From Empowering to Co-Arising

Mar 8, 2022

A few days ago I was talking to a group of social innovators about doing projects in Africa and during our exchanges the word Empowerment came up. It was said, “we need to empower people!”

I immediately felt fear and sadness. Fear of starting a new project repeating the same steps that lead to a vision of scarcity. Sadness because I perceive the good intention to help, to contribute but still done through the lens of a patriarchal, separate and anthropocentric world. Empowering reminds me of the idea of something lifeless, without power and that needs an external force to wake up and act. 

I note that this has been the narrative of the last decades, in the implementation of some social projects. Where you are asked to define the need or the problem, but not asked to talk about the potential or about what is strong and what works well.

The pattern is repeated in some development programs: the classic doing for rather than with or from what is alive in the community. I believe that even in the most challenging situations, the quality of our presence as entrepreneurs allows us to see the essence, the oasis and the abundance of people and place.

Perhaps an alternative definition, for me, is co-arising; when I can with the quality of my presence and listening, see the essence and potential of the person in front of me or a place where I am.  Instead of judgement and offering quick fixes we stop and listen  to gain a better understanding, we leverage possibilities  beyond the obvious,

wear off solutions.

“Times are urgent, we need to slow down”

Yoruba Proverb

When I share with the other person the essence and potential I see in them, a new understanding of self is awakened in them.It is a dialogue where we are in relationship.I can see the specificity of the person but also their wholeness, the humanity that is also mine, beyond functions and social and economic status.

 The other person moment of flourishing is also my moment of flourishing. Indeed, I am not outside nature, the community or the group of people I want to serve.I am part of that system. I am connected, interdependent. And every surge of vitality or sign of weakness has an impact on me. I do not rise without all of us rising.

This realization transforms me! It connects me!  It is this connection that makes me more creative, able to bring vitality to the whole system of which I am a part.

Regeneration can be about co-arising: what places and communities do we make better by starting from its essence, from what makes it strong and vibrant?

In August 2021 I was in Mozambique at the invitation of Girl Move Academy to facilitate a community transformation programme in the context of the Cabo Delgado pandemic and COVID crisis. This reflection comes from the expanding experience I had with the local community.


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