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.
Tuesday Ryan-Hart (live) and Tim Merry (via Skype) joined Allen Frimpong, Nancy 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.
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
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.
Allen 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:
I 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.