Author Archive for Juanita Brown – Page 2

Unique Opportunity: Discover the Roots of the World Cafe!

On August 3-8 in Boston I am planning to attend a powerful teaching seminar with Dr. Humberto Maturana and his colleague Prof. Ximena Davila, two pioneering Chilean cultural biologists focused on the deeper process of co-evolution and renewal in human systems. They will help us see how we, as human beings with the unique capacity for language,  reflective consciousness, and meaning making through the networks of conversation in which we participate have evolved today’s world…..and what our possibilities might be for consciously co-evolving our futures together in more life-affirming ways.

Maturana’s work has had a profound influence on the deeper intention of the World Cafe as an approach through which people can experience these living networks of conversation and their potential for co-evolving the futures we want rather than being forced to live with the futures we get.  I encourage any of you who want to learn the scientific underpinnings of the World Cafe to join me in this powerful joint

For more information and how to register.

Notes from Brasil

Juanita Brown reports directly from Brasil, on process activism and the power of conversation to change the world …

Day One:
Carlos, Marcela and I all made it to Brazil safe and sound and we are ensconced in our hotel which is quite lovely and small…

We went to a lovely informal reception late this afternoon at the Willis Harman House with key people connected both with the community Café being held here as part of the World Business Academy meeting (a full day Café!) in a neighborhood that they want to use as a model for cleaning up the whole city of Sao Paulo (a city of 20 million people!), and with the World Business Academy meeting.

It was a wonderful and heartfelt opening circle with people from community groups, business, & spiritual communities.  It wasn’t an actual café but more like a lovely modified council circle with the question “Who are you and what is your connection to the World Café?” Once again, like in the Bay Area Café I was just dumbfounded by the incredible stories–including one woman who had done a Café with representatives from 90 different countries on the topic of diversity and identity … and also about a bank here ABN/Amro from the Netherlands with 30,000 Brazilian employees that is actually hoping to become a “café bank” through becoming a leader in sustainability efforts in their own bank and within the banking industry here.  I was floored!  Lots of tears and laughter..

And, if I paid close attention, I even understood much of the Portuguese….


Day Three:

Brasil is turning out to be an amazing experience already. Yesterday we went to Santos, which is an hour from Sao Paulo on the coast to meet with Edgard Gouveia. He is the Ashoka Fellow who founded the Elos Institute and received this honor for their work in local communities here in Brazil.

The Elos core team in Santos shared a video with us of the program in January where young leaders from four continents (primarily, however, from Latin America) came together for a month long program called “Warriors without Weapons”.  Their task was to learn collaborative, non-adversarial organizing approaches (including World Café) and then to work with one of the poorest communities in Santos, Paqueta, to clean up and transform a truly devastating area. Even I, who have spent a lot of time in Latin America was shocked at what it looked like and how horrible it was when they started.

A key part of the month was to help host a major World Café with residents of Paqueta and all key stakeholders in Santos to this effort – government, NGO’s, businesses etc. Carlos Mota came from Mexico to be their mentor and Café coach.  The idea was to use the World Café and the efforts of these young people as “attractors”  to evoke love and care for the neighborhood through the power of passion and possibility rather than through the power of protest and provocation.

Yesterday, the group shared with us a 10 minute video they’d made of the whole process and shared their stories of the large Paqueta Café which set the stage of the whole rest of the work there. When I saw it I just wept and wept, to see how this little “being” that was born by accident in our living room is now truly serving so many different wonderful efforts around the world.

To see the faces of the young leaders there yesterday at Elos, beaming as they shared their experiences and what they learned and are now planning next in the community in terms of the next phase Cafés and projects helped me know that there is, indeed, hope in this crazy world of ours.

And, a seed idea emerged as well from the group … there is “something” in the combination between these types of processes which foster collective intelligence and democratic voice across levels and life situations and the critical content “issues” whatever they may be – neighborhood development, indigenous rights, global warming, worker participation, AIDS, human trafficking etc.  And that we don’t have a good way of showing in a heartfelt and inspiring way the power of the combination between these processes the evoke collective intelligence and commitment to positive change (process activism as I think about it) and the critical issues themselves (issue based activism). Issue based activism is often adversarial frameworks, and process work is often seen as “soft”.

We now have such good “footage” both of World Café work and of key areas of application (like in the Dresden Cafés and here in Brasil and other settings) that creating some kind of powerful short video that helps show and communicate the both/and here – that it’s not just the World Café (a key catalyzer) or not just the “issue” or “program” (the key “content”) that’s important to support (which is where most people’s attention goes)  but the power of the combination of them that is truly the change force for large scale systemic impact in terms of lasting results.  To create “something” that helps tell THAT story would be  of service so many different groups trying to make a difference across the globe.

Anyhow, I’m sorry I’ve gone on – but this was a fascinating conversation we had yesterday based on these young people’s experience with the power of that combination in their own lives and work.

Today we are planning for another major community Café here in Sao Paulo as part of the Latin American World Business Academy meeting. They hope that the Boulevard Paulistano project will become a model for other neighborhoods here in Sao Paulo–a city of 20 million people!  And, at the end of that day, the World Café book is being launched in Portugese.

Who could have imagined all this when we were sitting in our living room with a small group of 24 people
in a dialogue around intellectual capital!

The Day I “Got It”

My original awareness of conversation as a fundamental and generative force  in our collective lives came from a source and a setting that I could never have anticipated. It was the innocent curiosity of two corporate leaders… 

The year was 1993 and World Café had not yet appeared in our lives. I was sitting in the living room of our home in Mill Valley, California, with John Browning and Frank Gonzalez, leaders of a regional Sales organization within a major U.S. corporation. They wanted to build their organization as a community. How did you do it in the farm workers’ movement, they asked? What really is at the heart of community development, anyway?

Of course, the house meetings! The house meetings were the basic unit for building community in the farm workers’ movement. Cesar or another farm worker organizer would ask a local family to host and convene a conversation among their friends. As workers shared tortillas and bean suppers, they shared the “if only’s” about their lives and imagined the impossible. They began, through dialogue, to ask the “what if” questions. And from the “what if’s” came the “why nots!”

Two or three members of the first house meeting would then decide to host another house meeting with a small circle of friends in their own homes. The ideas from one conversation would seed several others.

As I stopped to think about it, the light bulb went on. All these years I’d somehow believed it was the phone calls, the lists, the disciplined follow up, and the mass meetings that got people mobilized for action. Of course these activities were important to success. But was there something else, something underneath all of that?

Suddenly I felt as if I’d been hit over the head! Why hadn’t I seen it?

It was the conversations themselves in those thousands of house meetings that actually did the organizing. It was not us, the organizers, that did it. It was the power of the conversations themselves and the meanings that people took from them that did the organizing. When those conversations were really alive, people couldn’t help but act. In concert with others, they discovered the capacity to transform their lives.

I heard myself saying to these two corporate executives, “It’s conversation that’s the heart of it. We can attribute our successes to all kinds of techniques and other key factors, but it’s actually the dialogue, reflection, and shared meaning, along with the seeding and linking of the conversations, and people knowing that their conversations are connected, that’s the core process for co-evolving large-scale social change.

Conversation lies beneath organizing and strategizing!   

When I look back at other large-scale change movements—the salons that birthed the French Revolution, the sewing circles that nurtured the birth of the American experiment in democracy, the study circles that transformed Scandinavian society early in the century—all embody the same underlying conversational pattern.

This was such a powerful personal insight about conversation as a co-evolutionary force  that I’ve dedicated my life to deepening both the theory (there’s a paper on it that I’ve contributed to this blog) and the conversational practices (both the World Café and others) that can spread this awareness as on behalf of conscious evolution in relation to the collective challenges of our time.