September is Hunger Action Month in Iowa!
Starting Tuesday, September 1, Iowa’s eight food banks, along with other food banks in the Feeding America network will kick off Hunger Action Month by holding events throughout the country to inspire people to take action to help the millions of people who are food insecure in the United States.
A full calendar of 30 Ways in 30 Days is available at www.northeastiowafoodbank.org. This is a listing of 30 different ways to take action during each of the 30 days in September.
Some of the Hunger Action Month events taking place include:
- Hunger Action Day (Thursday, September 3rd) - Wear orange to support hunger awareness.
- Mention the Northeast Iowa Food Bank at Panera Bread in Waterloo or Cedar Falls Thursday, September 3rd, or the Food Bank of Iowa at Central Iowa Panera stores, and 20% of your food bill will be donated to the Food Bank.
- The Food Bank is also participating in the new Spoontember online initiative. Supporters can share a ‘spoon selfie’ or video of themselves creatively using a spoon – a utensil that is most often used to prepare and provide food for others – and challenge others to join them to generate awareness about hunger in our communities.
To learn more about Hunger Action Month and Spoontember, please visit www.hungeractionmonth.org.
Using systems thinking to build hunger free communities
Systems thinking tools help teach “the how” of building a collective impact model for hunger-free communities. Participants at a quarterly Regional Food Systems Working Group Meeting were treated to a presentation by Ms. Kathy Zurcher, a consultant who specializes in facilitating systems change. Highlights included three principles of systems change and several practical suggestions to help facilitate collective impact through systems thinking.
Three principles of systems change:
- Relationships are fundamental. Foster group reflection and “generative conversations” that focus on each participant’s strengths and how their efforts can complement one another.
- Slower is faster. Take time to see the whole system and build a shared understanding of the future you want to see.
- What you focus on is what you get. An exclusive focus on analyzing the problems of the present tends to lead a group to discover even more problems and complexities. A focus on co-creating the future helps a group identify and pursue easy wins and builds energy for ongoing collaboration.
- Good relationships tend to encourage even better relationships, while bad relationships tend to encourage even worse relationships. To reverse a vicious cycle of worsening relationships:
- Focus discussion on the purpose and mission of the work, and on what brings everyone together. There is usually a set of common values that bring participants to the table and these can provide the initial common ground for improving relationships.
- Also recognize that systems-change discussions rarely include everyone. While nobody is in favor of hunger, there may be people that fundamentally disagree with the strategies that the group is pursuing. If this is the case, it may be best to part ways on as friendly of terms as possible, ideally by mutual agreement and after a period of honest conversation and reflection.
- The process of systems change emphasizes relationships and co-ownership of a group, which can make it difficult for new people to join. To bring new people in:
- Develop an intentional on-ramping process for new people. When someone new joins the group, have another conversation about what the group is doing and why. This will help integrate the newcomers into the effort.
- To save time, it may be best to decide on certain times of year that newcomers can enter as a cohort. This could be done once, twice, or four times a year.
- Before a prospective member joins, it is helpful for a senior member or facilitator to have a one-on-one conversation with the newcomer to orient them to the history and mission of the group and to help ensure they’re a good fit to join.
- Many groups include some members that are more (or less) powerful than average. To manage unequal power in a partnership:
- Be very clear about member roles and norms of interaction, and have these conversations early, before problems surface.
- If possible, have the conversation about power. It’s often better to talk respectfully about power and how to exercise it, rather than to leave unequal power among partners as the elephant in the room.
- Be sure to emphasize common values and motivations, especially when discussing sensitive topics like power.
- It can be helpful to intentionally take away the symbols and signs of power, and to intentionally mix power levels when assigning seating at meetings and forming working groups. For example, a group that includes members of the business community, nonprofit agency representation, and residents of an economically distressed neighborhood might institute a casual dress code at meetings.
- It is difficult to make the mental switch between analyzing problems and envisioning the future, yet this is often necessary to generate solutions. To effectively switch between analyzing problems and envisioning the future:
- Begin by envisioning the future. The positive energy from this exercise will carry over throughout the meeting.
- Frame an analysis of the present using the collective vision: “given our vision, what’s happening in current reality?”
- Analyze problems later, and focus that analysis on the subset of problems that is directly relevant to the group’s chosen strategies and tactics for achieving their vision.
- Funding is challenge for this type of work. While some funders are moving towards support for relationship-building and systems change, it is difficult to show concrete results on a short timeline.
In addition to these highlights, Ms. Zurcher shared three guides, which she has generously allowed us to share through the Iowa Hunger Directory online resources page.
Ms. Zurcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to request a consultation. For more information about the Regional Food Systems Working Group, please email Ms. Lynn Heuss at email@example.com.
Photo Credit: Governor Terry E. Branstad proclaims September Hunger Action Month at the Iowa State Fair.