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Inward Journey, Outward Change: Sandy Wiggins on Nurturing Systems Change

"The process of awakening transforms the mental models or paradigms that underlie any system we’re trying to change: the transformation of paradigms is the most powerful lever for systems change."

At TEDx Washington Square, BALLE Board Chair Sandy Wiggins – who began his career in the building industry, was part of the industry shift toward green building, and has gone on to address how to shift capital toward creating real impact – shares his personal experience with systems change and offers a spot-on summary of the model for change that sits at the core of how BALLE operates.

“For many of us there’s a real disconnect between what we know at a deeper level and how we operate in the world,” Sandy says. “That disconnect is powered by the belief that we’re just not permitted to operate from that place of knowing.”

As Sandy awakened to the possibility that the building industry he’d been working in for decades might be one he could connect with his interested in sustainability and environmental stewardship, “I increasingly found myself called to speak from that place of inner knowing – and surprisingly, people responded. They were waiting for the invitation to operate that way themselves.”

The industry change that Sandy was part of – shifting green building from fringe to mainstream – had nothing to do with building, he said, but rather was powered by the transformation of people discovering meaning in their work and lives.

“The nested, self-organizing networks that emerged as a result of their internal transformation changed an industry in less than a decade.”

This is a pattern at the root of all successful movements, he says. “We can use it to intentionally accelerate change.”

Sandy goes on to explain the “I – We – It” framework that is a vital part of BALLE’s theory of change, and is the model we use to direct our Fellowship and Community Foundation Circle curriculum arcs. In this model, the “I” represents the personal experience and journey, the “We” represents how people come together when they realize they are not alone in this journey, and the “It” is the work that is possible when those transformed individuals come together with common purpose.

To most effectively nurture systems change, Sandy says, “begin by focusing on the “I”: your own awakening and the awakening of others. The process of awakening transforms the mental models or paradigms that underlie any system we’re trying to change: the transformation of paradigms is the most powerful lever for systems change.”

“When we work for change – as I know many of you do – we usually do a great job of focusing on the “it.” But it is tending to the “I,” the journey of awakening, that unleashes your full potential as leaders and change agents. And when you join your journey with the journey of others who also share your vision, then the power of “we” becomes unstoppable.”

Read more about BALLE’s Theory of Change or learn about the BALLE Community Foundation Circle Sandy uses as an example in his talk.