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Biomimicry: Sustaining Community in Times of Social Equity and Public Health Challenges

Because so much of my work builds on concepts found in nature -- including a new Six Seconds workshop I’m developing for an upcoming GrowU Festival -- I’ve been diving more deeply into biomimicry.

What is Biomimicry? According to The Biomimicry Institute, biomimicry acknowledges that the solutions to our greatest challenges are right here -- accessible and validated by the many species that live in our world today. And it empowers us to draw on those insights to address those challenges.

Drawing from nature, the fields of medicine, energy, architecture, transportation, and many others have made important breakthroughs on human design challenges. Check out some examples here.

Here are some additional ways that biomimicry is supporting important new advances in the energy and environmental field. For example, a Philanthropy Journal article by Sandra Cyr highlights how “the human lung’s capacity for filtering carbon dioxide has inspired new technology for fighting pollution. An air conditioning system modeled on the self-cooling mounds of termites has dramatically reduced energy use and costs. Studying how dolphins communicate underwater has led to the development of a new tsunami early warning system.”

And there is growing prominence for Biomimicry for Social Innovation, Cyr notes. Biomimicry for social innovation “aims at ‘applying nature’s genius to leadership, social change, and organizational development,’ [and it] is studying nature’s self-organizing and interdependent networks in order to answer questions like: What can a forest ecosystem teach us about cooperating within a diverse community? What might we learn from insect colonies about working collaboratively?”

That’s pretty exciting, if you ask me. It gives me hope that we can learn and grow past these difficult times that we and our communities -- and our organizations -- are facing.

“While the causes of and solutions to the underlying issues are in many ways uniquely human, there is much we can learn about sustaining community when we look at the rest of the living world,” notes the AskNature team, a program of The Biomimicry Institute. “Nature has innovated through time to both create and support communities of all kinds and sizes.”

Here are a few short examples from the AskNature team of what we can learn from nature in working to positively address these important issues today. (See more here.)

Sea Anemones: Intricate relationship allows the other to flourish.

“Of the over 1,000 anemone species that live in the ocean, only 10 species coexists with the 26 species of tropical clownfish. Within these species, only select pairs of anemone and clownfish are compatible. Together, they are obligatory symbionts, which means that each species is highly dependent on the other for survival. Symbiosis between the two species is achieved in a variety of ways including a mutual protection from predators, an exchange of nutrients, and the clownfish’s tolerance of anemone nematocysts.”

Attributes Relevant in an Organizational Setting: Coevolve, Cooperate/Compete, Coordinate Systems, Cycle Nutrients, Protection/Allyship

Flamingos: Long-term social bonds help flamingos survive by providing mutual support.

“Scientists have rarely studied friendships among animals other than humans and apes. For hundreds of years, scientists refused to think that animals could have emotions or other human traits. Recently, however, many have started to accept that there are birds and mammals that have feelings and senses, suffer when hurt, and form coalitions and alliances with other individuals to improve their own conditions.”

And you also might be interested to know from the study this references that...

“Study of these four flocks demonstrates that flamingos are selective in their choice of social partner and can maintain stable partnerships over several years. Flamingo flocks are not homogenous societies; birds seek out and remain with compatible partners to form long-standing relationships with specific individuals. Male and female flamingos are both likely to maintain a range of connections with conspecifics [members of the same species]. No relationship was found for the occurrence of solitary flamingos and their flock size, suggesting that in each flock studied all flamingos were able to associate with other chosen birds.” (Rose and Croft 2020:8)

Attributes Relevant in an Organizational Setting: Coordinate by Self-Organization, Social Support, Partnership

Bonus: Video, Amani TV: What is Bio-empathy?

Can we help with attracting, engaging, and retaining the valued team members in your organization? Reach out to Beth Offenbacker, Ph.D., at or via phone or text at 703-623-4811 to discuss if our Executive/Leadership Coaching or Talent Management services are right for you. We work with organizations of all sizes and types whose missions focus on sustainable objectives. All services are customized to your needs.

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