Despite research showing clear links between food insecurity and lower socio-economic status, chronic health problems, depression and reduced educational outcomes, urban food deserts persist. Myriad efforts have emerged and there are hints of promise at a neighborhood level, but these efforts are often disconnected, leaving many deeper issues out of focus and systemic factors unaddressed. And, despite frequent attention, access to fresh food is only one part of the problem.

BLK SHP founder Peter Sims and I began discussing the passion I’ve had for this issue and what we might do about it somewhere in the middle of America during the BLK SHP bus tour.  Last week, a group of BLK SHP gathered at the GOOD offices to kick off a new effort to address this problem by building collaborations between disparate nodes in the system to unlock new solutions. Operation: Eat Right will leverage the power of creativity and networks to connect unlikely partners and identify food desert solutions using design thinking and agile approaches to complexity using Los Angeles as its inspiration. Through this process, we’ll amplify the promising sparks through media and rapid prototyping to share insights with others in ways that provoke our civic imagination.

  The evening included edible provocations as introductions to new perspectives on how and what we put on our tables.   Left to right: lemons from my backyard showed up as party favors epitomizing the potential of  fallen fruit ; dinner provided by Groceryships' founder, Sam Polk's latest effort,  Harvest , redefine affordable grab-n-go nutrition;  Bar and Garden  asks us to consider not just the farm-to-fork movement but what's in our glass as well; and  Fonuts  added a sweet reminder that unprocessed alternatives provide vegan and gluten-free options that still deliver.

The evening included edible provocations as introductions to new perspectives on how and what we put on our tables. Left to right: lemons from my backyard showed up as party favors epitomizing the potential of fallen fruit; dinner provided by Groceryships' founder, Sam Polk's latest effort, Harvest, redefine affordable grab-n-go nutrition; Bar and Garden asks us to consider not just the farm-to-fork movement but what's in our glass as well; and Fonuts added a sweet reminder that unprocessed alternatives provide vegan and gluten-free options that still deliver.

BLK SHP is a "loose guild" and movement of leading creative thinkers, writers, policy-makers, artists, entrepreneurs, investors, and social entrepreneurs. The mission of BLK SHP is to build and nurture ecosystems that help unlock the creativity and voices of socially conscious innovators, while providing a platform to create and disseminate cutting-edge thought leadership, art & culture, and socially influential ventures to a wider public.  Operations focus innovation efforts around some of the most pressing issues of our time, instigated bottom-up, to rally the BLK SHP network at large, so we can collectively place little bets, learn, iterate and implement.  We also aim to explore new ways of sharing insights and solutions within these complex systems. 

Each operation is led by an Entrepreneur in Residence, and I’m honored to be at the helm of Operation: Eat Right.  But, as with all things Curious Catalyst, the power is in the connections and interconnections.  The inaugural gathering was a fitting first step, engaging members of the City of Los Angeles Innovation team, bold leadership behind vibrant organizations like the Social Justice Learning Institute, Groceryships, and LA Master Gardeners, documentary filmmakers and journalists, experience designers and social change agents across media platforms, disruptors of education, entertainment, and economics systems – it was a group unabashedly tackling poverty, human rights, and environmental justice on a daily basis.

We gathered to swap stories and questions around the idea of what it might mean to “eat right” – the how and what, the past and the future, the nuance of our individual and collective rights here and abroad and the kind of nourishment we need to allow every member of our society thrive.  Our BLK SHP story foragers, Watson Hartsoe and DeKoven Ashley, helped capture some of the seeds we’ll sow, bringing together unlikely allies to support and build connective tissue and creative capacity in the community through rapid ideation sessions with citizen stakeholders, leaders and changemakers.  And Ishan Shapiro helped visualize the start of these themes using his collaborative digital mapping tools, which we’ll continue to explore as a way to share systems-level insights.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     You can explore many more nodes from the Operation: Eat Right Kick-Off dinner at  https://metamaps.cc/maps/1931

You can explore many more nodes from the Operation: Eat Right Kick-Off dinner at https://metamaps.cc/maps/1931

We wrapped up the evening underscoring, quite literally, the critical element of improvisation and raising our voices - for how we innovate, orchestrate diversity as an ingredient for cooking up rich solution spaces, and listen deeply with empathy when designing for the world we'd like to inhabit.  One of the original BLK SHP, Harold O’Neal, treated us to the soundtrack he heard emanating from the unlikely dots being connected - wrapping up by prototyping a powerful duet with multi-hyphenate artist and social change agent, Aloe Blacc, who uses music as a force for good.  In an aptly named setting, with good food, good music, and good friends, new and old, we could not have concocted a more auspicious start.  Stay tuned for more updates and ways to get involved as Operation: Eat Right takes shape!

Posted
AuthorKaz Brecher

It's never easy to pinpoint the genesis of an idea that may have been percolating for years, waiting for the right conditions to bloom into being, seasoned in a stew of opinions from friends and colleagues, but this incarnation of Curious Catalyst is the direct result of my fellowship at THNK, the Amsterdam School for Creative Leadership. A new program - which is part EMBA, part accelerator, part d.School, part professional coaching (those of us who have survived it jokingly describe it as "summer camp for overachievers looking to accelerate a mid-life crisis) - THNK is on a mission to "develop the next generation of creative leaders that will have a significant societal impact in our world" while balancing the needs of innovating for people, planet and profit.

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The first six months of the program are a firehose of methodologies, philosophies, tools for pushing design thinking beyond its cliche and jargon, and hands-on examination of how teams work best, all in the context of a challenge.  I joined the program while heading up strategy and operations for a cloud computing company, with the aim of finding the best way to combine my nearly two decades of experience in shaping emerging platforms with my passion for social impact.  And I was assigned to a challenge team tasked with reducing greenhouse gas emissions using machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies.  It was more than a rollercoaster...as this short study in delirium at the end of the first module highlights.

But we reveled in navigating complexity theory frameworks and examined how best to employ the mechanics of scaling dynamics.  And the heady promise of combining multi-disciplinary thinkers and rapid ideation and prototyping tools in a pressure cooker of 14-hour days again proved the magic of what I've seen time and again at technology companies: it is not only possible but likely that you will generate new insights and push your product thinking beyond what seemed certain.

Players changed teams, we made discoveries, interviewed Subject Matter Experts from utilities to user experience, and my team launched a JV called BotTalk, which is currently exploring the impact of a public platform like Twitter in the Internet of Things.

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More importantly, I was able to identify and align all of the elements and factors that matter most to me in the form of Curious Catalyst.  This new consultancy is a way for me to have a positive impact on the city in which I live and toil; to get back in the trenches with an exceptional group of framework thinkers who deserve to find the right home for their multi-faceted talents in LA; to use mechanisms I've employed in the technology world, like agile project management and open core licensing, to disrupt entrenched urban challenges; and to amplify our findings for the world at large.

Years ago, the founder of an early digital agency texted me after a meeting I'd arranged for him: "kaz, you are a curious catalyst"...I have no doubt he was scratching his head when he tapped out the note.  But it stuck with me, and I've understood it more and more deeply over time.  If you're a curious catalyst, too, I hope we'll be working together soon! 

Posted
AuthorKaz Brecher
CategoriesGeneral