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Abundance is, in large part, an attitude.

-Sue Patton Thoele 

In a world of dualities, abundance is too commonly seen as a surplus of some kind, as the obvious opposite of scarcity. Within communities and organizations, it’s often challenging to see possibilities of abundance in the scramble for resources or while keeping an eye on the bottom line. Many organizations and communities frequently become mired in adopting a mentality of scarcity, inherited from both a culture in which ‘more’ is usually equated with ‘better’, and from an imbalanced history experienced by many social sector organizations and communities.

Looking at the world through a sustainability lens doesn’t erase the realities of abundance and scarcity, or the inequalities that we witness everyday—but it does ask us to assume an attitude of abundance, even if we are in an organization struggling with financial challenges or a community trying to address issues for which it seems there are insufficient resources.

In an article in the most recent issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review on “The Networked Non-Profit”, the value of creating abundance through networks, rather than individual organizational growth, is described. And in some cases, those organizations that relied on network partners actually grew more than their counterparts who tried to ‘go it alone.’ This is the kind of abundance possible in a world that understands sustainability and systems approaches to the challenges we face.

Often cited as the father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug operated from a perspective that is was better to “wrestle with problems of abundance than problems of scarcity.” The Nobel laureate, who is widely credited for saving a billion lives through his contributions to agriculture in the developing world, has also been profoundly criticized for helping to institute practices that are environmentally damaging and socio-culturally inappropriate. While it’s challenging to argue with the depth of accomplishment evident in Borlaug’s work and the social imperative that drew him to it, such an example enables us to examine our perspectives on abundance when we attempt to solve challenges on any scale.

Kevin Kelley of Wired Magazine has written that “the only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention.” In building the bridge toward a more sustainable, socially just world, perhaps the attention we bring to examining our work, our communities and our culture is the most abundant resource we might consider as we move forward.

March 2008