Changemaking, Wellbeing, and Weaving

By Ross Hall

1. Thriving and Wellbeing

It seems reasonable to claim that humanity’s highest aspiration and deepest purpose is to thrive, and that thriving is synonymous with optimizing our collective wellbeing.

It is worth noting, however, that there is currently no universally accepted definition of wellbeing.

“There is as yet no universally accepted definition for ‘wellbeing’, at an individual or community level. A range of definitions has been applied across various policy areas, usually informed by the specific jurisdiction of the government department. Although attempts have been made to establish a common definition, none has been produced.”

Nina Mguni and Nicola Bacon (2010). Taking the Temperature of Local Communities. UK: The Young Foundation

To find a working definition of wellbeing, it is useful to consider the formal measures that relate to thriving, flourishing, the good life, quality of life and happiness, including:

  • OECD - Better Life Index

  • UNICEF index of child wellbeing

  • World Health Organization – WHOQOL

  • United Nations - Human Development Index

  • European Social Survey

  • Index of Social Health

  • Physical Quality of Life index

  • Human Poverty Index

  • Index of Economic Well-being

  • Global Peace Index

  • Legatum Prosperity Index

  • Happy Planet Index

  • Gallup– Health-ways wellbeing index

  • Economist Intelligence Unit's quality-of-life index

  • World Values Survey

  • Mercer's Quality of Living Reports

  • University of Toronto's Quality of Life Research Unit

Further consideration of the extensive literature surrounding wellbeing, thriving, flourishing, the good life, quality of life and happiness suggest a model of collective wellbeing that includes personal environmental and social & economic wellbeing,

Personal wellbeing

Wellbeing involves being well. There are certain basic physiological and psychological conditions that must be satisfied, to a greater or lesser degree, for a person to be well. Basic human needs include:

  • Being healthy (physically and mentally)

  • Being safe and secure.

  • Being calm and comfortable.

  • Being autonomous (free) and competent (able to do things well).

  • Having self-esteem.

  • Feeling a sense of achievement and personal growth.

  • Having purpose and meaning.

  • Feeling hopeful and optimistic.

  • Understanding and feeling understood.

  • Feeling interested.

  • Feeling playful.

  • Caring and feeling cared for.

  • Loving and feeling loved.

  • Belonging and feeling respected.

  • Feeling fairly treated.

  • Experiencing appreciation and wonder.

  • Feeling happy.

Environmental wellbeing

People live in a shared, external, ‘natural’ environment whose condition has a fundamental influence on the psychological and physiological wellbeing of every human. Having access to clean air, water and food, for example, is fundamental to the individual’s wellbeing.

And the wellbeing of the natural environment and of other non-human species – independent of the presence of human beings - can be regarded as a good in itself.

“The well-being of non-human life on Earth has value in itself. This value is independent of any instrumental usefulness for limited human purposes.”

Naess, A. (1984). A Defence of the Deep Ecology Movement. Environmental Ethics 6.

Social & economic wellbeing

People also live in social environments, which have a huge influence on their personal wellbeing. Having family, friends and community give a person a sense of safety, love and belonging.

Fair access to properly functioning public services is a key determinant of our wellbeing. Agricultural systems provide people with nourishment for example. Education systems can give people a sense of agency, competence, understanding, belonging, etc. The presence of laws and rights can protect a person’s wellbeing. A person’s access to money determines their material standard of living. And the quality of a person’s work is fundamental to their physiological and psychological wellbeing.

Being well and doing well

Central to the idea of collective wellbeing is the interconnectedness of all things:

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us... Our task must be to free ourselves from this self-imposed prison, and through compassion, to find the reality of Oneness.”

Albert Einstein

In accepting this idea, we recognize the interconnectedness of our own basic needs, within ourselves – the interconnectedness of each other in our social environments – and the interconnectedness of everything beyond the human species. Wellbeing in intrinsically collective.

And in accepting the idea of interconnectedness, we can also recognize that it is though our actions, from moment to moment, that we determine our collective wellbeing. It makes little sense to think about being well without also thinking about doing well.

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Being well and doing well is all about thriving – and thriving in the modern world is increasingly challenging.

2. To thrive in the modern world, everyone must become a changemaker.

Thriving in a world of increasingly complex problems

Changemaking means living for the common good and involves paying attention to the problems that undermine our collective wellbeing – problems that are, today more than ever, everyone’s problems, and increasingly complex.

Changemakers know that we live in a world of poverty, hunger, water shortages, inequity, polarization, extremism, loneliness, depression, anxiety, fear, violence, slavery, unemployment, corruption, resource-depletion, climate-change, pollution, and extinction... And they do something about it.

Thriving in the VUCA world

We live in a time of unprecedented volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. A child born today enters a world that is radically different to that of their parents – a world of relentless challenge and fleeting opportunity.

For centuries, human life has been ordered by tradition, routine and repetition. But this has now given way to perpetual disruption – and a life in which it is increasingly difficult to thrive simply by following the rules or by doing what we have always done.

To thrive in today’s world, a person needs to think creatively, focus on creating positive change, and continuously reinvent themselves.

Thriving in a world of mass distribution

Despite a widening polarization of economic wealth, the established idea of small elites governing the rest by way of rigid hierarchies and monolithic institutions is now being replaced by highly decentralized, widely networked, shape-shifting organizations that distribute everything and grow from the edges. This is an age of mass empowerment.

And, increasingly, people want to be empowered. People want autonomy and self-expression – to be creative participants – to be heard and respected as valuable contributors. Cultures of mass participation and do-it-yourself are spreading fast.

To thrive in this world, in the workplace and beyond, everyone must be ready to take responsibility, take the lead, form a team, and create value together.

Thriving in a world of artificial intelligence, and industrial revolutions

With the rise of digital technologies, the very nature of work is now undergoing a massive shift. Any routine component of any job is likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence and robotics – meaning that many existing jobs will completely disappear. And some technologies will disrupt entire industries. On the flip-side, new kinds of job will be created, and entire industries spawned.

To thrive in this world, a person needs to be able to live and work constructively with new technologies – must nurture their deepest human capacities ahead of routine machine skills – and make a positive contribution in the digital world.

Thriving in a world of hyper-connectivity

This is also an age of hyper-connectivity. Fueled by explosions in human population, urbanization and globalization, and by a proliferation of new technologies, we are more exposed to different cultures – and have a greater ability to affect others – than ever before. Never in human history have so many people been so interconnected, so interdependent, and so widely influential. Today, more than ever, even the smallest of actions can have a fast and vast impact on the world. With every person’s wellbeing inextricably entwined with the wellbeing of all, a child born today inherits an unprecedented responsibility for our collective wellbeing.

To thrive in the new world, a person must become empowered to be well and do well – to manage their own personal wellbeing while also contributing positively to our shared social, economic and planetary wellbeing. In other words, everyone must become an empathic changemaker – someone who is equipped and inclined to live for the common good.

What is changemaking?

Living for a better world involves paying attention to the ever-changing realities of the world. It involves making difficult decisions, solving problems, and creating opportunities. It involves taking responsibility, taking the lead, and taking positive action. It involves thinking for yourself, finding your agency and expressing your purpose. It involves working with others to better the world. It involves adapting and bettering yourself. It is about the way you live your life, your intentions, and the decisions you make from moment to moment.

Changemaking is a way of being in the world: being empathic – being self-aware – being curious – being open-minded and growth-minded – being imaginative, creative and resourceful – being conscientious, courageous and resilient – being thoughtful, ethical and wise.

Becoming empowered as a changemaker

Becoming empowered as a changemaker is a lifelong process of becoming equipped with – and inclined to use – an array of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values – potentialities that we too often oversimplify and overlook. Literacy, numeracy and academic attainment are not enough to thrive in the modern world. Becoming a changemaker is a journey that involves the empowerment of the whole child for the whole world.

The extent to which we become empowered to live for our collective wellbeing is determined by the experiences we have in life: the environments we spend time in; the people we spend time with; the things we sense, feel, think and do.

To empower everyone as a changemaker, everyone needs to benefit from empowering learning experiences that are systematically scaffolded from early childhood and throughout life – provided in schools, at home, and beyond.

3. Transforming Education Systems into Empowering Learning Ecosystems

Empowering learning ecosystems

There are many actors who influence the experience of young people. Families, health and social workers, teachers and non-formal educators, community and religious leaders, culture- makers, and other 1st line actors all exert a substantial, direct influence. To thrive, we need to empower 1st line actors, in every community, to organize learning experiences that explicitly equip and incline everyone to live for a better world.

Schools will play a central role in the provision of these empowering learning experiences but will not be the only places in which organized learning happens - and will be far more open and integrated with their communities than today.

Equally, we need education administrators, policy-makers, teacher trainers, teacher unions, media players, employers, and other 2nd line actors (who influence the experience of young people indirectly) to incentivize, support and empower 1st line actors to empower young people as changemakers.

In other words, we need to create empowering learning ecosystems in which 1st and 2nd line actors work hand in hand to ensure that everyone – in every community – is becoming a changemaker. This kind of learning ecosystem needs everyone to value and pay attention to changemaking. It needs trusted relationships, open communication, and extensive collaboration. And the ecosystem, itself, needs to be learning, adapting and improving continuously.

Changing mechanisms and mindsets

This is not a utopian fantasy, and, in fact, there are projects around the world that are having substantial impact. But we still have a long way to go.

Empowering young people to live for a better world is rarely the focus of our attention when we influence their experience. Current education systems are extremely resistant to change and remain highly fragmented and competitive. For most people, the experience of school is focused primarily on information download and academic attainment, defines success in narrow economic terms, reflects limited conceptions of human potential, reveals highly individualistic ambitions, and reinforces conformity and compliance with the status quo. Beyond school and organized learning, and despite good intentions, parenting is often ill- informed and commercial influences pull young people in unhelpful directions.

Bringing about these new learning ecosystems will require much more incremental change. We need to fundamentally reimagine and reinvent the purpose and practice of education. We need new systemic mechanisms (new students assessments and school evaluations; new policies and curricula; new university selection processes and employer hiring procedures; new teacher training programs; new platforms for teachers, parents and young people to collaborate on; etc.)

But learning ecosystems are essentially human systems, which are shaped by the cultures we create, our norms, behaviors, values, attitudes, and the things we pay attention to. Empowering learning ecosystems will be defined by the quality of human relationships. Trust and support will be critical. For mechanistic changes to work, we must also change mindsets profoundly.

4. Weaving is the new leadership. Change leaders must connect, collaborate, and be more ecosystemic.

The critical role of change leaders

The scale and complexity of the changes we need will certainly require mass participation. Teachers, parents, families and young people, en masse, need access to the how-tos, tools and opportunities that allow them to contribute to change.

But there is a special role for those who lead the way in making systemic change – the social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, innovators, early adopters, organization leaders, and thought leaders who provide everyone else with the how-tos, tools and opportunities – the pioneers who step forward and take the lead in transforming systemic mechanisms and mindsets.

To create – and continuously improve – empowering learning ecosystems, we need change leaders in every part of the ecosystem, learning and working together to create impact at every scale – from the smallest communities to the most influential national and international organizations.

The good news is that there are already thousands of change leaders, scattered around the world, who are working, often heroically, to equip and incline young people as changemakers. And, despite fighting the enormous inertia of existing education systems, many are having substantial systemic impact.

However, the scale and speed of their impact is simply not enough. Change leaders everywhere are pulled apart by competition for money and attention – and pushed to focus on short term, incremental change. As a result, efforts are fragmented or duplicated, resources are wasted, and opportunities are missed. And with learnings not being shared, innovation and good practice do not spread.

To bring about the massive systemic changes that are required to empower everyone to thrive in the new world, we need many, many more change leaders to:

  • Align – mindsets to the shared purpose of empowering everyone as a changemaker - and narratives and resources towards that purpose.

  • Collaborate - and co-create in teams of teams. Sharing resources and processes is now vital. Exceptional individuals will catalyze important changes, but collective impact is now crucial.

  • Be ecosystemic - deepening their collective capacity for bringing about enduring systemic change – at every scale - together.

We need a new style of change leadership – a style that is all about connecting, collaborating and being ecosystemic.

This is what we call weaving.

“Weaving is a new kind of leadership that is implicit in the creation of empowering learning ecosystems.”

Andreas Schleicher, OECD

Weaving is the new change leadership for wellbeing and system change

Weaving is an approach to leadership that relies less on hierarchical authority and centralized control, and more on curating circles, hosting conversations and building trusted relationships. It involves taking the lead but, equally, empowering others to step forward and take the lead. Weavers talk about moving from ego to eco.

Weaving is a complex and nuanced discipline that involves shepherding people with highly diverse institutions, roles, backgrounds and perspectives into meaningful collaborations that have systemic impact.

Once a weaver creates a team with a system-changing project, they empower members of the team to weave in other teams so that every team becomes a team of teams. Through this process of distributing the discipline of weaving, multiple organizations connect– align to a common north star - and work on synergistic projects that transform and strengthen the ecosystem. Collective impact is accelerated and amplified. Communication and learning flows from team to team. And innovation and good practice spread naturally across the ecosystem.

Weaving involves developing communities and teams of teams – but centers on self- development. Weavers know they are part of the system – not outside of it – and know that to transform the system, they must transform themselves. This process of growing your self – and your teams – and your wider ecosystem – is a continuous process of:

  • Aligning and growing community: Crystallizing worldviews, vision and purpose; growing a vibrant learning community with a common language, shared values and an agreed north star.

  • Fostering collaborations and co-creations: Creating teams with shared objectives, plans and resources; innovating for impact; connecting teams; maintaining momentum and direction.

  • Being ecosystemic and becoming a better system: thinking holistically and long-term; reading and diagnosing the system; envisaging a better system; defining impact chains; monitoring progress; iterating systemic solutions together. And learning to learn; becoming empathic, self-aware, collaborative, creative, etc., so that the whole ecosystem becomes more empathic, self-aware, collaborative, creative, etc.

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Change leaders weaving today

There are change leaders, today, around the world, who are weaving empowering learning ecosystems. And some even refer to themselves as professional weavers.

Many of these weavers are working, in a very focused way, to transform whole cities, communities or countries into empowering learning ecosystems. These ‘whole system prototypes’ involve weaving together change leaders from diverse organizations in order to create wholly interconnected ecosystems in which government bodies, teacher unions, teacher training institutions, businesses, media players, schools, non-formal education organizations, universities, museums, and so on are working together - openly – and with a common purpose.

In this way, they are seeking to create the systemic conditions in which teachers, families, and any 1st line actor who influences young people is fully empowered to empower every young person as a changemaker. In some cases, weavers are working with other change leaders to curate platforms that allow 1st line actors and young people to connect directly – to collaborate and learn together – and to practice changemaking. These platforms allow everyone in the ecosystem to participate fully in transforming the system.

These weavers are making great progress – modeling and spreading the practice of weaving through their teams and communities. And despite working in very different contexts around the world, they are now – through the Weaving Academy – connecting and collaborating with each other to deepen their ecosystemic impact.

But we need to do much more. To achieve massive, global impact, we need more people taking up weaving as their leadership style. This is why we are establishing the Weaving Academy - to advance the profession and discipline of weaving so that everyone can become a changemaker.

A Weaver’s Story
Catalina Cock Duque, Executive Director, Fundacion Mi Sangre

Catalina Cock Duque is making real change in her native Colombia through the pioneering work of the Fundacion Mi Sangre. After 20 years as a social entrepreneur, she’s ready to take her leadership to the next level.

Catalina started her professional career early and has never looked back. She established her first social enterprise soon after leaving school and immediately found herself at the forefront of tackling a profound and pressing problem.

“I had the opportunity to go to the tropical rainforest in Colombia, the most biodiverse region in the world. When I flew over the rainforest I saw the devastation [due to the environmental impact of mining in the region] - it was like the moon. The whole experience totally turned my world view upside down. I ended up creating the first global certification system for ecological gold mining. That system - the Green Gold Initiative Alliance for Responsible Mining - was replicated around the world.”

The experience of running the initiative was transformative, enabling Catalina to become a change agent and to appreciate the power that position affords. After 12 years of building the movement, it was time for a new challenge: building peace in Colombia.

“We’ve had armed conflict in Colombia for over 50 years and we have all been severely affected, more than 8 million victims of war. I had a strong feeling that I wanted to do something in this area. I was invited to design and establish a foundation for peace building. I visited victims of the conflict and I was amazed and impressed by the resilience shown by young people to overcome any victimization and become active agents of change in their communities.”

This was the spark that set Catalina on a pathway to developing a new approach, informed by her own experiences as a changemaker. She wanted to understand how changemakers were made, what skills they needed, how education could support this wider narrative. This thinking underpinned the design of a new strategic approach called Education for Peace.

“We work in public schools with teachers, headteachers and parents to support kids in developing social and emotional skills that are crucial to change making; this means self-awareness, empathy, assertive communication, critical and creative thinking, team building, conflict resolution, among others. We use art and culture as our pedagogical language, as a way for learners to really experience these skills rather than teaching them through a cognitive approach.”

The scale of Catalina’s work is impressive with almost a million kids reached over the last 10 years. But there’s much more to be done. In a country of almost 60 million people, the challenge remains vast and the need to widen and deepen impact even more pressing.

“We have prioritized kids that are high risk. But I believe all kids should have access to these kinds of learning experiences and that’s where I’m starting to move towards now. I want to think of ways to reach more kids, strategies to involve more people beyond front line actors like teachers, heads, young community leaders, those that are directly connected with young people. I want to involve policy makers, business, other NGOS, especially in Medellín so we can start building collectively a changemaking city”.

And it is here that the idea of weaving becomes powerful. It is through weaving that the learning ecosystem begins to align, that the actors within that system really begin to interact. Weaving facilitates a more systemic approach, widening impact and enabling organizations like Catalina’s to cover more ground. She expands on this idea:

“Weaving is a very horizontal approach – this requires an open mind. It’s a complete change from the way we are expected to measure our own success. Normally we are goals oriented around the success of our own organization and our results. But you have to get beyond the ego and look outside of your own organizations, think beyond your own success. This is different a different approach - it is collective.”

Empathy is also a critical factor. The discipline of weaving requires us to understand different perspectives and narratives – the teacher, the head of school and the politician all have different needs and views. The weaver connects and transforms the narrative into one that everyone understands. And this is something we need more of:

“I don’t think there is enough of this approach. With the help of the Weaving Academy I’ve been trying to work on this and look at weavers not only as people in my own team, but in the wider ecosystem in which I work. We need to do this, otherwise it becomes a one-way approach – people just keep to their own job. We need more weavers in the system – if we did, we would create a totally different system of understanding. That’s the shift in mindset that we need to aim for – it’s difficult to achieve, but it would be a real quantum leap.”

And in a reflection of her own values – and the contribution she has made to the communities she lives and works in – Catalina has a clear message about the way forward:

“We should build the narrative around this idea, and put resources and investment into building processes and teams rather than individuals or social entrepreneurs – we have to be less individualistic.”

ArticleVipin Thekk