Cameron’s recent post made me think of my friend Jonathan Glencross. That’s his picture on the left.
Jonathan is a student at McGill who is disarmingly gifted at sparking visible, large-scale change. Last year he was the catalyst for the creation of a $2.5 million sustainability project fund, financed and governed by students and administrators in an unusually equal partnership. This summer he has been working on a sustainability initiative focused on campus food systems.
I suppose there are many secrets to Jonathan’s approach to change, most of which he himself might not fully understand yet. But one of his great strengths is that, for such a smart and impassioned guy, he is unusually willing to learn and create with other people.
Cameron wrote about engaging with an architect he was working with through sharing inspiration rather than through pushing a specific plan. Jonathan and his colleagues had a similar philosophy when working on the food systems project.
Early on they began to meet with the director of campus food services. One of the first things they did was give him a copy of Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. They essentially said, “Here is a book that inspired us. We hope it will inspire you too. We don’t really know the best way to apply the themes in this book to something like the McGill food system, but we’re excited about the possibility of thinking through these issues with you and seeing what we can come up with together.”
The director read the book and did get excited. Soon he was tooling around with Jonathan and other students to meet with various suppliers and employees and to visit interesting alternative models.
Jonathan is not shy about the goals he has. He is wildly ambitious in what he is trying to accomplish. But he is also quite humble and collaborative about how to accomplish those goals. He seems to see institutional change as a shared discovery process.
This way of working in the world is extremely powerful. I’ve seen it in other contexts, and I think most people who manage to create deep institutional change take something like this approach. They combine fierce intentions (“We are going to fundamentally change an unsustainable food system that is dauntingly large and recalcitrant . . .”) with humble means (“We’re not sure how to do it. Won’t you think about it and experiment with us . . ?”). It is visionary but invitational. It is a lovely way not just of confronting power but of transmuting it into something healthy and shared.