An Emergent Framework for Cultivating Resilient Communities in the 21st Century 2012 series: excerpts from SAGE 2012:
Restorative leadership holds a global worldview, translating broad awareness to local understanding. Universal values such as human dignity and collective responsibility are embraced. For both Tostan International and the Green Belt Movement (GBM), which are both case studies in restorative leadership, human dignity is an organizing principle and human rights and responsibilities are core content in their educational programs. With health and tree planting as entry points, the organizations place community in the context of broader social-ecological understanding. As Wangari Maathai of GBM explained, “ . . . it is what is not human that ensures that we continue to exist. Without human beings, the creatures and plants and trees would flourish; but without those species, human beings have no hope of survival. This is why in thinking about human rights, we need to reach another level of consciousness to appreciate that these other species, too, have a right to their existence and their piece of the Earth.”
Tostan and the GBM engage and expand social networks that gather and ultimately mobilize around community development priorities. Connecting daily life issues and broader environmental and social concerns through participatory leadership practices is key to the scale of success demonstrated by Molly and Wangari. With participatory engagement, the process itself is transformative. Distinct from traditional command-and-control leadership or banking models of education where the formal leader is considered the knower and participants are passive recipients, there is mutuality and reciprocity. Capacity and knowledge are co-created or co-produced, thereby illuminating community assets and validating collective wisdom.
In large part, participatory engagement is so effective because the process is the change and the means are the end. Molly explains that, “If you don’t go through the process, you lose so much of the meaning that comes with change.” As a fundamental practice of restorative leadership, the participatory approach is astoundingly simple: ask and listen, align and co-create. This begins with starting where the community is. To do so requires a combination of humility and confidence, and the courage to swim with others in unknown space. There must be immense trust in the wisdom of community, in the integrity of shared vision, and in one’s abilities to facilitate positive momentum.