Empowerment: why inspiring, educating and resourcing a new generation of changemakers is essential for driving change

Published on the 27th of September 2017

Our mission at Metabolic is to transition the global economy to a sustainable state. That is no small ambition. And so to get there, we believe it is essential that we not only provide consulting services and build new transformative ventures, but that we also provide a range of programs that can empower others to become changemakers in their communities. Here, Metabolic Communications Director Adam Stones outlines how we are applying the ideas of empowerment in a range of newly launched initiatives and why it’s so important to look for the change you can make in your communities.

There’s a quote by Archimedes I like. He said: ‘Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world’. Over two thousands years later and it provides a powerful metaphor for our work at Metabolic. The idea is that no challenge is insurmountable, and everyone is capable of great things – these two points sit at the core of our philosophy. And this is important because we understand that we can only achieve the change we want to see in the world if everyone feels they have the levers, and know where to place the fulcrum; if everyone feels empowered.

The term empowerment can mean different things to different people. For us, it is about increasing the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and more impactful way. It may also mean providing the tools that enable people to overcome their sense of powerlessness and lack of influence. Through education, resources and experiences, we aim to shift people’s capacities, attitudes and actions onto a more sustainable path.

A major way we deliver on this ambition is through our non-profit arm, the Metabolic Foundation. It has bases on the Caribbean island of Aruba, as well as in Amsterdam, and also aspires to operate in the virtual space through knowledge banks and resources. The Foundation was established to build capacity within communities and ensure more people can play an active role in the transition to sustainability. We prototype new technologies and showcase solutions, create digital services and open up data, establish new international collaborations, provide educational programs, and initiate community fablabs.

Islands lend themselves well to piloting and pioneering approaches to the circular economy. (Read Nadina Galle’s excellent blog for more on that). And on Aruba, the team has been active creating new community-led initiatives that account for the economy and geography of the island. Having set up a popular makerspace (Brenchie’s Lab), the latest initiative – which officially launched last week – is called the Plastic Beach Party. Aruba imports more than 6,000 tons of plastic each year. With no recycling facilities, plastic waste poses a direct threat to the island’s environmental and social health, as well as its local industries. The Plastic Beach Party is building new plastic recycling machines and collection infrastructure, as well as developing reusable products that can be made from the recycled plastic. Whilst this program is important, it is even more essential that it is done in a way that empowers the community and produces open source solutions that we can share with others around the world. Read more in the blog from the Foundation’s Tony Sevold.

In Amsterdam, the Foundation’s home is at Metabolic Lab – our space for showcasing applied sustainability and for hosting educational classes at De Ceuvel. We helped build De Ceuvel (a sustainable business park and community hub) from scratch three years ago and it is now an international destination to explore and study bottom-up and sustainable urban transformation. De Ceuvel has become a breeding ground for new innovative initiatives and collaborations; just this week, Spectral launched a new blockchain-based energy token system for De Ceuvel that is putting control back in the hands of the local businesses, and is gaining widespread attention. We also recently created a new aquaponics system in the greenhouse at Metabolic Lab, which provides circular food production for the cafe next door, as well as an educational resource for visitors to study urban agriculture. (Head to the De Ceuvel website for more on tours and programs).

From the Metabolic Lab base, the Foundation has also established a range of exciting new community partnerships, such as Het Ware Noorden (the True North), an initiative set up with 72U, a creative residency from advertising company 72andSunny, and InHolland. The Amsterdam North neighbourhood wants to become a hub for the circular economy by collaborating with local entrepreneurs. Het Ware Noorden promotes creative re-use sessions and its resulting products, providing new opportunities for employment, skill-building, and collaborations within the local community. We’ll soon be announcing the next phase, which includes expanding into a broader community program, and sharing details on how you can become involved.

The lab is also where we host Metabolic’s professionally focused educational programs. We recently announced a suite of new Masterclasses. From designing circular cities to shifting the global food system, and from understanding the new economy to crafting powerful communications, these half day classes provide essential knowledge and skills to organizations and individuals to accelerate sustainable transition. We’ve been hosting our first classes this week. (More on the classes and booking here).

Last week, we were also really happy to launch a new ‘Circular Cities’ summer school program, in partnership with the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Due to their environmental impact, cities play a crucial role in the transition towards sustainable societies. Despite the fact that they occupy only 3% of the global terrestrial surface, cities house more than half of the world’s population, consume 7% of its natural resources, and are directly and indirectly responsible for 60 to 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. ‘The Circular City: Towards a Sustainable Urban Ecosystem’ takes the lessons from Amsterdam and Metabolic and will share them with city changemakers from around the world. It takes place in July 2018 but applications are now open and scholarships are available, so please spread the word.

As part of expanding our empowerment activities, we are also looking forward to launching in 2018 more action-orientated ‘campaigns’. These will include high profile events with our partners, as well as consumer-focused communications campaigns around sustainability challenges. We’ll be sharing more on these initiatives soon.

Share your stories with us

We believe that any organization with a ‘change mission’ should embed ideas of empowerment into their activities, and any individual determined to support sustainable transformation should engage in ways that empower others. That means engaging more directly and openly in our local communities. It means creating with, not for, the people we’re working hardest to help. Although we’re doing what we can at Metabolic with the resources and knowledge we have, we know that we’re just one organization. And widescale system change requires dynamic collaborations and knowledge sharing across industries and geographies. Every week, we are inspired by initiatives from all over the world. We want to learn from and contribute to these great programs, as well as use our voice to help share them, to inspire and empower others. So, have you experienced or been part of an impactful initiative? We’d love you to share your stories with us.

Please send your stories to [email protected]

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