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Social Change Institute: Moving Beyond Silos

For the fifth consecutive year, Junxion is proudly sponsoring Social Change Institute at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, British Columbia. This is one in a series of articles by Junxion profiling SCI 2014 participants.

Tzeporah Berman is like the Energizer Bunny – she never seems to slow down. The environmental activist, campaign organizer and author is busier than ever, supporting local community groups, First Nations, and large environmental organizations in their work to stop the expansion of the Canadian tar sands and related pipelines and tankers.

Tzeporah is one of the leaders who’ll be participating in this year’s Social Change Institute at Hollyhock. She’ll be sharing some of the lessons learned from some of the big international environmental campaigns she’s run, and facilitating a conversation about the barriers to what she calls “Issue Campaigning 3.0.” “I feel like we’re on the cusp of shifting how issue campaigns [as distinguished from political campaigns] function, and what kind of organizations we need to support them,” she says, looking forward to a lively dialogue.

Promoting Cross-Sector Dialogue

As an SCI alumna, Tzeporah has a deep appreciation of this conference’s value in catalyzing dialogue across social change sectors. “It’s important that we [in the environmental movement] are connecting and learning from other social change makers, and that we ensure that our work is greater than the sum of its parts.”

She learned this lesson attending the first Social Change Institute in 2006. “I remember sitting with a whole bunch of campaign directors, people from Amnesty International, Oxfam and other groups… [as leaders] we were all dealing with many of the same issues, but had never talked to each other before, and I learned so much.”

Tzeporah describes Social Change Institute as “an incredible way to very quickly get out of your own silo or sector,” adding that, “not only in nature, but also in human society, strength is in diversity.”

Leveraging the Network Organizing Model

Today, Tzeporah is working behind the scenes to help groups not only design strategies, but also connect with each other and amplify each other’s work through the Tar Sands Solutions Network, a network organizing model she co-created last year with American environmental leader Bill McKibben. “We’re looking at how to build power and influence to constrain the most profitable companies on the planet with the biggest political influence of any sector in history,” she says.

Reaching TSSN’s goal “requires new thinking, new organizing models, learning from the successes of other campaigns and sectors” – all of which Tzeporah looks forward to gaining from SCI. “Addressing climate change and shifting our energy model requires wide scale civil society engagement,” she says, noting that she looks forward to learning more about engagement organizing and other modes of campaigning from fellow SCI participants.

Tzeporah expresses the urgency of this work in the clearest of terms. “We’re close to the middle of the most defining decade in human history,” she says. “What we do now will define whether or not the next generation is struggling to adapt to a changing climate, or simply shifting economic models to embrace new technologies and new planning.”

A Time to Recharge

After two decades of designing and managing successful environmental campaigns, Tzeporah admits she could use a little “r and r” – recharging and rejuvenating. And she knows that’s part of what’s in store for her when she returns to Cortes Island this month. “It’s such a gift to be at Hollyhock, to eat that food, to walk on those beaches,” she says. “A friend said it’s like summer camp for adults with an added bonus,” she says with a smile. “SCI is a place to come together with an extended sense of tribe – others out in the world trying to make the world a better place.”

Even on retreat, though, the activist side of Tzeporah Berman will never rest. “We will move to a low carbon economy in the next decade, either by design or default,” she declares. “If it’s by default, there will be more casualties – so what we do in the next 5-10 years is absolutely critical.”

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