Diversity, for all its trumpets and tag lines, can really tear things asunder. It’s sweet in small doses, but shake in too many dollops and things can get bitter.
So said celebrated environmentalist Ann Dale, who spoke to about 50 people during the Corridor Environmental Leadership and Educators Forum, which was hosted at Quest University last weekend by the Whistler Forum. Appearing via video and teleconference, Dale gave a talk on coalition building in the environmental movement.
“You cannot have too much diversity,” she said, “or the group will break apart.”
The function, which was born from previous Whistler Forum learn-ins, was designed to promote partnerships between individuals within the environmental movement. Dale, the keynote speaker, took up a good chunk of the morning with her speech and subsequent question and answer session.
The afternoon was devoted to issue-based networking. Attendants, who ran the gamut from aboriginals, students, activists and government, broke into groups to discuss dozens of topics in a format known as open space. In this case, the practice allowed participants to set the agenda by convening a plethora of discussion groups on environmental issues. While participants were free to wander from table to table, action points were expected from each group.
At the end of the meeting, which stretched through most of last Saturday, participants stood before each other and rattled off a list of action plans. Some, like a central website tooled to combine the agendas of all the Sea to Sky corridor’s interest groups, where standard fare. Others, like organizing a sort of party-bus with live music and information, were a bit more unusual.
Except for event sponsors, the meeting was short on business representatives. Even though Dale warned against too much diversity, she also repeatedly promoted the proper amount.
“When you’re at a meeting or putting a group together, you have to design for diversity,” she said. “I don’t think we’re very good at diversity.”