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Who am I in the ecosystem of ecosystems?

Vyjayanthi Mala


Who am I? Isn’t this the most pertinent question always? When I started thinking about this with a spin of “Who am I with respect to the world around me”, I realised that I am an integral part of the development sector ecosystem; my organisation is an ecosystem orchestrator and the network we work with is an ecosystem of ecosystems. How beautifully layered this is! 

I got an opportunity to unbundle this with a bunch of “seekers” like me in a gathering hosted by RNPF I recently attended. I say seekers because the one thing I find in common between change leaders is the urge to keep doing better, or ‘seeking’. I realised that how we think about an ecosystem mirrors the natural world insofar as:

  • co-existing is the default
  • everything is sustainable
  • whatever happens has a direct impact on everyone
  • everything is interconnected 
  • there is a lot of scope for exploration
  • it is decentralised yet symbiotic
  • despite a busy collective exterior, there is a sense of centredness and quietude at the individual level

So “What is an ecosystem?” emerges as a question.

I think it is a state of being, aspirationally drawing from the patterns of nature where there is no individual VERSUS collective but instead, individual AND collective. When I embrace this state of being, balance is maintained. I am an ecosystem player.

Taking this thought further, I wonder: “What kind of ecosystem player am I?”

  • If I am a builder of ecosystems, I bring the agenda and get the ecosystem to work towards it
  • If I am a catalyst, I enter the ecosystem, enable actors in it and build on top of the agenda that emerges
  • On the other hand, if I am a curator, I have no agenda; I do not build capacity; I simply bring people together and hold space for co-exploration

In short, if I am a builder “I do”. If I am a catalyst, “I see”. If I am a curator, I hold the mirror for “people to see”. 

That brings me to the next nuance I see: “What kind of an ecosystem player do others perceive me to be?” This was an eye-opener for me in that gathering. I had pegged my organisation and I as a “catalyst” whereas a bunch of people in the room thought of us as “curators”. While I understand the lines I drew are ceaselessly shifting and we always have a strong natural affinity towards one flavour, it is interesting to constantly sense how I see it and how others see it. This also paves way for the next natural question: “What kind of an ecosystem player do I want to be?”

What is reassuring to me is to realise how Societal Thinking is naturally aligned with nurturing ecosystems. When I look at the role of being an orchestrator of ecosystems, through the lens of the 3-layered Societal Model, this is what comes to mind.

What kind of an ecosystem player do I want to be

As I continue to explore what it takes to be an ecosystem organisation, many pathways keep opening up. Every passing day gives me some answers and many better questions. 

  • How to be comfortable with uncertainty and anxiety?
  • How to hold myself consistently in the space of empathy, serendipity, curiosity, inquiry with a sense of urgency?
  • How to balance and align reason and emotion?
  • How to decide where to draw the line in the big spectrum between exclusivity and openness?
  • How to constantly acknowledge the presence of an overarching vision and remind ourselves that the long game is more important?
  • How to enable an ecosystem of ecosystems, together?
  • How to create experiences for different actors for them to feel like an equally integral part of the ecosystem?

Thanks to the RNP team for curating such an exploratory space and thanks to Rathish from Sattva for facilitating the conversation.

Are you an ecosystem player? Do you know what kind you are, what kind you are perceived to be, and what kind do you want to be?