ARTICLE 4 minutes

Environmental activist Abrah Dresdale

August 26, 2022

From the Ground Up: Regenerate the Path to Social Change

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Featuring Abrah Dresdale

Why would you approach a business or organization more like an ecosystem, and what would that look like? 

"Ecosystems are predicated on many things we want to emulate in a regenerative culture, such as reciprocity, mutual growth, and resilience," says Abrah Dresdale, the founder of Regenerate Change, a nonprofit whose purpose is to apply a nature-informed perspective to making change across scales, from the individual to the cultural level. 

"Since our current social systems are failing a majority of us, I propose through my book and my courses that we deconstruct all that we have learned and question it,” Abrah says. 

“That's partly because so much of what we have inherited—in terms of organizational structure and process—actually leads to degenerative cultures, toxic workplace, burnout, martyrdom, white supremacy, all of the things we are trying to transform."

With a combined 30 years of experience in consulting and teaching living systems, social permaculture, regenerative design, and social justice, Regenerate Change has the experience and the backbone to do so. 

Social Design Lab

Abrah has taught at University of Massachusetts, Greenfield Community College, and Franklin County Jail in Massachusetts, and she serves as the social design faculty for Omega’s Ecological Literacy Immersion Program.

“I helped ELIP expand the concept of physical ecosystems to include the self and the social layer,” she said. “How do we become literate in social patterns, including the ability to self-reflect on our ideologies and how it affects what we observe, interpersonal dynamics of power and oppression, and ancestry and conduct?” 

Perhaps her most notable ELIP contribution is the Social Design Lab, in which each student designs their own regenerative social change endeavors, such as a SuperAdobe business that teaches natural construction, or an ecological art installation that highlights permaculture.

“In week one, we do work around mapping of the self, the individual designer. Then in week four, students choose a change-making project that impacts a community they are accountable to, and uses the regenerative design process to develop that project.” 

Each student takes home a concrete implementation plan including accountability structures, evaluation benchmarks, and a mutual support buddy to check in with along the way. Abrah also has served as the lead for Omega's Regenerative Design for Changemakers, a 5-day social design workshop. 

Whether you’re dreaming of becoming a more engaged citizen, a more effective leader, or simply a more alive human, you’ll walk away with the confidence to apply living systems thinking to challenges great and small."
Abrah Dresdale

Power Dynamics

Through her teaching and her work at Regenerate Change, Abrah is connecting cultural changemakers across sectors of society—with a brave look at how we can apply living systems to challenges great and small—and addressing the harmful dynamics of settler colonialism and genocide. 

One example of applying living systems thinking is taking a fractal approach, which means looking at interconnected scales of social systems, how they interrelate, and how to design for them, to generate the kind of insights and innovation needed to create better solutions. 

Another example is providing one client the resources they need to help increase renewable energy sovereignty with Indigenous nations. The company supports the installation and community ownership of solar arrays on reservations in the Southwest.

“There are so many power dynamics that people have come by honestly,” Abrah says. “I’m holding space and supporting the executive leadership in understanding, what are the power dynamics that are occurring? And, how do they hook onto the the historical and current experience of subordination and ‘power over’ that each individual holds related to their various social identities?"

Regenerative Design for Changemakers: A Social Permaculture Guide

Abrah’s book Regenerative Design for Changemakers: A Social Permaculture Guide continues her Social Design Lab legacy. The book has 45 applied exercises like this one that walk readers through a how-to process of learning regenerative design, similar to the ELIP Social Design Lab. There's also a social design lexicon at the end of each chapter that highlights key vocabulary that may be unfamiliar and asks the reader to look up or define for themselves what they believe the terms to mean. 

The book calls changemakers to action by applying ecosystem intelligence and anti-oppression practices to their social impact projects.

“Whether you’re dreaming of becoming a more engaged citizen, a more effective leader, or simply a more alive human, you’ll walk away with the confidence to apply living systems thinking to challenges great and small,” Abrah says. 

Abrah’s hope is for changemakers to find a purpose that feels joyful instead of laborious. 

“I like to create what I call ‘a loop of reciprocity’ between our changemaking endeavors and our personal lives, as precious beings living a finite life. So we can fully enjoy both our work and personal lives, which become more integrated over time."