Stepping up to build a thriving Tasmania

Meeting future challenges by focusing on what works, not on what is broken.

Melbourne’s pandemic surge is a clear sign that COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, continuing to damage us physically, mentally and economically. If ever our community needed a boost, now is the time.

When I first heard about Thriving Tasmania, a proposal to get Tasmanians together online for a couple of hours to talk about our strengths, I feared it might turn out to be just another talkfest, offering participants a short-term confidence boost before leaving them more discouraged than ever. But pondering the idea of a recovery persuaded me that this was worth a go.

We are now in a full-blown global revolution. There is no more talk of bouncing back to the lives we had. The virus will stalk us for years, maybe decades, and the world it leaves behind will be very different from the old.

That being so, we have to start thinking about a new kind of reality. Well before COVID-19 Jessica Robbins, noting that climate and other environmental changes were undermining dominant paradigms about how we live our lives, sought a new approach to dealing with change.

That led her to get together with others seeking to know what Tasmania needs to do to remain a viable, vibrant, connected community in this new, changed world. They adopted a technique called appreciative inquiry, which focuses on what is working rather than what is broken.

The initial Tasmanian Way forum last September sought to open up discussion about developing a state-wide circular economy by reshaping food and waste systems, aiming to put Tasmania ahead of the world in implementing the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Since then, Australia’s horrific summer of bushfires and a global pandemic have given us plenty more to think about, while also serving to focus the mind. We no longer need to get our heads around something out there in the far distant future, or dwell overmuch on the world we will leave to our children and grandchildren. We’re living in it, now.

The fires and the pandemic, far from moving us away from those earlier questions about food and waste, have underlined their enduring relevance in the critical task of building Tasmanian systems capable of anticipating and adjusting to forces of change.

These are big, tough objectives. Mapping a course to get us there requires numbers of people, not solitary heroes. The pandemic prompted Robbins and others to bring as many Tasmanians together as current online video technology will allow – quite a lot as it turns out – to start the ball rolling.

I’ve observed over the years that while there are always exceptions, women in general are more alert to what goes on between people than men are, with more intuitive awareness and understanding. It’s telling that Thriving Tasmania is run by a team of young, smart, energetic women.

Robbins has teamed up with her Tasmanian Way colleague Rikki Mawad, who has a legal background; psychology and wellbeing specialist Anna Tayler; Geogia Currant, a business facilitator with expertise in hospitality and tourism; and Katy Cooper, founder of a business called DisruptiveCo and an evangelist for her island state.

There was a man among the Thriving Tasmania facilitators. Dewayne Everettsmith started proceedings with the most compelling statement I’ve yet heard as to why us descendants of more recent arrivals should listen hard when Indigenous Tasmanians speak about living sustainably on this island.

While facilitators did all the talking in plenary sessions, breakout discussions allowed participants to talk in small groups before putting their thoughts into writing. Ideas canvassed in last week’s event and an earlier one in late June will form the basis of a report.

The ideas about our collective future emerging from Thriving Tasmania – ideas that I aim to draw on for this column – will not end there. There is a sense among participants in these two forums that the series of crises which brought us to this point mark the early stages of something big and transformative for this island.

Communities of any size function on the basis that they will be around for some time, so it’s natural to strive for security and stability. Yet today’s multiple agents of disruption are a reminder that permanence and certainty are an illusion, that we are not masters of the universe and must learn to live with the forces of change now upon us.

Our community will find strength in accepting this and rebuilding lives and the economy in a sustaining, sustainable direction. That must become the Tasmanian way.

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