Warriors Without Weapons: How Learning Moves Trans-locally

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In Mexico the social context and a deep mistrust of local and national governments made the Warriors Without Weapons organizers decide to reject funding from corporations or the government. Financial support was only received from local businesses, individual donations and grants. This decision was made as a way of maintaining autonomy and demonstrating to the community that Warriors Without Weapons implied true partnership without a hidden political or corporate agenda. Another economic factor in Oaxaca was that no applicant was turned away for lack of financial resources. Only a couple of participants paid the full tuition. Unfortunately, this meant that the program generated significant debt and led to conflict within the local team. The lesson was that while it’s vital to make decisions aligned with values, it’s also important to be realistic about a program’s real costs.

In other places, like India, where physical and building resources are scarce they encouraged the use of natural building materials with compacted earth and mud. A guideline during the Oasis Game in Shivaji Nagar was that all resources (human and material) needed to come from within the community. Because a local NGO had been working there, a charity mindset had begun to take hold. It was critical to organizers that the residents of that neighborhood not see the Oasis Game as a handout.

Conditions for Trans-Local Learning

By engaging in ongoing conversation with Elos founders and program hosts in other places like Vishal and Melissa, we have identified some key conditions that have made it more or less likely for Warriors Without Weapons or the Oasis Game to manifest in a particular place. The section that follows illuminates these conditions, as well as names potential barriers to the trans-local movement of a program of this kind. These are not meant as a prescriptive list for future organizers, but rather to highlight a few issues to take into consideration when engaging in trans-local learning experiments.

Strong Relationships
Trans-local learning often moves more fluidly within networks of friends. Deep trust and healthy relationship create a strong container in which risks can be taken, failures welcomed as learning experiences, and honest, heartfelt feedback flows from place to place. Building deep, meaningful relationship is not only vital in our trans-local collaborations across geographic distance, but also within organizing teams. Hosting these types of processes requires more than hard work and dedication; it is a labor of love, calling for mental, physical and emotional engagement. As Vishal said, “The Elos team just looks at one another and they know what to do. They have worked together for so long and have gone through so many good and bad times that they sense in the air what is coming, and each one knows what to do.” Deep intimacy, openness and vulnerability are necessary qualities in a facilitation team.

Presence of Innovators
Melissa was the only member of the Oaxaca facilitation team to participate in the program in Brazil. Even though she meticulously planned out the process, she felt it essential that someone from Elos co-facilitate in Mexico. We know that depending on the presence of a founder is not a sustainable model for trans-local learning. Little by little, Elos is learning how to share the Warriors Without Weapons philosophy via written materials and online spaces. They are also building capacity in the Warriors before, during and after the program so that they are equipped with more skills to host on their own.

Community of Practice vs. Network
Facilitators in Mexico were first inspired by the idea of Warriors Without Weapons when they became involved with the Berkana Exchange in 2005. As a result of connections with Berkana and Elos, the Oaxacan team received support in multiple ways from organizations like the Hemingway Foundation. The process of collaboration and relationship building within a community of practice created the fertile ground in which the seed of Warriors Without Weapons Oaxaca was planted. Perhaps in contrast, teams in Argentina and Paraguay were part of a network of other students with support from Elos and other Warriors.1 This may not have been a sufficiently strong support system for the young pioneers of the program in South America to succeed in the same way.

 1 For more on this distinction see Lifecycle of Emergence: Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale by Deborah Frieze and Margaret Wheatley.

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