Each year FAO celebrates its birth with the World Food Week of Action consisting of International Day for Rural Women, World Food Day, and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This year’s theme is migration. I think it can safely be said that migration has been on everyone’s minds this past year (and much longer for some). In the United States, our president has threatened deportation of undocumented workers throwing families into a tailspin of fear. Here, in the Unites States, many individuals and families have migrated here to find a better life fleeing their own country due to violence or poverty. They come here to find a better life, to send money home to their families. In other countries in Northern Africa, Central America, and Eastern Europe, families have been migrating due to rising conflicts. In other countries hit by natural disasters or climate change (and many of these overlap between climate change and conflict) entire communities find themselves migrating to another city or country all together.
It can become easy to think of how we all may migrate in our lives even if not for such dire circumstances as mentioned above. For myself, I first migrated to another city in the state I lived to go to school. Then, I migrated to another state for family and work. Once again, I migrated across the country for better opportunities than what I was finding at the time. Yes, these are more privileged forms of migration. But, if we look at our own lives, we can see how easily we all find ourselves migrating. Not only that, we see how some of us migrate without fear and hardship while others migrate under great threats of survival only to be potentially unwelcomed in their new community.
World Food Week spends one week highlighting on an international scale hunger and poverty. While this needs our attention for more than seven days out of the year, this week provides a moment of reflection within the system. A moment to reflect on how we may help to attain zero hunger (a goal of FAO). Working within the anti-hunger movement in the US, I sometimes wonder how we can attain zero hunger. Some say that it’s impossible, that there will always be hungry people. While it’s true that we can’t necessarily have the power or control to end on our own the reasons behind hunger and poverty (conflict, climate change, government policies, racism), we can work to change our paradigm on why people are hungry. If we can change the lens in which we view hunger, we may begin to change how we solve it. The phrase, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”, fits very well here.
The Individual within the System
I cannot, individually, resolve conflict happening in other countries, end climate change, reverse hurtful trade policies, or end racism. I can, however, do my own part each and every day within the place that I live. Food banks and pantries across the country are taking the above phrase seriously and changing the way things are done. They are seeing themselves as more than a simple place to provide food, but rather a community center to welcome people safely and with dignity providing job skill trainings, education and advocacy tools, economic development for farmers, and a gathering place to share and build community.
The FAO has 17 goals for a zero-hunger generation that you can see below. As you can see, FAO is not only looking at making sure people are fed, but they are also looking at how they are fed now and into the future promoting self-determination and collaboration. We can consider all the reasons people find themselves hungry and look at what the infrastructure needs to contain – the scaffolding of the building – to protect and sustain not only our own communities, but communities across the world.
But what may not be clear is how we can work tangibly towards these goals. We’ll need to not only focus on potential outside forces and other’s paradigms, but also our own paradigms. We may have to take a hard look at ourselves and the lens in which we view the world. We’ll have to develop our capabilities for change. How are we holding space with others? Holding space means that we are empowering people to develop their potential while leaving space for others to contribute. This means that we must embrace diverse views and opinions not as our own, but with appreciation and curiosity.
We also need to look at how we are communicating with others. There are four key parts of communication: deep listening, asking questions, relating to others, and empathy. Are we using all four when sitting with someone else? Communication is about finding common ground, managing polarities, and learning how to address the issues and the people in different ways that promotes change.
Paulo Freire once said, “The insistence that the oppressed engage in reflection on their concrete situation is not a call to armchair revolution. On the contrary, reflection—true reflection—leads to action.” Reflection in action is important to changing paradigms around such difficult issues. Reflection in action requires deep attention and awareness. At its core, one must be able to reflect in the present moment and then integrate the resulting insights into your actions. What distinguishes this type of reflection from other modes of reflection is the inherent action that must take place. Most times when we think of reflection, we think of taking time out to think about what happened in the past and how it could be improved for the future when we stumble into a similar situation. Reflection in action is thinking about what is happening while it is presently taking place and then modifying your actions or behavior in the moment based on this in-the-moment reflection.
Moving from the Individual to the We
Next, we will need to cocreate together moving from the individual to the system. How do we begin the work of true cocreation? Cocreation is the ability to involve all actors directly, and in some cases, repeatedly, from beginning to end to achieve a compelling purpose. It builds a shared vision by encouraging personal visions so a common group purpose can emerge. Cocreation asks us to hold creative tension and provide openness. In the spirit of this practice we build something new together, something that holds all our visions in a unified manner.
As we cocreate together, who will be leading? We all will in varying forms and at different times. This type of radical and systemic change requires distributed leadership where it isn’t in a specific person or position. It is in each of us and will be called out at different moments. It’s similar to the “step up, step back” that was popularized in the Occupy movement. This phrase is given as a kind of group norm to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to speak. The same goes for leadership: you step up at certain times and step back at other times allowing others to lead depending on the skills needed at the time. “A complexity view suggests a form of “distributed” leadership that does not lie in a person but rather in an interactive dynamic, within which any particular person will participate as leader or a follower at different times and for different purposes.” (Lichtenstein, Uhl-Bien and Marion)
Now we are cocreating and leading in a dynamic way that leverages and appreciates diversity and skills. But for all this to work we need to be thinking of the whole system. For World Food Week, that’s looking at the entire food system on a global scale. Our food systems are so interlaced we cannot separate the two (local versus global) nor should we. But if the capabilities mentioned here are used by each of us and begin to ripple out like a stone thrown in the water, we could begin to see seismic shifts in our paradigms, in how we engage with those that are forced to migrate, and how we protect our neighbors near and far.