As I contemplated these words, which reflected the nature of interactions I’d seen between our partners throughout the convening, I thought of a book I’d recently read, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown. adrienne defines emergent strategy as one that builds “complex patterns and systems of change through relatively small interactions.”
What does this have to do with a gathering of GFC partners? The convening reinforced the notion that relationships – and the small interactions through which they are nurtured – are a foundation for social change work. Building them is an important aim in itself.
The convening gathered leaders of five GFC partners: the YP Foundation (based in India), Institute for Rural Initiatives (Moldova), Onda Solidaria (Brazil), Teen’s Key (Hong Kong), and Foundation for Inclusive Community Help (Uganda) as the second cohort in an initiative called Step Up.
Funded by an anonymous donor, Step Up aims to build a learning community of leaders across 18 months as they navigate issues of sustainability, organizational change, and leadership. Each of them aspires toward social change in diverse areas, but a common thread they share is an effort to engage young people directly as agents of change.
Most of those present were young leaders themselves. Throughout the week, they continuously revealed to me how the relationships they build with one another have the potential to shift or enhance their broader work. Here are a few of the themes I noted:
At the beginning of the week, staff and partners mapped and shared the journeys that led each person to their current work. Through this exercise, the extent that each person’s path has a profound influence on the approach and values they bring to their organizations became clear and established trust within the group. The dynamic of sharing and creating a common language extended through the week both in and out of the formal workshop space.
As each person shared details about their journey, another theme emerged across their narratives – one of personal transformation. Some had a pivotal moment in their histories that led them toward community-oriented work, while others overcame obstacles or developed insight arising from being outside of the mainstream in one way or another.
adrienne brown’s reflections on the meaning of the idea, “transform yourself to transform the world,” reminded me of the path of these leaders toward making change. She writes: “This doesn’t mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place where we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet.”
Our partners discussed challenges inherent in driving change in contexts with diverse social, economic, and political challenges. Yet, they valued the experience of creating common ground with others in a similar situation but from very different environments.
Simply offering a reflective space to share, practice skills and challenge each other was an important element of coming together. One participant mentioned how he appreciates a peer group in his country, yet gathering inspiration from those in entirely different contexts fostered a new way of seeing the world.
The experience of our partners across this week reminded me of another passage from Emergent Strategy: “Without an engaged and self-organizing network to support their efforts, each leader is left to work alone within the constraints and limits of their own organization’s resources and capacities.”
To help foster this informal network, we introduced participatory activities, with partners conducting role-plays around dilemmas of leadership transitions or community engagement. In small groups, they also discussed personal and organizational practices around wellbeing and talked with each other about what makes a leader. They visited a part of the city where YP Foundation operates, met girls leading change in their own communities, and discussed with a group of young board members how to engage youth in organizational leadership structures.
As the week ended, we reflected on the empowering way the group connected with each other and how we hoped that these relationships would continue to inspire them in some way as they advanced their organizations’ missions.
I found relevant meaning in another thought from adrienne brown: “What we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.” I appreciated how our partners modeled the generous, collective spirit that forms strong relationships with the power to inspire lasting change.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Watch this heartfelt reflection from Ricardo Calçado, Founder and Executive Director of Onda Solidaria in Brazil.
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
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