Ordinary People

Pausing as I write the phrase, ordinary people….

What’s really true is that I am just blown away.  I’ve spent the last three days meeting people who are doing the work needed to stabilize and then re-create the Tohoku region of Japan that was ravaged by the triple disasters of March 11, 2011.

There are special names for these folks in Japan.  Some are called “U Turn:”  people raised in Tohoku who had moved away and have now returned.  Some are called “I Turn:” people who never had a connection with the region, but who have moved their lives to Tohoku.  Some are called volunteers:  people who have spent days, weeks and months living in the various volunteer centers doing whatever is needed.  And, of course, others are the people who have lived in Tohoku all their lives.  They arec sometimes are called victims or sufferers, but those terms turn them into applicants.  They are just people rebuilding their lives and their communities.

A year ago Suji Suzuki had no idea he would be living in Sendai.  He was happy in Tokyo, finding ways to use Appreciate Inquiry to change health systems in Spokane.  He did an I Turn and has now set up the Sanaburi Foundation to act as an intermediary foundation to create a bridge between people with resources outside Tohoku and those who need support within (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/c6c47e).  He came to the region back in April and just showed up for what needs to be done.  Gradually, as he worked alongside many other volunteers, he began to see this need for an intermediary function and he had some previous background doing foundation work so he stepped forward.  Each day he continues to find his way.  Brokering new partnerships and forming new relationships with others who are working to create a new Tohoku.

Watanabe-san worked for a firm in Tokyo that made log homes.  He did a U Turn to Tohoku after the disasters hit.  Now he is the volunteer coordinator for Minami-Sanriku-cho area where 7 communities with 2500 people were completely destroyed (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/41e63a).  He was born in Sendai and thinks that he will be in the region for a long time.  There was nothing in particular in his background which prepared him for the work he is doing now.  He just showed up and started to offer his talents. stepping forward to do what he could for people who needed his help.

I don’t have a picture of Chiba-san.  I was too blown away by his story to take one.  An older man with white hair.  So humble.  So unassuming.  He was born in the small village of Oosawa where all 188 homes were washed out to see.  He spent most of his life away, as a ship’s engineer and returned for retirement three years ago.  He’s been the servant leader of one temporary housing site where he’s managed to gather many member of the village together.  They’re organizing themselves to do all sorts of things because they already had relationship.  Although he waved his hands to reflect any praise, I have no doubt that most of what’s happened in the new Oosawa would have happened without him.

Or then there is Kawasaki-san from Shikoku. He showed up in Kesennuma in May to help.  He thinks he will be there for a long time, helping businesses and communities rebuild. In Rikuzentakada, I met with two met who had been friends for 35 years.  One is a former local politician and the other is the President of a large Driving School.  They are among the people who lived through the days of the disaster and who are now working together to build a new community which combines the strengths of traditional culture with new technologies.  (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/3114ad).

These and others I met are just a few of the ordinary heroes who are stepping forward because the times call them.  They each have a large portion of common sense, a lot of humility, a willingness to do whatever needs to be done and the courage to step into the unknown time and time again.

I feel honored to have met them and will look for ways to support their work.

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Further Reflections on Participatory Leadership Training In Zimbabwe

My previous blog from our late September training on the Art of Participatory Leadership told part of the story.  A week later, further reflections came clear that I want to share as well.  This is a more critical reflection on my work in Zimbabwe.

I woke in the early morning from the first night’s sleep in my own bed after returning from Zimbabwe.  Suddenly things that had been churning in my stomach all week were clearer.  I’d like to share some of my observations.

We delivered the Art of Participatory Leadership and in many ways it was excellent.  In fact, just this week I proposed to colleagues in Durban that we offer a very similar workshop to community activists in the INK townships.  However we missed some important opportunities in part, I suspect, because we got trapped within our own form.

I left our meeting last Monday disquieted.  The evaluations were a bit of a shock.  After years of teaching in formal as well as informal situations, I usually take evaluations as indicators rather than prescriptions.  But in reviewing these evaluations, my body knew that something was out of kilter – even if my head didn’t want the information!

We offered what I believe we were asked to offer.  Unfortunately it was only minimally valuable to most of the participants and didn’t justify the investment of a full week of their time.  We saw the challenges on the first day, and chose to continue with the training we were asked to deliver.  If we had been able to fully discern the field, we might have made different choices.

Participants came to the workshop for many reasons.   Most had little to do with participatory leadership – even though more participatory leadership in their organizations can open up a wealth of wisdom, capability and resources.   Some came because they wanted to better understand their work as organizational leaders.  Others came because they wanted to know more about how to manage people and teams.  Some came hoping to gain perspective on confounding issues within their organizations.  A few came hoping for conceptual engagement around issues of leadership.  We did not work well with the needs and hopes present in the room.  I’m not sure we could have – but I woke this morning with a few ideas.

I wonder if we might have broken the group into tracks?  While we wanted to get to participatory leadership, perhaps we might have gone about it quite differently.  Especially with the addition of Chiku to our team, we had both the resources and the time.  Chiku brought  indepth experience working with African proverbs and stories about leadership as a way to engage others in thinking about their leadership.  What we might have done is spent some of our time together as a single learning community about participatory leadership and some of our time in separate modules or tracks.  With our available personnel, we might have offered three; perhaps:

  • Working with Community Based Organization Issues – Marianne
  • People and Teams in Organizations – Bob
  • Hosting Conversations that Matter – Simone

We then might have offered several plenary type sessions for the whole community:

  • What is Leadership Anyway?
  • Traditional African Perspectives on Leadership
  • Creating Meaningful Change in Turbulent Times
  • Unlocking Capacity in Organizations

We could have used our Participatory Leadership Methodologies to offer these sessions and done a knowledge café giving people further information on these approaches.

I suspect this is a more major redesign than we could have done on the spot.  But I wonder, what held us back?  I suspect there were several things:

  1. Deeper conversations, beforehand, with Sabi Consulting might have revealed more, but at some point this workshop got defined as one on Participatory Leadership.  Our pre-workshop materials said what we would do, but participants came for all sorts of varied reasons.
  2. We were held back by our own knowing and preconceptions.  Based on meetings with the Program Design Team we made a commitment to offer a particular training and we stayed with the plan.
  3. We operated with a certain level of determination, convinced that we knew what the participants needed rather than really listening to them.
  4. While we know the aspiration, when working with Participatory Leadership, is to work with what is present in the room, we had our own blinders and limitations in terms of really doing so.

I’m not sure what comes next.  As I said on a number of occasions, this is a fine group of people doing important work.  I want to support them in any way possible.  I hope that what we were able to share will continue to work with and on people and will ultimately be valuable.  Some of what we were presenting contradicts models and practices of so-called modern culture and it takes a while to digest.  The methodologies we offered are sound and used successfully in a wide variety of settings.  I hope they can be of value here.

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Resilient Japan

Hello friends,

Right now my work has taken me to Japan — in a big way.  We’ve launched a new website:  www.resilientjapan.org as host for this work and the commentary I am writing from there.  I will be bringing some of this over into Resilient Communities, because it is the same work.  But right now most of my writing is on this small new website.  Please come see what’s happening beneath the visible surface in Japan.

I’m working closely with Art of Hosting – Japan and KDI’s Future Centers — both described in earlier blogs from my work in Japan last year.

Blessings,  Bob

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Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan

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In a week I’ll be headed back to my beloved Japan.  What will I find there?  Community.  Friends and family.  Colleagues. Grief.  Destruction. Possibility. Fear. Hope.  All those and more.  My heart quivers some.  I am almost overwhelmed by all the images and stories that have flooded in over the last two weeks since the […]

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Kyoto Autumn!

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Reflecting Kiyosato Art of Hosting

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We met a couple of nights ago in Tokyo to reflect on the recent Art of Hosting in Kiyosato (see earlier blog).  After almost four months of work here this year, I still am surprised.  What brings 22 people out for five hours on a cold weekday night to reflect on their learning together a […]

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Tadaima!

That’s what is said in Japan when one returns home.  “I’m back, I’ve been out in the world and I am back.”  ただいま. And that is exactly how I felt this past weekend will leading a workshop in Japan.  This blog is both a bit about my personal journey and my amazing week in Japan. My […]

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A New Beginning

Warm August afternoon. Stepping into the next chapter of my life. I’ve played around with WordPress long enough to assure myself that what I write is unlikely to be lost as I continue my search for the theme and customization that is right for me. For more than a month now this new resilient communities website has […]

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