One of the biggest lessons we learned in 2018 is about the importance of the “space between us”: the relational space where we find each other, make peace, challenge together the codes that shape our behavior, and shape our shared realities together. Both of our major projects this year have focused on “unlocking the space between us” as a key step in collectively addressing significant social problems.
Conventional thinking holds that “innovation” is the key to problem solving. But when the problem is truly social — when diverse actors hold different perspectives, positions, voices, and needs — then innovation depends upon relationship. Without relationship, innovation remains at the “good idea” stage; in order to bring good ideas to life, those diverse actors must build trust and connection across their differences. Relationship is the foundation of co-creation.
To unlock the space between us is to consciously build such a foundation of relationships across differences. It is to create a “space” or a “field” in which people can both be themselves and value each other as human beings. It requires us to participate in conversations and dialogues not only in a role as expert or representative but also as a human being, a whole person. Authenticity and vulnerability allow us to see each other — and then begin to trust each other. This trust and this “relational space” is the essential core of everything else — i.e. the “practical work” — that follows. To engage in the practical work without attending to this core is to build on fault lines that will inevitably rupture or compromise the effort.
In Zimbabwe, we are working with local organizations TrustAfrica, ORAP, and Kufunda alongside US foundation Humanity United on an ambitious project called Gateway Zimbabwe. Gateway is designed to “drive a wedge” in the opening that many Zimbabweans feel after the forced resignation of Robert Mugabe last year. Mugabe’s departure doesn’t necessarily mean real regime change in Zimbabwe, but it has brought a breath of collective pause and wonder. Our partners are asking: Can the future of Zimbabwe be different than its recent past? Can we interrupt systemic abuse of power and collectively rise together? The idea of the “wedge” is to keep the space between Zimbabweans open for dialogue, healing, and creative work — positive steps toward a peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive future. So far, we are collectively discovering the “generative power of the relational space” — the community and paradigm changing power that arises when Zimbabweans come together in various modes of dialogue, healing, storytelling, and other ways of rebuilding the basic elements of their social fabric.
Part of this work, for example, asks leaders to collectively shift from “blaming others” to “taking full responsibility” together: to shift their focus from “it’s their fault” to “we are all co-responsible.” This change signals a crucial shift in how leaders are seeing the problem; it opens the possibilities for finding new ways forward together. This is the beginning of building a shared space for building whole people and whole communities. For as long as we are blaming each other, we cannot enter into authentic dialogue, healing, or creative work toward new realities. We simply reinforce the old patterns and cycles and sabotage the space between us.
Our other project is also focused on peace-building, but from another direction. We supported Reos Europe in its collaboration with Humanity United and Oxfam-Ibis to establish Conducive Spaces for Peace, a new organization dedicated to fostering innovation in global peace-building institutions. Current efforts to prevent violent conflict and support peace-building efforts in conflict areas are very uneven, and as the number and intensity of violent conflicts steadily increases around the world, it has become a matter of urgency to reinvent peace-building to some degree. The CSP initiative is designed to support this cross-sector, multi-stakeholder innovation. This year, we helped design and co-facilitate, together with Reos Europe, the CSP Accelerator, a four day intensive involving peace-builders from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mali, South Africa, South Sudan, and Syria, among other conflict areas, together with partners from various intergovernmental peace-building institutions and Miha Pogacnik, violinist and the Cultural Ambassador of Slovenia. In addition to helping each cohort advance its particular innovation ideas, we saw how important it is to cultivate the space between, the relationship building space, the place of connecting authentically, outside of role and hierarchy — human to human. This made it possible for such diversity to co-create, to meet all needs, to give generously, to ask for what’s needed. The Accelerator sparked what we hope will be a strong community of innovating peace-builders, and we were grateful to have played a role.
As we look to 2019, Magenta will continue to support leaders addressing humanity’s toughest challenges. We believe the key to solving our toughest problems is unlocking the space between us so that our generative and creative potential can gradually rebuild trust and reshape how we live and work together and indeed our larger systems.
One of our mentors used to tell us that in hell, people all sit around bowls of soup with four foot long spoons, and they continually starve, for they cannot feed themselves. In heaven, it’s the same set up — but they feed each other. Building peace and solving our toughest problems depend first and foremost on carefully cultivating the space between us. That opens the path for meaningful, authentic, effective, and efficient cocreative action.