In the first of two blogs our Non Executive Director Julia Beart shares some reflections on a tough winter and the green shoots of spring as Shared Assets undergoes a double transition; moving from a think-and-do tank to infrastructure for an emerging land movement, and towards a more distributed leadership that models the power dynamics we want to see in a more just and sustainable future.

“Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust.” 

  • Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

From crisis emerges clarity

Last year was tough. A tight cashflow, combined with delays to payments from significant projects, brought to the foreground the financial and organisational fragility that we know exists in organisations who are pushing at the boundaries of systems. We went through the tensions of redundancy processes, and lost some staff to the uncertainty of the moment. But with the help and support of our friends, sympathetic funders, partners and wider community we survived, regrouped, and are rebuilding. Shared Assets has been looking anew at how it can best serve the land justice movement, and is shifting from ‘think and do tank’ to a building more intentionally its role as enablers and convenors of this emerging movement. As such we resonate deeply with Jessica Prendergast’s beautifully articulated discussion of the tensions facing social enterprises operating at the liminal spaces between existing and new systems

We talked last year about thinking seasonally, and this definitely felt like a mid-winter moment. But it's been incredible to find an ecosystem of organisations - friends, partners, collaborators - show up for us. To know that the past ten years - sitting with complexity, bridging between systems, holding space without seeking to control the agenda - could be repaid in an abundance of trust, solidarity and even money, has enabled us to seek out the green shoots of springtime and to move forward with more intention than ever.

We’ve taken on the dual challenge of transformation at a movement building level with transformation at an organisational level. As our Co-Founders plan their transition out of the organisation, our Theory of Change, inspired by the Berkana Two Loops model, looks at how we can open space for folk to come together, connecting pioneers and building networks as emergent systems gain traction. We’ve also been considering how to re-found the organisation in a way that reflects the values and ambition of the land justice movement, disrupting the status quo and attending to the many intersectional oppressions that co-exist. Some of our current work with Seeding Reparations taps into themes of colonialism, historical dispossession and migrant justice which are critical to our understanding and activism around land justice.

A system change diagram showing an upper loop representing the dominant system, a lower loop which is the emergent system and the pioneers who are seeking to make the transition happen
The Berkana Two Loops Systems Change model and our vision for a new land system

A key question that emerged for us in this moment was this: how can Shared Assets' convening role across the land justice movement connect with and further the wider just transition?

Land justice as a central part of a just transition

Diverse streams of work towards economic, environmental and social justice are often wrapped up into calls for a just transition. Different organisations use this framework in different ways but one thing has become clear; land is not often articulated in the framing of the issue, yet the possibility of modelling alternative ways for humanity to organise and thrive are held back by lack of access to land - physical space to re-imagine our relationship with each other and with our planet. 

Shared Assets’ work on the Community Ownership Fund supports organisations testing out new ways to shift this thinking yet we’re up against vested interests that don’t move easily.  Navigating planning systems and land ownership precedents and protocols can be a challenge as many progressive organisations such as CIVIC SQUARE, WeCanMake, Right To Roam Campaign, and Ecological Land Cooperative know only too well. Yet until we are talking about land justice as part of the just transition, we are missing a vital element in this work. This encompasses the complexities of intergenerational wealth, colonialism, dispossession and reparations, and collective access to common lands.

We recently convened a meeting of partners and collaborators to test our ideas and ask for their help in articulating our value within the ecosystem. We heard, quite clearly, that they valued the ways that we hold conflicting needs and act as a bridge between different parts of the land system. As one contributor explained “Shared Assets is the only organisation that could convene an event that can get Directors of big national organisations alongside community anarchists in one space.” It has always felt important to work with a diverse range of allies whether working with progressive landowners on practical solutions to the transfer of land ownership or incubating grassroots collectives reimagining land stewardship with a focus on climate and racial justice. 

A flow diagram of Shared Assets Theory of Change showing; what we do, how we work, who we work with, outcomes for our partners and clients, and systems outcomes
Shared Assets Theory of Change

This bridging role between dominant and emerging systems is a theme we keep returning to, highlighting Shared Asset’s role as a pollinator, playing a mycelial function in bringing people together. The annual Spring Gathering of the land justice movement that we convene being the most obvious, and cherished, example of this aspect of our work. Continuing to hold space across difference, bridging between worlds, deepening our work around inequity and oppression, will be a future focus as our movement building work gathers pace.

Nurturing the Green Shoots

Shared Assets is at a critical moment; the green shoots are many, yet the fragility remains. The need to hold learning and connecting spaces across systems feels more urgent than ever; from community ownership models within the existing system to the seeds of reparative justice within emerging systems. The past year has been challenging yet hugely validating, bolstering our determination to step up to the challenges of our times, modelling alternative possibilities and unlocking transformative potential. 

But we can’t do this alone. Whilst many funders are reorienting themselves to the current movement, and exploring how they can best support a just transition to a new system rather than treating the failings of the current one, the funding environment is still challenging with movement infrastructure still falling between the cracks of many funder’s criteria or approaches

Over the past 11 years, initially as a small consultancy and then as a ‘think and do tank’, the organisation was able to achieve financial sustainability through a mixture of commercial and project based grant income. However much of this work - whilst valuable - is simply responding to the needs and failures of the dominant system. As we develop into an infrastructure organisation, supporting the development of a wider emerging land movement with and focussed on achieving a fundamental systemic change, our funding needs are changing. We increasingly need to secure more long term core funding in order to effectively undertake this role and our own wider movement building work.

We invite friends, collaborators and partners to join us in the next steps of this journey. We invite any funder interested in the just transition to meet our ambition with bold, transformative funding, and to do so with the pace and urgency that is needed. 

Being the change

A follow on blog will explore organisational design as an embodiment of our collective power. With a commitment to learning out loud, we’ll be sharing more about our reflective inquiry into - and implementation of - forms of organisational design that will enable us to truly work in service of this land justice movement.

With land we can. Together we can.

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