Food Security Workshop

This week I attended a 2-day workshop on Food Security at UCT’s Graduate School of Business, convened by Milla McLachlan and Ralph Hamman of the Food Security Change Lab, and facilitated by Reos.

This was a continuation of a process, which included a number of workshops and Learning Journeys around Cape Town, Johannesburg and Limpopo, all aimed at answering the question What will it take to ensure sustainable food security in South(ern) Africa?.

They have consciously brought together different voices, including government, NGO’s, large corporates and small social businesses such as ourselves.

Early on the first day Adam Kahane spoke. Kahane is a highly experienced facilitator and we were fortunate enough to receive a copy of his latest book “Power and Love: a theory and practice of social change”, which takes its title from a quote by Martin Luther King Jr, Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. His short talk was excellent – clear, inspiring, and pertinent to the group, as it made people aware of the pitfalls of the usual ways of communicating; downloading without listening, debating, with judgement in order to win an argument, and even dialoguing, listening to understand, and the need for presencing, which I understand best as listening with empathy.

As a newcomer, I didn’t have much prior knowledge of the shared history, and flitted around the groups somewhat, but it allowed me to have a better view of the overall process. Reos handled the task of facilitating this diverse group excellently. The process used was anarchic and discomforting, but produced great results. Einstein was quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only 5 minutes finding the solution.

The topics and groups weren’t strictly defined upfront, and new groups formed or folded as the workshop continued, even late on the last day. Much of the time was spent defining the groups reason for being, their question to answer. By the end of the first day the workshop felt directionless and as if people were talking past each other. A group that formed to talk about packaging got bogged down, and couldn’t discuss collaborating for fear of contravening competition laws. The first group I joined folded as there wasn’t enough interest, and the group I joined for the final session had lots of great ideas, but didn’t look as if they’d be able to take it much further than that.

However, by the end of the second day there were groups that consisted of people passionate about their topics, and committed, with timeframes, to action and next steps. A key part of the process is finding what gets people excited, and getting them to work on that. People cannot sustainably do work that doesn’t bring them alive, so there’s no attempt to force people to follow steps in solutions defined and prescribed by others. Everyone participates in creating their tasks, and the results are far more impressive.

Funding for the Food Security Change Lab runs out in November, so some of the energy is going towards renewed funding so that it can take its work further, but I look forward to being part of the process as it unfolds in future.

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