Amazon U-School on Global Well-being

Monday, January 28th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

I am writing this on my return trip from launching the Global Well-being and Gross National Happiness (GNH) Lab with a journey to urban favelas in Brazil and to communities in the Amazon rainforest region near Belem and Santarem.

It was fascinating to hear each Lab participant reflect on these community experiences from a different angle. Where some of us (mostly participants from North America and Europe) saw a real sense of community, others, mostly from the Global South (who often have experiences of much deeper community), saw a lack thereof. Where some of us (from the Global North) saw unacceptable poverty, others, particularly from the Asian Global South, saw quite advanced conditions of material livelihood. Where some of us (from the corporate sector) saw good sustainability and community partnership practices (like revenue-sharing), others, from the global civil society movement, saw just another capitalist trick to manipulate and disenfranchise marginalized communities. Where some of us, particularly North America–based grassroots activists, thought that the positive contribution of government equals zero, others, particularly from East Asia, Latin America, and Europe, saw the government in a much more mission-critical role.

In short: the Lab is a bit like a microcosm of our global community, a diverse group that spans all continents and sectors and many systems and ideologies. Listening to the conversations in the early part of the week I wondered: did these people really visit the same community I did? We talked as if we had had immersion experiences in very different worlds—and I guess, we did.

That being said, one thing that everyone was deeply impressed and moved by was the power of the social entrepreneurs that we have met in the favelas and communities. Amazing individuals that effect incredible changes under the most challenging conditions. It makes you feel really really humble. In many ways, what we intend to do with the Lab is to help to unleash the power of social entrepreneurship from often local or project bounded impact to transforming and shifting the whole system.

In the second part of the week we went to the Amazon rainforest area. We will never forget the last 3-4 days that we spent on a regional boat that we boarded in Santarem and that took us via the Amazon, Tapajos, and Arapiuns Rivers to the Atodi community. The boat had three levels. The first level was for food and eating. The next level had 35 hammocks hung in two dense rows that allowed us to sleep— the whole group in a single space (picture).


The third level was the Global Well-being University deck on which we conducted our discussions under the open sky (the picture below shows a Lab participant from SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India, presenting the work they do with their 1.6 million members).

Sitting in the circle of our open-sky Global Well-being School made me really happy. It’s what I dreamed the U.school could bring into being. (I first experienced a similar feeling in 1988 when I teamed up with a dozen of European students and faculty to take the trans-Siberian train from Budapest to Beijing, where we joined a World Future Studies Federation conference.)

On the second last day we took a six hour silent hike into the rainforest under the guidance of the Atodi community. The experience was beyond words. We felt embraced by nature’s essence in our whole being. It was a deeply regenerative experience. It reconnected me and us with our source. (picture: a rainforest tree shot from the roots upwards)

Coming back from the Amazon, our group was no longer the same as when we arrived. Each of us had changed. We feel more open on more levels, in more profound ways. We could feel the collective body of our heart to heart connections. As a group we also realized that GNH and the Global Well-being Indicators — beyond GDP — are just a very small aspect of the profound changes that are necessary today.

As I write these final lines, I am sitting in my office back in Boston and watching the snowflakes fall. I feel blessed by the wonderful things that I have always taken for granted: access to clean water; access to food and shelter; access to quality space; access to energy and transportation, access to community.

I also feel that a part of the Amazon and of the whole Global Wellbeing Lab community is still with me, in my heart. Quite amazing change makers from Bhutan, India, Brazil, China, Europe, Sri Lanka, North America. I know that something will grow out of these seeds that this past week were planted in our hearts. But at this point, no one can say what it will look like. So let me end with a nice shot of our Amazon U.school boat at night…

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Gross National Happiness (GNH) Lab 2013: Seeding the Future

Friday, December 21st, 2012 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The last weeks have been amazing. The most intense workload and energy field I have ever experienced feel as if they are finally coming full circle and now moving to the next higher level, spiraling up. Here are a few highlights:

–In Beijing we completed a six-month U-based leadership journey with senior leaders from the Chinese government. It was an amazing experience that began when the group joined us here at MIT for ten days [in June, 2012]. After that I conducted three more modules with them in China, which were nothing short of amazing. When the group reflected on its own process, it took three or so hours to complete the sharing just on personal learnings. The participants felt a shift in mindset from head to heart. They also talked about a shift in relationships. And about a shift in how they approach their work. After just a few months, they also created some pretty amazing prototypes, including one on energy efficiency and one on the rapidly growing elderly population. What struck us was that in all these prototypes you could witness a shift of mindset in how they approached the issue: from “government knows the problem and delivers what it believes to be the solution” to “government holding the space for co-sensing across stakeholders and empowering them to co-create what they most care about.”

–In Denmark we continued our work with the health leadership team of a whole region (including the leadership teams of five different hospitals; see earlier blog entry). The prototypes this group managed to create in just two months were stunningly successful. We did a new Social Presencing Theatre practice on “current reality” (Sculpture 1) and the “emerging future” (Sculpture 2). They enacted the transformation from Sculpture 1 to 2, from the old to the new system, as a transformation from an institution-centric system that is organized around a fixed set of fragmented institutions (Sculpture 1) to a relationship-centric system of direct connections across institutional boundaries (Sculpture 2).

The new system was organized in two overlapping spheres. One revolved around the patient (for a seamless patient journey across institutions). The other one revolved around the citizens (the healthy people who pay for the whole show) and the communities—which is of course where health and sickness originate. In Sculpture 2 the management team of the hospital had to leave their old top-dog position in order to (a) hold the entire space of cross-institutional relationships and (b) reach out to connect directly to the sphere of citizens and communities. So interesting!

–In Austria I co-facilitated a workshop with the Minister of Education on her project to renew the Austrian educational system. She and her team have made amazing progress in just a few years! The meeting comprised school innovators, principals, and state and federal officials. Reflecting on what is dying and what is wanting to be born, here is what one of them said: “We are tinkering with all these reforms, with all these innovation initiatives, we are renewing the “house” of education with another window here or another door there — but frankly, what we need most is a radically different FOUNDATION for the entire house!” I loved that. Isn’t that so true?

–In Brazil we delivered the Presencing Institute’s Four Day Foundation Program for the first time. Wonderful experience! Also a very interesting meeting with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Environment and with folks from Natura who are founding partners in launching the Global Well-being and GNH Lab in January 2013.

–The Global Well-being and GNH Lab is a joint initiative by the Presencing Institute with the Global Leadership Academy of GIZ (German Ministry of Development Cooperation). With the Prime Minister of Bhutan as patron, this initiative brings together leading change-makers from Bhutan, Brazil, India, China, Europe, and the U.S. The organizing question for the Lab is, How can we shift the center of gravity of the economic system from material growth to real well-being, from transactional and manipulative relationships to transformative and co-creative relationships? Deep immersion learning journeys (in Brazil and Bhutan) lead to dreaming up and prototyping practical ways of implementing new measures of economic progress (“beyond GDP, beyond material growth”). The outcome of the Lab will be a web of multi-local prototyping initiatives that will span and replicate across cultures.

–The most important thing happened yesterday, however. We submitted to our publisher the manuscript for our book Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. Finally! A small step for mankind, but a BIG step for us…

This IS a moment of real endings and beginnings. The door to the future seems wide open. Let’s plant our seeds of the future in this moment by contemplating the real intentions we have for the next few decades ahead. Now. And for the next two weeks. And then let’s go out and make it happen!

What intentions or seeds of the future have clarified for you or have drawn your attention? I will live with that question for the next week or two and share what emerges in the next entry. Feel free to start the sharing in the comment section below…


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