Tag Archives: embercombe

Trust: Essential for being a changemaker

I’ve just ran a workshop at Sussex University about ‘overcoming’ our own limitations as change agents. Listening to the participants, there seemed to be two major themes: disbelief about their course providing the knowledge needed to effectively create change, and cynicism about one’s own ability to do anything about it, or in other words, a paralysis in finding their own unique way to contribute to the world.

No surprise, if your sphere of influence is not measuring up to what you know about the world, and if you hold the belief that you have to do something equally as big as the challenges you perceive. It seems that being satisfied with operating within your own sphere of influence in response to much greater spheres of challenges is only possible if you trust that other people will do the same, filling the gap between what you can do and what the world needs. If this mindset was really embodied in people, I recon that young adults would be less cynical and feel less anxiety ~ and hence be more effective as changemakers.

Inspiring adventure stories showing us how a tiny individual can make a huge difference (thinking Frodo) may actually not be that helpful anymore… As an Hopi Elder has said: “The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!”


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Stories of the Great Turning ~ a book that I’m contributing to

Buddhist scholar and eco-activist Joanna Macy argues that Western culture is going through a Great Turning, from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilisation.

Stories of the Great Turning is a collection of stories of how individuals and groups are contributing to this revolution (edited by Peter Reason & Melanie Newman).

I’m contributing a chapter to this book based on the ‘idea’ that I’ve seen emerge in the people I work with: “I don’t want to be a passenger. I want to author my own life, and co-author the world around me.” Imagine if this idea was allowed to root in the bellies of young people today.


To be published early in 2013

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Catalyst course 2012 ~ the new film…

I founded the Catalyst Course in 2009. It has come a long way… Here is the latest film about the course. Enjoy…

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New approaches to personal / leadership development – refelctions about LifeBeat

What happens when you put 55 youth together with 25 adults for 8 days?

A few weeks ago I worked on LifeBeat – a youth empowerment programme using the creative arts, and the creative community model that was developed by Charlie Murphy (PYE Global). Its a great programme for the youth – no doubt. And the reason why I blog about it is because of its empowering effect not only on youth, but also the volunteers. The impact it has on adults is – in my opinion- much greater than quite a few personal/leadership development programmes I know off.

Why? This is what I think contributes:  Living in community together – with other diverse adults & teenagers; working in the service of others; taking creative risks through leading activities / workshops, and being invited to bring your gifts to others and to be authentic (teenagers just don’t ‘take’ in-authenticity – is that why adults find them so challenging?); the questions teenagers are asking themselves are still alive, yet often suppressed in adults.

Why is this important news? The need of personal growth / authentic leadership is great in these times of social and environmental challenges. So learning opportunities that facilitate this are needed. Yet, I belief the time of people getting together for a weeks course – to play some ‘games’, and sit in circle (or even watch some slides) –  is over. A more systemic approach is – for example – LifeBeat. It provides a ‘service’ for youth, and at the same time a large amount of adults benefit – for free. Its the sweet-spot between a powerful learning experience and serving a need of our time. Elos work – for example the Warriors Without Weapons – is another example of such sweet spot. In times of economic hart ship, this may be even the ONLY way in which the majority of people can benefit from personal / leadership development programmes. And certainly, the learning that comes from interacting with and serving the ‘real needs of the world’ is more relevant to our times than games/models/theories that have arisen from an unsustainable paradigm.




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Catalyst Council – the needs of young adults today

The Catalyst Course was initially grown from a reaction. I was frustrated witnessing bright young people at University not basing their choices on their values, seeing people not responding to the challenges of our time although they really cared, and working with people who felt unable to change anything in their own lives let alone the world around them. Now, three years later it felt time to step back, and look at the vision, purpose and strategy of Catalyst with fresh eyes. Catalyst had been doubling its numbers every year, but the question remained how we best grow in a world in which the needs of young people and the world itself are constantly changing.

To grow initiatives in a time of radical and complex change, deep listening and drawing on a diversity of perspectives is essential. That’s why I initiated 35 diverse stakeholders of Catalyst and people who do similar work to come to Embercombe to revisit some of the questions underlying our work: What are the emergent needs of young people you want to be the authors of their own lives, and shape the world around them positively – to address the social and environmental challenges of our time? And how can we best address these needs? What strategy should Catalyst follow in the years to come?

Thanks to Calu from Otesha who captured our conversation during the council in such beautiful waysThe weekend was also a colourful celebration of the 3rd birthday of Catalyst, with some amazing musicians, wild dancing, and yummy organic food cooked by some of our amazing Alumni. Harvesting our insights from the weekend will still take a few weeks. Here is already a personal harvest about what emerged for me from the first question we asked at the weekend:

What are the emergent needs of young adults who do not want to be merely passengers of life and actively shape their world: (Most people exploring this questions were from and around universities – either18 – 25 years old or working with that age group)

Open safe spaces

  • to explore, reflect, stop, breath & make mistakes
  • to vision, dream and imagine the future
  • to be young and care-free

Connecting deeply with other young adults

  •  to be with others in a trusting and non-judgement way
  • to be in a meaningful way together, in which all have the opportunity to fully express themselves
  • to find a tribe to which one can belong

Guidance & support

  • from alternative role-models and mentor
  • from true teachers and elders.

Opportunities to be heard and express

Right livelihood

  • to experience different ways of life
  • to take a break from the pressure to earn money
  • to explore how one’s basic needs can be met sustainably

Skills beyond university

  • that also help to understand the bigger picture
  • real experience, not just learning ‘about’ things

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A concept for a new project to support change agents to build their skills and leadership capacity, and to create real social and environmental capital at the same time.

Imagine, a couple of enthusiastic young adults ring on your door. They don’t look like ‘Jehovas Witnesses’ or people who would want to sell you stuff. They are saying:

“You know that park space around the corner, that looks like a rubbish dump, with the derelict building that is used by drug-addicts. That everyone walks past as quickly as possible because it looks ugly and threatening. We, together with about 20 other young people, want to help the community here to transform it into a beautiful space that everyone could enjoy – perhaps it could be some sort of communal garden, we can plant some fruit trees, or it could become a meeting space, or whatever people here want. The coming weekend, we’ll host a work party that everyone is welcome to join, to make it happen! And we were wondering what you thought about what the community needs here, and what you’d like to see in this space? And we also want to invite you to the collaborative design game tonight – so that we can come up with a dream for this space together. We are inviting everyone here. There will be some food & drinks too. So it’s also just a good way of meeting your neighbours…”

After initial scepticism, you’ll probably have a lot of questions, probably including ‘Why are you doing this?’

“Well, we are a bunch of (young) people – some of us live locally, some of us come from all over the world – and we really want to learn about how we can create a world in which we would actually like to live. So we are on this course to do that. And part of it is to just do it, and not just talk about how we ‘could’ do it. We think that’s the best way to learn, and have some fun at the same time. And of course, we can really help create something wonderful, meet interesting people…”

Your scepticism aside, would you join that design game evening, meet some of your neighbours, have some nice free food? If yes, than you will find the idea of this course exciting.

The course has two main purposes:

  1. To build people’s capacity, confidence, and skills for creating positive change in the world.
  1. To build social and environmental capital in deprived communities

This concept – just like all good ideas – is not an entirely new one. It brings together threads from existing courses, trainings and platforms, including ‘Embercombe’s Catalyst Course’ (UK), ‘Permanculture Design’ (Worldwide), Couchsurfing (Worldwide), Art of Hosting (Worldwide) and the work of the Elos Institute (e.g., ‘Warriors Without Weapons’, Oasis Game; Brazil), and its Dutch partner Fairground.

And this is how it could look like.

The course participants gather for 5 days before the ‘collaborative working weekend’, within close proximity of the community space they will help to transform. Perhaps using platforms like Couchsurfing, they will live locally providing them not only a free space to live, but also another lens through which to engage and learn about the community.

Their learning begins through building community and trust together, and by embarking on inner explorations. The intention is to unleash the inner capacities that are needed as a foundation to fulfil the task ahead, and for catalysing change in all other circumstances. For some people this may involve finding confidence and trust; for others this may be about confronting fears and assumptions; for others, again, this may be about finding the courage be open to uncertainty or allowing their own strengths to shine. This journey towards inner authenticity is complemented by building skills that are required for creating change collaboratively. This may include skills in deep listening and observation, hosting conversations that matter, design and systems thinking, understanding Permaculture principles, e.g.

Real learning, of course, comes with experience. Already before the course begins, the participants will be challenged to fundraise the money needed for making the course and miracle happen – this is very different from paying fees for a course. The main learning will result from bringing the local community together, and from collaboratively creating something wonderful. After a huge celebration once ‘the garden’ is completed, there will be a space for reflection and harvesting, drawing out the insights, learning and lessons from the experience.


In the end, the participants will leave with something unique; perhaps with an experience of having given their best to make something amazing happen, with knowing the joy of having broken through inner limiting beliefs or assumptions, and a rich set of capacities and skills.

The community, will be enriched through having created a beautiful space, that perhaps may even yield harvests of fruits in the future, and through having build connections with neighbours. And perhaps even, there may be a glimpse of potential – that working with others to change your world is not only possible, but also a real pleasure to be part of.

I would hope that this project would also contribute to build best practise for Education for Sustainable Development, and around building social and environmental capital / community development.

What do you think? What are your questions and ideas?

Watch this video of a similar course, called an Oasis Game, that was developed in Brazil and took place in Holland:


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