Grappling with role of Wealth (and Conferences) in times of Crisis


Lynn Murphy


Earlier this month hundreds of people came together (and hundreds more online) in London for the annual Next Frontiers event convened by Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  Unlike other 1 day events, there was an almost palpable feeling of something emerging asking us to be on a course of different, to be disruptive, boldly creative, and actually responsive to the interlocking crisis- the polycrisis- we are in. 

All of us have been to countless conferences, one-day gatherings so you can imagine the format (including the jam-packed schedule, overwhelm, and the fatigue by the end of the day!). However, this conference stood apart both in theme-moving beyond traditional notions of wealth and finances towards regenerative, reparative practices- and in how it began, literally, on a different note. Azul Duque, a musician and member of Guestering Towards Decolonial Futures Collective, offered a song and invocation to bring us into remembrance of current genocides and the children who have and continue to suffer. The honest reckoning carried into the opening sessions where speakers did not hold back their emotions alongside intellect, asking us not to turn away or delude ourselves about the magnitude of compounding crises we find ourselves in across the planet.  Beyond platitudes about impact investments or regenerative businesses, I was pleasantly surprised to hear wealth managers call for ontological shifts and alchemical state changes. That is, speakers and the conveners acknowledged that the interlocking crisis we face (often referred to as the polycrisis or metacrisis) is not something the lives outside of us, and that the way we perceive and construct reality itself (i.e. ontology) needs to include the heart, the inner world. Moreover, some wealth managers suggested that this shift to include the inner world and our perceptions of reality itself, ontology, is more important the value we attribute to capital. 

What followed was a tour de force of 50 minute sessions touching on dimensions of the polycrisis/metacrisis and gesturing towards what plausible transitions and pathways to respond could be.  We heard about, for instance, bioregionalism, endowing local communities to steward wealth, decolonizing practices as possible ways to dismantle existing structures and put money in the service of life. Simultaneously, speakers exposed deeper layers of modernity and capitalism’s toxic hold upon us—whether it be, for example, the inherent, dangerous biases in AI, the limitations of even the most well intentioned philanthropists, the dire need to shift consciousness and deepen our commitment to stop the colonial legacy of inherent in financial systems and/or the NGO-foundation complex. 

However, as I listened to speakers and questions from participants, it seemed our collective understanding of the current economic, political, and cultural contexts varied, as did the willingness to sit in uncertainty. So sensing what a different course actually is couldn’t go very deep or far. From my vantage point, what was missing in the room was a lack of urgency. Not the kind of manic, hurried urgency, but something more aligned with the wisdom of Bayo Akomolafe when he says “times are urgent, we must slow down.”  We need an urgency that requires us to look within, disrupt our habituated gaze on and perceptions of the world, wealth and money to name a few. We need an urgency that responds differently than our current cultural values and conditionings (of efficiency, effectiveness, excellence, for example).  In such gatherings, we need to find ways to drop into honest conversations, swift action based in reciprocal relationships, break the notion of individual or institutional resources towards stewardship of and flowing collective resources towards myriad contextually relevant responses (not just the ones that look the most promising) and behave the way so many communities do when crises are truly upon us. 

It is of course hard for a short conference to break the form (speaker to passive listener) and be a deschooling learning and collective organizing space. However, for all of us it begins to look like willful resistance to not move beyond our current formats in the face of the metacrisis. For instance, we could move beyond the etiquette of funders passively listening, perhaps gathering more information, activists behaving politely in a quasi-dating game whilst fatigued of giving time, insights, and labor without reciprocal relationships. We could explore modalities that support us to get out of our comfort zones and do whatever is in our power to take courageous, vulnerable, risky steps to put wealth, our organizations, our efforts, our hearts in service to life. 

I am not suggesting that this annual event does not have an important function as a barometer; a temperature check of where we are and artful curation of a set of dialogues that show us the emerging agenda.  That is, many key ingredients for a significant event were present—relevant and nuanced context, leading edge of regenerative economics, decolonial practices and interactive sessions, speaking to ontology and how we perceive reality itself, speakers from across the world’s majority, etc. 

So what was missing? I would suggest, once again, it was an urgency and urgency of responding differently.  That is, if we take seriously the short time that capital in its current form will have value, all those humans and ecologies currently suffering and under attack, and inner and outer requirements of transitioning towards life affirming systems, then we must ask more of ourselves and our events. I would suggest that we need to create spaces that include a reckoning with power and control, i.e. doing the inner work, practicing ontological shifts in setting the intention and designing the format for a gathering, and organizing around efforts to compost hierarchies and support ecosystems. Put money and ourselves in service to life.

In other writings, we’ve (e.g. Transition Resource Circle) called for a just transition plus ontological shifts or what we refer to as transition pathways out of systems of domination and extraction towards life-affirming ways of being and living. We suggest that the transition begins with ontology: shifting our gaze of reality itself and developing ongoing spiritual/political praxis – this is what we mean by ontological shifts. 

This means, for instance, the hard work of dismantling the inner capitalist, the uncomfortability of letting go of our neoliberal culture and entitlements, the willingness to not know and act anyway, the hacking of our dominant narratives in search of life affirming one, and well beyond. If we are to put money and wealth in service of life and act swiftly, then such ontological shifts need to come into each of us and into such spaces.  

As a starting point, we could ask funders and wealth holders—not just activists and service workers—to be more vulnerable and courageous, demonstrating the inner and outer transition pathways they are stewarding and living. Then we might begin to perceive that different course which was emerging at the Next Frontiers.  Perhaps we’d find ourselves practicing and living healthier notions of wealth—ones that move us as kin more swiftly towards true service to Life. 

To explore further, see this excerpt-Healing Wealth in the Metacrisis– adapted from a recent collaborative issue on Wealth as Transition Pathway. 

Lynn Murphy is the Co-Director of Transition Resource Circle and Co author of Post Capitalist Philanthropy: Healing Wealth in the Time of Collapse

Tagged in: #NextFrontiers2024

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *