May 23 2019

Leveraging Models and a bit of Chaos for Systemic Transformation

By Denny Pallenberg

Leveraging Models and Chaos for Systemic Transformation

Transformation at its core is about achieving a higher state. To reach that higher state, change agents must clearly understand what system they are trying to change and what goal they are working to achieve. Gather Lab’s first conference in the Transform series shared a tool to help facilitate this process called “The Field Guide to Transformation.”

The Refugee Lab was the first in-person meeting of a group of individuals who spent the last two months discussing the problem of housing in refugee communities. This specific panel focused on housing for the Somali Muslim refugees in Minneapolis that Said Sheik-Abdi Managing Partner of Aamin Consulting Group is working with. He is a widely recognized international expert and speaker on Somali diaspora communities and partnerships and provided advice to governments and Somali communities in the US, UK, Turkey, Sweden, Somalia, Denmark, and Norway.  

Housing is especially challenging for the Somali diaspora community in Minneapolis because it is now the third most expensive real estate market in the US. Think for a moment how stressful your last move was. Now think about how stressful moving on a regular basis with the trauma associated from having to leave your country of birth due to war or violence and arrive in a new country in an unfamiliar culture.   

The panel included a cross-sector of professionals in the impact ecosystem, including facilitators Tim Soerens, Co-Founding Director, Parish Collective, and Christian Peele, Executive Minister of Institutional Advancement, The Riverside Church, who also Deputy Director of Operations in the Obama White House.  

Matthew Bauer COO & Amy Tucker of Sparrow Mobile are leveraging the power telecommunications to provide access to refugees during stressful periods during their resettlement process. Through this work, Amy realized that “In order for solutions to work they must be culturally sensitive.” For example, banking is a conundrum for Muslim refugees because they cannot access traditional banking because interest is not allowed according to their Islam.  

Kevin Rowell, Chief Operator at Wicked Ops has been on the front lines of the Rohingya refugee crisis trying to solve wicked problems that have “complex, interdependent parts.”

Kevin Jones is Co-Founder of Neighborhood Economics and Gather Lab which is hosting this conference.

Jeffrey Ashe is an expert in financial inclusion and international development and is passionate about introducing savings groups leveraging the savings circles already in place in immigrant communities and from there to non-immigrant communities through a venture I call Saving Works.

According to Kevin Rowell. Chief Operator at Wicked Ops, “This process brought “together cross-sector communication around value, not about money, but value. We find alignment and create a really connected conversation. In other words, “We are in an open relationship about change.”

The Field Guide, designed by Gather Labs, guided this conversation from a macro challenge of housing for refugees down to a specific challenge focusing on Cooperative Models of Housing Ownership through Collective Financing. The benefits of the guide helped clarify the system “to see challenges with fresh eyes, understand the blockages that need clearing, and to find the resources, team, and partnerships needed to make solutions come to life.”

Christian Peele, Executive Minister of Institutional Advancement, The Riverside Church, leveraged the guide to visualize the system, including the players, connections, flows, biggest problems, points of leverage, solutions, characters, and shape of capital required to solve this challenge.   

Through this process, the panel identified the ways the system of home ownership for Somali Refugees is broken preventing them from achieving the American Dream of homeownership. The three main challenges identified are an interest-based system, challenges of 1099 vs. W2 employee status, and predatory sharia lending.

System transformation can be messy and the Refugee Lab highlighted this firsthand. What started out as a facilitated structured conversation, turned into a tumultuous conversation with comments and questions from the audience that seemed to break the confines of this model at times. This mild chaos and the contributions from the audience was a testament to the caliber of the community the Transform series brought together to not only learn but also contribute to the solutions we are all collectively working towards.  

While this session was just a window into a larger process to create cooperative housing for Somali refugees, it highlights that changing a system take time and commitment. The session concluded with a quote by Tim Soerens, which is also an invitation to you “The future is already here, it’s not just well distributed.” This group meets every Saturday to discuss finding solutions to this problem. If you are interested in joining, please Matt Bauer at  

Denny Pallenberg is an Impact Business Strategist with Denstar Consulting working at the intersection of sustainability and mindfulness for internal transformation to scaling world positive innovations.