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The Change Lab with Instituto EcoSocial in Brazil

Reos Partners
December, 2011

Instituto EcoSocial ( was created in 2002 to promote human, organisational, and social development. In late 2010, a new leadership team approached the Reos Partners São Paulo office to facilitate a Change Lab process for the organisation’s 50 members. The members wanted to broaden their perception of the opportunities and challenges currently facing Brazil, revisit their organisational vision, and expand the role they can play in the sustainable development of the country. The institute’s members are experienced professionals who identify with the principles of Social Ecology, a discipline rooted in Anthroposophy, which seeks the development of healthy relationships between people, within groups, and with society. The institute’s members use coaching, consulting, and training and development to promote action, sustainable results, and societal transformation. Nevertheless, they felt that they could do more and that they needed to create a deeper connection with the world around them.

Reos Brazil took on the project, as we believed in the potential impact the organisation and its members could have on individuals, organisations, and wider Brazilian society. As soon as we started talking to the members through “dialogue interviews” as the first step in the process, we could see that they were a special group with a rich culture, strong values, and a curiosity and openness toward the journey we were about to embark on together. So began a partnership that enriched Reos São Paulo as well as met EcoSocial’s goals.

At the first residential workshop in February, participants left the workshop room to go on half-day learning journeys to projects linked to social, economic, and ecological issues. They also explored their key questions and driving forces for Brazil, developed scenarios for the country, and designed their learning agenda for the remainder of the year. Some of the key driving forces they identified were quality of education, awareness and values, inter-sectoral integration, politics, and public policy.

From March to August, seven teams went on learning journeys throughout Brazil to widen their understanding and perspectives on critical issues. They went to the Amazon to explore cross-sector partnerships and innovative regional initiatives; to the south to explore questions and initiatives around business and society; to Rio de Janeiro and surrounding cities to explore cross-sector partnerships, education, and working in networks; to cities in the state of São Paulo to explore education and best practices in partnerships and networks; and along the coast to Espirito Santo to explore health, education, security, tourism, and entrepreneurship.

The project also engaged the institute’s stakeholders though a series of three “strategy cafés,” where participants looked at the driving forces affecting the future of Brazil, developed scenarios, and prototyped initiatives to contribute to the country’s development. Content from the Change Lab process and the cafés fed into each other, enriching both. The cafés were in a sense already a prototype of EcoSocial’s expanded role in society and a way to quickly apply what the group was learning in the Change Lab.

The team came together again in September to share what members had experienced on the learning journeys and to go on a retreat. Forty-five participants spent 24 hours on nature “solos” in a preserved area of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. The participants spent the time on their own without distractions or contact with others. Half the group also fasted.

The solo gave participants time to simply be present with themselves and nature, and reflect on their experience of the journey thus far, their individual role in the organisation and society, and the organisation’s potential expanded role. As the sun rose, drums sounded to break the silence and welcome participants back. Facilitators held debriefings at three base camps before participants came together as a larger group to share insights and explore the potential for EcoSocial in the world. One participant offered the following comment and challenge: “EcoSocial has the potential to do greater and grander things and has a real strength as a group. Do we have the courage to do what we are capable of?”

In October, the group gathered for the final stage of the project: prototyping a new vision and role for the organisation and designing initiatives aligned with that identity. Participants generated many ideas and prototyped eight projects, all aligned with and contributing to EcoSocial’s expanded role. Initiatives included helping youth make conscious choices to become true leaders; developing community leaders using the EcoSocial approach and supporting their local projects; a community development initiative to be prototyped first in a favela in Rio; building a network of companies to learn and act together on important issues in Brazil; supporting companies in integrating communities in their supply chain; connecting stakeholders to work on projects that have a social impact; adapting and applying the EcoSocial approach in the government sector; and promoting EcoSocial as a multi-sectoral hub for social transformation.

The group held a final gathering in November, ending one cycle and initiating another. Participants reflected on the new vision and expanded role for EcoSocial, and initiative teams gave updates. All the project teams decided to move forward and defined their next steps for continuing their prototyping. Group members also reflected on what they had learned from the process. Some of the results mentioned include increased leadership capacity of the members, strengthened relationships and unity, increased awareness through direct contact with reality and with nature, a positive experience of creating together, and innovative initiatives aligned with the expanded vision and role. According to the participants, they would not have been able to produce these results one year earlier. Members of the EcoSocial leadership team can pat themselves on the back and enjoy their Christmas/summer holidays!

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