This month’s featured Purppl Partner is Zanette Johnson, Regenerative Community Facilitator at NewStories. Take a quick 10 to get to know this social enterprise leader!
Where do you consider home?
After twenty extraordinary years in Hawai‘i, I am gracefully returning to the land of my birth in Portland, Oregon. It is a joy to be re-villaging in our three-generation home, and exciting to be living in Salmon Nation again!
What is your favorite part of your role within your organization?
Storytelling about the past, present, and future invites our deep visionary imaginations and intuitions out to play! As we look ahead to what is next for NewStories, we’ve been thinking about the legacy that we want to leave behind — as ancestors of the future. I am enjoying creating the internal alignment and building the structure that will allow us to launch in a direction of exploration while having meaningful clarity to guide us on the journey.
What drew you to social impact work like this?
Perhaps it was my family’s spiritual teachings or just my soul’s calling, but for as long as I can remember I have had the desire in my heart to make the world a more compassionate, loving, and accepting place. My highest calling is to be of service; and it’s mirrored right there in this work.
At the center of our work and relationships in the NewStories ecosystem is this principle of being “in service to the irrepressible spirit of all life.” And that’s how I know I’m in the right place at NewStories – because we’re doing that together with each other and the community organizations we work with.
If you were a politician, what policy would you change tomorrow?
I would dedicate significant resources to providing a Healing Commons, accessible to anyone who has experienced trauma. So many of the things we punish and categorize as social ills are really rooted in a need for healing at physiological, somatic, emotional, psychological, and spiritual levels.
I would change the policy of treating the outcomes of unprocessed trauma as criminal, and focus on offering a broad spectrum of healing services and modalities to all those who find themselves in need of trauma healing.
What one thing do you wish people not currently working in the social impact space knew about
it or would do differently?
I wish that people understood more broadly that there are many different kinds of return on investment (ROI).
Markets have defined ROI so narrowly in terms of percent return in cash. Let’s spread the word that there are returns on investment that can come in diverse forms like: joy and resilience; capacity building within and between organizations; increasing interdependence in a system; regenerative outcomes that create synergistic mutual benefits; et cetera!
Once we’re collectively aware that there is such a rich set of indicators to measure, we’re free to pursue so many different types of return on investment; we can start to see “non-profit” organizations anew in this light as organizations that create “social-profit” instead.
Opening this novel point of view to people who aren’t already within the social impact space could really change a lot of perspectives. These diverse types of ROI (that we’re now learning to meaningfully assess) have benefits for all of us because we live in a deeply interdependent world. If we can look more broadly how we define ROI, then there’s greater possibility for making progress on some of those key indicators that make life better for all of us together.
What systemic issues are you working on? How are you getting to the root causes of those
NewStories uses storywork to help communities and organizations cultivate networks of life-affirming relationship and navigate systemic change.
We know that there are innumerable context-appropriate ways to support transformation – so rather than sharing a specific method, we share the processes and human-interface technologies that we know encourage the patterns of interaction, listening, self-organization, and collaboration that help groups of people change the systems they’re a part of.
We work with informal groups as well as community-based initiatives and conventional nonprofit organizations to illuminate powerful stories, facilitate pathfinding, convene new connections, and coach transformative processes with the diverse tools we’ve gathered.
How do you generate revenue to keep your efforts sustainable?
We are developing a model for a Community Regeneration Collaboratory that invites nonprofit organizations and informal community groups to experiment, explore, and embody new forms of relating to one another – and new forms of relating to philanthropic funders.
After decades of seeing the conventional short-term competitive-funding dynamics limit and kill valuable initiatives, we’ve been asking this question: How can we create an ecosystem that really supports collaboration and co-creation rather than putting communities and organizations in competition with one another for funder attention?
This model of the Community Regeneration Collaboratory opens up a path to a new pattern of relationship, and NewStories sees this as a step toward generating regenerative revenue in the years to come. That’s what we’re experimenting with!
What are your top challenges right now as a leader?
At the moment, one challenge is finding the right people to join us as we grow our organization. People who share the ways of being that we have as our NewStories “operating system” – presence-based, deep listening, and process-oriented, yet who also have points of view that are genuinely different from those of the current team and can challenge our patterns of thinking in productive ways to make our work even better.
We’re looking for an “illuminator” who can listen deeply and formulate the sharing of the themes that come to light during the storywork processes—and spread the word about “What’s possible!” through high-visiblity channels and social media.
Another challenge I face becomes clearer each time I gather with NewStories’ elders Bob Stilger and Lynnaea Lumbard and get to listen to the depth and breadth of their wisdom. The power of their experiences and relationships has made NewStories what it is – and I’m trying to find ways to access the story bank of what they’ve cultivated and carried all this time – in order to share and transmit that to the people who are entering into the ecosystem now. The challenge is finding practices to support vibrant memory and story within our own organizational culture, to assimilate and honor the richness of the traditions and the relationships that NewStories wants to carry forward and make part of its future legacy.
If someone were coming to your town for dinner, where would you most recommend they grab
a great takeout?
There are so many wonderful food cart pods in the Portland area, I don’t know where to begin! Viking Soul Food is a favorite. And there is a vegan restaurant called Blossoming Lotus that has a BLT – with tempeh bacon of course – and I order it every chance I get! To my visiting friends, I’d say grab that BLT with extra avocado, and head up to Washington Park’s Rose Garden for a picnic before you explore the Japanese Garden.