This spring, I spoke with Maggie Kaplan, founder of Invoking the Pause (ITP), an environmentally driven small-grants program that offers creative respites to seed innovation through interdisciplinary collaborations. The program seeks to advance public awareness and engagement around climate change by helping individuals and communities understand its impact on our daily lives. As part of CityLab7, a group that has received ITP grants, I was pleased to talk with Maggie about her vision behind the program and her thoughts on “less.”

Invoking the Pause

Council of Pronghorn, Invoking the Pause. Photo: Helena Kubicka.

How did ITP begin?

In 2007, I participated in a strategic philanthropy program, The Philanthropy Workshop West (TPWW), where I was to present a new non-profit initiative. Around this time I saw An Inconvenient Truth. The world’s challenges seemed so insurmountable that I wanted to hide.

To clear my head, I walked on the Sonoma bike path where I met Lisa Micheli, a Switzer Fellow and geomorphologist who had also seen the film. She wished for more time to collaborate with a colleague, wanting to take action in the Bay Area on the data presented in the film. To do so, they both needed a break from their busy professional lives.

In that moment, I realized I could give them the “gift of a pause.” I funded them to take a week off of work to conduct their research, asking them to report their findings and next steps. In a cabin in the Sierra Mountains, Lisa Micheli and Healy Hamilton, who directed the Center for Applied Biodiversity Informatics at the California Academy of Sciences, were the first to “invoke the pause.”

I realized that I had initiated more than a project for TPWW; I was building a program with collaboration and time for innovative reflection at its heart. ITP is an idea incubator that creates community. We are all equals: I offer economic resources and guidance, and our Grant Partners bring ideas. Together, we co-create a structure for brainstorming, support and implementation.

This issue of ARCADE focuses on “less.” What does that mean to you?

When I was a corporate real estate lawyer, we discussed ROI—return on investment. With ITP, I’m questioning whether dollars are the best measure of value. Instead of ROI, I’ve coined the term “ROR”—return on relationships.

Relationships are a softer science, sometimes challenging to measure in quantitative terms, but isn’t that where value arises? Look at the collaborations between CityLab7, Grant Partner Gary Nabhan, Olson Kundig Architects, Schuchart/Dow and others who helped implement Fertile Grounds. In two months, you raised awareness, changed business practices and sparked new relationships. What will happen in a year?

I believe that small can be beautiful and impactful. None of our grants exceed $10,000.

What have Grant Partners discovered in their “pauses”?

I’ve seen profound changes in scientist Nicole Heller, who feared that people were not paying attention to the science of climate change. She has discovered that facts aren’t enough to shift attitudes or behaviors. She has realized that, as a climate scientist, she has to expand her own world view. 

This year, Nicole is our first returning Grant Partner to receive a new grant. She’ll study how to impact climate change messaging by drawing upon partners in the worlds of science, the arts, neurobiology and environmental science.

Several projects came to fruition last year. What’s next?

ITP does not limit funding to one or two phases; there are four funding phases to encourage Grant Partners to develop their projects. Projects are not “completed” at the end of funding cycles; we continue to seek nexuses between past, current and new Grant Partners.

We are also exploring a new kind of collaboration between Chris Desser (The Catalogue of Extinct Experiences) and the Presidio Graduate School of Sustainability (PGS) uniting creativity, art and sustainability. Other steps include finding an organizational partner to collaborate with ITP to gain access to larger funding sources that would allow more Grant Partners to participate each year. 

Of utmost importance is keeping you all connected, so that your relationships thrive, enrich each other and expand the reach of your work. 

When all the ITP Grant Partners convened in 2010, we were scared to feel hopeful; that has shifted as we’ve seen the impact of our collaborations. What gives you hope?

All of you and your power to manifest ideas in dynamic ways. Together, we’ve created a community on the cutting edge of new strategies for addressing climate change. 

Two Grant Partners – the Council of Pronghorn and St. John the Divine – made an incredible impact last year. Millions of visitors walked amidst the 23 pronghorns in the nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York; millions more can see the video online. Who will be inspired to act based on experiencing their collaboration?

I love the magic of the unknown, knowing that it moves to its own rhythms and oftentimes manifests ways better than we could dream.