Fateme’s bio reads: a global business strategist, a poet, and a chemist, but I would add a lot more to her short bio with no effort, and we only met a couple of times.
Born from an Italian mother and an Iranian father, Fateme was multicultural from the get-go, but her life path would radically accentuate that reality. She has lived in 10 different countries on three different continents, and if you meet her, you’ll feel all this diversity included in a single human being.
In essence, Fateme is a polymath — one that doesn’t fit into society’s normative boxes. She spent part of her life working for Big Pharma until she decided to create her own business and bring plenitude to her multitudes.
Let’s give the stage to the voice of many voices and, hopefully, wake up some of your multitudes.
Bird’s Eye View
Can you give us a glimpse of your life story?
As a child, I was passionate about poetry, design, and medicine. Pressured to be sensible I neglected being a polymath and conformed to a smaller identity so to fit in. I then got a Ph.D. in Chemistry, I went to work in the pharmaceutical industry remaining close to at least one of my dreams: save lives. Even as a child, whenever someone skinned a knee or complained of a headache, I was always first on the scene with my homemade first aid kit. I spent a decade leading Global Pharma organizations and ultimately served as Global Head of Operations for a Fortune 500 Global Pharma Company. In 2017 I founded ReNEWBusiness out of a desire to make business a human experience. I bring the heart and the mind of a polymath to organizational development: a trained chemist’s astute analytic capacity to understand complexity and high quality with a published poet’s human sensibility to inspire the human being at the center of any thriving organization.
ReNEWBusiness is a collective creative laboratory for people like me, “business heartists”, that want to create spaces to express all of who they are at work. I have often defined myself as “many and multitudes”, a bridge between worlds, always seeking the intersection where all these “roles” meet. My motto is integration of all the parts that make us who we are as an act of self-leadership. In doing so, we become more inclusive of others too.
How do you adapt to a new country?
We hear a lot about diversity. It has become a buzzword. As we hear it and read it daily we might have the impression that is the holy solution to all our problems. Especially because it is presented as a source for innovation, increased performance, competitive advantage, and creativity. This potential, however, is only accessible when we practice inclusion. Diversity alone is not enough. Diversity becomes a burden when we do not express and embody inclusion. The real advantage comes from engaging in a conversation with the world that enables creativity, freedom, and a true sense of purpose.
Learning and Reinvention
What does learning mean for you? And how do you learn?
Learning for me is an experience that supports a sense of responsibility, stewardship, and awareness to make choices that align with our values; a place to broaden our sense of the world and where failing is necessary. Arts and their metaphors transform not just what we learn, but how we learn. The arts are about being fully alive, in the moment, where all our senses are enlivened and working, creating learning experiences that are relevant, meaningful, and enjoyable. Thanks to the arts we access a participatory dialogue where co-creation of practices, processes, and tools support our learning. True learning is connective and imaginative. When we are disconnected from our imagination we are disconnected from learning too.
How many times did you reinvent yourself?
I am not sure I can answer this question in a straightforward way. I think some of us, like me, reinvent ourselves every minute of our conscious existence. And by re-invention, I mean questioning our own thinking, behaviors, and mindsets. I do that constantly. It is my way of learning, of becoming inclusive of facets of me I maybe do not like… and becoming a whole being.
How do you cross-pollinate knowledge from one field to the other?
Through inquiry, and more specifically, art inquiry practices. An inquiry is a quest into the unknown. The real purpose of an inquiry is not to get an answer but the exploration itself. The inquiry becomes, with practice, the catalyst for a deeper awareness which is the answer to the inquiry. Artists constantly practice the art of inquiry allowing the imaginative intellect to create new “knowledge” that is not only new but has the capacity to transform human understanding. Art (like science) expands our awareness and understanding of the world. As a result, our engagement and relationship with the world changes by practicing art.
Art, as a form of inquiry, supports us in exploring complexity, paradoxes, and dynamic challenges. Art engages all of the senses and our sense-making capacities providing an opportunity for renewal and meaning-making.
ReNEW Business and Art
How do you work with businesses and people? And what are you trying to achieve?
ReNEWBusiness exists to create (work) culture like a piece of art. A creative laboratory and consulting firm that guides visionary leaders who want to lead change, create cultures of inclusion, and evoke leadership in everyone. The reNEWal of society and organizations happens only if someone cares. At ReNEW Business, we care to challenge the myths of the industrial system. We care to reconnect with the sacred heART of being human. We care to create, like an artist, dynamic and resilient organizations. If we want to change the course business has taken we must enter the intersection of rational and emotional, creative and logical, scientific and humanistic, and apprehend the literacy to express a new paradigm. It is the path of Business heARTists working at the intersections, mastering paradoxes, complexities, and tensions to ReNEW Business.
We create the conditions for a resilient workforce poised to flourish instead of perishing in these volatile times by using storytelling, poetry, and heART in a completely innovative and yet practical methodology that has helped leaders and teams to reach their goals, tap into their creativity, broaden their awareness and improve trust within the organization, reaching new levels of connection and communication.
How do you see the leadership role in this uncertain world?
We have created a legend, a myth of leadership that isn’t humane anymore. It’s a concept identified out there, far from being reached or reached only after enormous sacrifices. In this super-fast, ever-changing, and demanding world we are constantly looking or trying to prevent something, always a little distracted because there is always something more important to be attended just ahead of us. When I wrote The Whisper I began to discover that there were a multitude of ways of being and perceiving leadership. This self-awareness had a central point of interest in observing what being a leader and leading oneself meant. This being could not be explained but needed to be experienced and felt. What is essential to me are the fundamental practices of connecting to the being human in relationship with the world:
- Listening deeply to the undercurrent. With listening comes the capacity to discern between the noise of distraction and what is essential.
- Sensing (like artists do) what wants to emerge so we can prepare as we practice our “humanship” (sensing is different than planning).
- Creating models, systems, and new paradigms that care for the wellbeing of all rather than the supremacy of few.
Can you talk a bit about your messy art project?
Messy Art is a deliberate artistic inquiry to explore life through the lens of art. Life is messy and the meaning we attach to messiness says something about our relationship with control. Living fully might require we learn to listen to the messiness of life and instead of controlling it express it with beauty and harmony.
Through art, we enter into a dialogue with the emergent. We learn to participate in it as we make art in devotion to inquiry (more about how Messy art was born).
Since then, I have painted around 300 paintings, many have been sold, transformed into calendars, postcards, posters, and following the interest of many wanting to practice together — so I started hosting Messy Art sessions since February 2021.
Past and Future
Can you share some of the major lessons you’ve learned in life?
As I mentioned earlier, my teachers in life have been traveling and exploring life in foreign countries. Those travels have taught me never to label or divide anyone into categories. I didn’t know I had to start with myself. I didn’t know that to name myself I had to create a new vocabulary. One to reconnect with all the parts of me, to fill in the gaps of diversity, and to find one world, one humanity that needs to be rescued from separation and ideology. It still is a quest for the unknown and for the unknowing of labels.
Which big questions do you have on your mind currently?
Why, despite knowing all we know, do we resist becoming evolved human beings? What stops us from caring for the environment, others, ourselves?
How do you face the future? Do you make plans for it?
I think this pandemic has shown us that plans have to be held lightly. What is more important to me is being able to find alignment and harmony.
What should I have asked, but didn’t?
I am a reserved person (despite my public presence) and often find it difficult to answer questions. Telling stories though (seems like a paradox) is something I love and listening to others’ stories even more. So maybe when we meet in person, tell me a story, and who knows what other stories might be shared.