CAI works to build the creative capacity of social change makers to innovatively address the challenges of our time. At the core of our ability to construct the world we want to live in is our capacity to collaborate with others. Charismatic individuals may provide inspiration, but this model of leadership is not sustainable and can promote burn-out, individualism, and a top-down type of power that keeps many of us passive, waiting for a savior to come fix our problems for us.
CAI aims to cultivate a model of decentralized leadership, in which everyone has something unique and important to contribute to the whole. We need to learn how to work together, which requires skill and the practice of some basic principles of collaboration: inclusive participation, trust, accountability, communication, shared goals and appreciation.
CAI offers a 3-day course in Creative Collaboration to cultivate these skills, principles and capacities. In August, we provided the third module of the Creative Leadership for Social Change Certificate Program with 31 staff from 16 New England Biolabs Foundation grantee organizations working in forest protection, mining, land use, sustainable agriculture, water management, wildlife preservation, biodiversity, gender equity and youth empowerment in Ghana.
“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson
Throughout the training, participants worked in small groups in order to practice collaboration with ongoing reflections to integrate what they were learning through the process. They began by identifying and creatively representing the unique combination of their individual strengths, or the “special sauce” of each team.
They discovered the importance of drawing out and utilizing the unique skills, passions, talents and strengths of each person they work with for more innovative and enduring collaborations.
Within their teams, participants engaged in an intensive Appreciative Inquiry (AI) process to analyze, dream and strategize together about how to strengthen the environmental movement in Ghana to prevent operating in silos or competing for resources.
By going through the AI 4D cycle (Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver), each team started by brainstorming the existing strengths of the environmental movement in Ghana. They identified a number of elements, such as existing national policies on resource management; resource tracking and sharing between communities; implementation of a grassroots Community Based Organization approach; gender mainstreaming; dialogue and exchange platforms; a welcoming and tolerant Ghanaian culture; and a point that arose again and again as essential to remember and reclaim - indigenous knowledge and cultural practices of preservation.
They then dreamed into their ideal future for Ghana and represented their shared visions using theater skits and visuals. In one theater skit, Mother Ghana had a dream in which there was much stronger participation of women; ecology-based economies; the restoration of degraded land; strengthening networks between the government and organizations, ecotourism; and again – reclaiming indigenous knowledge and practices.
Appreciation is Key Another critical aspect for improving collaboration and creating more motivated teams is developing the skill of appreciation. Who doesn’t like to have their strengths and contributions recognized and appreciated? When we operate in a culture of individualism and competition, expressing appreciation is uncommon. When we prioritize healthy relationships as core to our organizing, appreciation goes a long way to building stronger, motivated and innovative teams. Participants actively practiced giving and receiving specific appreciations – both of themselves and their colleagues. They learned to identify and celebrate their own strengths in a self-appreciation circle as well as those of their colleagues through an “I got your back” appreciation activity, in which each person turns around and listens to their teammates discuss all of their positive attributes and contributions. The bright smiles and often tears on each person’s face was evidence of how important it is for us to know we are seen and valued.
Each participant also chose a name from a hat and anonymously delivered personally made gifts and creative expressions of appreciation for their colleague. This cultivated an inspiring and enlivening atmosphere of kindness, generosity and recognition throughout the training. The participants engaged in this activity with great enthusiasm and expressed their commitment to express appreciation for not only their co-workers, but for their families and friends, on a regular basis.
We were excited to hear the ways our partners have been applying CAI’s creative tools and participatory approaches to deepen collaboration in the field with multiple stakeholders. For example, Conservation Alliance has been struggling with conflict between multiple stakeholders over the boundary between the western side of Ghana and eastern side of Cote d’Ivoire around issues of mining, migration, unauthorized use of pesticides and encroachment. There has been blame and division, negatively impacting 42 communities. As Project Coordinator, a trainee who participated previously in Creative Leadership and Facilitation training, applied a modified version of The Problem Tree/Solution Tree with local government, policy implementers, farmers and village chiefs to identify ways they were contributing to the conflict. The tool opened the space for honest reflection, ownership and dialogue and led to agreements about how to move forward with a more collaborative approach.
As Charles Darwin once said, "It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."