Author: Gibran Rivera, Interaction Institute for Social Change
Photo By: CTRC
I’m currently engaged in a number of network building efforts, each different in scope and scale, all focused on leadership and collaboration. My work with the Barr Fellows is one such effort. I have been working closely with the 2009 cohort of fellows and will be working closely with the 2011 cohort. I am also working on the effort to integrate all four cohorts into a Barr Fellows Network; a leadership network that can significantly affect social change in Boston.
Central to the Barr Fellowship are a belief in the power of authentic relationship and a trust in the organic power of emergence. Emergence is not implementable, a fact that seriously challenges our dominant (and industrial) paradigm for change. We don’t “do” emergence, we create conditions for emergence so that emergence can happen all by itself. For the Barr Fellows, the conditions for authentic relationship are seeded through an initial learning journey that is meant to be a significantly disruptive experience.
Twelve executive directors are plucked out the mad rush of their day-to-day lives. They are sent on a learning journey somewhere in the global south. The 2009 class spent two weeks in Brazil, the 2011 will spend the same amount of time in Haiti. This encounter with significantly different social spaces, with very different levels of hope and despair, a different climate and ecological experience, an intense pace coupled with well facilitated moments of shared reflection – all together these make up a potent cocktail for transformation.
It is important to note that the Barr Fellows are connected to Boston, a city small enough for them to know of each other even where they might not know each other. It is not just that they are being brought together it is how. Relationships as mediated by organizational roles and identities are often limited to the transactional and the formal. The learning journey breaks through this layer of relationship into a more intimate space, a deeper and more human connection.
The fellowship is a prize, it comes with a three month sabbatical, two retreats per year and an opportunity to engage the activities of the broader network. It is a prize for people who have devoted their lives to social change, skillful organizational leaders who are (or have been) filled with passion and purpose. Part of what the fellowship does – which is essential in the development of a leadership network – is that it trusts the passion and purpose that is so inherent to each of these leaders.
When you take people who are driven by their personal purpose and you bring them together, the smartest thing you can do is design and facilitate the sort of space that will bring this purpose forward. When such individuals can lift their heads above the task-driven, technical processes that consume their day to day, they remember who they are. When this “remembering” happens among a group of leaders then the possibility arises for them to connect to each other at the level of purpose.
When we connect to each other at the level of purpose we are more likely to coalesce towards a shared purpose. When this connection arises in the context of a “remembering,” an awakening to the truth of who we are, then there is more room for self-revelation. When there is more room for self-revelation then we have laid the groundwork for trust.
In Trust and Networks Gideon Rosenblatt says that:
Trust builds living networks that are highly resilient, flexible and efficient. People who trust each other more easily forgive each other for the bumps that inevitably arise from working together. That’s network resilience. When people trust each other, it’s easier to respond to change in a smart, coordinated way. That’s network flexibility. Trust also reduces red tape, which lowers the cost of collaboration. That’s network efficiency...
And this is what is emerging.