Art of Hosting goes to Social Entrepreneur Bootcamp ~ South Africa

Irene and me with some of the Zambian entrepreneurs

My new friend and collaborator Irene Chikumbo and I just completed three very dynamic, two-day Community Ideation trainings for Social Entrepreneur Bootcamp Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia.

When Irene experienced Pro-Action Café as part of YALI program in the United States, she sensed immediately that it would be a useful, accessible and scalable tool for social entrepreneurs at home. Within days of returning to Harare, Zimbabwe, she launched a three-country Social Entrepreneur training program for young entrepreneurs in collaboration with the US State Department and local embassies. She also began a search for a trainer who could help African entrepreneurs use Art of Hosting practices in their work and this is how we began.

Our final training design was prototyped in Zimbabwe, tweaked slightly and perfected in Zambia and Namibia. The entrepreneurs learned Art of Hosting theory (Theory U and Systems of Influence), methodologies (Circle, World Café and Pro-Action Café) and practices (listening to understand and harvesting conversations).

At the end of each two-day session, the entrepreneurs expressed similar impact across all three countries:

Zambia World Cafe harvest

  • The powerful difference between listening to understand vs. to debate
  • The necessity in innovation of harvesting emergent thinking and collective wisdom (vs. depending on what is already proven and known)
  • Ideas for how they will use the methodologies immediately in their work (to engage stakeholder and cross discipline wisdom in ideation and design)
  • The importance of building the local/regional entrepreneurship field (Systems of Influence) in order for their individual projects to advance

For example, the Namibian entrepreneurs formed a policy group following the training to pursue a new business filing that would allow social enterprises to compete in the business market without relying on traditional donor funding.

I look forward to following the more than sixty entrepreneurs who brought their questions and passion to the training and the impact that they will have on their communities and home countries.

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Kufunda Village, Zimbabwe

Me: Have you ever heard about a project or a place and suspected that its story has become based more on our desire for it to be true than on something real?

UNICEF guy: Like when you are promised the moon, but when you get there you find a few candles?

Me: Yes! Well, Kufunda Village is the moon.

After three days at the Kufunda Village Art of Hosting training, I was able to welcome a visitor from UNICEF into the village this way. I continued to tell him that Kufunda has been a beacon for the Art of Hosting community as proof that our practices could be an operating system for sustainability. If it could be fully operational in Zimbabwe for the past 15 years, imagine what would be possible in our Western organizations and projects? Even so, I had arrived fully expecting to be disappointed by the gap between desire and reality but, instead, was deeply inspired by the strength of the community.

A powerful practice at Kufunda that is not as deeply integrated into the Art of Hosting trainings and literature in the United States is the importance of building confidence among practitioners who are not expected to lead or share power. This and developing a deep understanding of your own needs and gifts was spoken to mostly by young people and women in the community.

During a design session the day before the training began, an educated European man and Art of Hosting practitioner who was also visiting the village offered a conceptual shift to the design. A local Kufunda Villager without advanced education listened attentively and then stated to the design team that she was the kind of person who needs time to think about things and would like to wait before making a group decision. Everyone settled into her pace.

After the training was completed, several young educated Black Zimbabweans from Social Entrepreneur Bootcamp referenced the ‘eloquence’ of this woman. They were impressed by her ability to host so many so well and her sophisticated grasp of languages. One of them also noted the ‘eloquence’ of a male village leader who ‘I would have walked by on the street thinking that he was no one or a drug addict.’

This poem harvested from the community’s voices during the opening circle of their 3-day Art of Hosting training is the most eloquent expression of Kufunda’s depth of purpose and practice that I can offer as a visitor to their moon:

It is important that we gather
To support our families and
Learn to be together and
Rediscover ourselves again

In the mix-up of others
We learn what is only possible together
The young teaching the old
The old passing on what is known

In the circle
Where our families’ fears can be healed
Becoming human again
is as simple as eating cake

It is time to enter inquiry
So that our dreams visions passions and
Personal growth can become projects of freedom
That bring us to life

Together we can restore being African
Beyond fear and forgetting
As individuals and as a village
Inviting every voice to bring new ideas and name challenges

It is important that we host ourselves and each other
In the learning circle of love, family, Kufunda
Respecting each other and the land
Creating opportunities for what Zimbabwe can be

In the quest for global equity
We are the teachers
Born of living the future and
The longing for collective wisdom

We begin with self discovery and
Enter this journey home
That has no end
Like children’s play

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Sustainable Solutions Emerge From Paying Attention

During his presentation last night, Marcos Salazar, founder of NYC-based Be Social Change, offered a core insight from many years of domestic investment in prototyping and scaling social enterprises.

Projects that go the distance have mostly emerged from time and attention invested in understanding the problem and the people affected by the problem rather than ~ as our genius culture would suggest ~ from an individual’s bright idea or ~ as our obsession with collaboration would encourage ~ as a product of expert brainstorming sessions.

Ian C. MacMillan supports a similar formula in less developed settings as outlined in his The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook. MacMillan’s add is that sustainable innovations have clearly ‘define[d] your segment population’ and given attention to the behavior change (i.e., carrying reusable shopping bags with you to the store) that is necessary to scale the innovation.

Remembering that sustainable solutions emerge from investing time and attention in understanding the problem, the people affected by it and the desired behavior change is a useful practice to help innovators to stay grounded in the world. MacMillan also points out that this can be practiced quite effectively by start-ups with low resources.

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Practice Being Just

We have been exploring what it takes to transform rather than regulate on our blog Power and Privilege 2.0. This inquiry continues to return us to the importance of embracing treating each other well as a practice.

In Tuesday’s piece Relationship is the Resolution she illuminates how the standard go-to tools for facilitating conflict are bandaids designed to ‘move on’ rather than develop the group’s practice of working together in difference. Instead of depending on tools that are designed to patch things up when deep historic wounds surface, she suggests that “the resolution is in our relationship, in our ability to stay in discomfort together, to be humble in the face of not knowing what to do, and to not pretend that we know how to solve this intractable issue.”

In Allen’s following piece on his learnings as a #BlackLivesMatter activist, he declares that “A culture of love and responsibility has to be present in how we work together… I am committed to activism as a practice not as an occupation.”

I then follow with a piece exploring white people’s response to the police shootings and emerging black leadership where I conclude that “we still have a lot of learning to do about being nicer to people and tougher on systems.”

The idea of committing to practicing love and responsibility with each other reminds me of the power of Open Space Technology, which is introduced as a structure that provides just enough order to bring together Passion & Responsibility. While it works really well at moving people’s passion to action, there is one feedback that we hear when using Open Space in social justice spaces. During the self-organized breakout sessions, some people complain that the conversations are dominated by a few, which usually falls out along lines of societal power (i.e., women complain that men dominate).

When Opening Space in the urgency of a social justice crisis, we focus on the mechanics of the structure and emergence, giving less attention to practices of how we want to be together as if this would distract from the generative chaos. What keeps us from inviting the practice of treating each other well when we are focused on ‘solving’ societal injustice?

As Tuesday notes “…practice being just….there is nothing simple about that.” Even so, it may be the most accessible and effective activism there is.

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Creating Impact through Grace

IMG_8545Tuesday Ryan-Hart (live) and Tim Merry (via Skype) joined Allen FrimpongNancy Fritsche Eagan and me at the Center for Social Innovation on a November 20 & 21 in NYC for  Creating Impact through Engagement: a deep dive into effective participatory practices for stakeholder engagement featuring inspirational, real world examples.

Tuesday brought us the story of Columbus Ohio’s city officials, business community and service providers deciding to work together to ensure that no citizen spends the night un-domiciled in their city and taking action to make it real.

Among many gems that emerged from this story, the photo above illustrates one that caught my attention. Tuesday described how her practice of inviting grace creates an environment were difficult conversations can become meaningful, even transformational and help move diverse groups to action.

Her practice of inviting grace into highly successful outcome-oriented processes challenges the paradigm that creating safe spaces (by prohibiting certain language and behaviors, etc.) is a necessary condition for working together across difference and power.

What if we focused on inviting grace into our relationships and conversations instead of focusing on prohibition? It would certainly encourage learning and growth rather than control.

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Getting Found

I am delighted o announce the launch of Power and Privilege 2.0, a blog by me and friends Tuesday Ryan-Hart and Allen Frimpong.

The three of us met several years ago and immediately connected through our shared passion for working with people and groups that are boldly striving for social equity and racial and economic justice.

Lost, the first piece by Tuesday illuminates our sense that while we experience progress and change among the organizations and groups we work with, there is also a repeating pattern of loosing focus and inspiration when working together across difference. Is this solely a result of the difficulty of coming together or have our patterns of protecting and controlling the conversation contributed to the inertia?

As a result of both progress and stuckness, we sense an emerging desire for a new conversation about what it takes to work for transformation rather than regulation. This blog is an invitation to think deeply about what must be carried forward of our and our ancestors accomplishments as well as to boldly question what is no longer useful to our collective quest for equity and justice.

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Evolving Together

See yourself as responsible for creating a shift as significant as the shift from hunter-gatherer to agriculture. See yourself as significant enough to create that shift.  Grace Lee Boggs

GLB photo

I am wrapping up a beautiful collaboration with Juanita Brown of The World Cafe and the genius women of Active Voice around a three city viewing of and community conversations about the film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.

Staff from PBS POV posted a great piece about their first experience of a World Cafe-inspired conversation at the The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center event in NYC.

I was quoted in the POV piece this way “We have to evolve ourselves [together], not ‘I have to evolve myself’.” At the time, I was trying to express the difference between what I heard Grace saying about evolution (ourselves together) as opposed to what I heard the film often reflecting (myself first).

At this moment in our evolution, we are struggling with our bias toward the individual ~ i.e., speak from an I perspective, change yourself in order to change the world ~ and our desire to move toward collective wisdom.

I don’t doubt our truisms about the self, it’s just that they do not exist without social context: personal development does not happen without noticing, listening to and acting with each other. It’s not that we can move forward without personal growth, it’s that as social beings, we must evolve in relationship. There is no ‘comes first’ here.

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The Artist’s Journey: Pacify, Enrich, Magnify, Destroy

I studied at Skylake Lodge yesterday with one of my teachers  and friends Arawana Hayashi.

She offered her buddhist teacher’s framework for artists on four stages of creativity:

1. Pacify ~ create a calm hospitable mind/environment/sacred space that welcomes and invites creativity, muses, creative partnership….

2. Enrich ~ get it out, allow the flow, fill the page, play with colors, jam, play, improv, sketch, open the flow…

3. Magnify ~ amplify what has resonance, expand on juicy points, add shading and light, enter the tensions, deepen the drama…

4. Act (Destroy) ~ cut out what is not needed, boldly offer what is.

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Cynefin: A framework for working in complexity

CYNEFIN imagesAllen Frimpong and I did a training last night for about 14 people working in social change, disability movement, harm reduction, art and faith communities.

The group studied the Cynefin Framework and then discussed what it takes to stay in inquiry rather than depending on what we already know.

The key harvest  was the importance of personal resolve and healthy relationships as a foundation for staying with ‘not knowing’ until emergence can happen.

Their reflections surfaced the importance of personal practice (re-framing personal discomfort with not knowing, letting go of ego, dedication and persistence, seeing value in your own position) and group practice (building trust and safety, honest communication and commitment to learning in our teams).

Two themes surfaced across the group: (1)  noticing that it takes conscious effort to balance inquiry and acting/solving and (2) the desire to be able to work in environments that invite ‘failing forward’, which Cynefin frames as ‘safe-fail experiments’ because, when given proper controls and attention, failed experiments/prototypes may provide a better route forward than successes.

There was also an aha for when power dynamics show up as barriers in our teams and organizations. One strategy ~ repeating and returning to a wicked question ~ was offered as a practice that one with less power can use to expand the possibility of inquiry even when the team or higher ups are moving on or solving.

Here are a couple of blogs from the originator David Snowden that explore these themes:

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Theory U & Healing the Three Divides

3-dividesI recently attended a workshop with Otto Scharmer and Arawana Hayashi of the Presencing Institute at the Omega Institute. I had studied there with Otto in 2006 when he was with his colleagues and co-authors Peter Senge, Sue Flowers and Joseph Jaworski. His recent reports from the World Economic Forum intrigued me and I looked forward to learning about ways in which real world practice was advancing his theory.

At both workshops, Otto presented Theory U, a road map for becoming aware and sensing what is in order to cultivate innovation. It is a framework for acting consciously in complexity. With the addition of Arawana’s meditation and movement practices to the 2014 workshop it becomes more than theory; silently sourcing collective wisdom from our bodies and the space between us became a shared visceral experience.

Otto also offered his newest insight that the essence of the process is moving from ego- (I know this and that) to eco-consciousness (the whole wants this or that). As a meta frame for this insight he offered a broad view of economic evolution and what drives our collective perpetuation of contemporary human suffering: (1) Ecological Divide (self does not = nature); Social Divide (self does not = other); and, (3) Spiritual Divide (self does not = self). He goes on to suggest that we can heal these divides by journeying through the U together.

These new insights and framing help give a broader context to Theory U as a personal-societal transformation process. At the same time, a number of us found a shared discomfort with this leap from a socio-political framing of late capitalism to the personal-collective journey of the U.

After significant reflection, I believe that our small circle of participants (notably including the only young person of color as well as queer, youth and activist women at the workshop) found each other because of a shared sensibility. We stand on a bridge from the meta to the personal-societal that is not explicit in Otto’s representation of the Theory U journey. Most simply, what we offer to healing these great divides is our visceral knowing (or even fleeting glimpses of) nature = my community, other (than master) = my community, self = my community. 

Wondering what more would be possible if we could be present to and explore these dualisms (self/community, connected/not connected) together. Otherwise, the journey across the Three Divides feels a bit more treacherous, especially in the context of increasing socio-economic disparity in our America.

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