What early experiential learning can be good for …:
In the year 2000, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Nokia launched their global Community Involvement program, at the time called ‘Make a Connection – to yourself, your peers, and your community’. On the Nokia side, I had the privilege to operationally run this program and contribute to growing it to individual programs in more than 20 countries, directly having impacted more than 200,000 young people by the time I left six years later.
What did young program participants learn? The program worked in three concentric circles, from the inside out:
– ‘Make a connection to yourself’ was about what Daniel Goleman calls ‘emotional intelligence’ – being in touch with yourself, understanding yourself and your needs, being capable of managing your own emotions, especially as a teenager
– ‘Make a connection to your peers’ was about what Daniel Goleman calls ‘social intelligence’ – having good and meaningful relationships with your family, your friends, people around you (rather than being in potential conflict and/or isolation)
– ‘Make a connection to your community’ was essentially about being a citizen – being part of and contributing to a community, also through volunteering, youth activism, social projects, social entrepreneurship.
I left Nokia at the end of 2005, and a wonderful colleague from Italy took over my role. Now, almost 10 years after I left, 15 years after we started, I have gained true appreciation for the meaningful depth of the concept IYF suggested we launch together at the time. Through my work as a consultant, coach and leadership trainer, and most recently through a research and book project, I have come to appreciate in myself these three concentric circles – and have noticed how, while the program for teenagers went from the inside out, over the past 10 years I personally have moved deeply from the outside in:
– ‘Make a connection to your community’ – those were my early years as an activist, being a member of Amnesty International, ‘doing the door to door’ for Greenpeace, working at the Canadian Center on Racism and Prejudice. Those were also my Nokia years, growing the Make a Connection program. Those were even the years of writing and publishing with my then-client Nick Lakin our book ‘Corporate Community Involvement’.
– ‘Make a connection to your peers’ – those were my years after leaving Nokia, studying to become a change consultant. My mentor Jane Linklater, who had already guided IYF and Nokia in our cross-sector collaboration, strongly recommended a book to me at the time, ‘Intimacy and Solitude‘ by Stephanie Dowrick, which taught me good awareness of how to be an ‘appropriate other’, really learning how to see and understand other people as individuals in themselves, in good inter-subjectivity, and offer them good mutuality in our relationships. (Making that a topic in my Master’s thesis, I also connected it to companies/organizations and their stakeholder relations.) I’ll forever be grateful to Jane for this and many other things.
– ‘Make a connection to yourself’ – while I had always assumed that I had that, it only really happened on a much deeper level over the last few years, amongst others through being introduced to some of the complex work of Prof. Dr. Julius Kuhl, a small part of which is a distinction between a person’s ‘expectation I’ and ‘real self’. The ‘expectation I’ is what might correspond to Freud’s ‘Über-Ich’ – a subconscious introjection of what other people and society want(ed) from us. Facets like ‘be strong’, ‘be fast’, ‘hurry up’, ‘try hard’, etc. Internalized drivers that can actually drive us too hard. (Based on insights from neuroscience, Kuhl actually connects it to left-brain activity.) In contrast, there is the ‘real self’ (accordingly situated in right-brain activity) to be discovered – and sometimes (most times?), that takes time (out), deep inner reflection, some grappling, some sitting with discomfort, some real inner ‘going through transition’. Yet it is a journey that is deeply worth it, finally finding out about aspects like ‘who is my real self?’, ‘what does my real self actually feel?’, ‘what is it that my real self wants?’, ‘what does my real self want to say no to?’. This is a journey that is not necessarily wedded to so-called ‘external success’ – it is not about status, power, money. It is about essence, it is about meaning, it is about being.
So there you go – years later, I find that the theme of ‘Make a connection – to yourself, your peers, and your community’ was so wisely chosen. It is a concept that I want to re-introduce into my own coaching and relational leadership training work, supporting people in getting in touch with their real selves, learning good inter-subjectivity and mutuality as ‘adequate others’ and relational leaders, and making a contribution as citizens, individually through voting, activism, volunteering, mentoring, and possibly pro bono work, and in their organizations through what used to be called ‘corporate responsibility’, and is by many nowadays called ‘organization sustainability‘.