About Berkana

The Berkana Institute and our partners share the clarity that whatever the problem, community is the answer. Berkana has worked in partnership with a rich diversity of people around the world who strengthen their communities by working with the wisdom and wealth already present in their people, traditions and environments. For twenty years our work has been preparing for unknown futures by creating strong and sustainable relationships, by wisely stewarding the earth’s resources and by building resilient communities. We have learned through experience that most human beings are caring, generous and want to be together; that we can get through anything as long as we’re together.

The Institute is currently resting. We have decided to “bed down” Berkana for a period of stillness and rest, Winter in the cycle of life. During this quiet season, we’re gathering our energy, preserving our valuable capacities, and listening in for Spring. Learn more.

Our Work

Since 1991, we have been learning from life (living systems) about how to create systems that are interdependent, adaptive and resilient. Everything we have done has been a conscious experiment to better understand two of life’s robust capacities: self-organization–life’s process for creating order (effectiveness) without control, and emergence–life’s means for creating system-wide change, taking things to scale. Read “Lifecycle of Emergence: Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale” by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze.

We focus on four key activities. In many ways, Berkana’s work has been quite straightforward. We’ve named trailblazing leaders and communities; helped to connect them to one another; nourished them with relationships, learning, resources and support; and illuminated their stories as important examples of the future taking place right now. Although The Berkana Institute is not active at the moment, we believe that this model of Name, Connect, Nourish, Illuminate may be useful for others, especially for individuals working with concepts such as emergence and self-organizing in their organizations and communities.

I. Name the Community

While pathfinders work in close relationship with members of their community of place, they may be unaware that they are part of a global community of practitioners. And because they are so busy doing their work, they often fail to notice that their efforts have importance beyond their community. Reports of loneliness and exhaustion are frequent. It is essential to name the good work of these individuals and organizations, and to recognize it as a contribution not only to their communities, but to the future.

II. Connect the Community

In nature, if a system is failing, the solution is to create more connections. This is also true of initiatives. Working intentionally to develop stronger connections both within a community and trans-locally is key. This may mean creating gathering spaces—both real and virtual—so that people can meet, exchange ideas and resources, and develop enduring relationships. These gatherings are a rich source of ideas, inspiration, consolation and confidence. They infuse pathfinders with clarity and motivation to keep experimenting and discovering solutions to their most pressing issues.

III. Nourish the Community

If pathfinders are to persevere and be successful, they need to be nourished with many different kinds of resources. We’ve discovered that two of the most essential sources of nourishment are relationships and learning. As trusting relationships develop, we’re more capable of thinking boldly and taking risks. In this strong web of relationships, individuals learn from one another’s experiments, encourage each other to be inventive, discover what works and make visible the roadmap of change and transformation.

IV. Illuminate the Community

Many times, efforts that are based on new ways of thinking are either ignored, misperceived or even invisible. When they are noticed, they are often labeled as inspiring anomalies that do not cause people to change their basic beliefs, worldviews and practices. It takes time, attention and a consistent focus for people to see them for what they are: examples of what’s possible, of what our new world could be like. Illuminating, making visible and sharing the stories of these pathfinding efforts is vital as we encourage others to step forward on behalf of the issues that most concern them. These inspiring examples have helped to show that the future we yearn for already is coming into form in many places around the world.