“Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, and someone who's living this principle is today's guest, Moira Were of the Hen House Co-op. Through grassroots organizing to end the gender investment gap, Moira has curated a growing group of people who want to make big changes by focusing on their local community.
Our communities are also potentially constituencies, ones that with enough size or influence can wield political power that can create change in the world.
Moira is not shy about challenging the status quo or ruffling feathers, and she knows how to approach things in a way that invites people to find some common ground, some starting point for conversation. So if you're running a community (or are part of one, or want to start one…) that wants to change the status quo, Moira's work can provide a template for what that might look like.
Also today: the understated power of a chicken pin (or earring, or lapel pin, or…).
A quick note: In this episode, we talk about some topics and ideologies that may not resonate with you, but we challenge you to focus less on if a stance is for or against your personal beliefs and more on how an organization like Hen House has been able to make meaningful change through collective action. Regardless of your leanings, we think you'll find a lot to take from this episode about how Moira and an organization like Hen House Co-op are doing the work they do. We all have a lot to learn from each other.
Moira has worked from the kitchen table as a direct service social worker through to the cabinet table as a Chief of Staff to a Minister. She has extensive strategic and operational experience in the not-for-profit sector and in government at state, regional, national & international levels. Moira received an Australian honour in 2019 (AM) for her significant service to the community of South Australia. She is a Director of Ethical Fields, Non-Executive Director for Social Impact Investment Network of SA, and is a global facilitator at SheEO. Moira is the founder of Chooks SA, Hen House Co-op and a co-founder of Collab4Good. She is a ministerial appointment to the Entrepreneurship Advisory Board in South Australia. Moira lives with gratitude on Kaurna country on the Fleurieu Peninsula – Witawali – marked on the maps as Sellicks Beach.
@HenHouseCoop on Twitter
In This Episode:
- Investing, divesting, and the origins of Hen House Co-op.
- Why co-ops, as opposed to other business models
- The democratization of decision-making
- The design challenges of building a movement for social change
- Divestment, creativity, and “making the revolution irresistible”
- Moira's strategy for investing (or divesting) responsibly
- The transformation of cultural awareness
- The incredible power of unelected leaders
- Community and co-ops as formidable sociopolitical forces
- Choosing bravery in the face of intimidation, hate speech, and trolling
- Fighting concepts (as opposed to each other)
- Tips for constructive conversations on tough subjects
- Wearable symbols and imagery as conversation starters
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis [Amazon affiliate link]
The CX 022: Dismantling the System (and Having Fun!) with Moira Were
Tony Bacigalupo: Can you change the world without stepping outside of your comfort zone? In an ever divisive landscape where everything is considered political, how do you gracefully dismantle the entire system? Well, Moira Were has figured out how to have fun while leading her resistance, and we're going to learn from her how she does it and how you could do it too on this episode of the Community Experience.
Jillian Benbow: "Be the change you want to see in the world," is a quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, and someone who's actually living this well is today's guest, Moira Were of the Hen House Co-op. Through grassroots organizing to end the gender gap, Moira has curated a growing group of people who want to make big changes through focusing on their local community. Tony, I thought a all of Moira's messaging is just so like delightful. I especially love the Hen House concept. It's a co-op, but the website's coop. They talk about giving a cluck. They talk about their flock. I mean, the branding is just chef's kiss, [inaudible].
Tony: Which just makes everything about what she's doing a little bit more, I want to use the word palatable, but it's just a little bit easier for people to digest, because she's not shy about challenging status quo, challenging patriarchy. She's going to ruffle some feathers. I'm sure she ruffles plenty of feathers as we've heard. Being able to approach things with a playful perspective, I think just helps make facing difficult things, a little bit more accessible. I think there's a lot of value in that.
In general, communities exist to change the status quo in one form or another. If you are running a community or part of a community that wants to change the status quo, or you want to be, you can face this question of, well, how do I make this social change? While there is a certain nobility to being an activist out in the street, being willing to put yourself out there like that, I think that there are a lot of people out there who would contribute to a social cause if it could be made accessible, and dare I say fun. Moira does that with the Hen House Co-op and all of the work that she does. I hope that her story inspires you to maybe emulate a little bit of her style.
Jillian: A quick note to our audience, in this episode, we talk about some topics and ideologies may not resonate with you, but we challenge you to focus less on if a stance is for or against your personal beliefs and more on how an organization like Hen House has been able to make meaningful change through collective action. If that sounds beyond what you're looking for in a podcast episode, no worries, we'll catch you on the next one.
Tony: If you don't like the lyrics, you can press fast forward.
With that in mind, let's get into the chat with Moira.
Jillian: All right, I am delighted to introduce our guest today, who is joining us from Australia. We appreciate her getting up early in the morning to join. Welcome to Moira Were.
Moira Were: Thanks Jill. It's terrific to be here with you.
Jillian: We are excited
Tony: Yeah. You're welcome, Moira. Appreciate you getting up so early.
Moira: Early it catches the worm, right?
Jillian: If you're into worms, yes.
Moira: Sorry for you vegans out there who don't like worms.
Jillian: Oh, no worries. Gummy, well, no, I guess they're not vegan, but anyways, not the point. Moira, your business is amazing. I love all of the funny lingo and whatnot. Tell our audience all about the coop.
Moira: Thanks Jill. I founded a couple of years ago, what we are calling the Hen House Co-op actually, we're a co-op, but when we looking at getting our domain name co-op and coop, that was a part of what was irresistible to us. The Hen House is designed to help close the gender investment gap. We are looking at all different ways of doing that, so that's not just about investing. It's also about divesting away from the patriarchy and away from colonization. They are the things that are really driving us and it came about because about four years ago now, I was really surprised to learn that the gender investment gap is a real thing. I always knew about the gender pay gap and all of the gaps for women, a number of women on boards and all that kind of thing.
I was literally sitting on my red couch one afternoon, and as the number of younger women had spoken to me about some challenges they'd had recently, I started to just start researching it and discovered that less than 4% of venture capital goes to female founders. That just blew me away. I'd always been involved in gender issues, particularly around things like housing and domestic violence and supporting women into leadership roles and onto boards and CEOs. I had no idea at that time, and once I started to do more and more research, I thought, "Well, better do something about this."
I started a little Facebook group, thought there'd be like five friends interested in it. We called it Chooks. The reason I called it Chooks is that — this is not a visual, you're getting the audio, but I am not a spring chicken.
I am a woman in act three as Jane Fonda calls it, a woman over 60, and I really am anti all the chick and chicky-babe kind of language. I thought, "Well, I'm more of a chook," so in Australia, a chook is a chicken, a household chicken who just ... Girls hanging out together in the coop and doing their thing, laying eggs and getting on with the work that needs to be done. I thought that would be a fun thing to do. There's now three and a half thousand people in that Facebook group. It's a closed group. If you want to find it, you can, it's Chooks SA. It's a community really who are changing ideas and information. Then a couple of years ago, I thought people might want to step up and do a little bit more than just be in a Facebook community. That's what we ... I since said, "Okay, I really love co-ops. I've been in co-ops for years and why don't we start something and why don't we call it the Hen House?" Then everything kind of started to align, so that's how it all began.
Jillian: I love it so much. I love, like the messaging is just great. I love the idea to give a cluck, like no clucks given.
Jillian: Oh, I can have a lot of fun with this. I will refrain for everyone's sake. Talk to us about, it's a co-op as you said. How do you define a co-op as far as being different from what people think of as a community? Like what makes a co-op special?
Moira: Great question. A co-op is a business model. There are co-ops all over the world, and they've existed for a couple of hundred years. In fact, the very first co-ops began in the United Kingdom and when they began, women were equal members in the co-op, and this was like 25 years before they had the vote in the UK. They were already able to vote and participate fully in the decisions of running a business as a co-op, even though they weren't allowed to be company directors, they weren't allowed to be voting on the ballot at the ballot box or even standing for parliament. Co-ops are a decision-making process. They are a tool and they're a business model. A lot of people are really familiar with co-ops, particularly in the agriculture areas. In Australia, we've got co-ops, whether you're in the wine industry or in a lot of agricultural tech and farming, but you can belong to all sorts of co-ops.
In fact, the co-ops that are growing in the US at the moment are particularly the drivers co-op in New York and Brooklyn and Up & Go is a fabulous women's co-op of migrant women who are working together to clean people's houses. One of the values of being in a co-op is that if it's a commercial co-op, then the distribution of the profit goes to the participants. Instead of paying a shareholder from out of Silicon Valley or someone in London or Paris, you're paying yourselves. You're really cutting out those people who are living off the profits of your labor. It's a generative process as opposed to an extractive one. That's one of the reasons I love co-ops and I've been in co-ops for years and years, and I really love the democratization of decision-making as much as anything.
Tony: I know, democratization of decision-making is something that it's very attractive for a lot of reasons. It definitely stands in contrast to some of the ways that a lot of things are run in the world that don't always lead to the best outcomes. I also know having participated in some, that it can be difficult to get that up and running, to get buy-in and to get everyone on the same page, right? There could be a lot of infighting and struggles, things like that. I'm just curious if you could talk a little bit about governance and best practices, how you're able to kind of herd the cats effectively.
Jillian: Herd the chickens.
Moira: Yeah, yes. or manage the chicks, the chicken. I don't think that it's any different to any kind of other structure. Every single business has herding cat challenges. What you're doing in a co-op is you're coming together with common set of values. Like you've already said, "Hey, we want to work like this." If you don't want to work like that, there's plenty of other models. It's not compulsory to join a co-op, so that's my main thing, Tony. I say to people, "Well, if this isn't for you, that's fine, but if you want to participate, if you want to share in the decision-making, if you want to share in the way of getting a common mission, then this is the place for you."
One of the ways we, just as an example in the Hen House, is we have a real desire to work out how to execute our mission. Instead of just the board making that decision, the board has the governance responsibilities of doing all the usual things any group of directors would need to do, but we came together in a process that is now taking a lot of good shape to design and co-design with the members, what a divestment strategy would look like. While we want to invest in female founders and invest in things that are going to support sustainable development goals, we also want to find ways in which to move away from the things that don't do that well. We called all our members together and said, "Look, this is a design challenge. What would something look like?" Then a group of about 25 people came together in Zoom, in our current lockdown COVID world, that's actually been another democratizing feature. That we've been able to connect people who are living in regional and rural areas that perhaps wouldn't have been able to participate as easily in the past.
We had a co-design session, we worked out some ideas and now we're trialing a couple of them. One of them is we are calling ReNest, which is like a divestment club. Back in the day, a lot of women used to come together in investment clubs to learn about how to put their money in the right places. I thought, "Well, we could do it the opposite way around. Taking money away from wrong places and putting it in the right places." We've just launched that. We are developing a set of partners to help us with that. Our first partner is a business called Super Fierce, and what they do is they get together with all of the superannuation funds and they can do like a little audit on what you've collected in your superannuation fund.
In Australia, women retire with about 47% less superannuation, so their pension, self-funded pensions than men. Super Fierce will do a little audit for you. That's their gift to us. Then if you want to take it a bit further and actually reorganize your finances and reorganize your investment. Then our partnership is that they give us 10% of their commission, and they also give $100 to one of our members who runs a social enterprise for women who are entering the workforce through coming back into it, because of the other issues like leaving prison, domestic violence, that kind of thing.
It's a win, win, win. That's an example of how we are really trying to create new models and new ways of doing things that are going to shift the power, bring more equity to female founders, and at the same time, really demonstrate these things are possible. In many ways, the Hen House and ReNest, as an example of one of those things, we are really hoping we're creating some prototypes and that as a result of doing that, other people go, "Yeah, we could do that too, but we don't have to have a mortgage on this." We want to be able to demonstrate these things if possible, and we would love other people to take up these ideas and just use them wherever they are in the world as well.
Tony: Love that. I think it, we probably see a lot of things in different aspects of community that come back to the necessity of a well-articulated, higher purpose and shared set of core values. I think that just illustrates it further that even in a democratized environment, maybe especially in a democratized environment, it's so important that people know what it is that they are coming together for, and that they all agree at least, on kind of the high level of what it is that they're trying to achieve so that as they work together to decide what to do, or they might disagree on exactly how they go about something, ultimately the path leads to a direction that everybody agrees is what they're there in the room to try to achieve. I think that's a great thing.
Moira: Yeah, and so we have sort of three streams to our work. One of those is give a cluck, which is just what it means to be a member of the co-op. We recognize that everyone has to come on their own terms to these things. If you want to contribute, want to be a member of the Hen House Co-op, you just have to say one thing that you're going to be prepared to give a cluck about for the coming year. In co-ops, you are required to have what they call an activity test. If you were selling grapes, you would be wanting to give a ton of year to the co-op to sell the grapes.
In our case, what we like to do is we ask you to do one thing a year that's going to help close the gender investment gap, and that's up to you, but we do record what that thing is that you want to contribute to, because we know every little contribution makes something bigger. There's that old Japanese proverb of that's the thousandth snowflake that breaks the branch, but every single snowflake makes a difference. We really encourage people to say and contribute one thing, whatever that might be for themselves.
Tony: Yeah, I really appreciate that. I think, well, you used a phrase before we started recording and I'd love to hear you talk a bit about that language, but personally, I care very deeply about the idea that we can spread ideas and actions if we inspire people to take action, and those people inspire other people to take action. That's how social change gets made, right? All the cliches are true. Maybe, can you speak a little bit to your thinking behind that and how you're strategically kind of creating opportunities to inspire people to take action?
Moira: Well, I hope that's what we are doing. One of the things that we think is really important that a lot of this is a design challenge, actually trying to work out how to do these things that will build a movement and a movement for change and social change. Whether it's divesting from fossil fuels, which has been a massive international campaign to help with climate change in Australia and other parts of the world. We've had fabulous, diverse campaigns around health, like divesting in the tobacco companies. Why couldn't we have divestment and investment away from patriarchal and patriarchal systems as well and colonization. We think about this in the way that if we could do this well, then it would be completely irresistible and that the people would really want to come and do it. That's the challenge that we've kind of set for ourselves. How can we make the revolution irresistible?
This is not a new idea. It's one that has been around for years. We know in our own practice, in our own everyday lives, if there's something that we just have to do, we want to do that inspires us and encourages whether that's eating our favorite breakfast cereal or the way through to choosing to buy something because we want to be part of the in crowd. Whatever that is, there is an irresistibility to that. That's the challenge we've given ourselves, Tony, like, how can we do this in a way that what people want to do, want to get up in the morning and talk about it and get on with it.
Tony: That language of irresistible, I think, just stands in contrast when I hear the revolution, I think people on the streets getting arrested, protesting, fighting, which only so many people are willing to do and only after so much kind of forces them out into the streets. I do like the idea of saying, "Well, what if we look at ways to subvert existing structures by having fun? By doing things that are enticing and attractive and easy and accessible to people who maybe aren't going to go and fight on the streets, but who will be willing to participate in something that's positive and constructive in their neighborhood?" I think that's such a powerful framework for social change.
Moira: Yeah, I think it was Toni Cade Bambara who used that term about the artist making the ... That was the job of the artist to make the revolution irresistible. When she was talking about that, she was really coming from a very strong creative base. I think a lot of revolutionary activities, and when I mean revolution, I mean about shifting the axis on which we're all revolving, right? We can all unleash our own creativity. We've seen this in incredible movements historically over the millennia, and women's movements have been particularly creative, I think historically.
For example, in the United Kingdom, when Wilberforce was trying to end slavery, it was the good ladies of London who stopped putting sugar in their tea. It became an activity that households were all over the country were stopping buying sugar, which really disrupted very powerfully the slave trade, and why they were doing that was a way to actually bring the issue ... They couldn't be in parliament. They weren't able to vote. Yet they were major contributors, the suffrages all over again. A lot of them made jewelry and also took their very good jewelry, the high class women, and sold it. Some of it was used to do all sorts of things, whether it was printing bills, to tell everyone around the countryside to support the a women's vote. We've actually got, in the Hen House, we've got some jewelry as well. We've got [inaudible] chickens that you can buy earrings ...
Jillian: They're so cute.
Moira: ... Or a broach. Even though that just most people will buy them and just think, "Oh, that's a really nice way of supporting our work," it actually has a historical reference about how to know who you are in the street. It's quite funny, particularly in the startup community here in my own hometown, I live on unseeded territory of Ghana people, you'll find it on the map as Adelaide, but in the startup community, people go, "Oh my God, there's more in her hands, or there's the Chooks." It's kind of like this way of infiltrating and it's fun. People think, "Oh, that's a really cool, fun thing.
Seth Godin, who I'm sure many of your listeners will know. He talks about things … you need to be memorable. A lot of women said to me, "I really hate Chooks, it's a terrible name," but everyone knows who they are and what it is. It's a short-hand way too. Revolutions do need to be fun. They do need to be creative. If we want them to take off, we have to find ways of bringing the fun element. I think in this current day and age, the work that is happening in particularly in the climate change movement with young people, with the Fridays school strikes and all of the extension rebellion work, that's not new. They are this generation's expression of how to do this. We've got our own little design challenge to see how we can do that too, in what's important to us.
Jillian: Absolutely, and how we can support that next generation. I love that you have the chooks, the symbolism of the chicken. It reminds me of the suffragettes and the lapel pins and whatnot, to say, hey, it's that nod, you see someone wearing it and you immediately have something to talk to that person about it. It's that initial, like I know we have this in common, which is beautiful. I love it. I wanted to dive in just, and selfishly, because when we talk about divesting, like there's some no-brainers, right? There's big corporations that we know frankly suck, and we can see what brands they own and whatnot and avoid them. I've personally done it and used my dollars, if you will, to not support them. I'm curious on a local scale, how do you go about figuring out who is worth investing in versus not investing in, in your community? Do you have resources or ideas for people?
Moira: Yeah, so Jill, I think the very first thing is doing exactly what you've done. Just noticing what's around you. Like so paying attention. The first thing in any revolution is that consciousness raising, like actually asking and looking and seeing what's there, and moving towards the things that you really want to support. The first thing I always say is just check out, like are there any women? Is it a women's business? Who actually owns it? Where's the distribution of their profits going? Is there a woman on their board? In my own life, when I first started on this a few years ago before the Hen House began and I thought, "Well, I need to be able to walk the talk." I went and visited my superannuation fund, because normally you just get your portfolio of everything and you don't even know who's who, and I made them print out for me, every single board member of every single company that my dollars were being invested in.
It was like 20 inches tall, this document. I said, "Can you please help me go through it?" I did, and I went through it one-by-one. If there was a board that didn't have a woman on it, I said, "I don't want any of my funds going there." That was my very first entry point for myself. People don't normally do that amount of work. Now, what's happened since I did that, is the people who manage those superannuation funds, I was just an early adopter because once you start talking about this, everyone wants to do it. Now, they actually have a portfolio, which has that all in it and people can just do it.
It's really your own little contribution can make a systems change, and that's what we are interested in. At the local level, there are things like just talking to everyone, that's a really powerful thing to do, like going to farmer's markets, going to the stores that have the women in them or who have got the women growers doing that. Once you start doing that, people notice and they start talking and they start sharing and connecting in with each other. They're my main two things, noticing and talking and listening to each other. That's the best start.
Jillian: Absolutely, and it's interesting to see, it's obviously, it always happens, progress is slow as Michelle Obama says. I wish things happened faster, but I am noticing slowly that there is more awareness and beyond people who I think are already, like yourself, where you were going in and asking for these documents before anyone else thought to even do that. Now, we're at a place where they're readily available. On a similar note, I see more people care and want to know who owns this business, especially small business and as ecommerce has taken off and really allowed a lot of us to get into businesses that before, it was only reserved for the corporate elite.
Things like is this a black-owned business? Is this a woman-owned business? Is this indigenous-owned business or is it not? Is it something that maybe people shouldn't be selling what they're selling because it's cultural appropriation? All of that. I think we're all becoming much more aware of it as a society, and it's great. I'm curious, your thoughts on, what do you think the next steps — where do you see it going if we keep on this kind of positive awareness evolution?
Moira: Yeah, so it is evolution, it's revolution. I think it's transformation. I think that's where we're up to, and these things do happen at scale and they can happen quickly. It feels slow sometimes, but I think we've seen in COVID, the veil has dropped on a number of lies and things can happen very, very quickly. In my country, in Australia, childcare, for example, we were saying, "Oh, childcare's quite expensive," and yet it was in a flush of a pen, it was able to be free for everybody for the first sort of three months of COVID being in. A homelessness was-
Tony: Fancy that.
Moira: Yeah, fancy that. Homelessness was over in five minutes, every person who was on the street got housed in local hotels and Airbnbs, all sorts of places. Nobody was on the street because of the public health risk. People are being immunized at rates, never seen in our planet before right now. These things can happen very, very quickly. I think that we need to make sure that we keep saying that too, and reminding people, change doesn't have to be slow in an emergency. It can be very fast.
This is an emergency, as I love quoting Greta Thunberg, who's our wonderful international world leader in climate change, and she says, "This is not a drill. The climate emergency is here. Let's just get on with it." All our leaders will be, well, all our elected leaders will be meeting soon at COP, but leadership is a really important part of this. You do not have to be an elected person to be influential. In fact, I would argue that some of our great leaders have never been elected.
If we look at Gandhi, Martin Luther King, we look at Greta, we look at Malala, Michelle Obama in your country. These are incredible people who have never been elected, so don't default. I'm always saying this. People say, "Oh, we need you in parliament or we want you to run for office," and I go, "No. What we need to do is this work." It's a people's movement. If we look at Black Lives Matter, those incredible women who have led that movement, they're not elected.
Mobilization requires ... That's the scale piece, and that's when things can happen quickly. Just as you have scale in any startup business for growth, you need that adoption. You need people. You have the early adopters, you have your first followers and you're always going to have your laggards, the people who are never going to get there, but once you get to a certain tipping point, it can move very, very, very quickly.
Jillian: Yeah. I'm speechless, Moira. It's funny too, because on one hand it all feels so hopeless and overwhelming, right? There are days where I just kind of want to not participate and be in a little like ball and just say, "Nope, I'm out," and I have that privilege, and I recognize that as a privilege on so many different levels. I acknowledge that, but then you think about these groups and grassroot efforts, and you look historically at what they've done, and frankly, they're more effective than any government. I think we're, like you said, the veil is lifting. We're rapidly becoming aware through things like the Panama papers and all these other things that are happening. We don't have to stand for it. We don't have to keep working and dedicating our lives to the economy in the way that we've all been told to do for centuries, because it's not working.
Moira: It's not working, so that's why for us, it's about patriarchy. A lot of people say, "Oh, don't use the P word," and I go, "Well, it's a system. I'm not anti-men, it's bad for them too. Patriarchy and colonization has got a lot to answer for, and we participate in it daily without even realizing. Part of the things that we need to do is try and shift ourselves in that, and that's the personal transformation work. It doesn't just happen because one person does it. It happens because lots of people do it and that's why the systems need shifting, but when we stop doing it, our little contribution does make a difference. The more that those every little pieces of snowflake, every little contribution is going to help break that bow.
Tony: I feel like communities rarely come together to preserve the status quo. Usually the there's a community because people want to have something that they didn't have before, or they want to change something in their own lives or in the lives of their environment. When I started getting into community building, eventually I realized that our community was also a constituency. If it had sufficient size or influence, then it could wield that as a political force, whether through direct policy or just indirectly through shifting culture.
Moira: Yeah. We're seeing this a lot all around the world, particularly in renewables. Where communities are coming together to own their own energy. Wind farms and solar farms and things like that. I mean, Australia's example for this is that our federal government are appalling and a complete embarrassment to me about how they've done and approached climate change. However, all the states and territories have done really well. The combination of all of that is probably better than the feds would ever have been able to do on their own. In fact, in south Australia, we meet our 100% renewable, many, many days of the year now.
When that first started, I was actually working for the south Australian government at the time, I was a Chief of Staff for one of our ministers. I was working for the minister for education and we put a pilot program out for solar panels on 30 schools. That was our tiny little contribution. It was over-subscribed for the pilot program. Now, nearly every single school in south Australia has solar panels, and they're contributing back into the grid. This is the way those things happen, but the reason that happened was because electorally, people were asking for that at the beginning of this century.
It was going to save money. It was going to cost a bit upfront, but over the years, well, now some of those early schools are getting new panels because the old ones sort of worn out after 20 years. I find that they're the ways that communities can make themselves visible what they want and they can vote in that way, but they can also do the work themselves and community wealth building. That's part of why I love co-ops is because people can come together around the things that are important to them and start doing that and they can do it in a commercial or a non-commercial sense.
In the Hen House, we are a not-for-profit. We're not trying to make money out of this. We're trying to shift the conditions that are keeping these inequities in place, but there's plenty of co-ops that are financially viable and are commercial and making a really good return. That's the kind of thing we would want. We want that kind of community wealth building actually happening on the ground. We know that those economic drivers can be very useful incentives for those people who perhaps can't come the whole way with their own values and behavior. I think it was Martin Luther King, who said, "You can legislate for behavioral change. You can't legislate for attitudinal change." You can say, "Please stop using racist language, and you can be fined for that," and that starts to change things. In community health, we saw that in the smoking campaigns, where people not being able to smoke in restaurants or in public transport or on airplanes. It's hard to believe that there was a time when people smoked on planes, but that's what makes the difference.
Jillian: It's amazing. Sometimes I'll go somewhere that's just a little more rural or just like, not quite as with the times, I guess is the kind way to say it, and people will be like smoking indoors and it's such a jarring experience. Then I think back to even, I mean, not to age myself, but like when I was in university, there were places you could smoke in bars and it was totally normal and you'd go wake up the next day and be like, "I feel terrible," and it was because of the air you'd been breathing. I mean, the alcohol probably too, but definitely the air.
Moira: Can you imagine? I'm imagining a time when that's how we're going to feel about patriarchy. Oh my God, you think we did that back in the day?
Jillian: Yeah. Well, and it often feels like such a big fight because the systems have been in place and in power for so long, we don't really know better. We don't know alternatives. Challenging these systems, it feels big and scary, but when you really break it down, it's not like what you're saying, like the co-op, that doesn't need to be political, that doesn't need to be a divide. It helps people. When I think about a lot of places in the states in particular—agriculture's dying in the sense of actual, like farmer-owned agriculture, it's all becoming big ag. Something like a community co-op, we have a local food co-op and the things like that, like helping and really focusing on the welfare of your community is just, it's advantageous to everybody. Even if I'm okay and I can go to the grocery store and I don't think twice about the price of strawberries, that's fine, but I can still participate in a co-op and put my dollars into it and support a local farmer. Even if I don't need the extra produce that's going to then be put back into my community through the food banks like that's benefiting other people, but I can still participate and vice versa.
It's such a wonderful model, and it's fun to think about how that could expand beyond the things we think of. Because when I think of a co-op, I think of a co-op grocery store. I think of things like that, but it goes so much farther, but I wanted to shift gears a little bit and quickly talk about, because I know this is a thing for all of us, but with the division and political climate and internet trolling and all of that, I'm curious with the Hen House. I mean, it's a like feminist, anti-patriarchy organization. I know there's a lot of people out there that hear that and they just get triggered and they close down and they're like, "Oh, they hate men, and they want to do these things in witchcraft and ..." In reality, it's not that at all, I know, because I'm right there with you. There's a lot of hate and people get very bold with their hate and there's threats and it's just a thing that we deal with anymore. I'm curious as an organization, as individuals, have you experienced that and how do you deal with it and kind of keep your chin up and keep the movement going?
Moira: Yes, there are the haters out there, but again, this is when ... I see this as a design challenge. I want you to fall in love with me and think, "Wow, she's not crazy. Well, maybe she's a bit crazy, but I kind of like crazy."
Jillian: Fun crazy.
Moira: Yeah. Fun crazy, so I think that one of the things that's been really useful is that I am pretty mainstream. I'm a mom, I had four kids, I am a grandmother. I started my life as a social worker. I'm a widow now. I'm pretty ordinary if you look at all of those kind of variables, so that makes ... There's an attraction in that, that doesn't scare people off too much. However, when I'm sitting in, I was in a VC round table, a venture capital round table, not that long ago, and there were two women in the room. There was about 20 of us in the room and we were all going around introducing ourselves and they're all saying, "Oh, I'm Brad or I'm Chad or I'm," whoever they [inaudible].
I was saying, "I'm disrupting dot, dot, dot, dot, dot." When it got to my turn, I said, "Oh, hi, I'm Moira. I'm disrupting patriarchy." It like a mic drop moment. All the guys in the room are going, "Oh my God, who is this woman?" It was so much fun, and so nobody ... Even though it was all true, I just did it in the same serious voice as they had all done their disrupting sentence with. I think that that's about courage and it's also about, again, this design challenge of treating it as, "Okay, I can play this game too, but we are going to play it with my rules.
I really enjoy the opportunities that when those things can happen and not be scared of it. When I was setting up the Facebook group, which was the foundation of this, I got trolled really, really badly on a number of the startup Facebook groups. I contacted one of my kids, who's in his thirties and said, "I am so excited. I'm getting trolled really badly," and he says, "Mom, I don't think that's how that's meant to work. You're meant to be scared," but I just treated it as hilarious. I wasn't personally, what are they going to do to me? Like really? I'm of a generation where I can say, sticks and stones will break my bones, and I can play that. I'm happy to go in for the conversation. That's not to say that it's not hurtful and hateful. There had certainly been times I was doing a lot of anti-racism campaigning in the 80s and 90s. I had my phone tapped. We had bricks through our windows. My kids were threatened at school. I know what it's like to do that. I am a white English-speaking woman, who's got a roof over her house. That is the price of my privilege to take one for the team. That's the way I like to think of it.
Jillian: I want to be best friends. That's amazing.
Tony: I think what you said about something really rang true for me when you said that you were a grandmother and that you're not crazy. Well, you're a little bit crazy, but not ... I think that staying in that or representing things from that territory makes what you are trying to achieve feel more achievable and more accessible to other people. I'm reminded of, I'm not sure exactly where it was, it may have been Portland during the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests. There was a consortium of grandmas wearing Black Lives Matter teeshirts and I just thought that things like that just made such a strong statement of what are they going to do? Are they going to beat these ladies? What are we doing here? You know? I think that's such a powerful thing for us to be normal people participating in society and also, to be representing something important.
Moira: Absolutely, Tony, and all movements begin like this. We're all somebody's sister, brother, auntie, dad, that's how these things happen. If I look at the movements historically, the Mothers of the Disappeared in Latin America, the Grandmas for Refugees worldwide, these are the people. Mostly, they have been women-led movements historically, actually. We understand the First Nations women around the world who stand on their land and in front of the tractors and the bulldozers.
There's a preservation in this as well of the planet and of our people and of purpose. I think when people say that, "She just looks like me, I've got a kid too. My grandson had this happened to them, or my nephew was killed by a police officer." These are universal experiences of what it means to be connected, and we are all connected. That's part of the whole transformational learning. I think we have to do, as a human community worldwide, is once we understand that we are all connected, it completely shifts how we behave in our day-to-day lives. That's when the rising up happens, the sap's coming up from the ground and growing those trees to bring the changes we all want to see in the world.
Tony: I think it's an important thing to point out that this isn't, and there are maybe some exceptions to this, but when you're talking about fighting patriarchy, for example, that's not a human. That's a concept, it's a culture and a system.
Moira: Yeah, and patriarchy is not serving the men either. We look at the suicide rates, we look at the health implications, the loneliness. There's a lot of men who perhaps don't realize that they are victims of those systems as for well, and a lot of men who are desperately trying to make their contribution as well. The Hen House is open to men and women, non-binary folks. It doesn't matter who you are. If you want to be involved, there's room for all of you.
Jillian: I want to talk forever. I do think it's important, and maybe we can end on this. Although, again, I have several questions and comments, but I think this is something I'm seeing a lot is especially white males, but also white women. We're not far behind this, and in general, and just like from a gender perspective males, but there's a lot of just immediate fear. I think most issues today come from fear-based thinking and the thought of things being taken away, whether it's land back, whether it's rights or privileges. What are your tools and tips for having conversations with people and them not shutting down immediately? Because they just assume you're going to say whatever it is they heard on Facebook.
Moira: Yeah, so I think that's a really ... Doing exactly what you did, Jill, going ouch and noticing that. I will often say to people, if they do have a reaction, "Oh, tell me about what that feels like, or how does that feel and where does it feel in your body?" People will say, "Oh, it makes breaks my heart or it hurts my ears or I don't want to see it or I want to choke up." That's often embodied language is a really good way to have an entry point into a conversation, because it helps, at the cellular level, literally you can start doing the rewiring that goes on and it's very hard to come up with new synaptic pathways in our brain when we have had generations of thinking that we are the world leaders.
When in fact, I live on stolen land. Land that has never been seeded. That's a fact. If a First Nation person says to me, "You live on stolen land and you're a colonizer," that's all true. Just in the same way that all men aren't rapists, but men are the ones that mainly rape, that is also true. Trying to find ways to bring that to people's attention. That's one thing I do. The other thing I do is just hear it and I encourage people to, again, walk towards where they would like to be. If you notice that ouch moment, what's something you could do personally? For me, I've always got a practice of recognizing the land on which I live. I'll always try to ask myself, "What does it mean to live like from a First Nations orientation? What are the local fruits and vegetables that grew here long before white people came and tore up the land?" Just trying to live in a way that follows the seasons and the seasonality of life.
You can do a little thing, just buying fruit and vegetables that are in season as opposed to something that's traveled 5,000 miles to get there. I think that helps. The other thing that I do a lot of, and this is reflective of my grandmotherhood, and that's buying presents for people that challenge those values. Children's books that are from First Nation stories of the land that you're in, but everyone in my family knows they will get something like this. They have been getting it for ever since they were little. Books and clothing or pieces of art or a little piece of jewelry or a bookmark.
It doesn't have to be expensive. They can be smaller things, a card that always comes from the local area and just helping, just doing it. I think sometimes you don't have to talk a lot. If you're a really good storyteller, it's a show, not tell approach. I think that you can do that yourself. If you're finding that hard, you don't have to enter the conversation, but you can be in the conversation by just offering an alternative world view or an alternative way of being. I'm amazed the number of times I wear different earrings from different communities and people would all say, "Oh, that's beautiful. Where'd you get that from?" That's an entry point for a conversation
Jillian: That's super clever and you're supporting a local artist.
Tony: Just rooting it back and making the revolution irresistible that people can't help but compliment your earrings, and all you're doing is wearing a pretty set of earrings, but it invites a nice conversation.
Jillian: I was admiring your earrings this whole time, by the way,
Moira: The one I'm wearing today, for those of you who can't see, are from Peru. From a First Nations community in Peru, where one of my daughters lives in Mexico, in Mexico City, and on one trip home, she brought some earrings from indigenous communities and these ones are from Peru. Somebody can ask me about that and that enters the conversation.
Jillian: That's wonderful. I have a pair of earrings from Kenya and they're associated with a water well fundraising effort that I was a part of. It's a great conversation starter about water and human right to clean drinking water.
Tony: The revolution will be fabulous.
Jillian: It will. Well, I think we should move into our rapid fire. Tony, do you want to be the rapid fire-asker?
Tony: I will rapid fire. Yeah, absolutely. Moira, we're going to ask you some questions and there's no wrong answers. Some of them are kind of personal and easy, some are more philosophical. Just tell us whatever pops into your mind first and we'll have some fun. When you were wee little Moira, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Moira: A motor mechanic and a journalist.
Tony: Whoa. Why a motor mechanic?
Moira: I think I thought I'd meet really cool guys.
Tony: That's awesome. How do you define community?
Moira: Connection. People feeling connected to each other.
Tony: Love it, love it. In terms of your bucket list, what is something that is on your bucket list that you have done? Something that you crossed off the list?
Moira: Yeah, so I walked the Camino at Santiago de Compostela just before the pandemic. A few months before we all locked down. I didn't do all of it. I did 220 kilometers of it, but that was pretty cool.
Jillian: Which route did you do?
Tony: That's plenty.
Moira: Portugal, so I started in Portugal. I started just out of Porto in Barcelos, and then walked the Portuguese way to Santiago de Compostela.
Jillian: That's on my bucket list.
Moira: We'll see you there, Jill.
Tony: Staying on the bucket list. What's something that's still on that list? Something you haven't done?
Moira: Ah, so what's on that list is the Japanese Camino, the Kumano Kodo, which you go up the hill and just keep going into the clouds. I'm going to have to get a lot fitter than I am right now. That's a much, much shorter trip than the Camino, but it'll be a really cool walking pilgrimage. I'm looking forward to doing that when we all get to be able to be on the road again.
Tony: Beautiful. Let's talk books. What is a book that you are just loving something you want to share with everybody?
Moira: Oh my goodness. Where do I begin?
Tony: It can be an all-timer too, and really, just whatever hits your head first.
Moira: Yeah, my very first favorite book that I just read about a thousand times when I was a child and I still tell people to read it is C.S. Lewis's, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's got fabulous characters. It's a community of brothers and sisters. It's got all ... When I first read it, I didn't appreciate all the allegory about the kind of new world and the future, and I just love it. I think it's a must read for every person.
Tony: Timeless. In terms of geography, if you could live anywhere in the world, other than where you live?
Moira: Oh, I'd probably live on the west coast of Ireland, just near the Burren.
Tony: Lovely. Tell me more. I don't know much about that particular part of the world.
Moira: That part of the world is geomorphologically, it's connected to like the Arctic Circle and it's ... There's lots of plant life there that doesn't exist anywhere else, so it's world [inaudible] site in the west of Ireland. All the trees are falling over towards the west, because that's the way the wind blows. They literally, sort of 45, 65-degree angles. I did a walking tour there and a walking and singing and poetry tour there about 10 years ago with David White. Who's my favorite living poet. Mary Oliver was, but she sadly died, and she's my now favorite dead poet. It's a beautiful place because of its wilderness. Where I live in Australia, there's definitely a lot of wilderness and desert country where I live. I do love the wilderness as a way of being in touch with nature and the lessons that nature can give us, being blown around the Burren and the week, 10 days I was walking there, was a very good teacher to me.
The ground is very spongy and you walk along the ground and then you fall into a hole all the time, because you can't see all the rocks underneath this spongy kind of surface. That's a bit what life's like, right? We walk along the top and then all of a sudden we find ourselves down a hole or we twist our ankle metaphorically. I feel that the Burren, when I'm not doing so well, I go, "Oh, I'm on the Burren. That's right. That's what I'm ..." I just try and tune into the landscape to be my teacher.
Tony: That's so beautiful. We could talk plenty more about tuning into the land and how much that can serve you in so many ways. I live in a particularly urban part of New York City right now, and I definitely notice when it's been too long since I put my feet in the soil. Final question, how do you want to be remembered?
Moira: Well, I have a brother who says that on my gravestone he's going to make sure that the words are, "She said, 'Trust the process,'" and I kind of like that, because that is truly what I believe that I think if we design good process, we will get great outcomes. I would like to be as someone who helped as many voices be heard as possible.
Tony: Beautifully put. I love the idea of just imagining what would go on the headstone. What would be the phrase that somebody else would put on there for me?
Jillian: I told you I didn't feel good.
Moira: Yeah. I love that. Milligan's got that on his headstone. "I told you I was sick," is the one.
Tony: Moira, how do folks tuning in find you? Where are your links? Where are your socials?
Moira: On everywhere. You can find me on Instagram, Moira Were, and you can follow the Hen House there as well. I love people to follow us there, and on Twitter, we're there as well. Again, just @MoiraWere and you can find me if people want to track me down on LinkedIn, that's a really good space to hit me up as well. I'd love to hear from people. If you are a Facebook person, this has not been a good time for our friends in Facebook land, but if you are a Facebook person, you want to join the Chooks SA. It is a closed group, but you're very welcome. Just find Chooks SA and the Hen House. If you come to the Hen House dot Co-op website, you will be able to subscribe to news. If anyone wants to become a member of the Hen House, we would love to have you as a co-op member as well.
Jillian: Cluck yeah.
Tony: Yeah, and let us know if you join. Moira, thanks so much for your time. It's been an absolute joy.
Moira: Yeah, lovely. Thank you so much for all that you're doing in the world and getting all these messages out. This is fantastic, so all the very best to both of you.
Tony: Right back at you. Keep making the revolution fabulous and irresistible.
All right. Moira Were, everybody. She gives a cluck, and she does not pull punches.
Jillian: I was going to say no clucks given.
Tony: Yeah, no clucks given. Jill, we said this before we started recording, but I think it's worth saying here. I want this show to be something that is accessible to most anyone, right? Obviously, Moira has a very strong kind of political standpoint.
Jillian: I also think social activism is a community in and of itself. I'd like to think we try hard to have a wide range of guests. I mean, we've had religious leaders of various religions. Now, we're dipping a toe into social activism. I think it's all for the greater good. We can all get along. We can all respect each other's point of views and something I firmly believe that I've said many times to Tony probably on the podcast, but I'll say it again, is I guarantee that every human on the planet, you could have a conversation with and find something in common to talk about and we have to focus on what brings us together versus what sets us apart if we want to continue as a society.
Tony: Well put, Jill, and you're reminding me too that the importance of fun, the importance of making things playful and accessible, I think lowers that barrier and maybe creates some common ground. I feel like that's a really valuable thing.
Jillian: I agree. When you take a step back and look at what the Hen House Coop Co-op does, I mean, and full disclosure, I joined it after the call. I believe very much in helping close the gender pay gap and investing in women. I really am passionate about investing in black women-owned businesses and indigenous women-owned businesses, that is something that's personally important to me. For me to take action on that, I thought Moira's organization was very aligned with my own beliefs. I'm a big fan of Kiva and doing micro loans. It reminds me a lot of that, but something I like about her organization and was prompted me to join it, was that you declare what it is. What what's important to you this year, what are you going to work on?
Is it investing in things you care about? Is it divesting in things that don't align with your values? The beauty of that is your values in that aren't the main purpose. The main purpose is how are you going to take action for said values regardless of what those values are? Like yes, at the Hen House Co-op, it's women the pay the gender pay gap, but think about this from your own community perspective. This co-op style of "buying in shares", which you literally do for Hen House, you buy shares into the co-op, and I like that. I think that's cool. That's a good idea for any community, and the declaration of this is the thing that's important to me, and I'm focused on this next year. That helps people come together with similar goals of learning. I mean, it's cool.
Tony: Yeah, and you make a good point about how you represent your support for someone. It could be as simple as buying earrings from somebody who is from a group that you want to support. They're very pretty, they're very distinctive, probably really unique, and it's going to invite conversation and it's probably a really innocuous, but potentially very valuable starting point to say, "Oh, well, I actually got it from this in indigenous jewelry maker in town and her stuff's really beautiful." Maybe that leads to a really enlightening conversation about what's going on in a way that some people might not have otherwise been able to talk about it.
Jillian: Yeah, and there's other forms of this that I really like. Like when talking about veterans and caring about veterans, remembering veterans, honoring veterans, the Red Poppy, that's a really ... In British and the British-adjacents like Canada, I know it's a big deal. In the UK, it's a big deal. The Red Poppy is a symbol, lest we forget, and in America, it's commemorating or it's honoring the sacrifices of soldiers during World War I, but it means more than that in other countries. I have a red poppy I wear every Veterans Day in honor of my grandfather, who was in the Canadian Royal Army in World War II. It's something that's really important to me. If I see somebody with one and usually I don't see people my age or in this area, it's usually more in Canada or bigger cities, but sometimes I see people handing them out for veterans that I know exactly what it is. I talk to them. It's a lovely bonding experience. It's using, for lack of a better word, merch, but it's a great way to have conversations with people.
Tony: Absolutely. Branding and symbolism are such powerful constructs in community and identity and that imagery. Again, it could just be a matter of supporting somebody in a visible way and sparking conversation as a result.
Jillian: Yeah. Be it a chicken on your lapel or a poppy.
Tony: More chicken lapels.
Jillian: The chickens are cute. I mean, if you go to the Hen House, if you go to their site and look, there's a shop. I looked at it before we talked about that and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I got these cute chickens."
Tony: I would love to know if you have some symbols or some imagery, some people you want to visibly support in your community. We're @TeamSPI on Twitter, and we would love to hear from you. Go put some chicken pins on your lapel, buy from some wonderful people in your community and tell us how it goes and we'll catch you on the next episode of The Community Experience.
This has been The Community Experience for more information on this episode, including links and show notes, head over to SmartPassiveincome.com/listen.
Jillian: You can find Moira Were at her website, HenHouse.coop AKA co-op, but just C-O-O-P, and on Instagram, you can find the coop @HenHouseCoop.
Tony: Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound designed by Duncan Brown. Music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.