With the launch of Ubuntu.Lab in April of 2018, Aggie Kalungu-Banda saw a long-held dream come true: an opportunity for change-makers from across Africa to engage with each other both virtually and face-to-face, employing Theory U methodology to co-create innovative solutions to problems such as poverty, poor health, unemployment, environmental degradation, corruption, and fundamentalism.
Aggie has been involved in the Presencing Institute’s work for a decade and a half now, having been introduced to Theory U by her husband Martin Kalungu-Banda. Aggie and Martin are both originally from Zambia but currently live in the UK. Aggie herself has a background in development studies and started her career as a social worker, working for the Zambian government and then for NGOs focused on violence against women. In 1990 she set up The Drop In Centre for Abused Women, the first crisis center of its kind in Zambia.
“I have a background in participatory techniques,” Aggie says, describing a community change-making process called “Training for Transformation” that she was a part of in Zambia, which included three weeks of listening, followed by a period of “mirroring back” through role-playing and sculpture. So she found many familiar elements in Theory U. But what set Theory U apart in her mind, she says, is the focus on self-transformation alongside social change. “Turning the beam on the self is really key if any meaningful change is going to happen,” she notes. “I think the interior condition of the intervener is important to the outcome of the intervention.”
“Very few Africans participated in the first u.lab, and Martin and I looked at each other and said, ‘this is how Africa gets left behind.’” Thanks to constantly improving internet connectivity across the continent and their many years of network-building, last year Aggie and Martin were able to organize 19 national coordinators who helped them build an Africa-specific cohort of change makers. Giving new meaning to the “u” in ulab, they named the project “Ubuntu.Lab.”
Ubuntu, Aggie explains, means “I am because you are.” A concept made famous by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, it is also a practice alive in many communities in Africa.
For example, Aggie offers, “When I was growing up in Zambia, you wouldn’t know who was related to whom, because everyone looked after each other.” This is the sort of “eco-system awareness” that Ubuntu.Lab seeks to raise up and foster. “We need to offer examples to our leaders, to show that we can live to serve others and the earth,” says Aggie.
Aggie is excited and inspired by the work of the first cohort of Ubuntu.Lab, which is hosting its prototyping session in early January. “People are really very much committed,” Aggie says. “For me it feels like we are contributing to helping the continent gain its true independence.” Because, Aggie notes, independence doesn’t only mean being free from colonial masters, but it also means being part of decision-making and taking responsibility for the care of our fellow human beings and nature.
As we enter 2019, it is for this opportunity to facilitate and foster positive change in Africa that Aggie is most appreciative. For Aggie, being a part of the Presencing Institute community means being able to connect to more inspiring people all around the world than ever before — people who want to make a contribution to change, whether as small as themselves, or as big as a continent.
Watch Aggie’s video-interview here: