Tag Archives: sustainability

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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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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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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Driven by success to live exhausting lives: A reflection on a recent course & a survey published by The Guardian

Recently,  I facilitated on a personal and leadership development programme aiming to support vulnerable young adults from inner city London to build their capacity to make a difference.

The programme took place at Embercombe, a beautiful small-holding and education center at the edge of Dartmoor national park. Among other things, they participated in the community life of Embercombe, harvested food from the garden, split wood for their fires, and got involved in building a beautiful wooden fence. Basic, hands on stuff.

Many of the participants said: “Oh, I wish I could live like this. You know, closer to nature away from the stresses of the city, and actually make things”. Curious about these statements I asked: “If people growing up in London would know that such a life IS possible, would they choose to actually live it?” The surprising answer was “No”, and I asked them to explain. “Well, the thing is”, they said, “that it would seem to ‘them’ (probably meaning themselves) like a step backwards. It would mean the opposite of success. Especially to people who have originally come from and moved away from countries where living closer to nature and doing hands on work is the norm…”

Isn’t that interesting? There is a desire in young people to live a more simple and peaceful life closer to nature. This is also supported in a survey published by the guardian that investigated the dreams and opinions of young graduates (click here to read it).

And could it be that young people will not follow what they sense it good for them because of their perception of success, and what it means to ‘go forward’? For professionals, this will bring up the question of how we can support (young) people to become aware of their drivers (personal & cultural beliefs), and to  explore what success really means to them. It seems to me that this should be core to Education for Sustainable Development.

Have you got any thoughts on the questions above? Or more questions you’d like to ask around this issue?

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