Bob became an important partner to our work in Pioneers of Change. He often challenged our age limitation in the network of pioneers. When we described what it meant to be a pioneer to us, he noted that he felt the same way too. Each member of pioneers of change made these five commitments: Be yourself, Do what matters, Join with others, Start now and Never stop asking questions. This was the credo with which we each did our world changing work in many different organisations and settings, and often Bob was right there with us. Bob has an ability to join in as a respectful and quiet listener who then brings perspective, language and models to what is going on, and what we are grappling with. The fact that he had 20-30 odd years of additional experience than us never seemed to be a challenge. He had a capacity for tuning into the value we offered with our younger perspective. And because of his commitment to finding new ways of working, living and being he never felt above us, but joined with us in our inquiries and offered incredible value to us in our questioning.
When I moved back to Zimbabwe I was driven by a sense of the wealth and wisdom that were abundant in rural Zimbabwe among my indigenous Shona family even while being painfully absent in their own self-perception. Frequently they were more aware of what they did not have and what they were missing. Kufunda for me was to be a bridge into helping people shift into appreciation for all their resources and gifts and to find ways to build on those, creating more value for themselves and others.
I was excited, enthused - very much a young pioneer come home to pioneer my way into creating something new. People did not really understand me or my intentions and so after a few months I hit a wall. And Bob was there to help me - once again to listen and support, to add perspective and voice to what I was going through, to ask questions, to offer gentle and respectful advice. And so during the first three years of Kufunda's life, many friends and particularly Bob became mentor and anchor from afar as I did the work on the ground that was needed to do to give birth to the images and dreams that resided within me.
I have had the privilege of working with Bob Stilger and the Berkana Institute over the course of several years. My first experience was in Clark County, WA when I contracted with Bob to assist the County and our community partners to begin to examine how we work together through a World Café and Open Space process. Bob helped us begin to plan a future together. I then was invited to travel with Bob to South Africa and Zimbabwe to experience learning communities first hand. It was amazing watching Bob work in different cultures pulling all of us together and honoring our differences and our unique contributions, Bob has a gift as a mentor and teacher.
After a long and demanding year as a new start-up in Pierce County, WA, I really wanted my staff to receive the gift of Bob so I could thank them for the incredible work they did as individuals and as a team and to rejuvenate them by using personal and shared experiences, to identifying lessons that would drive our future path as an organization. By facilitating open and honest group conversation, Bob was able to create a safe environment that allowed us to maintain our authentic selves to build on our organizational and individual strengths. He has a gift of listening to each individual and translating numerous contributions into one coherent and united theme. Bob urged us all to explore multiple levels of our own awareness to help us realize that through personal and organizational wellness, we will have the capacity to continue to listen to, grow with, and strengthen the Pierce County mental health system one day at a time. Everyone involved left proud of the work that had been done in and for our community, and hopeful for the work we were once again invigorated to continue throughout the coming years. Bob’s work has left an imprint on my life personally and now a positive influence on my staff. I am quite sure that Bob’s work across the world has been overwhelmingly positive in the lives he has touched. I call Bob “the holy man” and now you know why.