Multi-Generational Collaboration: Shaping Tomorrow, Together II

By Juanita Brown, David Isaacs and Samantha Tan | World Cafe website

Reprinted with kind permission from "Changing the World Together", Spring/Summer 2008 Kosmos Journal
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Brown and David Isaacs are co-founders of the World Café, an innovative
approach to large group dialogue being used across sectors on six
continents. Their award-winning book, The World Café: Shaping our
Futures Through Conversations that Matter, is a key resource for
fostering conversational leadership across the globe. Samantha Tan, a
dynamic young leader from Singapore, is a former Research Fellow at
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is a founding partner of
the Meristem Group which nurtures leadership skills for change agents
who are creating inspired futures in multi-stakeholder environments.

What Are We Learning?
At the Shambhala Institute and in subsequent gatherings exploring multi-generational partnership, we have experienced a similar outpouring of excitement and engagement. Key multi-generational dialogues aimed at building bridges between the generations have now been sponsored by Pegasus Communications at their international Systems Thinking in Action conferences, by the Institute for Noetic Sciences, the Bali Institute for Global Renewal, Meditation Mount and the Ojai Foundation, the World Café, and others. In 2005, for example, the international Girl Scouts hosted ‘Strategy Cafes’ with more than 3000 multi-generational participants—the first time ever—exploring the future of their work with young women’s leadership. These gatherings have at times involved exploring family dynamics with compassion, dealing with elders’ traditional mental models of mentoring and teaching, learning new cross-generational terminology, discovering intergenerational synergies, fostering collaborative leadership opportunities and much more. Several key learnings have emerged that may hold promise for co-evolving a movement of true multi-generational partnership on issues of passionate common concern.

  • Psychological safety, basic respect and mutual trust, as in all human relationships, lie at the heart of engaging courageous conversation, healthy community, and committed action across generational differences.
  • Each generation alive in the ‘circle of life’ today has unique contributions for our common future based on the special cultural and historical factors that have shaped our lives.
  • Sharing our stories together across the traditional boundaries of age and stage of life can make these practical contributions more visible, synergistic, and actionable.
  • Framing the right questions together across generational boundaries is becoming a critical skill for accessing our collective intelligence and discovering partnering opportunities.
  • ‘Co-mentoring’ is a more useful construct than traditional mentoring, eldering or teaching. Each generation has important skills and wisdom emanating from their own life experiences, which need to be honored and utilized.
  • When used wisely, new technologies and new media, a unique competence of the younger generations, can be a transformational force. Elders need to put aside their fears and partner as ‘mentees’ with younger leaders so that we can actively participate together using these powerful modes of engagement.
  • We are convening a new reality when we invite the generations to sit down and talk together. By engaging the power of conversation as a core process for conscious evolution, we have the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to social change that can help us act wisely—beyond ‘us’ and ‘them.’

As these dialogues continue, emerging leaders are asking potent questions. Yuliya Filippovska, a pioneering change agent from the Ukraine, recently observed that “during life we are given different names: child, youth, teen, adult, elder, senior, sister/brother, daughter/son, parent, or grandparent.” She went on to ask: “How do we get prepared for our next role? How do we embrace different roles within ourselves and within the world? What is the beauty of every role? Intergenerational dialogue is an infinite process—a process of maturity. How do we live in it consciously? How do we talk with each other? How do we listen to each other? How do we accept each other? What are the needs and aspirations of every generation?”

Sofia Bustamante, a young leader living in England, responded: “Your points about maturity, roles, and transitions made me think about ritual. What new rituals or stories do we need today? How can we re-understand it all—including the old traditions—and allow them to rebirth into something that speaks to the lost generations…lost from each other!”

More next Tuesday…