Live In Fragments No Longer | Radically Stay Put

The 34th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures by Matt Stinchcomb and Caroline Woolard are available for viewing.

In his Schumacher Lecture, Matt Stinchcomb, the Vice President of Values and Impact at Etsy, addressed the topic “The Nature of Work: How Ecosystems Can Teach Us to Build Lasting and Fulfilling Businesses.” In his words:

I knew that if the primary purpose of our business was positive impact in the world and not just selling things and making money, then we could make a significant difference. . . With this in mind, we created a new mission statement for Etsy: re-imagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world. . . . . And I asked myself, what are the skills, aptitudes, and attitudes that will get us there?

As a first step, to echo E. F. Schumacher, I believe we need to bring more wisdom to education. While I believe business skills are very essential, I feel such skills should be supplemented or even secondary to courses in subjects like systems thinking, permaculture, ecological commerce, bio-mimicry, arts, craft, authentic leadership, ethics, citizenship, nonviolent communication, community organization, culture, and mindfulness, to name a few.

More importantly than the subjects that we study are the belief systems that underpin them. If we are going to re-imagine commerce then we need to begin with the proper understanding of the world and our relationship to it. What we truly need is a shift in consciousness — a new framework upon which to build our institutions.

I started thinking about the lessons that we could learn from looking at ecosystems. Ecosystems are complex and distributed, —  a resilient structure for business. . . . Ecosystems are also dynamic by nature — always shifting and always changing. Ecosystems are patterns within patterns? Ecosystems are made up of ever smaller ecosystems. And all of those little tiny parts are interdependent and this is the key. So if you see yourself as part of an interdependent ecosystem then you need to make the decisions that create the most benefit for all of the little stakeholders that you can. You should do business in ways that are good for your peers, good your neighbors, good for your employees, and good for you. And perhaps most importantly good for the planet. The planet is part of the ecosystem; the planet is the ecosystem. There is no economy without ecology. Everything is connected.

So the other day my friend Palmer came up to me and he patted my ever more middle-aged belly and said “You’re getting rich”. I think he meant it sweetly. But it made me realize that I’m the product of the choices that I make everyday.

Everyday we make choices right? We choose to eat one thing versus another.  We choose what we read, what we watch, where we go online. We choose to buy one item or another. We choose to take the stairs, ride in an elevator, fly somewhere, or stay put. We choose to engage with the world around us or we stare into our phones.  We choose to listen deeply or to be lost in thought. And I say these things, not to make anyone feel bad, but simply because we need to spend more time thinking before we act.

And maybe we, as both entrepreneurs and consumers, should pause and ask ourselves, “What is the choice that will strengthen the connections between, and create the most benefit for, all of the parts of this interdependent ecosystem?” Perhaps then, by acting accordingly, we might begin to build a new system. One that creates far more value for communities and the planet than it takes from it.

And this is what I’m working to do in my personal life and with Etsy. It’s all about choices. And the challenge that I give to myself and to you all and to your businesses is to choose connection and live in fragments no longer.  Thanks.

Caroline Woolard—an artist, a community organizer, an entrepreneur—concluded her Schumacher Lecture, “What is a Work of Art in the Age of $120,000 Art Degrees?  A Lecture about the Impact of Rent, Debt, and Precarity on Culture and Imagination in the 21st Century” in the following way:

So how can you see change when you are always on the move? Grace Lee Boggs reminds us, “The most radical thing I ever did was to stay put” – like the trees. But we don’t know if they remember.

And I’ve been thinking about clocks, 99-year timeframes, which is the longest our legal system can understand, but which allows land trusts to function. And thinking about the ways trees can be seen as clocks. So I asked my friend Gary Lincoff, who is a mycologist, what a tree my age would look like. And he said, “Go for a honey locust about 30 feet tall, 8 inches in diameter.” And so I found this one.

And I thought this tree also knew Y2K, around 2,000. And in 2015, next year, let’s hope the tree will know that Mayor De Blasio might announce that the city will create a housing trust fund supported by a dedicated revenue stream generated by increasing the property taxes on vacant and luxury properties. Funds from the housing trust fund would be used to develop and preserve truly affordable housing for people with very and extremely low incomes, and it could also support the development of community land trusts. This is what Claudia Wilner from the New Economy Project hopes.

And that by 2030, we’ll see, as Pope Francis says, that empty convents and monasteries can be used to house those in need. These empty spaces, he said, “are not for the church to transform into hotels and make money from. Empty convents are not ours. They are for the flesh of Christ – refugees.” That’s what Karen Gargamelli from Common Law wrote.

And that by 2045, someone born today, November 15th, 2014, will be 31, around my age. They’ll be standing here, just as Yvonne Rainer was with “A Mind is a Muscle” 60 years ago. And let’s hope that having grown up in a majority minority country, with a black, gay, female President, she will be so strong and so wise. She will speak about the open-sourced software she created and shared with public libraries for participatory budgeting, allocating funds to those most in need. Knowing that her university doesn’t charge 120,000 dollars for a degree and that the endowment is invested in CDFIs for affordable housing, she knows that housing is a human right.

And by 2060, with this memory of Occupy in our hearts, East Harlem El Barrio Land Trust will be 46 years old.

So imagine 2060. Whisper something to yourself about what you hope is true. As I find often in the studio, you might tell yourself something you didn’t know you already knew. And watch these trees grow.

And by 2075, your wish will grow true, and if you are lucky, you might even see a chicken-of-the-woods.

As Dr. Cornel West tells us, and what makes me so happy everyday, is “that justice is what love looks like in public.” So let’s celebrate the churches, and the art ministries, and the places that protect our desires to speak truth to power, to share stories, to hone crafts, to make beauty, to build community, to retell histories, take risks, be our whole selves, and communicate without words.

I’ve done this in small ways by co-organizing infrastructure in the service of short-term artworks and long-term community. And I know that we can continue to do this. For there are no new ideas; there are only new ways of making them felt, of examining what our ideas really mean and feel like on Sunday morning at 7 a.m., after brunch, during wild love, making war, giving birth, while we suffer the old longings, battle the old warnings and fears of being silent, and impotent, and alone, while tasting our new possibilities and strengths.

Let us hope that creative entrepreneurs are not just entrepreneurs of the self, but people who can demonstrate a praxis of cooperation and mutual aid.  Thank you.