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s.ta.r.t. at Social Innovation Lab

May 16, 2013

On Thursday, May 9th, South s.t.a.r.t.’s story was one of 15 shared at Macalester College’s Social Innovation Lab, with the guiding question, “What enables intentional community conversations to make a transformative difference?”  Storytellers Sara Osman and Saida Mahamud shared the history of s.t.a.r.t. in one circle, as other members listened to stories by organizations like Heartland and the Native American Somali Friendship Association.

In the story circles themselves, “thread harvesters” took notes on key aspects of building transformation:  1) the container; 2) ripple effects; 3) lessons learned; 4) the invitation and 5) the process of inclusion.

After Sara and Saida shared their story, harvesters gave feedback on st.a.r.t.’s process of transformation.

For the Container feature of transformation, s.t.a.r.t. was noted as getting validation from school staff; securing a regular meeting space; face-to-face conversations and relationship-building; clear group norms and applying the lessons through important social events, like a student dinner and a community dinner with Diane Wilson, the author of Spirit Car.

s.t.a.r.t’s ripple effects were that it was collaborative, cross-generational, able to share results through many methods, as well as reflective of the students and community member’s experiences and that it honored integration of the body, heart and mind in the work.

Lessons and ideas learned from s.t.a.r.t. included: 1) the importance of adult cheerleaders (allies);  2) the importance of creating safe space and pathways for healing to occur and for leaders to emerge; 3) a commitment to our own identity.

We also reflected on how an invitation to participation occurred within s.t.a.r.t.  s.t.a.r.t. was lauded for being an open network, driven by a real need in the community, hospitality and persistent engagement through action.

Finally, inclusion occurred through a sense of urgency in the work, incidents in our environment that sparked awareness, the intentional use of social media; and also engaging new students and a broader community through auditoriums, dinners, workshops, community dialogues and important conferences or summits.

The students were excited to hear feedback, but also to learn about challenges and successes that other organizations face as they move from dialogue to action.  In the broader group, change agents who were part of successful movements highlighted the following themes:

  • the importance of creating a strong common vision;
  • “a will for alignment”–deep caring that allows for connectedness to inform any systems or structures;
  • using storytelling to convey the growth of the work;
  • being able to navigate complexity;
  • educate the broader community on what is needed to sustain the work; and finally,
  • reaching out continuously to those not in the dialogue.

It was a beautiful day of learning.  We all learned that creating “action” organizations is vulnerable for everyone, and that once we start, we can’t go back.  However, that leap of faith that gets us off the front porch is precisely what is needed for generative healing in our communities.

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