Weird & wonderful ways to make things happen

 

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A humble group of committed professionals and citizens co-designing a coastal clean-up free future. 

While your news feed is being flooded with Trump news about him going down as the worst and most embarrassing President of the United States in history, there’ll be snippets of viral videos and humble updates about weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place, with less plastic too.

First off the rank is the 1 Million Women video about Boomerang Bags. The video went viral last week hitting 2.3million views and the ladies behind sewing the boomerang bags haven’t stopped responding to the calls to action to set up Boomerang Bags communities. Boomerang Bags is a national initiative that transitions communities to be plastic free, one hand-made, zero waste reusable bag at a time! I hope they haven’t missed Ellen’s email…

Next in line is Take 3 for the sea’s ABC News update about the hundreds of thousands of litter and marine debris items collected by everyday beach goers, where they collect three-bits for the sea, and then share their plastic bits on Instagram and hash tag #PICKITUPSNAPITSHAREIT. It’s a simple solution to raising awareness about plastic pollution. I recommend getting involved in this solution and it makes leaving the other 1000s or so littered items left on the beach seem OK! You’ve consciously made a difference, right?

Boomerang Bags and Take 3 for the sea are two great examples of the weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place with less plastic too. Keep in mind neither of them could happen in isolation. If anything the media have significantly contributed to their calls to action in the last week, almost as impactful as the Huffington Post and other campaigns that is currently slaughtering and scrutinising Trump. However, above all their impact couldn’t be possible without dedicated and committed citizens – keep this in mind too. It’s as if Margaret Mead is still trying her best to drown out the banging and destruction in our world – and this literally happening outside my office! Construction works for progress, meh.  

A much more humble yet equally weird and wonderful call to action is being crafted by the institutions responsible for managing our natural resources. Yes, finally! As I write the Queensland Government, City of Gold Coast, Commonwealth Games Goldoc and Healthy Waterways and Catchments and the community (Gold Coast Marine Debris Network), have come together to revolutionise the way we track, monitor and report, and intercept litter and marine debris to protect our waterways. We sat around the table yesterday to break free of the institutional norms to co-design a better world with less plastic and perhaps a coastal clean up-free future. This is a major breakthrough that the community have been seeking for many, many, many years, ultimately a marine debris monitoring and management plan. Such a plan seems like a no-brainer, especially when the Gold Coast is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches and waterways. However, the mechanics of the disintegrated institutions have limited any possibility thus far (and this is despite having a water economy worth over $5billion!).

The catalyst this time round is a major grant we are collaborating on, and if it gets up, not only will Gold Coast’s waterways and beaches benefit, the international community driven to have a world with less plastic will sleep better at night too.

The drivers that have influenced this possibility to be a possibility is inclusive of the exogenous influences playing a part in the negotiations with media, community leadership, cultural expectations, economies and civic ownership (plus many more).  

Then there are the agents… and in my opinion it’s the community leadership and civic ownership, which have finally tipped the negotiations to get a plan!

Above all, this wouldn’t be possible without the level of negotiation I (and others) have incurred for many, many, many years. Such negotiations have almost sent me to the crazy house, especially in some meetings where I had to spell out what marine debris is, and why current ‘solutions’ are not working… I am serious, and these institutions are responsible for managing our natural resources! Please note: there are good people inside the institutions, however, we can not turn a blind eye to the fact that they have failed to successfully negotiate inside their own institutions to have marine debris as a key component in their waste and water management plans – some are better than others. [This consistent failure inspired me to take on a Phd in institutional leadership and change to understand how those in institutions can influence decisions, or really influence their higher officers].

While this is being played out on the inside my local community haven’t stopped coming up with innovative solutions I bet they wish they could coin (e.g. Boomerang Bags is a Gold Coast export!). Such solutions are solutions because they do more than just ‘manage’ the issue, they actually stop the symptom in the first place. “If we only ever clean up, that is all we will ever do”, I quote Heidi Taylor, who is an Australian-based international expert on marine debris and citizen science from Tangaroa Blue Foundation. Move over Margaret Mead and everyone hail Heidi, who in my opinion is a key change agent at the heart of the progression on marine debris monitoring and management in Australia. With inspiration and guidance, my community have self-organised without the institutions (or in some incidences been drip fed with small grants and donations), and the meeting yesterday proved just how sophisticated citizens and citizen scientists have become when it comes to action on litter and marine debris.

To be honest I wasn’t entirely convinced on going to this meeting because I have spent hours and hours, goodness knows how many hours, sitting around tables, under fluorescent lights and contained within four walls meeting with clueless institutionalised bureaucrats about the plastic epidemic choking our waterways (I should also add the millions of dollars costing rate and taxpayers every year in clean up costs, and I better not forget the life threatening impacts on the 100,000 or so known wildlife too). That sentence was suppose to make you go out of breath, because I was almost out of breath – before yesterday. I had almost given up on trying to convince the institutions to invest in designing a monitoring and management plan for marine debris on the Gold Coast. Fortunately, a smarter than usual bureaucrat twisted my arm to attend that I thankfully attended…

Throughout the meeting I was in two-minds. Equally frustrated and equally thankful. Frustrated because the community, who are highly skilled, educated and experienced have been pitching such a project for many years. However, I was thankful that someone else was taking the minutes, someone else was responsible for writing the grant and I sat their gracefully sharing my ideas on how the community could be meaningfully involved. We are more than volunteers doing the dirty work!

As I drove home I gracefully smiled thinking, you know what, as much as the institutionalised bureaucrats and ‘science researchers’ in the meeting were frothing on the possibility of this project. None of it could be possible without the decade/s of community action already achieved. Today, my other frustrated self is thankful for being part of an incredible community that doesn’t stop until we get the outcome we know is the best-outcome for the environment. That is the ultimate goal!

If you have attended a clean up event on the Gold Coast I want to thank you because without your action I could not be in such positions (as much as they might seem frustrating) to put forward your ideas that add bucket-loads of soul to pivotal projects that will make our world a better place, with less plastic too.

I hope this tangent gives you some idea on what happens behind the scenes of cleaning up our waterways and beaches, inside the institutions that manage our natural resources. 

This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate. 

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