Group Wisdom

3 Jul

Last week was another busy one.  On Tuesday we moved into the new EWB office and christened it by painting the graphic of our values on the wall.  On Wednesday I moved into my sublet for the summer, and on Thursday night the majority of the office staff left for either the Western or Eastern Regional Retreats, which brought together a wide range of  leaders and new members from university chapters across the country.

I attended the Eastern Retreat in Paris, Ontario, which is a couple of hour drive west from Toronto – a drive that took us through the city of Burlington, where I was born.  I had never been to a Regional Retreat before and it was an amazing experience.  There were around 70 people there from chapters around Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and some people from out west who are in the area for work terms.

It was a packed two and half days, with sessions starting right after breakfast at 8am and ending around 9pm, with many people then staying up into the wee hours of the morning (I made it to around 2:30am each night).  The weather and setting were beautiful and many of the sessions were held outside under trees,  which strongly reminded me of farmer group meetings in Ghana.  In both cases I believe that many powerful changes rippled from ideas shared under the shade of the meeting trees.


After kicking things off on Thursday night, the first day was focused very much on self reflection and awareness and I was amazed at how quickly an atmosphere of trust and sharing was created amongst a group of mostly strangers.

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During the second day (Saturday), we dove into collectively planning the future of EWB and the change that we are going to embody and catalyze in the world.  Representatives of the National Office provided background and then facilitated conversations to gain input on key topics like defining what it means to be a change leader, the wording of our updated purpose statement, shared goals for our different program areas, and the basis for a new operating contract between different parts of the organization (a ‘High 5’ agreement between Chapters, African Programs, Distributed Teams, National Office, and Dorothy).

On the final morning after a couple of last sessions, we wrapped up the weekend by sitting around in a big circle and sharing our personal reflections.  It was a powerful experience.  When Annette brought up the concept of ‘group wisdom,’  it occurred to me that I was the oldest person in the circle (I beat George by a few months) and that wisdom is not a term normally associated with a group of people who are mostly in their early 20s.  However, I think in this case it is extremely appropriate, as the atmosphere of openness and collaboration at the retreat allowed an group of young leaders to achieve an incredible depth of thought and helped enable a level of individual personal revelation that many people will never be fortunate enough to experience in their lives.

Francis from National Office summed up the regional retreat experience well when he said “people come to EWB for the cause , but they stay because of the people.”

One Response to “Group Wisdom”

  1. Rogayeh July 4, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    Great post Mark, it reminds of so many moments that I was also amazed at the positive, trusting and safe feeling that i found in myself after our exec meetings or, after a regional retreat.. It seems that somehow we are able to create a space to be safely vulnerable and access the wisdom of the group in courageous conversations.

    The new office looks absoultely wonderful, can’t wait to com for a visit!

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