Archive for October 14th, 2011

October 14, 2011

Ghana Think Tank

by sarafusco

Yesterday I attended the Ghana Think Tank session at Mobility Shifts.  I went there not knowing much about it, but very interested to learn about their work to basically reverse the flow of knowledge and expertise between people in “developed” and “developing” nations.  That is, they gather local problems from individuals in developed nations and send them to think tanks in various developing nations, who then propose solutions to be implemented (humorously, some of it made me think of White Whine). 

The session began with your standard PowerPoint presentation about the project and a short video.  But the projector turned off suddenly in the middle.  We resumed, but the projector turned off again, and there we sat in a pitch black room, confused.

Suddenly, the session was commandeered (or so I thought…) by a woman at one of the tables who wanted to “do something different”.

Keeping all the lights off, she led us through a series of Theater of the Oppressed-inspired exercises to move us around the room and make us feel increasingly uncomfortable (as evidenced by the handful of people who quickly left the session).  When she said “stop” we had to walk.  When she said “walk” we had to stop.  And then she added more commands.  “Clap” meant hop, “hop” meant clap, “arms” meant bend your knees, “knees” meant put your arms in the air.  Needless to say, it was an amusing, confusing, surprising, awkward, (insert adjective of your choice here), exercise.  It broke our expectations, shifted our thinking.

We did a handful of other exercises – statues, repetitive motions, sounds – intended to have us demonstrate the conditioning, urgency, impatience that we felt technology could create within us.  The exercises generated this interesting, albeit semi-abstract, parallel with international development work that, as the facilitator said at the end of the workshop, showed us how it could feel to have people inserted into a population that hasn’t necessarily asked for “repair”.

It turned out that we were actually participants of one of the solutions a think tank, I believe in Gaza, proposed to the challenges of boring PowerPoint presentations.  As they’re a community accustomed to random power outages, they suggested presentations using community theater and, in a sense, I think it worked.

What’s very interesting — and I think quite daring — is that the Ghana Think Tank tries to implement the solutions no matter how awkward, impractical or brilliant it may seem.  For example, for a wealthy community in upstate New York who complained of a lack of diversity, the think tank in El Salvador proposed they hire day laborers to attend social functions.  The presenters said it was a terribly awkward experiment (and personally I could think of a number of objections), and yet some of the local community-members said it was eye-opening.

And overall, I have to admit the workshop experience was pretty eye-opening for me as well.

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October 14, 2011

A Declaration of Interdependence

by athenallewellyn

Everything about this short speaks to me about participation. From the outsourced nature of its production to its clear message. Made by the same team who created “Connected”, its a humanist look at our present situation. We have been declaring our “independence” for so long, perhaps it is time to begin declaring our “interdependence” and truly look at how closely we are linked and in need of one another.   Click here to declare your interdependence on their map.

October 14, 2011

Ubuntu & Mindfulness Without Borders

by athenallewellyn

Ubuntu is a concept stemming from Africa that encompasses a mentality of togetherness, our allegiance and relations to one another. In terms of the participatory space, I find it a fundamental concept. I learned of the conecpt through a program I took called “mindfulness without borders.” MWB is a council building educational program that works with schools and communities building participatory models for open dialogue.   Here you can find a list of podcasts relating to the various steps of council building.  It was a highly educational experience for me, learning how to be a mediator, and taught a great deal about how to ignite someone’s self knowledge rather than feed information.

A translation of Ubuntu is “I am what I am because of who we all are.”  Archbishop Desmond tutuo offered a definition in a 1999 book:

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. 

A further explanation  by Tutu:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about hte fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.  We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.