Why Spaces for Growth?
Acting as a Foreword to our ongoing series of posts from, and the publication of, ‘Spaces for Growth’, Koreo’s Founder & CEO, Rachel Whale, offers an invitation to join us in exploring and building a route towards 21st Century learning.
- In the context of the pandemic, it was seeking meaning and guidance in the words and example of people from our past and their mission of forging a radically transformed world that offered a light and path through the darkness.
- Taking inspiration from these histories, at Koreo we took the opportunity to lean in and dedicate ourselves to the work of exploring, understanding, and collaborating with others, to consider how we could truly make our best contribution in powerful times.
- Building on the foundational triptych of ‘Dancing at the Edge’, ‘Three Horizons’, and ‘Transformative Innovation’ by International Futures Forum, we worked in partnership with Graham Leicester and Maureen O’Hara to produce ‘Spaces for Growth’ — an inquiry into the 21st Century learning practices for personal and collective transformation in an urgent world.
- As a manual for supporting people to become artists of their own lives, in supportive patterns of relationship with others, doing meaningful work and offering practical hope, ‘Spaces for Growth’ sets provocations about the spaces and environments required to help us as human beings in all forms expand, develop, and ultimately, in the words of Carl Jung, outgrow our problems.
- Now, in the landscape of recovery and renewal, we are sharing an invitation to all those working towards positive social change, to come into an open conversation about the implications for leadership practices and organisational learning, as we work together towards harnessing our boundless human potential in forging a better future.
- As we approach the two year anniversary of the end of the first lockdown in the UK, on Thursday 30th June, we will be holding a conversation to explore some of the themes surfaced in Spaces for Growth and particularly how we can build the field for a more radical approach to learning that produces deeply rooted and sustainable social change. You can register to join the event here.
Two years ago at Koreo, just like everyone, we were closing doors, saying goodbye, hoping to see one another again, but not knowing when — or even if — that moment would come.
Exposed to the sheer scale of the pandemic, we held an urgent desire to protect each other, our health and livelihoods. An immediate sense of even deeper love and appreciation saw us lean into each other for safety. Knowing we would need to work harder than ever and expand our capacities to think and understand, I reached for the sources of inspiration in what I knew best, and could easily access. Seeking meaning and purpose in moments of darkness, fear, sorrow and challenge, it was to be in the example of the naturalists and activists in our past — the people who had risen up to the challenges of their times and created a light and a path for others to see and follow — that offered me the greatest sense of hope for the future.
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” — Angela Davis
It was these words in particular, by Angela Davis, that would resonate for me most. How could we make our best contribution possible in the context of such powerful times? That’s why at Koreo we went into ‘beta mode’ to explore exactly that — giving our energy to the work and the most meaningful collaborations to better understand and respond to the complexity and urgency around us. We would lean in, not just to each other, but to the collective mission of imagining and building a truly just and regenerative world.
This was the context for meeting Graham Leicester, Maureen O’Hara and the International Futures Forum, and our collaboration in forging ‘Spaces for Growth’.
As lockdowns fell all around us, I would read ‘Dancing at the Edge’, ‘Three Horizons’, and ‘Transformative Innovation’. Sources of so many key insights that immediately became my triptych; a guide and my patterning of hope. I saw the opportunity for endless application. Powerful ideas; there being no solo climbers, the need for us to understand the innately human competencies needed for tackling 21st Century challenges, and that the ability of rising to these in a complex world requires collective action. I was instinctively led to reach out to connect with Graham. How could we collaborate in this time to build upon each other’s work and contribute something new and helpful in the context of the challenges around us?
Together we would land on an opportunity to build on the foundations of the triptych and extend its thinking, whilst bringing in the urgent need I saw to advocate for spaces that could generate truly radical learning. Spaces that support individual and collective learning that gets to the root of social change, during a time when real, conceptual and existential emergencies hunt in packs. Ones that enable us to explore the quality of the ideas on the ground around us, respond to the true scale of the challenges facing us and, in the words of Arundhati Roy, “walk through the portal with lightness”. Spaces for growth.
When forming Koreo 18 years ago, I articulated my belief that ‘talent is the fundamental force that will change the world’. Whilst I’ve come to think that this is a too simple statement in itself in a 21st Century world of plurality, ‘Spaces for Growth’ is set upon the same fundamental belief in the potential of the human system.
I’m particularly grateful to Graham for helping me articulate this much more deeply and fully through this work as; “it being in the boundless potential of the ways in which we choose to live our lives in patterns of relationships with other lives, that our hopes for recovery and renewal ultimately lie. Learning how to draw that potential from us, individually and collectively, is an urgent task. Together we need to support individuals, organisations, communities, institutions — human beings in all formations — expand, develop, and grow, to rise to the occasion. If we are to rise to the challenge of this century we will need all of this and all of us: revealing the abundance that lies in our humanity and the full magnificence of the human being”.
But we know that for too long civil society and the social change field, in which I have worked all my life, has been trapped by a scarcity narrative; not enough time, money, publicity, collaboration, innovation, and a scarcity of reflective thinking and learning. We have convinced ourselves that our problems are far too big, complex and urgent for us to be able to work through them. Somewhere along the mechanistic journey of our past and present we have lost sight of our own human agency.
“We do not solve our problems, we outgrow them.” — Carl Jung, Collected Works, 1938
These words by Carl Jung, that we have set in the opening pages of ‘Spaces for Growth’, however remind us that the systems we reject were built by us as humans. It is within our gift to change them and build new organising forms that serve our humanity better. Outgrowing the challenges we face. Shifting towards this narrative — one that embraces and amplifies a story of abundance and our boundless human potential — is therefore at the heart of responding in a complex 21st Century world.
The argument contained within the pages of the book therefore is that we require truly radical and accessible spaces that help us generate a rate of learning that is at least equal to or greater than the rate of change in the external environment around us, understanding and releasing the potential of us all. Liminal, safe enough, empty, reflective, expansive and prophetic. These spaces, it is argued, require new literacies; psychological, cultural and knowledge based; and capacities of learning; ones of learning to be, learning to know, learning to do and learning to live together. Our ability to rise to powerful times, Graham and Maureen both so beautifully articulate, starts with awareness; awareness of ourselves, each other and context — it needs all of this and all of us and is about enabling people to become artists of their own lives.
Collaborating with Graham and Maureen through the creation of ‘Spaces for Growth’ has been, and continues to be, a joy. Whilst a naive intention to embark on a three month inquiry became twelve, our conversations, writing, editing, debating has been the work. We hope this thinking is helpful to others who also care about holding open cracks in our system long enough for radical ideas to take root and grow, and the pandemic has offered us one of these moments. The opportunity now is to seize on this, explore the ideas shared within these words and work through the implications for our leadership practices and organisational learning at a time when the world of work remains captured by the past.
Our approach to learning, both as a sector but more broadly, is still appallingly anachronistic, rooted in epistemic and colonial injustices, and radically ill equipped to tackle the complexity of our times. Organisations are often learning deserts; where HR Departments still deliver ‘training’ that is well intentioned but siloed, wastefully expensive and deeply disconnected from an understanding of self, mission, the context of the systems we are operating within, and detached from the people and communities they seek to serve. To put it simply, we are devoid of the real spaces for growth we so desperately need.
We must therefore commit to working towards and embrace radical learning; learning that is rooted in social change, that enables us to think and explore beyond arbitrary boundaries and that leads us to seeing what is not yet here. We share ‘Spaces for Growth’ with this intention; ‘putting it out there’ and welcoming responses, ideas, challenges and critiques. We want to spark the conversations that help us unleash our true, full, human potential and rise to the challenges of our time.
Two years on from the pandemic we are all remembering the visceral experiences of those early days, weeks and months. Appreciating our time now as understanding, sense making and ultimately contributing to healing, we know that conversations can help us renew, learn, and progress, and we need to ensure more people can be part of them, we need more tables. Our friend Farah Elahi, Head of Community Engagement at the Greater London Authority and a wonderful role model for systems convening, shared that compelling message at one of our recent Civic Futures learning spaces.
Taking this inspiration and as we approach the two year anniversary of the end of the first lockdown in the UK, on Thursday 30th June we will be holding a conversation to explore some of the themes surfaced in Spaces for Growth and particularly how we can build the field for a more radical approach to learning that produces deeply rooted and sustainable social change.
To register for the event please sign up here.
We hope you enjoy it, as much as we did forging it.
by Rachel Whale, Founder & CEO, Koreo