Open Spaces Project in Southern Africa

I’ve had the chance to come to Southern Africa a couple of times a year for the last decade to work with wonderful people.  My work has been as part of The Berkana Institute and our efforts to create the Berkana Exchange as a translocal network of people and places building healthy and resilient communities.  Especially for the last couple of years I’ve been working with people from Johannesburg, Harare, Cape Town and Durban about how to find and support the people doing “our” kind of community work.  This work is based on beliefs that are resonant with those listed on the About section of Resilient Communities.  We find them everywhere  (next month my daughter Annie Virnig and I will be talking about these at the 2010 TEDxTokyo — but that is a different blog).

So, what’s cooking?  Over the last three months the GreenHouse Project in Johannesburg, South Africa and Kufunda Learning Village outside Harare, Zimbabwe, have been involved in an in-depth Appreciative Inquiry Process with the “Champions” of different community-based work and their partners.  They both asked certain key questions:

  • What motivates you? What gives you strength?
  • What do you value about your work?
  • What are you working to change?
  • Really Why are you doing this work?
  • Where do you see yourself and your work in the near future?
  • What do you need to take you and your work to the next level?
  • What natural partnerships are emerging and will be necessary in your work?
  • What practical lessons have you learned? Are you sharing them with others? How do they respond to your work and the lessons you have learned?
  • How is your work and the lessons from it useful?
  • What have you learnt from sharing with others?

In a word, these sessions have been amazing!  Listening to Dorah Lebelo talk about these conversations with people who are just getting on with getting on — who are changing their lives for the better by working with what they have without complaint — was inspiring.  And, at the same time, we noticed the difference in her energy when speaking about this work as compared to her protracted battle with the National Lotteries Commission to release funds already awarded to GreenHouse Project for two major construction projects.

I’m going to link their reports here — the one from GreenHouse Project is over 50MB so it will take a while to download — filled with lovely pictures and well worth the wait!  GreenHouse Project ReportKufunda Learning Village Report.  They are amazing, powerful and delightful reads.

As we talking about the learning from this process some different key phrases kept surfacing:

  • growing the work while shrinking the institutions
  • reclaiming relationships with people, land and food
  • learning — doing — reflecting
  • finding new meaning, creating new beliefs

At its core this is all really simple stuff.  And, most of us have forgotten it.

As our conversations continued we began to speak of the role of GreenHouse and Kufunda in all this.  They are hubs, seed crystals, catalysts, enzymes.  They play the critical role of helping people and systems see themselves and each other.  But what do they really do?

Okay, this is where it gets even more interesting.  They do the same things as the people ar St. Luke’s Health Initiatives mentioned in other places on my blogs.  Last month, working with SLHI in Phoenix we eventually said they have four core competencies:

  1. They connect and convene
  2. They support peer learning
  3. They are the “goto” place for information and knowledge
  4. They work from a strengths-based approach.

BINGO.  In their roles as hubs and catalysts, this is exactly what GHP and Kufunda do.  This is the core work which supports communities that practice what they believe and which aspires to create an influence beyond the immediate boundaries of their work.

Lots more to say about all this, but I’ll stop with this teaser!

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