by Servane Mouazan.
“We’re this very young species, only 200,000 years old. We’re one of the newcomers, and we’re going through the same process that other species go through, which is, how do I keep myself alive while taking care of the place that’s going to keep my offspring alive?”
— Janine Benyus
As the new year unfolds, many feel restless about governments’ various logistic and ethical issues, as they purchase and distribute vaccines, or deal with astonishing events that destabilize democratic institutions.
Some of us remove the festive decorations, we attempt to make sense of what we have lived in the past year, a year that felt like a never-ending day. Others will draft their usual New Year’s resolutions, kickstart a Veganuary or Dryuary, revel in a 30-day creative challenge or just bring all the schoolbooks out of the closet for home-schooling round two, three, or four.
Somewhere, the motivated will establish new routines of radical self-care, or retrospectively learn how to lead conversations with family members or acquaintances on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
Importantly, in places where wars and political distress were raging well before this pandemic, entire populations are still desperately trying to be heard and be counted by the 1%.
We have a responsibility to pause and define what connectedness means
As well, as aspiring or accomplished sensemakers, we have to understand how this connectedness translates into self-care and hope. Hope, not as a naïve contemplation, but as a responsibility, a weapon of mass action.
What we all have in common
2020 seems to have brought another meaning to our sense of connectedness. Groups came together to acknowledge, revisit and enrol more people in what so far had been combatted in a disjointed manner: the pandemics within the pandemic.
There is a long list of what COVID-19 brought to the surface. Here are some pain points, in no particular order:
a. Rapid automation to avoid human contact
Some human jobs won’t be there when the pandemic evolves. Rapid development in artificial intelligence, automation and robotics raise deep questions about the state of human rights.
b. Gaps in the rule of law
“The pandemic also provides opportunities for armed groups, including terrorist organizations, to discredit state institutions, exploit gaps in public services and capitalize on public outrage” states a report by the United Nations.
c. A rise in mental health distress
Our very nature, which is social, has been suspended for a while.
“The combination of the direct effects of the disease on individuals and their families, and the indirect effect on financial security, housing, unemployment and social isolation has led to an increase in emotional and psychological challenges worldwide, with specific populations being disproportionately affected (Statista.com 2020).
d. The rise of eating disorders among populations, and particularly children.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK signal in their findings: “the rise due, among others, to fear and stress around the virus itself, changed school schedules; family unstable finances, loss of extra-curricular activities like sport, and isolation from friends; increased used of screen time, and in some cases, reduced access to face-to-face medical and social support consultations”.
e. Domestic violence emerging as another pandemic within the pandemic
With repeated and extended lockdowns, school closures, lay-offs with associated lack of financial security, and an overall lack of public scrutiny, abusive partners and parents have more opportunities to tightening control, and growing physical and psychological abuse. The majority of the victims and survivors are women and girls. Shelter places have seen an unprecedented demand, disrupted justice services and overloaded healthcare systems have struggled to respond appropriately to emergencies.
f. Entire industries deemed “non-essential”
Lockdowns wiped out the hospitality, tourism and place-based cultural industries, with a dramatic economic ripple effect in communities.
We could also cover the rise of legalized surveillance activities that have been put in place without much scrutiny, by decree or expedient commissioning, under the pretence of protection during the sanitary crisis. We have seen the suspension of democratic elections, the gagging of human rights activists, and the rise of unscrutinized citizen’s databases, which in the long run could prove problematic in terms of privacy.
Despite all these worrying trends, and the fact 2020 was just a mere dress rehearsal before extensive climate and social disruptions, let’s recognize the wins, the signals and the promising accelerations; and start taking action.
Yes we can do this. But the foundation of our collective next step requires an enhanced sense of connectedness.
Growing a sense of connectedness is an act of bravery, humility, and generosity because it’s about letting go of our intentions to fix things straight away, using old patterns. It’s about the pause, and the reigniting mantra:
Observe. Play. Imagine.
When we realize we are interdependent and interconnected, we see multiple voices and biases waltzing together in a deluge of complexity. But that’s fine.
We can’t just put our respective countries or personal situations at the centre of our views and inner truths. By taking the first steps of talking to strangers (e.g. the people we help in the neighbourhood, the school parents, acquaintances of acquaintances), or reading stories about/connecting with communities in remote places, we start to morph, adapt, learn, we develop a form of empathy and reach out for the voice of “the Other”.
We look for the root causes of issues.
We connect the dots.
By doing this, we are fully embracing our role of connected system-thinkers and futurists.
“The Way We Get Through This Is Together”
— Rebecca Solnit
Yes, I am hopeful (despite being in lockdown for the third time in ten months). Our collective sensemaking is uncovering a DELS view of the world. DELS standing for Dynamic, Emergent, Liminal and SYSTEMIC. (Watch the Grey Swan Guild Sensemaking Premiere — Lifting The Veil Pandemic/Post-Pandemic Challenges — where we explain how we came to this).
Let’s look at the wins we can embrace:
a. There have been digital rights wins!
The organization AccessNow is reminding us that campaigning and collective action worked in 2020, especially in the areas of data protection, online political organizing, anti-surveillance, and freedom of expression.
b. Just say hello and play
Among my circle of changemakers, social entrepreneurs, impact investors and women’s human rights activists, I hear stories of how they relate differently to each other and the future:
Social Investor and artist Vik in the South of England, says:
“Day to day, I make rituals out of the normal — like going to shops. There are connections I never made — queuing, waiting for shops to open, and talking to people. Things take longer, and I say hello and thank you to a lot more people.”
Leila Ben Gacem, Social and Cultural Heritage Entrepreneur, founder of Blue Fish, Tunisia:
“This year was scary and exciting. Scary because I am not used to living without forecasting. Exciting, because the most significant risk is not to experiment, play, innovate, try, new things and feel like a ‘mature’ startup.”
When I asked Ajaita about how she grew her sense of connectedness during the past year, she said:
“I worked intensely with everyone around me to bring back connection through digital — connecting our 10,000 rural women [in India’ last mile] to 350,000 rural customers, making my mom okay with face-timing during the week, even reconnecting with my siblings. It does take more effort, and intent to connect. We take that for granted.”
c. Doughnut Economics
Place-based leaders are increasingly looking at new approaches for a more local, and more collective form of economy: The Doughnut Economics Action Lab, set up by economist Dr Kate Raworth, does just that: “Exploring connections between community wealth building, human and planetary thriving, and place-based climate action.
d. Social Cohesion and Capabilities
Social cohesion and welfare experiments from the past are taken more seriously by local authorities, as a new wave of poverty and debt is about to ravage communities for years to come. For instance, social scientist and author Hilary Cottam explains in her book “Radical Help” that instead of managing problems, communities are better off helping people “to grow their capabilities: to learn, to work, to live healthily and to connect to one another”, rather than paying vast sums of money quantifying and managing the carnage.
e. All under the same electronic roof
On a bright note, some of us have also had the opportunity to gather with loved ones and dear acquaintances under the same electronic roof. I have celebrated birthdays, including mine, with people from the entire world in one place. And we had no rubbish to clear after that!
UMUNTU NGUMUNTU NGABANTU
(“I am, because we are “ — Zulu notion)
f. The emergence of mutuals
Self-help groups and mutuals have surged again in places and at times where central governments couldn’t act fast enough. They are a form of political participation, where people take responsibility for caring for one another, promoting solidarity and providing a vital source of support.
As sensemakers, we look at the past to understand future patterns. Look at this brief anthology of mutual aid groups that explains how various ethnic and social groups organized themselves to survive in times of crisis and how we are doing more of this now, despite (because of?) the constraints.
If you want to take part, look also at:
Fight Pandemics, a global platform that “connects those who need with those who can provide it”.
Covid Mutual Aid Groups UK and the World: you can join a volunteer group to provide care or help to a vulnerable person. Search your nearest group on the Mutual Aid Groups map.
g. How Young People are stepping up to COVID-19 in various countries in Africa
Brilliant and quickly-put-together initiatives appeared: from volunteer groups visiting markets and town squares to provide health information, to digital platforms developed in Kenya and South Africa, providing translations in various languages to raise awareness about the virus, and share ideas and prevention practices.
Young people’s groups like Mutual Aid Kenya lead COVID-19 responses in their communities. Others, facilitated access to water (not just as accessible as one thinks to wash your hands) and medical supplies, enabling community and crypto currencies to boost place-based businesses and reviving local economies.
h. The Gender and COVID-19 Working Group
This working group consists of researchers, gender practitioners, and advocates from global health, international relations, public policy, development economics, and other disciplines with the shared understanding of the need to better analyze and address the gendered impacts of COVID-19. They have gathered an impressive wealth of resources.
i. More in Common
Innovative organizations used social psychology research to provide a more in-depth analysis of the different factors contributing to polarization and social fracturing. One of them, More In Common, realized in 2020 that, despite the papers’ headlines and the noise on social media, people in Britain are not as deeply divided as is often assumed. Surprising, don’t you think?
j. Digital Diversity and Human Development
Whilst there is still a significant number of people unable to access the internet or in possession of adequate hardware to participate in the new global digital (Zoom) party, a lot of (free or accessible) events, previously organized in person, have opened their doors. While we still see many all-white manels, I have noticed a significant number of excellent platforms and events that enable the world to discover real-life stories about the lived experiences of various groups, and help us make sense of the diversity and complexity of the world we are shaping now.
The Civic Square’s Department of Dreams, is such a festival that invested in a dream and imagination powerhouse. It has brought together various audiences with “artists, writers, designers, dreamers and creative visionaries — those who dare to dream up bold new futures for humanity, and can stretch our imaginations further than we ever thought possible”. You can watch the entire festival replay here.
What will be your connected role in 2021?
Will you be acting and speaking out loud from your race privileges, your material securities, your own economic or mental health instabilities? Will you be operating from a place of hope, love, community and connectedness? Or from a place of fear, anxiety and isolation?
I believe none of these spaces are wrong but we need to acknowledge that this diversity of spaces exist if we want to bend the future together.
And by acknowledging our lived experiences, we will grow our empathy and sense of connectedness.
About Servane Mouazan
Servane Mouazan is based in London, UK, a committed member of the Grey Swan Guild and its Sensemaking Group. She focuses on bringing people together at the intersection of conscious innovation, social finance and futures-thinking via Ogunte CIC and Conscious Innovation. She brings 20 years of experience, growing the women-led social entrepreneurship’s ecosystem, enabling changemakers to thrive whilst understanding people’s multiple needs in a changing economy. She loves playing Capoeira, a 500-year-old Brazilian martial arts that teaches people to fall and stand up again, and communicate through all their complexity.
For more on developing your sense of connectedness, read “How to grow a sense of connectedness and the practical steps you need to take”
About the Grey Swan Guild
We are a global network of over 900 writers and thinkers, sensemakers and doers, all dedicated to understanding the changing world around us — and ushering in a better one. If you’d like to know more, please check out the Grey Swan Guild web site. There you can learn about us, read our points of view, or even contribute your own. (We’d love to include your voice.) Get involved, and help us make sense and make a better world.