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Lessons on Interconnection from a Socially Distanced Year

7 January 2021

“Guiding effective collaboration requires understanding and managing a changing constellation of variables—from individual relationships to geopolitical considerations. We recognize and anticipate the implications of these interconnections.”

This quote describes Meridian’s unique approach to our work. Day in and day out, we analyze and manage a dynamic constellation of variables. We both guide and are guided by the interconnections that exist around and between us.

When reflecting on 2020, the idea of the invisible strings that tie us together stood out for me. Despite social distancing mandates and policies that kept us apart, I saw deep signs of interconnection throughout a troubling year. I also saw places where fostering a tighter connection could help us accelerate a more equitable recovery. I came to the conclusion that 2020 was both defined by, and redefined by, interconnection—in our work at Meridian and in the world beyond. Some examples include:

Biological interconnection – At its very root, COVID-19 (Covid) is about interconnection. A zoonotic disease jumped from a wild animal (most likely a bat) to a human being and voilà! This is a vivid example of how inextricably connected human health and well-being are to the natural world.

Geographical interconnection – Covid showed us that it doesn’t care about borders, diplomacy, or which state has a 14-day quarantine. It moves freely and with disastrous results. But it also showed us that we do not need airplanes or highways to connect and be moved by one another; I was personally inspired by quarantined Italians coming together in song; farmers Zooming in from their combines during harvest to talk about conservation practices; and my neighborhood parade (complete with cheering neighbors banging pots and pans) when school graduation ceremonies went online.

Public health and healthcare interconnection – The interconnection between our personal well-being and the health and well-being of others has never been so acute. Certain populations are disproportionately affected by Covid – Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; nursing home residents; the incarcerated. We need to create a public health system that works for everyone. At Meridian, projects like Lacuna Fund are taking lessons learned in 2020 and working to address structural barriers that contribute to vulnerability including healthcare.

Racial justice interconnection – People demonstrated around the world after a police officer killed George Floyd, protesting racial injustice in the United States and in their own countries. Likewise, organizations across the country – including Meridian –  looked inward to analyze how we can better incorporate justice, equity, and inclusion into every meeting we convene, every conversation we have, and every outcome we foster. It is critical to consider who is at the “table,” how they participate, and how the ultimate decisions reflect diverse perspectives. These details matter and lead to better outcomes.

Scientific Interconnection – A bright spot was the pace at which scientists around the globe innovated and communicated with one another to advance our collective understanding of Covid. In less than a year, they have collaborated to understand transmission and develop treatments and a highly effective vaccine in record time. This is astounding.

Workplace interconnection – Millions of people – especially we fortunate ones who can work from home – found new ways of working. Meridian was an early Zoom adopter. With our partners, we collectively logged 2.2 million minutes on Zoom in 2020 – bringing together people from 111 different countries by year’s end to work together to address a dizzying array of social and environmental challenges. While much of our Zoom time focused on work, we also did what we could to build authentic and meaningful connections virtually – everything from staff-led Zoom boxing lessons and “speed dating” happy hours to creative endeavors like craft projects and scavenger hunts.

Map of Meridian Zoom meeting participants by location for 2020

Despite the continued distance between us, my hope is that we carry these lessons, observations, and a renewed appreciation of interconnection into the new year. Together we can bring together unlikely partners, uplift diverse perspectives, and continue to create outcomes that move the world in a positive direction.