Island Reach is a small operating foundation committed to engaging with partners in a collaborative process to support grassroots initiatives. Our inspiration is the enormous diversity of life on Earth as expressed in the variety of ecosystems and plant and animal species found in nature, as well the incredible range of cultures and languages in human societies, bound all together in a complex web of life. Framed as biocultural diversity, these dynamic relationships are both the source and the objective of a robust and resilient world.
The origins of Island Reach came about with a New England forest farming family headed by a couple of social scientists trained in human ecology, cultural anthropology, and cross-cultural clinical psychology. For more than a decade prior to launching IR, we had been active on the farm exploring models for variance harvesting and market strategies for small-scale farms while also active in educational outreach, speaking widely about food, economies, culture, and the environment. In 2010, we committed to taking our activism further, founding IR to share resources and skills in alliances with communities and other partners in island and coastal biocultural hotspots, backing their efforts for resilience.
In 2014, after passagemaking, researching, and engaging with projects in Haiti and the eastern Pacific, IR found home port in the archipelago of Vanuatu, Melanesia, partnering with local communities and regional groups across an array of projects. During these early years, IR worked under the fiscal sponsorship of The Ocean Foundation, reflecting this early focus on marine ecosystems and allying with coastal communities.
IR's dedication to an allyship approach quickly took form in our core partnership with the Vanua-tai Resources Monitors Network (Vanua-tai means "of land and sea"), an indigenous, volunteer network of 400 men and women working across the 80 islands of the archipelago.
Activities in Vanuatu included supporting women's leadership, climate activism, coral reef husbandry-including coral gardening, and food sovereignty and agroecology. Video became one important tool IR employed to help facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge sharing across the islands, and internationally.
With the launch of IR's 2020 award-winning international documentary Immuto (Change), we brought to the foreground in our work the importance of narrative framing. Immuto was produced to help stimulate the processes of intellectual, emotional, and ethical decolonization needed to change the course of the climate emergency and biocultural collapse. Shot in Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Morocco, the EU, UK, and US, Immuto features stories of crisis and action told by compelling changemakers living and working on the frontlines. This production, our work with communities and groups, and trainings in critical theory, anthropology, and psychology, all converged to position narrative framing as an organizing theme for most IRs activities.
Recovering the power of the story is a key way to create a transformative path forward.
COVID put on hold IR's work in Vanuatu and also opened new doorways and commitments, refocusing IR's efforts to engage community-drive biocultural resilience in terms of our planet's destructive food agrifood regime. This is a concern close to the founders' farming histories and deepened by lessons learned from mentors in Melanesia. We channeled this focus into a 2 year project in Bangladesh, partnering with an NGO in Dhaka and a collective of rural women entrepreneurs pursuing agroecological livelihoods.
Food - how it is grown and produced, distributed and consumed– impacts all of our lives. Everyone eats and food touches each of us in so many different ways.
Our current agri-industrial food system is responsible for a large portion of GHG emissions, environmental degradation, as well as malnutrition and social injustice. The food regime controls the global narrative about the future of sustainability and feeding the planet's growing population. By contrast, agroecology, understood as science, practice, and - very importantly - as social movement, offers the best alternative, and most transformative pathway forward. Reclaiming and revisioning the narratives of our food systems is fundamental.
Collective dialogue and narrative framing are social acts, and together constitute a distinctly relational praxis that loosens the hold of those fixed mainstream,narratives that configure peoples' lives. The struggle between mainstream corporate actors and social movements to control framing is at the center of defining so many social movements, from the climate movement, to decolonization, to agroecology. In our current work in Bangladesh, employing a dialectics of recovery and innovation in our partnerships, IR is refining our participatory processes revolving around an engaging and holistic model called a Value Web. Narrative framing, or storylines generated with value webs, are social processes that form figured worlds, that is, socially produced, culturally constituted worlds where people come to conceptually and materially/procedurally produce new self-understandings. Narrative or dialogic activity constitute figured worlds as sites of possibility (in terms of agency), but they are also set within the social realities of power of historical, social, cultural, organizational, discursive, interactional, and psychological circumstances that shape the range of possibilities in any time and place. The value web activity, as a form of serious play involving the crafting of new figured worlds, can support communities with whom IR engages to explore possibilities of creating new narratives and practices, and deepened networks for social actions, that all together may lead to more autonomous worlds. This capacity of narratives for imagining, mapping and constructing other worlds, and for trying to make them a reality, is an essential feature of the human capacity to transform our own selves as well as our social contexts. How might we replace the end-directed conceptions of life processes with recognition of our capacities to continually overtake the destinations that are thrown up in our path> The value web presents an opportunity to take multivariate fragments and, in the words and hands of its users, create something unique to that time and place in a sovereign manner that can be trialed across communities and actors and adapted accordingly.
We recognize that mainstream narratives are often remarkably resistant to efforts to transform them. They hold what some have referred to as a “thick legitimacy” that inhibits alternative frames. The task at hand is to work through a combination of theory and practices to create alternative pathways to loosen and disrupt those lock-ins.
We look forward to ways our alliances and partnerships continue to inform and impact IR's mission to advance community-led biocultural resilience.
ISLAND REACH IS A REGISTERED 501c3 PRIVATE OPERATING FOUNDATION