More than Enough to Connect Us All

By Bob Tracy

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.”
— William James

Minnesota is closing the high-speed internet gap. But, the job isn’t done. Many rural Minnesotans still are struggling with worse broadband at higher prices than their urban counterparts. And those without adequate affordable broadband are being left farther and farther behind. This troubling digital divide exacerbates all of the other “opportunity gaps” that divide our communities on racial and economic grounds. The good news is at least Minnesota now has a plan to reach full access goals by 2020. That wasn’t always the case.

“Getting broadband into an area when you don’t have it is a complex problem,” says Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation’s director of public policy and engagement, and leader of the foundation’s efforts to help rural communities get the broadband they need and the skills to use it. “If you don’t have something, it’s not uncommon for people to spend a lot of energy focusing on what they don’t have and concluding it’s someone else’s job to solve the problem. There can be a lot of belly-aching and ‘poor us.’”

That’s what happens when people are working from the perspective of scarcity or a zero-sum mindset. It’s a viewpoint that promotes a belief that there will never be enough, that more for you means less for me, and that others are unfairly taking or withholding something. When people see each other — or other groups — as competitors for scarce resources, stress, anxiety, and feelings of fear follow.

“The problem with a scarcity mindset is that it leads to fear,” says Joselyn, “And, when people are fearful, the brain short-circuits more rational processing paths — you literally can’t think straight — and plays tricks with your perception of reality. In fear, people tend to think in terms of “me” and “mine” and “us versus them”; they quickly go othering.”

When people come at an issue with a mindset of abundance a whole different set of perceptions and possibilities open up. Abundance is the belief there is more than enough for everyone. It is the confidence that more for you and your group does not necessarily mean less for me and mine. An abundance perspective encourages a focus on what’s working and going well and a belief that together we can create more of it. It’s about seeing opportunity and possibility in the human connections that bind us all, and “releasing the fear muscle” that drives people into tribes.

As William James asserted, and brain science now confirms, mindset is powerful. Foundations are uniquely positioned to help shape the public narrative of what we believe about ourselves and what is possible.

Flipping the Narrative
”It was critical to help people see and believe that by working together they have enough — power, vision, resources, tenacity — to create their desired future is at the heart of leading with an abundance mindset,” said Joselyn.
In the Blandin experience, fear and cynicism shut people down and sent them to their corners. The abundance framework got people to focus on what is working well, and how to do more of that. People from communities without adequate broadband took charge and documented existing demand, which helps attract potential providers. The abundance mindset got people to figure out how they could make better use of — and spread the benefits of — the broadband services they do have. They made free wifi available in public places and technology classes and training.

Abundant Grantmaking
The abundance frame certainly applies to more than just Blandin’s broadband policy work.

Reflecting upon an abundance frame’s impact on the Foundation’s approach to grantmaking, Joselyn suggests, “Rather than just seeing intractable problems and only what’s broken, it’s allowed and encouraged us to start with the questions: ‘What’s working well in this organization, in this community, and in this state? What are we proud of? What were the conditions that enabled those successes, and how can we do more of that?’”

Broadband coverage is not where it needs to be in Minnesota. Troubling gaps persist, especially in rural Minnesota, where under-served communities lacking the broadband they need to support quality education, health care, economic development, and social connectedness are at risk of falling further and further behind. But, Minnesota has set goals, funded broadband grants, and a Governor’s task force has provided a roadmap to full coverage. The approach, referred to around the country as “The Minnesota Model,” is successful, in part because communities are stepping up to envision a broadband-enabled future and then working together — based on their strengths and aspirations — to make it come true. Progress at the community level has been helped by shifting the conversation from focusing on what’s missing to focusing on the empowering idea of abundance – together we are enough and have enough to be the change we seek.

Minnesota has made strides in expanding access to broadband throughout the state. The share of Minnesota households with access to wireline broadband speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload (25 Mbps/3 Mbps) has increased from 69.64 percent in 2011 to 90.77 percent in March 2018. But, there remain significant areas in the state where broadband availability is lacking. A smaller share of households in rural Minnesota, 79.26 percent, compared to the 90.77 percent statewide, have access to broadband at high speeds. The final report of the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband was released in October 2018.

Bob coordinates public policy engagement and leads MCF's government relations activities. He encourages MCF members to incorporate public policy into their grantmaking.

More of Giving Forum V40, Fall 2018