Voices of Vision

Neela Mollgaard: Entrepreneurs

Neela Mollgaard (courtesy photo)

Twenty years ago my husband and I were determined to make Minnesota home. We decided on Red Wing, a small town of around 16,000 people. It was scenic, and we admired the close- knit community. We knew it would be an excellent place to raise our family.

We were pleasantly surprised to find out that our little town was also home to many passionate people who are not afraid to work hard and push for what is right and needed. They vote for schools. They volunteer to help the uninsured. They give time and resources to children and families in need.

Red Wing is also forward-thinking and entrepreneurial. I was part of the grassroots team that set a vision of how our small town could stay competitive in a global economy. We created Red Wing Ignite, a model for rural innovation that has received national attention. The non-profit encourages entrepreneurs, businesses, and students to succeed in the 21st-century economy.

My current position as the executive director of Launch MN allows me to pursue my passion: bringing people together to drive change and help individuals, businesses, and communities.

This new statewide initiative is designed to enhance and elevate Minnesota’s innovation ecosystem. My vision is that our state will be a national leader in innovation.

Startup activity in the U.S. is not limited to the coasts or big cities. I have seen firsthand:

  • Entrepreneurs in rural towns passionately creating and launching new technologies
  • Investors eager to support emerging businesses with capital and mentorship
  • Schools and universities seeking new ways to teach 21st-century skills
  • Support organizations dedicated to serving the needs of entrepreneurs

Creating and sustaining an innovative culture comes with inherent challenges. Organizations and even cities are sometimes reluctant to collaborate due to the proprietary nature of their work. Geography and limited funding streams also pose difficulties.

By bringing together people, talent, and resources across the state, I know we can compete globally. As the proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Sun Yung Shin: Humanity

Sun Yung Shin (courtesy photo)
Sun Yung Shin (courtesy photo)

What I see as possible is the dissolution of the idea that the human, and humanity, is something special — something that deserves to be dominant over all other life forms — and that humans are a species at its pinnacle, done evolving.

There is so much more we can be, whether we look to theories of posthumanism, or ideas of Afrofuturist artists and writers, or poets who are pushing language to new limits every day.

Scholar Donna Haraway calls our time the Chthulucene, and says that we need to stay with the trouble — that is, continue to struggle to realize our visions of justice, non- violence, interconnectedness, beauty, strangeness.

It  is my hope that humans have a future, one in which we have humility, in which other sentient beings are afforded personhood, and one in which we can create the conditions everywhere that disincline us to follow despots and fundamentalism.

Yet I also am not opposed to becoming a cyborg. I think in  the cyborgian we may ultimately achieve what we think of now as our humanity — our ability to be kind, to imagine the life of the other, to work peacefully for the common good, to imagine multiple, pluralistic futures.

I am a dreamer.

Details: Sun Yung Shin’s “Unbearable Splendor”was a finalist for the PEN USA award and won the 2017 Minnesota Book Award. sunyungshin.com

Paula Westmoreland: Ecology

Paula Westmoreland (courtesy photo)
Paula Westmoreland (courtesy photo)

The climate crisis deepens, but an Age of Ecological Restoration is possible and necessary.

Thirty years ago, I started on a journey to discover what I could do to stop the loss of biological diversity. That journey has taken me back to the land and helped reweave my relationship with the natural world.

Along the way, I learned that nature is resilient and that life bounces back if given the right conditions. I learned we need to undo centuries of exploitation of the natural world. Most   of us have traumas in our relationship to the land going back generations — from being enslaved, to having our land stolen, to being displaced or losing the family farm. Undoing this is a process that takes time, but it can open up a whole world.

As I learned the skills of building soil, working with water, and creating habitat, I began to feel more connected and rooted. I learned how to create conditions for life. An amazing thing happened: as I healed the land, I healed myself.

I am part of a growing movement of people who are creating new pathways forward. Regenerative farmers are building an agriculture that sequesters carbon in agroforestry and grazing systems. Others are planting pollinator habitats and food gardens.

The work is challenging, and deeply rewarding. It reignites an appreciation of nature and a strengthening of communities.

It is our job today to be pioneers for future generations. It takes a village, with each of us doing what we can. Here are some ways you can be a pioneer:

  • Celebrate and ground yourself in the changes of the seasons by shifting your diet and activities. Eat locally and exercise outside. This will strengthen your connection with nature, help ensure our local food system continues to grow, and reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Create an oasis for birds, bees, and pollinators. Urban areas are strategically important habitat for many species. Check out the new Lawn to Legumes program at bwsr.state.mn.us
  • Develop skills in building soil, capturing and cleaning water, and chemical-free land care. Use your land as a learning laboratory. Take classes and share what you are learning with friends and neighbors. Metro Blooms is a good place to start: metroblooms.org
  • Visit a regenerative agriculture farm and learn how they are building soil and sequestering carbon while producing food. You can find farms on perennialmap.org
  • Initiate a Global Earth Repair Project to rebuild damaged ecosystems. These citizen-led projects are emerging in response to global catastrophes at earthrepair.net
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