If you have ever participated in a program offered by the Presencing Institute in Europe — or a u.Lab online anywhere in the world — there is a good chance that Angela Baldini had a hand in making it happen. As a member of the Core Team at the Presencing Institute, Angela manages the organization’s European home in Berlin. There, she oversees some of the premiere programs offered in Europe, such as the Presencing Foundation Program, the Social Presencing Theater program, and other Advanced offerings.
“I am involved from A to Z on some of the programs,” Angela says, “from the intention to design and practicalities. I see that as all one body of work.” Angela credits other team members with specializing in facilitation and program design, while she thinks of herself as providing continuity from concept to execution. She calls this “facilitating the room from the back.”
When asked how she arrived at her current work, Angela laughs, saying it was a very “winding road.” She started by studying medicine, thinking that she should be a doctor because she was interested in people. Pretty soon, she says, she realized that “learning medicine is about how bodies function, and not about the people themselves.” So she changed direction and became a social worker.
Though social work is certainly all about people, Angela found the role — at least as she experienced it in Austria and Germany — rather paradoxical. Yes, her job was to make change — she was working in places where the system was broken, with people who were addicted to drugs. But in this job she felt bound by a sense of “double agency.” On one hand she was meant to work with, and advocate for, her clients against the system that had neglected them. On the other hand, she was also clearly an agent of that very system. “I felt like I was going nowhere,” Angela says.
It was time for another career move: “In 2002 I went into concert promoting as a project manager,” says Angela. “It was not very human-focused,” she admits, but it gave her good business experience. Between promoting concerts, Angela read Theory U, by Otto Scharmer. Then, she was interviewed as a stakeholder in a U process focused on doctors and patients in the South of Germany.
She was drawn to the Theory U approach to making change: “It made sense to draw the people most involved in a system into the process of transforming that system.”
She left her job and started working with her first Theory U based process in 2010, bringing her event production expertise to the organizing of an biodynamic agriculture conference in 2011. In retrospect, she realizes what a huge undertaking it was. The process was broken up into two sections of 300 people each! This was her first experience going through the full U process, and her first encounter with Social Presencing Theater. She hasn’t looked back.
Angela finds Social Presencing Theater an especially powerful element of the Presencing toolkit. Quoting Arawana Hayashi, she explains, “Usually we use our head. The body’s job is just to carry our head around. But there is wisdom in our whole body, not just in our head.” Social Presencing Theater is an “embodiment practice to align the head with the whole body,” she says. The “Stuck exercise,” for example, allows you to embody a situation where you don’t see how to move forward. In the exercise, you hold the “stuck” position until your body cannot sustain it any longer. Only at that point do you allow your body to move into another position. By shutting off your thinking and just “feeling into” how to get out of the stuck position, you might access new perspectives. As Angela puts it,
“The body holds a lot of wisdom that we forget or we don’t access.”
When Angela describes the work she does, she uses the language of care, not of direction. She “co-holds” the Social Presencing Theater work with Arawana Hayashi. She “takes care” of the Presencing Institute’s European programming. This language is indicative of her approach to all of her work. When organizing ambitious programs with lots of people, she says, the two key ingredients to “making the room work” are attention and intention.
Pre-program interviews with program participants really make a difference, Angela says, because they “create attention to each participant,” allowing the facilitators to be more attuned to the group. In addition, Angela notes, it is really important to have a clear intention for a program ahead of time, and to anticipate what might happen or emerge in the room. This way, the program can be accomodating without losing sight of the intention. When the organizers of the program have anticipated many different situations, the “people who are in the room feel as safe as possible.”
After almost ten years of “taking care” of Presencing work in Europe, Angela is enjoying a growing feeling of connectedness. So many people from around the world have participated in the Foundations program at this point, that Angela says “we have all together built the soil,” and the facilitation is becoming generative, more than the sum of its parts. She points, in particular, to u.lab Scotland, where there has been an incredible amount of online-to-offline activity nationwide.
In the coming year, Angela is looking forward to the opportunity to focus more on the “Social Arts” with Arawana Hayashi and Manish Srivastava amongst others, as they develop programs to support people interested in learning more advanced applications of Social Presencing Theater. “I do think there is this whole area of people everywhere opening up towards all different kinds of embodiment experiences,” observes Angela, “I am interested because it’s a tangible way to experience change as an individual or a group, and you can experience it immediately.”
Watch Angela’s video-interview here: