History

Berkana itself is a living experience of self-organization. Since 1991 we have continually experimented with diverse processes and ways of fostering connections, and have engaged in many rich learning activities.

The Sundance Dialogues (1992-1996)

Between 1992 and 1996, Berkana hosted quarterly dialogues in Sundance, Utah. We convened groups of about 30 people from an unusually wide variety of organizations and professions. We explored questions like: What can new science teach us about human organizations? What new forms of organizing are possible? These dialogues helped all who participated understand both new science and the dialogue process. A few local Berkana dialogue groups were created in different parts of the country and continued for several years.

Conversations about A Simpler Way (1996-1997)

In 1996, with the publication of A Simpler Way, authors Meg Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers convened a series of evening conversations around the country. These gatherings were intended to create a forum for discussing ideas from the book and to connect people to others in their area with similar ideas. The purpose of these conversations was to make the community visible to itself. These three-hour conversations of 100-300 people engendered smaller conversation groups in many communities.

The Berkana Online Learning Community (1997)

In the spring and summer of 1997, Berkana organized and convened one of the very first online conversations. About 300 people from several different countries signed on to this experiment and one or two smaller groups and conversations from this online gathering continued for many years afterwards.

Inquiring Friends: The IF Theory Group (1998-1999)

Inquiring Friends was a conversation-based, multi-disciplinary research effort into the nature of living systems and its implications for the theory and practice of organizational development. Along with Fritjof Capra, and other thought leaders from the field, Berkana convened a small group of thinkers to delve deeper into living systems theory. The intent and process of this group was modeled on the Macy Conferences, a pioneering initiative initiated focused on systems thinking and cybernetics that began in the 1950s.

Y2K: Opportunities for Social Transformation or Social Disintegration (1998-99)

For Berkana, Y2K represented an unparalleled opportunity for social transformation and/or social disintegration. The turn of the century brought with it a new generation of problems that are, by their very nature, indivisible, unpredictable and uncontrollable. We were actively engaged in educating and mobilizing individuals and communities in the direction of shared community preparedness. We published articles on the transformational opportunities offered at this pivotal time and hosted a dialogue of community activists with the Fetzer Institute and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

From The Four Directions (2000-2004)

In 2000, in part because of our awareness of profound interconnectedness that developed during Y2K, and in part because of Margaret Wheatley’s work with younger leaders around the world, Berkana went global. We trained young leaders to host conversations, using the PeerSpirit circle method. Conversation circles with the purpose of supporting people to step into their own leadership were started in more than 30 countries. We connected these circles to one another via a newsletter and events, thus beginning to build a worldwide web of life-affirming leaders.

The Berkana Exchange (2004-2008)

In 2004, Deborah Frieze, Manish Jain and others co-founded the Berkana Exchange, a trans-local learning community of people all over the world who were walking on to build healthy and resilient communities.

The Exchange connected pioneering leaders throughout the world around their shared commitment to making a difference in and beyond their communities. The participants in these initiatives create new possibilities for change by: working locally to identify and support leaders and community organizers; by sharing their experience and learning with a trans-local community and by bringing knowledge and experience from other learning centers around the world back to their communities.

The Women’s Leadership Revival Tour (2007-2009)

For two years Meg Wheatley and musician/song-writer Barbara McAfee traveled North America with The Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, a lively combination of stories, music and conversations that encouraged women to discover ways of stepping forward in service of their communities. With the hard work of dedicated local hosts, the Tour visited 16 cities in the U.S. and Canada, reaching about 2000 women. Berkana also created the Women’s Circle Starter Kit, containing an abundance of resources to support and nourish women in exploring the unique power of women’s leadership.

Berkana Fellows Program & Multiversity (2006 and 2009)

The Berkana Fellows, initiated in partnership with learning centers Abhivyakti and Shikshantar in 2006, was a bold experiment in self-organized learning, offering a unique opportunities to young people who had walked out of formal educational institutions. The intention of this fellowship was to legitimize learning spaces beyond the reach of formal institutions to support the emergence of healthy and resilient communities. Following the first two cohorts of Berkana Fellows, the three organizations launched Multiversity in 2009. This eventually became Swaraj University, a two-year learning program for youth to develop the knowledge and skills they need to create viable green-collar enterprises.

Engaging Community: A Toolkit to Build Healthy and Resilient Communities (2010)

In partnership with Neighborhood Centers Inc. of Houston, one of the country’s leading nonprofit agencies, Berkana created a toolkit of materials to support the development of resilient and healthy communities.

Walk Out Walk On (2011)

In April 2011, the book Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey Into Communities Learning to Live the Future Now by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze was released. Walk Outs are people who bravely choose to leave behind a world of unsolvable problems, scarce resources, limiting beliefs and destructive individualism. They walk on to the ideas, beliefs and practices that enable them to give birth to new systems that serve community. Walk Out Walk On is the story of an emerging movement of pioneering leaders and communities around the world who are self-organizing to create healthy and resilient communities. The book features leaders and organizations within the Berkana Exchange. Visit the walkoutwalkon.net community.

Berkana Beds Down (2012)

At the end of 2011 the board and staff of The Berkana Institute made a decision to do something non-traditional and yet aligned with our history of consistently being on the leading edge of living systems work. The Institute discerned that it was time to take a rest for an undetermined period of time. This was a choice not to die, but to enter into a period of needed stillness to gather nutrients in our roots so that we might again emerge as a healthy, vibrant, contributor to our world.

Gathering Friends (2015)

In the spring of 2015, after three years of deep reflection and rest, the Institute reimerged to act as a catalyst for the creation of self-organized circles of friends who are willing to offer steadfast support, consolation, companionship, and delight for one another.

Warriors for the Human Spirit (2016)

Good leaders and engaged activists now require a very different kind and quality of training if they are to persevere in their work as effective leaders for their organizations, communities and causes. It is increasingly difficult for mature, experienced leaders and younger, engaged activists to do their work without failing victim to exhaustion, overwhelm, self-doubt, cynicism and despair. These leaders do not need more training in how to create adaptive and resilient organizations, or how to advocate for their causes, or how to engage their communities. What they need is an entirely different category of skills and capacities so that they can act wisely and well, are able to persevere, and to use their influence and power to offer sane and life-affirming responses in this time of constantly increasing threats to the human spirit. Learn more.

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