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April, 2011                                                                                                                          Number 11
Welcome to the New Possibilities Associates newsletter. Each month we will offer articles on sustainable solutions to tough problems in environments of rapid change.

New Possibilities Associates LLC is a team of highly qualified facilitators who design and lead retreats, create small and large group experiences and facilitate groups and organizations, as they move from chaos to new results.

We hope you will find these articles useful, interesting and thought provoking. We also hope you will share this with you friends, or unsubscribe if you prefer.

Howard Mason
New Possibilities Associates LLC

Pause a moment to reflect on complexity.
Reflections of ComplexityPlease click on the image above to visit the New Possibilities Associates website and view a short presentation on the nature of complexity. 


In This Issue
From My Experience -- The conversation we need to have about a sustainable future for the arts in Louisville
Tips for Treading Powerfully in Chaos -- A venture philanthropy pioneer: The Acumen Fund turns ten
Contact us
Services of New Possibilities Associates LLC
Social Change Book Club 5.0 meets 3rd Mondays

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The New Possibilities Imperative
"For every complex problem there is always an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."
- H. L. Mencken

High complexity demands new ways of learning, thinking and solving problems.

About New Possibilities Associates
We Live in a New World

These are unprecedented times. It has simply never been this way before. Our world has never been more interconnected and interdependent.

Leaders today grapple with seemingly insoluble problems - wicked problems - problems that, by the very nature of the world today, don't respond to traditional solutions.

Leaders need to be able to tap the potential for innovation and action in any group or team and to shift recurring group patterns that block productivity and creativity. As executives, managers, consultants and teachers, we need to facilitate rapid growth in the collaborative capacity and collective wisdom of our teams.

New Possibilities Associates knows what it takes for people to successfully lead in the face of complex, diverse and rapidly changing reality.

Our commitment is to finding new solutions to wicked problems. New Possibilities Associates is dedicated to advancing the success of teams that are forming and working together in new ways to make organizations successful, address the most pressing problems, and create sustainable communities.

We support the leaders who are engaging fresh practices and approaches, shifting cultures and bringing new life to their communities and colleagues.
From My Experience
It's time to convene an inclusive, forward looking conversation 
on a sustainable future for the arts in Louisville.

Arts lettersWith the current focus on change in the arts in Louisville, many questions are being asked and solutions proposed. But many of these questions and solutions are being discussed by the usual people, at the usual tables, using the usual processes, asking the usual questions and coming up with familiar solutions.

To find new solutions and the breakthroughs that we need, it will take a new conversation.

What would an inclusive, forward looking conversation on a sustainable future for the arts in Louisville look like?

1. Open to everyone: This conversation is too important and the subject too far reaching to leave it at private tables. Everyone who wants to be involved and make a contribution should be welcome. Complex, future-oriented issues require the broad participation of all the perspectives that care.

2. Participants engaged as owners, rather than customer or clients: Since it is important that everyone share responsibility for the arts in Louisville, then everyone must be engaged as co-owners of the arts, rather than customers or clients. Part of the diminishing finances of the arts is due to the increasing difficulty of arts providers and funders to successfully grow their base with new customers and donors - if the product is not what is wanted by new customers and donors, why buy? Of course, inviting people to participate as owners requires welcoming their participation more as equals than most providers and donors ordinarily do.

3. Moving beyond technical fixes for past problems to the underlying issues that affect a future different from the past: As H. L. Menken famously said, "For every complex problem there is always an answer that is clear, simple and wrong." The issues underlying the future of the arts in Louisville will not be "fixed" by any set of Band-Aid solutions or even any tried and true solutions from other times or places. We are unique and our future will definitely not be like our halcyon or recent pasts. We need broad, far-reaching solutions for futures that we cannot yet know or describe. We need to be prepared to adapt - change ourselves, our methods, our institutions - to meet the demands of the next few years. Most of the questions we are facing are long-term social, business or policy issue, often called wicked questions. These are the complex, ever changing community and organizational problems that don't yield to our best efforts and resist simple definition and solutions. They are messy, devious, and they fight back when we try to "resolve" them.

Working with wicked questions calls for shared understanding and shared commitment:

Shared understanding of meaning and context, and of all the dimensions and issues of the problem.

Shared commitment to the processes of working with ambiguity and the unknown, and to the emergent solution path.

Shared meaning for key terms and concepts as everyone works on getting clearer about their role in the effort. Together we need to have a shared understanding of the background for the work and what the issues are, and become clear that we have a shared commitment to how the effort will reach its objectives and achieve success.

Developing shared understanding, shared commitment and shared need takes time. We need to be prepared to spend the time it takes to build a sustainable future. Moving slowly at first will get us to a sustainable future faster.

We need to keep in mind that the patterns of thinking for most of us (organizational leaders, grocers, mechanics, accountants, social workers, engineers, etc.) are different from the patterns of thinking for artists. Most of us view the world as orderly, predictable and controllable; for artists it is only partly orderly, predictable and controllable - it is also partly random and unpredictable. Most of us strive toward certainty and the straightest path to our goal; artists often strive toward possibility and the aesthetic of the path is the goal. Most of us rely on science and validated methods; artists rely more on insight and intuition. These differences in patterns of thinking add to the complexity of achieving a new vision of sustainability for the arts in Louisville.

We also need to get comfortable with the idea that there will not be a single, adaptive solution or action plan that will be coordinated by one entity and that everyone will be working on together. Instead there may be multiple prototypes popping up all over, wherever there is creativity, passion, energy and responsibility. Instead of a coordinating entity, we would do better with an entity that would serve to empower, connect, share learning, and keep the vision of a sustainable future for the arts in Louisville alive and vibrant.

Here is a model for how inclusive, forward looking conversations on a sustainable future of the arts in Louisville might be held:

Round One - Sharing perspectives: The first round is about engagement, diversity of perspective and beginning to develop shared understanding. Convergence around a single or best answer is not part of this round.

What is our vision for a sustainable future for the arts in Louisville?
What do we already have that can support our vision?
What do we need to do to achieve our vision?

Round Two - Discovering important questions and opportunities: This round continues promoting engagement and diversity of perspective. It focuses on what must be answered first and what are powerful opportunities.

What question(s), if we asked answered first, would give us the best start in achieving our vision for a sustainable future for the arts in Louisville?
What opportunity has the power to transform the community and inspire you?

Round Three - Call to action: This round is an action-oriented conversation where participants are invited to bring their project, ideas, questions or whatever they feel called by and need help to launch or advance in the community. For each project or idea:

What is the purpose of the project or idea?
What is missing? What is needed to make the project of idea more complete or possible?
What have we learned and what next steps are we ready to take?

For this kind of process to take place, we need two groups to step forward. One group would be the conveners of the conversation. The conveners maybe individuals or organizations who care deeply about the future of the arts in Louisville, have enough influence so that people will respond to messages and invitations, and are seen as fair/neutral brokers. A single individual can start the convening but usually there will be several. The conveners are joined by the second group, the hosts - people who are skilled and experienced in the arts of holding inclusive, forward looking conversations that open possibilities and find the path to wiser action, a more sustainable future and stronger community. Together the conveners and hosts agree on purpose and principles, design the conversation process, develop and make the invitation, conduct the conversation process, and facilitate transition from deep conversation to wise and creative action.

I am offering my time and efforts as a host and I know many other talented people who I am fortunate to call my colleagues who would offer theirs as well. Who cares enough and is willing to step forward as conveners?

If you want to join this effort, please contact me at

Howard Mason 

Tips for Treading Powerfully in Chaos 
Acumen Fund 

A pioneer of venture philanthropy, the Acumen Fund, turned ten years old in April, making it a good time to look at what they do, how far they have come and what they have accomplished.

Acumen Fund Annual ReportIn the very beginning of Acumen's first ever annual report,
On the Ground, you find these big ideas:


Imagine a world without poverty.


Between pure charity and pure financial return, there is an unexplored space with tremendous opportunities for innovation, social impact and lasting change.


Acumen Fund invests patient capital in businesses that deliver critical, affordable goods and services to the world's poor, improving the lives of millions.

Patient capital is Acumen's name for its approach to taking on the challenges that face the two-thirds of the world's population that live in poverty. Acumen recognizes that purely profit-driven approaches have not historically succeeded in areas of high poverty. And purely philanthropic approaches cannot sustain the resources necessary for broad scale change over the time needed.

Acumen Fund thinks of patient capital as a debt or equity investment in an early-stage enterprise providing low-income consumers with access to healthcare, water, housing, alternative energy, or agricultural resources. Their typical investment of patient capital for an enterprise ranges from $300,000 to $2,500,000 in equity or debt, with payback or exit in about five to seven years. The patient capital Acumen provides is complemented by a wide range of management support services nurturing the company to scale. Their aim in investing patient capital is not to seek high returns, but rather to jump-start the creation of enterprises that improve the ability of the poor to live with dignity.

Acumen view of patient capital has theses following characteristics:

Long time horizons for the investment.
A goal of maximizing social, rather than financial, returns.
Providing management support to help new business models thrive.
The flexibility to seek partnerships with governments and corporations through subsidy and co-investment when doing so may be beneficial to low-income customers.
Acumen investment process
Acumen's investment process

Not all social problems can be solved in ways that turn a profit, but for those that can, the classic nonprofit dilemmas of growth and sustainability melt away. Access to commercial sources of capital enable these social enterprises to grow far more rapidly than most nonprofits, and the steady stream of earned income enables them to survive without charitable or government support. Catalytic philanthropists therefore sometimes find themselves funding start-up companies instead of making charitable grants.

Acumen Fund offers charitable donors an array of investments in profitable, scalable, and sustainable business models. Launched in 2001 by Jacqueline Novogratz, with seed funding from The Rockefeller Foundation, Acumen has raised more than $20 million in charitable contributions and invested the money in more than thirty enterprises throughout Africa and India and across industries ranging from housing and health care to energy and water purification. Here are some highlights of social-benefit, for-profit patient capital Acumen investments:

More than 3 million people have access to safe, affordable, and efficient energy.
7,000 people have jobs
Hundreds of millions of insecticide treated bed nets have been produced by A to Z, a Acumen investment company.
More than 330,000 farmers are changing their families' lives with drip irrigation systems.
Hundreds of thousands have access to quality sanitation in Kenya - and Eco-Tact, an Acumen investment, has become a model for other countries.
More than 150,000 farmers have access to quality, affordable hybrid seeds in Western Kenya.
Acumen investment 1298 - the company name and the telephone number - is now answering more than 30,000 emergency calls every month in India (and has created more than 1250 jobs).
Kashf has reached more than 300,000 borrowers with micro-loans and emerged as one of Pakistan's important civil society institution.
The first commercial mortgages for the poor have been provided in Pakistan and Saiban has developed a working, sustainable model for low-income housing development.
More than 350,000 individuals have access to safe drinking water (and this doesn't include the copycat companies that have emerged as a result of WHI's innovation in the Indian marketplace).
Aravind provides quality eyecare through telemedicine to millions across India and has served as a global model.
Sekem is the largest exporter of organic goods from the Middle East to Europe (working with 4,000 farmers on reclaimed desert land).

Some of the lessons from Acumen Fund's first ten years:

Lesson 1: We can make a difference on some of the worlds biggest and most intractable problems. It is possible to start something from scratch and build something that is innovative, effective and sustainable. Passionate people on a mission can make change happen.

Lesson 2: Venture philanthropy and Acumen's model of patient capital work. Building systems and enhancing entrepreneurial outcomes generate results far bigger than the resources invested. There is a vital third way that is neither pure for-profit or pure not-for-profit.

Lesson 3: It takes patience and persistence, hard work over long time frames, to get results that many would give up on too soon. 


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New Possibilities Associates LLC
1225 Bates Court
Louisville, KY  40204

Howard Mason, Principal

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Services of
New Possibilities Associates LLC 

New Possibilities Associates LLC is a team of highly qualified facilitators who design and lead retreats, create small and large group experiences and facilitate groups and organizations as they move from chaos to clarity. We specialize in sustainable solutions to tough problems in environments of rapid change.

What does it take to realize sustainable solutions in the face of complexity, diversity and rapid change?

Transforming the well-being of our communities and organizations calls on us to meet new challenges of complexity, uncertainty, diversity and rapid change. Here are some of the ways that New Possibilities Associates can help:

Hosting Conversations for Change
Almost all of our work begins with hosting conversations that matter within organizations and communities. We help the discovery of how much we have in common and how much we collectively know. These conversations lead to deeper understanding and opening the door to the emergence of new possibilities and wiser action. We see more of the whole picture, we develop insights that can guide our actions, we find courage to move forward. It begins by making a place where it is safe to speak our truth and where we are really listening to each other.

Sometimes hosting conversation blends with presenting or training. We look for opportunities to share our learning from communities and organizations about what helps to build healthy and resilient organizations and communities. We are able to share insights about key practices, such as conversation, inquiry and collective meaning-making. We help groups learn to reach new levels of working together, whether in  one-time meetings or large-scale systemic shifts.

Consulting/Hosting Communities of Practice
Conversation and creating spaces for co-creation for new futures are the beginning of the work. If we want different results, we have to make some new commitments. We are called to enter into a relationship with each other which has a clear focus on both action and learning. This is a community of practice. Communities of practice exist at different scale, linking people within a particular community or organization and linking people from different communities and organization. For communities of practice to really work, communities and organizations have to consciously commit themselves to new frameworks for action which are explicit, visible and transparent to all involved. Literally, we make the path by walking it and there are a lot of stumbles as well as leaps of faith along the way. The engagements that work best are the ones that allow us to work with a group over time.

Facilitation is similar to hosting. For us, the difference is that facilitation often works with the questions and needs that some one, usually organization leadership or a decision-making body, brings to a group of people. There may be a partial sharing of decision-making power, but almost always facilitation means working with a group of people to make their views, priorities and concerns a vital part of a change process.

Often those who are in positions of leadership need someone from outside their organization who can talk with them about transformational change. We help leaders think in new ways about their difficult questions, connect them with others with similar issues, and work with them to find new approaches and ideas.

Social Change Book Club 5.0 
An independent gathering furthering learning on social change,
now in its fifth year.

on the third Monday of the month at 6:00 p.m.

Our home is Heine Bros. Coffee, 119 Chenoweth Lane, St Matthews. We are grateful for the hospitality.

Our April book is Practically Radical. William C. Taylor, founding editor of Fast Times, offers a new look at ways to shake things up and make positive change in difficult times. We are living through the age of disruption. You can't do big things if you're content with doing things a little better than everyone else or a little differently than how you did them before. In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and bestselling authorhas long explored and explained the way we live. In our May book, The Social AnimalBrooks uses leading-edge discoveries in neuroscience and cognition to paint a surprisingly moving picture of how we can educate our emotions to lead richer lives.


The Social Change Book Club is now in its fifth year of monthly meetings. It is open to everyone who is interested in understanding, participating, leading, or supporting social change. Each month we select a book and get together to discuss. Selections rotate among three themes: social changes, how we work with others to make change happen, and the inner qualities needed to bring change into the world.
People just show up if they are interested--no RSVP, commitment, etc. It is great when people have read the book, but that is not a requirement to come and discuss.
We got this going because there is a lot to learn about how to make social change happen and people who are interested in changing the world need opportunities to share stories and experience community with others who care.

A complete list of the books from the Social Change Book Club since its beginning is available at the New Possibilities Associates website.