The Challenge of the Change Agent

My wonderful problem solving self is one of my greatest barriers to creating change in my community. I am a social entrepreneur. If a problem or opportunity catches my heart and my mind, I set to work on addressing it, or on making it a reality. This is a wonderful capacity. It has allowed me to manifest much in the past and yet I am also increasingly seeing how it does not always serve me, or those whom I seek to serve.

Much of my work has been with rural communities, women in particular. An important part of my journey has been about reaching out to help them ignite their passion and energy for change. They are not problems to be solved (which in my experience the development sector often turns them into). They are an important key to a different future – as we learn to unlock and release the unique and beautiful possibility that resides in each one of us.

And yet, one of my biggest challenges at this time comes from an impulse, in the face of much need, to rush it.  When I see a problem, oftentimes my mind jumps into solution mode, and I wish to surge ahead. This may be a wonderful trait of the social entrepreneur, and yet I am noticing that given my wish to build a deeper change in people and our capacity to generate solutions and innovations together my impulse to action in many ways inadvertently belittles their power, their capacity, their view.

How then to stand in my power, and honour and invite in theirs?

I am learning, once again, to slow down. Real change takes time. It requires attention and care to invite others in and to build the collective ground from which much more can grow. It requires curiosity, and a weaving of relationships. It requires us to come together as a community identifying what we really care about, and then slowly but surely taking the steps to move towards that. It may include reaching out to others to join us, but it is about walking together, trusting that we have what we need, and that together we can make our way into the kind of future we wish to live. In this much more integrated and whole place, I can offer my gifts and my power, not from my busy problem-solving mind, but out of my connection to the whole.

Finally Home

Last week I went to the first TEDx Harare event. I had been asked to speak and said yes. A week before the event, and I had no idea what I was going to speak on. Having been out of Zim for four years, and then returning earlier this year to a busy project in Harare, I was for some reason finding it incredibly difficult to return home and be clear as to what I wished to share.

It turned out to be a difficult but also incredibly rich week of remembering my work and the songs of my heart. A week of long walks on the land with my dogs and my reflections keeping me company. The TEDx event was an opportunity to finally land back home, and to reconnect to what is important to me; to what I believe in, and to what stirs my soul.

What I ended up speaking of at TEDx was not much different to what I could have spoken 4 years ago before leaving Zim. Part of me thought that surely new should have been added to my voice through those years? And yet its gift was this coming back to ground zero out of which the new can rise in a Zimbabwean context, having been gone for so long. And in speaking I realised the new that is also stirring.

And so the essence that I feel excited to be returning to are some of the key principles that have guided my work during the last one and a half decades:
That  collectively we have what we need (to solve our challenges, to feed ourselves, to care for our children, etc.), and that each of us have valuable gifts to bring to our community.
That we need each other – in the words of our learning network, the Berkana Exchange – whatever the problem, community is the answer.
That in order to be able to work together, and to help each other bring the best of who we are to the table, we need to find different ways of working than the ones dominating most of our organisations and institutions today. We need to come back to ways of working that honour each voice, that unleash our creativity and that support our ability to co-create.

I was speaking this from a very Zimbabwean place, using very rural examples of community abundance and creativity, and yet, I think that additionally what has been our experience is that the linkages across the earth are a key part of what has made this expression of wealth and creativity possible. Learning with others, some of whom live and work in very similar situations to ourselves, and others who live in radically different ones, is an enormous part of our journey of learning about healthy and vibrant community.

The TEDx event brought me in touch with the fact of many wonderful, passionate and bright Zimbabweans, many of them recently returned, others who have never left. And yet there are hardly any public spaces for us to connect. Thus emerges for me a seed of imagining what might be possible if we were to connect the urban and the rural, those at home and those in the diaspora in  several conversations and explorations of possibility. Before my work was to touch into rural Zimbabwe, and to link it to the wider world. Now the linkages are asking to grow to become also about enabling local relations, including to those who long for home, but are out there in the wider world. I am not sure how, but look forward to it. The story of Colombus (From Hero to Host) excites me in this. What might be possible, simply from sharing and further learning new ways of working together, and out of that beginning to build a common platform of intent for Harare, or Zimbabwe?

The other piece that I am sitting with from the TEDx day is how we might be building our future on a weak foundation. I was the only one who spoke to the rural side of our country. The examples during the day gave me a sense of the potential as we learn our way into using new technology, of the examples of the brilliance of Zimbabwean intellectuals, and the scientific developments that we could make a reality if we put our minds to it. And yet, our rural origins are where we come from, and surely our path of development should include and build on this?

I am not quite sure how to bridge what is happening out of two quite distinct trajectories of development. But I know that I am in a rich field of learning, walking alongside pioneering leaders who are asking similar questions, and discovering valuable insights along the way.