Gino Borges:
We’re here with Berry Liberman today, the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Small Giants, an Impact Family Office based in Melbourne, Australia that invests in and nurtures businesses working towards a more just sustainable and compassionate world. Berry is also the publisher of Dumbo Feather, a multimedia company that publishes long-form conversations with extraordinary thinkers and doers across the globe. For Berry, professional and personal life are inextricably linked. Her three kids and her husband Danny are the great joy of her life. They enjoy nature together, taking on waves at Byron Bay and picking tomatoes at their local farm. Welcome, Berry.

The last time I saw you, the world felt somewhat normal. Then all of a sudden, you as a citizen of Australia have had to deal with two immense collective tragedies – first the fires and then the Coronavirus, a global catastrophe. How have you been personally and professionally impacted by this wave of tragedy? What are some of the practical things that ended up happening, and what are some of the deep-seated reflections that occurred as a result of this?

Berry Liberman:
Firstly, I just want to apologize if my children do come screaming through this conversation and start asking me to make the toast. I’m making 7,000 pieces of toast today in this locked down life where all of our lives are exposed: the inner, the outer, the real, messy, the dirty. There’s no hiding on Zoom anymore. There’s no control which can be pretty intense experience. We were able to compartmentalize our lives before COVID, and now we’re all seeing each other in our fullness, in our homes.

That’s an experience of letting go. We’ve had so many meetings on Zoom now with our team. We’ve got a team of about 60. Everyone’s on mute swinging their kids in the garden and co-parenting together. It’s something, and it’s quite an extraordinary time to be alive. As an Australian, we first went through the fires in January, which killed one and a half billion animals and destroyed many livelihoods, ripping through rural towns along the East Coast of Australia. For me, being in the impact space, there were plenty of scenarios where this was going to happen. When the fires first hit, my first thought was, “Shit, I thought we had more time.”

You never know what the timeline is going to be on the collapse of ecosystems and the impact of global warming. You read the science. I’ve read Deep Adaptation, but the awareness of what was coming and how it would impact civilization was still a distant thought. We thought, “It’s not going to happen now. It’s not going to happen in January.” It’ll happen in 2040, 2050, which is only five minutes from now, but the human psyche, even though we have the science, know the information, and have been preparing ourselves somewhat, for those of us who accept the science, it’s still deeply traumatizing and shocking when it happens. The impacts are always being felt. Australia’s had such profound economic shocks and social shocks through the fires. In some exciting ways, we were psychologically prepared differently when COVID hit.

There was remarkably a lot of social solidarity when the fires came through. Australians have been wanting to help each other, have been wanting to go to rural communities, and reboot their economies. There was a new kind of social fiber, socially and culturally, a cohesion that had come from that shock of environmental trauma. We were living up in Byron Bay at the time, in New Wales, a small rural town on the water. The fires were so close, and our daughter has asthma. The air was so thick with smoke, and the night sky was a blazing red setting sun. It was terrifying and visceral. I went to Sydney for work for a couple of days in the middle, and everyone was wearing masks at that time for the smoke because the inhalation was unbearable and unlivable.

Anyone who had a baby or a small child was indoors. In a way, it was a test run for what’s happening with COVID. I hadn’t thought about that before. It was a visceral wake-up call. The smoke was in the cities now. It wasn’t happening outside. It wasn’t far away. It was happening to the body. That’s an exciting moment. We are now having these visceral, embodied encounters with the breakdown of ecosystems. The way we’ve designed the economy, looking at the meta-system design that we are functioning within, we’re now encountering in our bodies how that doesn’t work for us. How vulnerable we are. I feel we’ve had to get to the moment where the smoke is in our lungs and COVID is our lungs. I wonder what someone in Chinese Medicine would say about the lungs. I like to think about these times that we’re experiencing on a bigger frame as I believe it can help us have insight. Any portal to insight right now, to the collective wisdom, is important. I’m hunting for it.

Gino Borges:
When we onboard from COVID back to a basic functionality of life, where do we strike a balance between that base functionality and filling a visionary vacuum created by this crisis to reoxygenate the way we live in the world?

Berry Liberman:
I talk about this in our Dumbo Feather Podcast. So much content is just coming out of me at the moment because these are the conversations that we need to have and to share; this is the moment for exactly what we’re doing now – deep diving into where we are, where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and who we want to become. One of the best conversations I’m having at the moment is a mini-series we’re doing on COVID as a Rite of Passage with a man named Dr. Arne Rubenstein, who’s been running Rites of Passage workshops for 25 years at his property in Mullumbimby.

We talk about the arc of a Rite of Passage in that there are three stages: separation, transformation, and reintegration. Every Rite of Passage through ancient times had that arc. With COVID, we were forced into separation. You could never have imagined billions of people would stay at home, and as a result, some remarkable things are happening on the planet. Two weeks ago, the Attorney General of the UN called for a ceasefire of all war on Earth. Saudi Arabia stopped the fighting in Yemen. In the last two weeks, there has been peace on Earth.

There’s been no conflict on Earth because of a virus. It’s just wild. Separation was forced on all of us at the same time, 8 billion human beings on Earth. Now, we’re in the phase of transformation. That transformation process has four parts. One of the parts is storytelling and story sharing. We can listen to one another and share our stories. The second part of the transformation is a challenge or an ordeal. The Maasai would usually send their young men off to kill a lion. It’s a big ordeal. I was comparing COVID to a lion. It’s our lion. The point about the lion is it brings you proximate to death. That awakens in the human nervous system an awareness of mortality, and with that, comes humility. Imagine an economic system we design coming out of this when we move back into reintegration that is informed by the shock of the ordeal and the confrontation with the lion to include humility. What would an economy look like if we were conscious that death comes to us all, and therefore, we are a part of living systems? We must be in service to an intergenerational justice. We are one moment in the arc of time. We’ve designed an economy around our hubris that we can take and extract, where we live forever. Some people in California are even trying to design stuff that would allow us to live forever. To defy our nature is the system we’ve designed. It’s trying to negate our very humanity. What is incredible about this moment is an opportunity to get proximate to it, to be all up in your face with our humanity. I haven’t got to the reintegration part of the podcast with Arne yet. Still, I imagine there are structural ways, and there are ancient ways we can process and metabolize what we’re all experiencing and take it with us forward into the future. That is an opportunity. That’s not a “gimme.” He shares that a lot of our leaders are 70-year-old men who are still actually 12-year-old boys. They have never been through a healthy Rite of Passage where the community can hold them accountable, where they were able to be held by the community to move and transition from childhood, teenagerhood to adulthood to elderhood. We all need to hold each other through those stages in healthy ways, and we’ve lost that capacity.

Can we reintegrate? Can we think differently? The virus is doing that medicine on our behalves, but one can predict how we will metabolize and move forward. I’m seeing an impact on our family and our businesses. It’s forcing the integration of a lot of things quickly. It’s forcing collaboration and communication, and that’s pretty different systems-wise. We’ve designed a system for competition and extraction, and we’re being asked to do very different things right now. I live from a kind of devotional practice of love. I love the world, and I love humanity. I’m always on team love.

Gino Borges:
Joseph Campbell identifies this idea of bringing boon back to your community in “Hero With A Thousand Faces.” You have a moment of separation in which you have to leave your comfortable status and face a challenge to your mortality. Yet, if they don’t have an audience that’s predisposed to welcome them back, people hold their lived stories inside and that becomes more painful than the original threat to their lives. What do we need to do as a community, as publishers? I have a multimedia platform and you have Dumbo Feather, but if the community is not prepared to hold their stories and hear their stories, it can be a lost opportunity. As publishers, how can we receive stories so that the integration can occur?

Berry Liberman:
That is a major part of it, the community welcoming back the initiated. That’s the final stage. That reintegration is a significant part, and we’re all going through it together which is wild. My intuitive answer to what you said is, as a publisher, I ain’t no Rupert Murdoch. We’ve got a beloved community; we print 10,000 copies of the magazine. There are probably 100,000 people who listened to the podcast. COVID is forcing localization. It’s not trying to speak to the masses and convince the masses.

I’m not even on Twitter because all your information is owned by corporations, and it’s not a cooperative. There’s so much corruption in the model, trying to talk to everybody with however many words you’re limited to. It’s all bullshit. I don’t want to be limited. I want to have meaningful deep conversations. I’m going to find the platforms that nourish my community and me. It’s about building local resilience. That is what this is forcing as we watch the collapse of globalization. It was never sensible. Let’s just be sensible and practical, not even ideological. It is not sensible to catch wild salmon in Norway, ship it on bigger ships that chew fossil fuels to China, to be deboned and then shipped back to Norway to be sold in the supermarkets in Norway. That’s not a sensible supply chain solution. That’s just stupid. What’s being exposed is the incredible fragility of this system that we designed where we externalized risk to some “away” place. There is no “away.” Somewhere on our actual planetary boundary, the risk will land on the beaches; the rubbish will wash up on the shores of wherever “away” is in the collective imagination. We know with the fires in Australia and COVID is that there is no “away.”

We need to be doubling down on our communities, building resilience, and creating what David Brooks in his wonderful book “The Second Mountain” calls ‘moral ecology.’ We need to reinvest in the moral ecology of our communities and stand up for what we deeply value that lives in service to what makes life worth living. Let’s have community conversations about what those values are, and then design healthy living systems. We’re part of a couple of groups up in Byron Bay and here on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria around resilient regions. I know there’s a lot of work happening in the US, and it’s bi-partisan. I work with people in both major parties in Australia. There are lots of awesome people who are politically bucketed, which feels a bit weird to even be that right now. We should all just be on team humanity, and I think we’re being forced to break down those barriers. I know that in the UK with the trauma of COVID, a lot of the tension around Brexit has dissolved because they asked for volunteers for the NHS, and they got 700,000 volunteers. That’s extraordinary. We see what happens when we function at a different frequency altogether. There’s a lot of goodness just waiting to be tapped and to serve people. They surveyed the UK about two days ago, and only 9% of the Brits want to return to life as it was before COVID.

Gino Borges:
Do they know what they want to return to?

Berry Liberman:
They’ve articulated a slower pace, more time with family, more time in nature, and being connected to their communities. I took a meal to a neighbor I never even met before COVID. People are connecting with what is essential, and there’s now data on what an essential worker is. Those essential workers are part of the care economy and part of the food economy. When you strip away all that extra that we were doing, all the madness that we’d built into the system, we’re now being shown the essentials.

Gino Borges:
It’s providing a window into local resiliency, but how is the dance going to happen between the local and the global? It’s because of global capitalism that I went to Sydney to meet you. It’s global capitalism that has your husband coming to the United States to meet other impact investors and me. We know where globalism detracts value, but where does globalism add value? Will there be a certain amount of minimalist globalism that will amplify local resiliency, or are we all just going to live in our local resiliency?

Berry Liberman:
It’s such a great question. I look forward to how that conversation unfolds around the globe over the next few months because we’re in a liminal space right now where the narrative and the operating system is up for grabs. That’s a remarkable opportunity we’ve been given to lean into the redesign. What’s going to raise the top? In Australia, the baby boomers, who are largely in power, are familiar with the fossil fuel economy. Australia is a mining country, and we have had this incredibly robust economy largely because of our exports of minerals. There are 25 million people in Australia. We’re an island nation with enough sun to export renewables. We could have a battery in every home in this country for only somewhere like $4 billion. We could implement renewable infrastructure because there are infrastructure issues to the pivot. That needs to be resolved and incentivized. We’ve watched the complete dissolution and collapse of the old economic paradigm. We saw with OPEC and global fuel stocks around the world that the operating system has been ground to a halt. The infrastructure globally is still there, so the argument to pivot and build new infrastructure is going to be frightening for a lot of people. For a lot of politicians that are too old to think about it, why would you bother? You want to get straight back into creating jobs and just do what you know, cranking the economy back to life. The case forward has been there. There’s a decade of case studies that if you’re in renewables, you’re protected against the price of fossil fuel. That’s what we’ve seen. We’ve seen a lot of data. Will we listen to the data? I don’t know. I’m still fantasizing while I’m here at my farm about drinking in a Negroni in Capri. I want to travel; I love to travel. I want to come and see you on your farm. I want to ski in Utah. I want to be with all of our friends in California and New York. I don’t know how we’re going to dance, as you were saying, and what balance we can strike between belonging to each other as a global citizenry and doubling down on our local communities and economies. Our hand is being forced quite frankly. For Australians, for example, the fires made it apparent that you need to be energy independent and water independent. You need a local care economy that’s robust. We’re lucky in Australia. We’ve got an incredible health care system that’s available to everyone, and you still wanted to have a robust care network in your local town to get through the fires. There are some things that are beyond intellectualizing that is being forced, and that’s a really good thing. The projections for COVID are way too optimistic. We’re all going to be in kind of one form of lockdown or another for 24 months. My instinct is this is a way bigger hit than any of us are aware of yet. The economy as a feedback loop is going to tell us what’s working and what’s not. I would say the economy is a feedback loop.

GDP was the wrong measure in the first place. With only 9% of Britain’s wanting to return to business as usual after COVID, we’re being asked to measure GNH. We’re being asked to measure Gross National Happiness, which they do in Bhutan. It’s communal wellbeing and individual wellbeing. People are connecting with other measurements of success than the economy. That is a crack in the universe where the light gets in. Will it affect us in meaningful ways, or will our darker natures return in full force? I don’t know, but it’s a very remarkable moment to be alive to taste what it’s like to be forced to do things differently.

Gino Borges:
What’s going to be the role of storytelling in this space? How can we demystify the storytelling role? Storytelling is always viewed as a subjective, qualitative experience, as opposed to an objective science, but a lot of people know the science of climate change. There are enough white papers for here to the moon. How would you make the pitch to say, “Look, the science is here. You can trust your experience that you’re having during this pause, trust what you’ve read about climate, but let’s trust our experience as a moment we can move forward with.” Where’s the role and the functionality of storytelling? Where is storytelling at the intersection of all this?

Berry Liberman:
If you understand the power of storytelling, then just do it. Just do it. I find that a lot of people equivocate, or they hedge. All I know is what I know, right? All I’ve known since I was little is that stories have the power to heal us, to change us, to frame our world in ways that make it more nourishing, more beautiful, less scary. Interestingly, the story machine of Hollywood got increasingly more violent, increasingly a desolate landscape of storytelling. You have to hunt for a great story that would nourish your soul. I’m not sure why that was a problem. Why didn’t we want to nourish ourselves with the story? That’s who we are; our deepest embedded selves is to listen to and share stories. I personally just believe in it so much. I love story. It has been for me the great medicine of my life. I’ve never done drugs. I don’t drink. I was never drawn to other anesthesia for my pain and my suffering. I was always drawn to the content. One of my girlfriends is a recovering alcoholic, and she was binging on ice cream. We were laughing, and I said, “Hey, just binge on content. When in doubt, give that a go, you know?” As we absorb well-told stories consciously put out in the world, they help us be more human. They help us see who we are, know who we are, or reach for who we want to be. That has always been the power of art. Art became a dirty word in the world, but it’s not for me. I just think there’s no truer or more authentic place to live. It forces sincerity, honesty, and authenticity. I feel such an enormous privilege to be able to tell a story or be inside story-making. The stories we tell ourselves mean everything. If you’re in doubt of that, you’re in doubt of that. But if you believe in that and you’ve got resources, just double down on the story you want to tell. What are the stories we need as a collective to reintegrate, to metabolize everything that we’re experiencing and to reintegrate into new operating systems that will help us live within the bounds of the ecology and towards human flourishing? How are we going to encounter those possibilities through the story? The stories that I want to tell are ones about health and wholeness. How can we arrive at wholeness through suffering? I don’t find the organizing principle of trauma to be very useful, so my stories are around organizing principles of love, service, self-awareness and wholeness. That’s what I hunt around in the dark for. I back myself. I fund my media company because that’s why I’m here. I’m pretty comfortable with that now. I probably wasn’t in my twenties, but I am now. If anyone here is listening to this and you have an intuition, we need nourishing stories right now to lead us forward. Just fucking go. Now is the time. Tell the stories, share the stories, create the platforms, and don’t worry about perfect. Don’t worry about mass influence. I don’t want to be mass influenced. I want to be moved. I want to be inspired. I want to be animated. We’re not here for very long on Earth, even if we’re not hit by COVID. That’s what I think about the story.

Gino Borges:
Berry, I could speak to you for hours. It seems like we have equal fire, and we can go back and forth. I feel so fortunate to know you, your husband, and a lot of your wonderful colleagues at Small Giants. This is our moment to feel alive. We can feel troubled and traumatized, or we can see ourselves as a vehicle of spirit, as a vehicle of becoming not a victim, somebody that can continually evolve until Father Time or Mother Time says it’s time to go. It’s a very moving thing for you to take the initiative to do the wonderful things you do, whether personally, or at Dumbo Feather, giving people a chance to be storytellers. My heart has always been this dialectic dance between the grammar and the poetry, the poetry of impact. It touches on this very dance that we’re talking about right now. How do we weigh the global and the local, how do we weigh art and science not as bipolar opposites, but as part of the same continuum? That’s the magic of your voice. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Berry Liberman:
Thanks, Gino. You’re a legend. So nice to chat.