surgical wait times, or farmer’s market discount cards for people on the low end of the socioeconomic scale. Just because they have not taken off does not mean they should be forgotten—perhaps they just need to reach the ears and can-do interconnected spirits of my radial-doing compatriots.
The Fellowship itself has been an exercise in Scaling Deep, defined as “Transforming self, relationships and culture, embodying the change, spreading new beliefs, values and norms (based on the recognition that culture plays a powerful role in shifting problem-domains, and change must be deeply rooted in people, relationships, communities and cultures).” Everyone in my cohort came in an extraordinary person, and left with some tools to really take care of themselves to fight burn out, balance their energies, and the drain that can come from working in a job that you just don’t find fulfilling (society loses too many radical doers to burn out).  We’ve also developed connections and friendships that I hope will last a lifetime, helping us support each other both professionally and personally.
At the same time, this Fellowship is wider than just us, it has been the connection to many wonderful people in the social enterprise/ social justice system, building relationships that can further our collective goals within that community and beyond.  The program is fantastic example of system change thinking, going deep to solve the problems that need to be solved and creating a culture that can make change happen.