My Work

I go where I’m called.

When I write those words, they feel a little pretentious.  Or grandiose.  But they’re also basically true.  I’ve been doing this work of building community for almost 40 years.  I’ve worked at every level of government and every level of geography.  I’ve worked with nonprofits, governments, businesses, community-based organizations.  Now, I go where I am called.  The places calling me most deeply (in alphabetical order because I can’t think of a more creative way to share) are Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, United States and Zimbabwe.

A couple of years ago I sensed that it was time to bring my work home.  I was very surprised when I learned that home was Japan!  I travel a lot and try to justify my carbon footprint with the belief that I am helping people make a difference.  That may be true and it may also be just the kind of delusion those of us in the “modern” world are capable of.  And still, for now, I travel so that I can be with people and help them think about the difference they want to make in their lives and in their communities.

Japan is one entry point into my work right now.  The Berkana Institute is the other.


I first traveled to Japan in 1970 to complete my final undergraduate year in the International Division of Waseda University.  I began the journey of a lifetime.  Susan Virnig, the woman who would become my spouse and mother of our daughter, Annie Stilger Virnig was also participant in that program.  I also felt into a lifelong relationship with the Nakatsugawa Family in Kyoto.

In 2010 I was invited to bring my work into Japan.  It has been an amazing experience.  I am working in Japan in three ways:

Art of Hosting – Japan

We’ve started an Art of Hosting Community in Japan.  People who are stepping forward to offer their leadership as hosts of dialogue in different communities and systems.  I participate in various events and activities each year that are building, connecting and increasing the capacity of members of this community.  This work on Art of Hosting has also connected me with the Social Venture Partners work in Tokyo, Shikoku and other parts of the country.

Future Centers for Social Innovation

I am working closely with the Knowledge Dynamics Initiative of Fuji/Xerox.  KDI began in the early part of this century as a means to bring knowledge management work into Japanese companies.  The leaders of KDI have come to understand that good knowledge management is essential and that it becomes even more powerful when combined with the creation of Future Centers for Social Innovation in Japanese companies.  I work with KDI to build the Future Center movement in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

From Enspirited Leadership to Emergence with Rigor

I am writing, speaking and leading workshops in Japan which help people:

  • Uncover the gifts and contributions they have to make to their organizations and communities and to offer their own enspirited leadership.
  • Access the knowledge, wisdom and resources present in their systems using processes like Art of Hosting and Asset Based Community Development
  • Use a living systems approach to change where we use emergence with rigor, incorporating processes like Change Labs, Theory “U”, Developmental Evaluation, Most Significant Change and other processes.

The Berkana Institute

For the last ten years most of my work has been with The Berkana Institute. I and others at the Institute have worked around the world with people and organizations building healthy and resilient communities. I’m currently most involved in three initiatives at Berkana.

Berkana Exchange

An ecosystem of learning centers, grassroots-based initiatives, individuals, regional learning communities and movements, participants in the Berkana Exchange are working in many ways to build communities that work again. Participants are developing the capacity to solve their most pressing problems—such as community health, ecological sustainability and economic self-reliance—by acting locally, connecting regionally and learning trans-locally.

Why “trans-local”? We believe that large-scale systems change emerges when local actions get connected globally—while preserving their deeply local culture, flavor and form. There is no universal solution for the challenges of poverty, hunger or environmental destruction. But there is the possibility of widespread impact when people working at the local level are able to learn from one another, practice together and share their learning with communities everywhere. The video clip to the right describes the Art of Learning Centering, a gathering of the community of the Exchange.

Right now the Exchange is in a period of transition. The Berkana Institute has stepped back from playing a central role as steward of the community. Many of us are still very connected with each other and looking forward to another gathering in October, 2011 in Brazil. Find out more about the work of the Berkana Exchange.

Southern Africa Open Places Initiative

I visited Southern Africa for the first time in 2001 and my heartmind was forever changed. I can’t quite explain it. I was never one with an itch to go to Africa. It was over there, someplace, far outside my view. But I have become deeply connected to and in the region. It is one of the places where I come most alive and where I learn the most about what is important in the world today. Over the years, through Berkana and the Berkana Exchange, a growing community of people who work and live with similar values and principles has become visible. Led by Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe and the GreenHouse Project in Johannesburg, people from Uhuru in Zimbabwe, LaPeng Family and Child Center in Johannesburg, Fisherwomen in Cape Town, and the INK Urban Area in Durban have been learning from each others work, and seeking to reach out to others in the southern Africa region. They believe that a leader is anyone who wants to help and that they have the knowledge, strength and creativity to make life better. With others at Berkana, I am working with them to develop this Open Places Initiative.

Berkana Collaborative

With many of my colleagues at The Berkana Institute, I’ve launched an Initiative called the Berkana Collaborative. Through the Collaborative we are provide hosting and consulting services and convene learning events as well as learning communities. All of this work is based on the values, principles and beliefs of The Berkana Institute.


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