About  |  News  |  Blog  |  Outlooks  |  Newsletter  |  Clips  |  Resources  |  Index  |   RSS Feed  Français


Bookmark and Share



Social Innovation, and the Challenge of Diversity

Nathan Ball

Nathan Ball is director of L'Arche Canada Foundation

There will be much talk in Copenhagen about the need to leverage the significant political will that exists to make transformational commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions. And yes, we will eagerly await the result of the negotiations; we know that a global action plan is necessary and we know that climate change legislation to make good on these commitments is obligatory.

But more is needed. The adaptation of resilience in eco systems to social systems referred to by Al Etmansky is a powerful framework for new understanding. At the heart of this understanding is the importance of diversity for both physical and social resilience.

I think of Wade Davis, the Canadian anthropologist who has argued persuasively that it is not just the biosphere that is at risk. Our "ethnosphere" - the cultural web of life - is also being eroded by the way in which we are collectively pursuing economic growth. His focus has been to investigate language extinction which, he says, reduces the "entire range of the human imagination... to a more narrow modality of thought", which, Davis says, mostly means a western modality of thought and practice. On endangered cultures (TED Talks).

Davis says that human imagination is thousands of years of accumulated knowledge and wisdom about ourselves and our planet. We are diminishing our collective treasure of human imagination by the myriad ways that we are squeezing and shrinking physical, economic and social diversity. The question of how to protect and expand diversity is paramount and I am struck by the interrelationship that I can see between human imagination, social innovation and diversity. Each of us could place our life’s work somewhere in this interrelationship.

For many years I have been part of the L’Arche movement. Looking at L’Arche through a diversity lens is helpful and connects me to the larger whole of which I and we are a part. Our small communities can be seen as a late 20th century experiment in creating the conditions for social diversity to flourish.

Davis points out that languages become extinct when people become extinct. L’Arche exists because there are many in our world who do not value the contribution to diversity given by those who have an intellectual disability. L’Arche protects, supports, honours and celebrates the lives and contributions of people who have an intellectual disability.

But L’Arche also invites people of different cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds to live together in day to day life and to learn from one another. Some of us are young, others older, some are highly educated while others have no formal education. It is a messy experiment and, as Cockburn sings, we are “lovers in a dangerous time”.

Among others, two core insights or learnings have emerged over the past years:

1. Diversity does not exist in the abstract. Entering into relationships across difference does not happen by reading books. Concrete commitments are required. Humility and forgiveness are the anchors. Personal risk is needed.
2. In our case it is precisely those who are weaker or more vulnerable (read at risk of extinction) that are the glue holding the larger whole together. They are the indispensible ones in sustaining a community of diversity. This is a mystery worth contemplating.

The challenges to sustaining diversity are significant but it helps me to know and embrace the particular unique contribution that I can, that my community can make, towards the quality of our collective future.


Keep informed on new postings by subscribing to our free monthly newsletter.

Loneliness affects one in ten people in France

ONE in ten people in France lives in solitude and a quarter have only the most basic links to family or friends, a new report has revealed. The issue of solitude came up in 2003 after the...

Preventing Home Foreclosures - a Promising Innovation in Philadelphia

Between June 2008 and May 2009, of the 4,690 homeowners who were able to negotiate with their banks through this program, 2,776 succeeded in holding on to their homes.


Jacques Dufresne's

The editor of L'Encyclopédie de L'Agora and well known newspaper chronicler and philosopher, analyses actuality through the looking glass of Belonging.
Latest posts
Justice for innocent priests and religious men and women!
To Live or To Function?
An Alternative to Performance Sports: Sustainable Sport