Last week we convened our first workshop in Cape Town, at the invitation of the The Change Collective Cape Town, a gathering of individuals from a range of sectors and disciplines who come together to share ideas and experiences about how to best approach social change in Southern Africa.
It was definitely one of the more engaging workshops we’ve ever done. It seemed to get under people’s skin- both positively and negatively- in more of an immediate way than we have previously experienced.
An unusually large percentage of the room spoke passionately about the ways they are already practicing expressive change in their organizations. And one of the small break-out groups even started bringing an expressive approach to how they were participating in the workshop itself.
At the same time, there was also a stronger than normal critical reaction, that we were not expecting. Several people challenged the idea that an expressive approach to social change is appropriate for the South African context, highlighting the many barriers they face on a daily basis that make it feel unmanageable- from limited resources, to rigid funder expectations, to activist burnout, to the unusually high levels of poverty and institutional racism that they face.
This is a common and very understandable reaction- one that we seem to get where ever we go and that we’re not sure how to engage with exactly. In our experience taking an expressive approach actually lessens many of these barriers in the long-term, as opposed to amplifying them. It deepens relationships with funders, feeds organizational engagement, and helps to tackle issues of poverty and other deeply embedded institutional patterns in more effective ways. And it doesn’t require time-consuming organizational development processes or special retreats. Rather it is developed through the work that is already being done. It means bringing an experiential mind-set into your next staff meeting, your next conversation with a funder, your next program planning process.
That said, we know from personal experience that this is easier said than done, and that it requires a sustained intention to grow it inside our organizations. So for those who are feeling completely overwhelmed by the idea, our suggestion is to start off by trying it in very small ways that feel manageable. Expressive change isn’t about being the change you seek, it’s about becoming the change you seek; it is an on-going journey and any movement in that direction is better than no movement at all.
We look forward to digging into these notions in more depth at our next event, hosted by Bertha Centre for Social Innovation at University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. Warren will be giving a short talk, followed by a discussion and snacks. If you’re in Cape Town, we hope you’ll be able to join us:
Social Innovation from the Inside Out
April 11th, 2012 / 17:00-18:30
Lecture Theatre 4, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business
Breakwater Campus, Portswood Rd.
Free, but seating is limited so please register in advance
Photo by Lauren Hermanus