Most fellowships are focused on individual fellows, giving them the resources and support to execute their projects. This is great for projects focusing on a single problem with an independent vision. However, building a healthy, thriving planet is an ongoing process full of interdependencies, not a single event or set of services to provide. It requires strong and long-lasting collaboration, as well as a systems approach.
In recognition of this, the beVisioneers Fellowship focuses on the crucial intersectionality of sustainability topics. Here are three insights we’ve gained in our efforts to build a systems-oriented fellowship.
1. Build on other great ideas
Drawing from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Project Drawdown, we have identified 12 interdependent “zones” around which we are categorizing Fellows’ project ideas and initiatives. Just as the SDGs tackle both the “what” and the “how”, our zones intend to provide content, governance and operational overviews of environmental issues. Similar to Project Drawdown, our aim is to emphasize a solutions-focused approach. Some of our zones relate to tools and infrastructure needed to achieve pro-planet economic and social outcomes. Others address issue areas that are inherently complex and systemic – for example, water management entails not only a supply of clean water, but also community education around water conservation, hygiene, etc. We have intentionally created our zones as an evolution of these established frameworks so that Fellows have a reference point for discussing their work in other arenas.
2. Help fellows “see the system” while remaining concrete
In categorizing our Fellows’ ideas and projects by zones, we are able to bring Fellows from different geographies and life experiences together to collaborate on inter-related projects. They see the issue they are tackling from a multitude of perspectives.
We provide tailored knowledge and expert support, including venture coaching, to advance their understanding of their zone – all while also encouraging a Fellow to explore context that relates to their own specific context. During the first 12 months, the Fellowship program offers intensive support so that Fellows can develop their understanding of big picture issues affecting the project they wish to undertake, while also supporting them to realize ideas and projects and build successful pilots and ventures to address their community needs.
3. To solidify learning, make the impact local
Each Fellow’s project is intended to take place within their local community, to address an environmental issue that they and others around them confront on a regular basis. This is intentional: We believe that lived experience informs more nuanced and effective approaches to tackling challenges. Communities in different geographies may experience similar environmental challenges; for this reason, we bring Fellows together to build connections, exchange ideas and adapt approaches to their contexts. The exchanges fostered in our community are critical to innovation, as is a nurturing and supportive infrastructure where ideas can continue to be supported, evolve, and grow. Once a Fellow has practice implementing an effective solution for their community, they can build from their knowledge and experience to grow their impact beyond their local context – or deepen the impact they have locally.
Advancing systems change does not occur without deliberate steps that recognize and uphold the intersectionality of our sustainability challenges at hand. Our Fellowship aims to accelerate both Fellows’ capacity for systems thinking and their ability to drive systems change.
Looking forward to our 2023 cohort
As we embark on this journey, we are eager to foster a vibrant and dynamic community of planet-positive innovators who will transform the world through a shared vision, passion, and action. Be a Visioneer!