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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Back in Berlin

Sunday, July 1st, 2012 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The past few weeks felt like many streams coming together to form an ever more powerful river. I owe this observation to Peter Senge, who expressed it when he left Berlin after our streak of events there last week. Here are some of my recent experiences, which illustrate Peter’s point:

–A watershed New Economy Conference on the US East coast brought together 400 thought leaders and grassroots activists from across North America (two weeks ago).
–At MIT, Peter and I hosted a ten-day Leading Innovation for Sustainability program for high-potential leaders from the Chinese government, SOEs (state-owned enterprises), NGOs, and Tsinghua University to launch a six-month action learning journey. This group is so co-creative and insightful!
–The Global Forum, held in Berlin’s Radialsystem with 500 participants (350 in person and 150 via live webstream), demonstrated the power of linking deep human awareness with profound societal systems transformation.
–Also in Berlin, we convened the fourth and final module of our two-year Presencing-in-Action Masterclass. It was an unforgettable collective presence experience that began by leaning into the presence and pain of the Holocaust past while also attending to the light and shadow in each of us.
–A Berlin-based strategy retreat for the PI core team generated priorities for the coming year or two. Among them are (1) the 2013 Forum in Asia–probably Bali; (2) the next Masterclass, starting probably in Fall 2013; (3) the founding of a u.school Awareness Action Research Group; and (4) the first seminar with PhD students before or after the 2013 Global Forum.
–In a planning meeting with GIZ (the German Ministry for Development Cooperation) we got the go-ahead for a 2012 launch of our Social Well-being Lab. The lab will include Bhutan (with the Prime Minister of Bhutan as patron), Brazil, Germany, and others, and will be co-hosted by the GIZ Global Leadership Academy and the Presencing Institute.
–The next day, still in Berlin, I met with the team of the new German President, Joachim Gauck, in the President’s Office (Bundespräsidialamt) and then in the afternoon with some of the Merkel team in the Chancellor’s Office (Bundeskanzleramt) in order to learn about and discuss the challenges and opportunities they face going forward.
–A Youth and Social Entrepreneurship Summit called MISSION U brought together 100 students from seven or eight social entrepreneurship schools across Europe. These 100 students used the U process to take a deep dive into some of the Berlin-based hotspots of social innovation, followed by a two-day presence retreat that I helped them with. Very cool gang of Gen Y social entrepreneurs…

Here is what emerges for me from that growing river that Peter referred to:
–The events mentioned above are part of something much bigger: the rise of a new global movement around linking spirituality, science, social change, and a practice of inner cultivation.
–Berlin rocks! The city is alive, and its milieu of artists, social entrepreneurs, counterculture, civil society, and global community makes it a hotspot of social renewal today. Over the past ten days we staged four global Presencing Institute gatherings here in Berlin. We found that the city works in amazing and transformative ways. Show me another major capital that has confronted and reflected on the shadowy aspects of its past in a way that Berlin has and continues to do.
–If a school of business or government in Berlin offered me the opportunity to launch Theory U-based Master’s, PhD, and Exec Ed programs (the “u.school”) there, it would be very difficult to say no.

My own journey started almost 30 years ago in West Berlin’s Free University and in the peace movement on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Coming back after all these years with a global community of change-makers has been a moving experience for me. I will have to wait to see what grows out of this new web of connections. But it feels as if something has started to come into being over the past two weeks…

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u.school–mindful transformation of capitalism

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

friends–i have been in a deep dive lately (with reduced blog entries) focusing on completing a book on the Mindful Transformation of Capitalism: From Ego-system to Eco-system Economies — and on making progress with the u.school initiative. i attach the u.school concept paper to this post for those of you who want to look it up. i will be back more regularly with reflections and thoughts on both topics: u.school and society 4.0….Uschool_Exec_Summary_Jan_2012

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u.school and post-bubble economics

Saturday, May 28th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 14 Comments

We are living in an age of bursting bubbles. The first bubble to burst was the global financial market in 2008. The next bubble is expanding as we speak and is going to explode under the headline of the food security crisis (a mixture of food shortages, water shortages, soil erosion, peak oil, biofuel, and unsustainable farming practices). What do the financial and the food/soil bubbles have in common? Their common denominator is that they extract an unreasonable amount in the present while compromising the future capacity of the system to regenerate itself. This behavior externalizes the real costs to the poor (who won’t be able to pay the resulting higher prices) and to future generations (who will be left to clean up the mess we create).

Another common element is that both of these bubbles or boom-to-bust cycles are closely linked to a third bubble that has been in the making for a long time: the bubble of business schools and conventional economic thought. The essence of the old economic thinking is its blindness to social and ecological “externalities.” Both the financial and agricultural bubbles would have been unthinkable without modern economic thought and its whole set of management tools. It’s time to seed the beginnings of a new, post-bubble era of economics and management practice.

My colleagues and I are trying to contribute to post-bubble economics and management practices in two ways: by writing a book on the mindful transformation of capitalism, and by initiating a project we are calling the u.school, which would convene key innovators and leading institutions from business, civil society, and government around a platform for creating profound societal innovation and building personal and institutional capacity. Here is a link to a first concept paper on that initiative. Let us know what you think!


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