The Barr Fellows

June 23, 2009 Leave a comment

I knew a few Barr Fellows before I started doing the kind of work I do today. I knew a few of them before they were Barr Fellows, and so I also knew them after. It was in this nonscientific way that I was able to observe some of the subtle and not so subtle shifts that were happening among my friends – the fellowship had an effect on them and on their work. Conceptually, the idea behind the fellowship was something that I could understand, network theory and the power of relationships already made intuitive sense to me.

Check out the Barr Fellows Program for a formal description of the effort. But to risk oversimplification, the fellowship is about taking a diverse group of amazing leaders in Boston’s social sector, rewarding them with a sabbatical, connecting them to one another and exposing them to social innovation in other parts of the world.

Over the last two weeks in Brazil I have finally had a more direct experience of the fellowship, away from concept and anecdote and into the actual “Learning Journey” of the 2009 class of fellows – and it was truly amazing. I have been asked to work with this 2009 fellows over the next few years, and participating in their very first experience together seemed to be an obvious requirement. A single blog post can’t begin to capture all the lessons learned nor the many ways in which new light has been shed on leadership, networks and the next phase of social change.

However, what is absolutely clear to me is that (1) bringing amazing people together, (2) when they share a common cause, (3) highlighting different contexts and approaches in (4) spaces that foster deeper relationships is indeed a key to social innovation. The Barr Fellows are a hundred times more likely to collaborate with one another, they are already asking important questions about their core assumptions, and they are already thinking more boldly about ways to make change happen.

There is a lot to be learned here, and even more questions that remain. Some of the key questions that I’m hoping you can help me with include my wondering about what it would take to foster this kind of shift among whole organizations? And of course I’m also asking, what are the organizational structures needed to keep alive this momentum when the fellows go back to work?

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  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks Gibran for this glimpse into the impact of the work with the fellows. Andrea and I were just talking yesterday about how to create the mini, in-town sabbatical experience for those of us (at IISC and beyond) who aren’t going on a real sabbatical any time soon. I had a great time at a talk by Michael Eric Dyson the other day–sponsored by Third Sector New England at Northeastern. His talk was good to hear, but what was even better was reconnecting with a bunch of fabulous people who are working for social justice. It was like a little reunion and it really lifted my spirits. We have to figure out ways to create more of those opportunities to be together, learn together, and (in this case thanks to Dyson)even laugh together.

  • Curtis says:

    Great question Gibran. I was just having a similar conversation with Ashley and John about the Accelerator Expedition. As you know, the original hope was to create a disruptive experience by taking everyone to the rain forest in Ecuador and getting them out of their element and talking to one another as whole people about what it would take to live and work more sustainably. Given the current economy (and frankly, some of the awkwardness of shuttling people around the world when we are talking about combating and not contributing to climate change) the emphasis is changing to how we can create these experiences closer to home. We have talked about getting into the wilderness that is right around us, and finding physical spaces that are transformative in their setting/architecture. And of course it seems a lot of it comes down to the facilitation – posing disruptive questions, creating exercises and experiences that pull on different parts of participants (mind, body, and spirit), and of course really making sure there is ample time to shake off the daily routine and way of seeing things, and then getting deep with one another. Maybe it’s time to invest in that retreat center/campus idea just outside of Boston . . . . Look forward to talking more about this with you and our colleagues.

  • Gibran says:

    Thanks for your comments Cynthia and Curtis, so much of this “new paradigm” is just about creating space – space for us to connect with one another and to laugh together, as well as space that shifts out of our Pavlovian meeting and work habits. While I would hate to lose the ability to be in entirely different socio-cultural spaces, as happens when we get abroad, I do think it’s healthy to understand that alternative spaces are very accessible, and that sometimes all it takes is a walk in the woods, or along the river, to start seeing the world anew.

  • Renda Mcgaha says:

    Hi, what anti spam tool do you use? Is it working for you or..? I would really appreciate it if you could answer this question! Ciao!

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