Apprehending the Ecosystem

Ecology is a major inspiration for Socratus. There’s the literal use of the term, for example, when we work on Mangrove restoration in Odisha. But there’s also a metaphorical use of the term, like when we talk about enabling a learning network for the active citizenship ecosystem. The literal and the metaphorical aren’t at odds with one another.

The growing crisis of ecological destruction, climate change, and environmental harm is becoming a common topic of discussion. We often hear that nature manages better on its own. This idea leads to the concept of biomimicry, where humans look to nature for inspiration to tackle design challenges. Using the ecosystem approach to solve complex issues is a form of biomimicry.

Why should we consider creating ecosystems within organizations? We all know of instances where a company, educational institution, or government body suffered due to poor leadership. The leader’s impact in a traditional, top-down structure is immense, both for good and ill. Ecosystems operate differently: they don’t have a single leader at the top. This distributed leadership model brings a certain strength - a single poor leader won’t spell disaster for the entire network of organizations.

The Situated Economy

We started putting these thoughts into practive in 2022. Our conversation with Rainmatter Foundation started with the observation that most Panchayats are net importers of value ( ~ 70% of the economic value is imported) which is neither desirable nor sustainable. What if we were able to create new economic models that allowed panchayats to capture a greater percentage of the economic value? The best way to achieve sustainability is by leveraging the unique advantages of a group of villages, ensuring that economic benefits circulate within the group and are linked to the local environment, such as natural resources that set these communities apart from more distant areas.

Odisha has emerged as a perfect example for adopting an ecosystem approach to what we’re calling the “situated economy.” We’re collaborating with all involved parties - government, nonprofit organizations, and businesses - to help a group of 10-15 villages become self-reliant. This means not only will they manage their basic production (like farming) and consumption internally, but they’ll also develop a diverse range of added-value activities. This diversification aims to meet the demands of a growing sophisticated local market, which in turn encourages not just economic growth but cultural development too. Ideally, essential needs like food and housing will be produced and used within these villages, while any excess, especially high-value goods, will be sold outside the area.

To achieve a “Flourishing Odisha,” it’s crucial to build up the skills and abilities of participants from all sectors - government, business, and community. This ambitious goal requires us to deeply engage with local environments to understand each participant’s strengths, identify their weaknesses, and encourage teamwork to create meaningful changes. That’s because:

Only ecosystems (of people and organizations) solve Wicked Problems

This belief is at the heart of our work on the situated economy. This approach is about creating thriving communities by strengthening the ties between the natural environment and the economy in specific areas. In Odisha we are piloting the concept of situated economy in three diverse landscapes ie., coastal, rural and tribal while collaborating with all the involved parties - government, nonprofit organizations, and businesses - to visualise opportunities that emerge at the intersection of ecology and economy. By connecting ecological activities with economic incentives and vice versa, we aim to set panchayats of these landscapes on a transformative journey to become self reliant.

In these areas, we’ve partnered with local organizations working on climate resilience and sustainable living. These organizations help bring local ideas and goals into the larger conversation, facilitated by a dedicated group of young people, like in the above photo which is from a recently concluded ‘climate champions’ workshop in collaboration with Nature’s Club.

Trust the Ecosystem

In a world where corporations create a network of support services like law firms, accountants, and banks, imagine a similar structure but with ecosystems supporting each other—essentially, an ecosystem of ecosystems.

What does this interconnected network look like? Who is part of it, and who does it aim to help?

These questions sparked lively discussions during a gathering that Socratus helped organize in Kochi in March 2023, held alongside a larger event. We were at the early stages of understanding what an “ecosystem” truly means, including our part in fostering such environments. There was some uncertainty about our roles, such as:

  • Are we active agents, organizations intentionally designing ecosystems to achieve our goals?
  • Curators, selecting and inviting specific organizations to join our ecosystem?
  • Space-holders, providing a platform for ecosystems to form without controlling membership?

Many of us felt we played multiple roles. At times, we’re advocates, pushing for a vision of the world (role 1). Other times, we might lack domain expertise but offer valuable tools for those who do, like a gaming company helping farmers envision the future of agriculture (role 3). Or, we might be connectors, bringing together the right mix of people (role 2). The key takeaway from our discussions wasn’t just about defining roles but about building a sense of community. At this early stage, fostering trust was deemed more crucial than immediate results.

The first rule in this ecosystem dance is to trust your partner.

Trust is a key aspect of “India Story, Climate Grammar.” Without trust between individuals, communities, as well as state and market institutions, we will likely face a turbulent future as a nation. Trust is one of the five ‘wisdom virtues’ that Socratus hopes to evoke - the other four being Empathy, Insight, Justice and Complexity.

How tools and spaces can we contibute towards building a trust-driven society?

We will continue sharing our answers to that question in the Messenger.

Apprehending the Ecosystem (

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