Everything is Related and Everything is Replicated

The founder of Rural System, reflecting on his experiences in Africa said Everything is Related when discussing the ripple effect that a singular event like an act of terrorism can have in an economy. Our human ecosystem, much like our environmental ecosystem, is linked by a complex web of interactions. Every “thing” has an effect on another “thing” somewhere in the system. Looking at the world through the eyes of an ecologist, this biological pattern is replicated in all aspects of life. Indeed it’s possible to draw valuable insights for non-biological fields from biological science. Perhaps the most recent compelling example is the comparison of global finance and primate social networks. As different as we are from animals, it’s clear that there are fundamental processes that remain the same. The world is one big, living organism.

World Travel

Traveling provides a unique perspective on land use and its associated challenges that aren’t comprehensible simply from reading. Observing the relationship between people and their surrounding environment provides context for our ideas and guides how we execute them.

As different as are our cultures, as different as are our landscapes, around the world humans have strikingly similar relationships with their environment. For example, each culture has strategies for farming or producing food, each has traditional knowledge for locating and consuming water, each has a strategy for interacting with wildlife and utilizing their natural resources, etc.  What’s more is that these processes are often coupled with the same challenges of long term sustainability. Whether it’s farmland in Uganda, Colombia or Virginia there is a constant tug of war between development and conservation. Clearing of forests for livestock is a constant among all three. Management of water resources are an issue for all three. We need farmers to produce food and farmers need to make a living, but farmland is often in contradiction with conservation and both are trumped by the value of developed land. The world really does boil down to land use.

Everything is related and everything is replicated!

Rural System is intended as a universal method for managing these similar challenges around the world. This is the vision however it’s clearly an enormous task to execute. After his time in Uganda, Dr. Giles confessed “I returned with more information and ideas than I can process. Now, even the beginning shapes of my conclusions have to be recast.” Recognizing when to redraft your ideas or your plans is the most valuable lesson both a scientist and an entrepreneur can learn and is a true testament to his wisdom. We must strive to design solutions that follow the “rules” which are replicated throughout the world’s ecosystems but flexible enough to be broadly applied. On the part of the visionary, this requires the ability to be humbled by limitations to one’s ideas but also resilient and committed to finding solutions. As for the solution, it must be systematic and include feedback and feedforward to remain accurate and adaptive. There is no one way to address the world’s wicked problems, but perhaps we can apply a universal methodology, a systems approach, for the betterment of our one big, living organism and all its inhabitants.

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About Risa Pesapane

Risa is the Project Director for Rural System, Inc. and is an experienced research biologist and wildlife ecologist.

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