Monday, August 28, 2017

Equip Yourself to Make the Change You Wish to See

As Future Generations looks forward to offering a special opportunity, Equip Yourself to Make the Change You Wish to See: Learn Mahatma Gandhi’s Social Change Methods, a chance to study at Gandhi’s powerful Sevagram ashram, this blog posting provides some background. His methods are highly relevant for dealing with today’s challenges...

Gandhi's ashram in Sevagram, India-- participants in the certificate course Equip Yourself to Make the Change You Wish to See spend part of their course time here for an in-depth learning experience

Mahatma Gandhi coined the term swaraj (literally, self-rule, though he preferred to translate it as self-control) to describe the growing capacity of a population to determine its future. Gandhi was in South Africa at the time, and the idea of people rising up with internal nonviolent energy for political independence was a new concept in the world. His idea was that people could take control of their own destiny through taking control of the most basic functions of life. Colonialism was a loss of control, but so too was poverty, caste, and illness. From taking control over lives came true freedom; it allowed people to own their futures.

The Mahatma was not was not internationally recognized when he came to believe in swaraj. He wasn’t even in India or thinking of the independence of India, but wanted to improve a few lives in an intentional community on a very marginal piece of land in South Africa. What would grow into a freedom movement for one-fifth of the world’s population, indeed launch all the freedom movements of the 20th Century, began on a marginal piece of land and freedom for a few. 

Swaraj gave part of the answer, “a morality based in Truth” he often called it, a way by which people could define their destiny. His concern as his awareness grew was not simply opposition to the British Empire, but to the discrimination and poverty which underlay oppression. Fundamental social change was the objective, and the physical context for this control of destiny was the sparse land of his utopian South African Phoenix Colony. These then seeded an idea that would scale up into one of the world’s most powerful forces.

In some of his writing after the movement had started to expand in India, Gandhi expanded the term to gram swaraj, which is community-based freedom. Gram swaraj generates sustaining energy for the community from inside and with it self-correcting direction. It is inspired and regulated by satyagraha, the energy of Truth. Gandhi argued that the true forces that bring change in the lives of people come not from the marketplace, not from armies, not from a religion, not from political process, but from knowledge of Truth that is internalized and adhered to so that it continually corrects action. These forces that begin inside each individual then redefine society to bring authentic help to all people. 

His spinning wheel visibly conveyed this message on the importance of process and the search for Truth. Each individual turning his or her wheel gave evidence of self-potential and direction. The act of spinning used resources grown in that place, locally-grown cotton, locally-grown wood that made the wheels. When people wore khadi cloth they showed proof that a becoming life could be made by them. Done collectively, homespun khadi showed that India could weave a new life, using threads of local resources from one direction, massive energy of the villages from the other. Actually wearing these clothes of their own making as flags of self-reliance as they marched, India’s people gave evidence that they were dressing in a new way: their way. Do that, and from that other freedoms will grow. Swaraj was to strengthen India with tightly wound new fiber to pull apart deep forces of oppression: caste, poverty, ignorance, fear of leprosy, and gender discrimination.

Today, as military powers send soldiers to distant lands to free people and label the liberators “peacemakers,” and as corporations are freed to cross the world for cheap labor arguing that they create local development by creating jobs that bind people to global labor imbalances, the question must be asked (even if it cannot be answered): what is freedom? While freeing people from oppression and providing jobs are both freedoms, going toward freedom in the way that “peacemakers” and corporations pursue misses a core principle that guided Gandhi: that truth was in the process, the never-ending journey faithful to the operating principles. 

Professor Taylor teaching Gandhi's methods of social change at the Mahatma's ashram in Sevagram, India

Freedom is not given to people. Freedom is when people come together as communities to rule themselves. Joining together as communities not only liberates from these outside forces, but also it grows a momentum that, in his vision, would reach all. His was a vision for a new justice through new means: “If we are to make progress, we must not repeat history but make new history. We must add to the inheritance left by our ancestors.”

Inarguably, significant differences exist now than those present in people’s lives in Gandhi’s day. As such, it is helpful to focus just on that which Gandhi viewed as foundational: Truth. With information and instant access to anything people want to hear—information is awash now over the world pummeling people with falsehoods and facts. The worship of Truth is possibly more essential now than in Gandhi’s time. The response needed is not to abandon the quest and turn to fundamentalisms and black and whites, but to work with all the nuance that of how what is true in one locale is not in another, how what is true from one person’s perspective is not from another’s. Truth is understood through having a process to engage the facts and falsehoods. And so, a more complex set of principles is needed. To unpack in greater detail the principles Gandhi actually did use; we state them in the context of SEED-SCALE’s four principles:

1.     Gandhi made sure every protest was successful. With each, he thought through whether he had enough people, picked his time carefully and understood the temperament of each British commandant, identifying especially those with values that would chafe when confronted with nonviolence. Gandhi wanted imprisonment and beating, but if these were to happen, he made sure that each brutalized person would not be in vain for with each success he knew he built strength.

2.     He was a strong believer in partnerships. Top-down he got the liberal British on his side, as there was a growing powerful contingent and sentiment of progressive British. Also Top-down, he got Hindu leaders on his side through using their religious texts. Outside-in, he masterfully used the media to carry his actions to all the world. And Bottom-up, the third aspect and foundation of partnership, three hundred million people, the largest voluntary mobilization ever achieved, not only his soldiers but in giving momentum to nonviolent movements ever since.

3.     Fear-filled, timid villagers stood strong against British batons. They stood because Gandhi had given them evidence for each protest—and he made certain that evidence of their protests was clear, with an attention to detail that encouraged people to wear clean white clothes so the dirt and beatings would show well on photographs all over India and the world. He studied what happened each time, treating them as ongoing experiments, then out of that new options turned up.

4.     Gandhi changed behaviors among victimized people; to achieve this he taught them that their victimization was a consequence of their acquiescing behaviors. He argued that freedom did not come from killing oppressors (American, French, and Soviet revolutions had until then pointed in that direction.) Freedom comes by changing the oppressor’s behavior. To achieve that, the participant starts by changing his and her behavior. When confronted by wrong behaviors there is a tendency to blame those behaviors of others without realizing that in our behaviors that allow those of others resides a basis for such continuation.

We can all still take inspiration from his perseverance and learn the lessons he left behind in his philosophy and methods. The application is timeless and invaluable in preventing history from repeating itself. By participating in Future Generations certificate course, “Equip Yourself to Make the Change You Wish to See,” you can learn Gandhian social change methods right where the Mahatma himself taught them to his followers, at his Sevagram ashram in central India.

Learn more at

This week's blog contributed by Future Generations founder and current president and professor, Daniel Taylor. Daniel has been engaged in social change and conservation for four decades with a focus on building international cooperation to achieve ambitious projects. He founded the nine Future Generations organizations worldwide (including the accredited Future Generations Graduate School). He also founded and led The Mountain Institute. In 1985, after providing the scientific explanation for the yeti, he led creating Nepals Makalu-Barun National Park, then, in close partnership with the Tibet Autonomous Region, Chinas Qomolangma (Everest) National Nature Preserve and Four Great Rivers Nature Preserve protecting one-seventh of Chinas forest reserves. He is one of the synthesizers of the SEED-SCALE method, an understanding of social change initiated by a UNICEF task force he co-chaired from 1992-95. Since 1995 he continued to lead global field trials of SEED-SCALE and is senior author of Just and Lasting Change: How Communities Can Own Their Futures and Empowerment: From Seeds of Human Energy to a Scale of Global Change. Among his honors, Taylor was knighted by the King of Nepal Gorkha Dakshin Bau III; was made the first Honorary Professor of Quantitative Ecology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; and was decorated with the Order of the Golden Ark by HRH Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cultural Poverty Reduction as a Strategic Policy

Future Generations University believes in the importance of supporting its alumni and creating a community of changemakers. It is for this reason that Future Generations Global Network awards a number of collaboration grants  every year for which alumni can apply to implement projects that embody our philosophy and demonstrate the SEED-SCALE method. This week, we hear from Rohan Sagar and Suzanne Munro, who received one of these grants in 2016 to fund their research into cultural poverty reduction...

The Cultural Poverty Reduction as a Strategic Policy project funded by Future Generations Global Network was a response to the ethnic and social landscape of Guyana. This project was conceptualized and implemented by two alumni, Rogan Sagar and Suzanne Munro, of Future Generations University (then the Graduate School), Class 2014. The project implementation period commenced in August and concluded December 2016, and was built around three main components: (a) Research, (b) Applied Ethnomusicology, and (c) Observations, which was an application of Evolutionary Psychology. Essentially, the project as a research praxis validated the main hypothesis encompassing ethnic and race relations and the outcomes validated the application of Applied Ethnomusicology as a possible bridge between present political structural policies and a culturally based epistemic.

Our research component sought to establish a baseline of cultural knowledge bymeasuring depreciation (of fixed variables or not known by the respondent). According to research articles on Evolutionary Psychology and Music Psychology,"music is the main marker upon which identity is constructed.'" Therefore, according to the research objectives, the level of knowledge of ethnic based traditional musics will be an indicator of the broader levels of cultural knowledge. The data is clear that interethnic as well as intra-ethnic cultural awareness exists at very low levels, with less than 25% of the respondents actually aware of their own ethnic identity constructs. The majority of the respondents (75%) also indicated lack of awareness of the identity of specific cultural tools indigenous to their specific social group, and could not relate to indigenisable sonic designs. In Evolutionary Psychology this phenomenon could be referred topsychophysicaland provides a referential marker located in the absence of being rooted within ones own identity; this response then became a referential point of departure to locate from the respondents own experiences their relationships to other groups.

To understand and diagnose the openness or receptivity of respondents to multiculturalism and multiethnic universals, the project relied on the principles of Applied Ethnomusicology. Here the process was guided by the alumni and two facilitators: Mr. Somdatt Ramessar and Mr. Handel Neptune. The scope of this component was confined to observation and was tested on the youth demographic. According to new studies on music and its impact on the brain, specific rhythms and melodic designs usually generate psychophysical indicators on which was premised the main hypothesis. What both the investigators and facilitators noted was the presence of  genuine positive reactions to rhythms and melodic designs that could be defined as both indigenous and endogenous. We found this behavior not to be surprising given the existence of evidence of cosmopolitanisation within Guyanese society. Two percussive rhythmic pieces identifiable to two ethnic groups, Africans and East Indians, the Patois Hand and Keherwa Taal or (8 beats) as well as two vocal materials, Ba Ta Taa and Harey Krishna were used in this exercise . Additionally, the Amerindian percussion instrument, the Sambura, was used to interconnect as a part of the overall orchestral arrangements.

What the researchers and facilitators did note as an interesting find was the dichotomy between the research findings (the less than 25% knowledgeable marker) and the observational high ratio positive response. The research seems to suggest that the demographic in question, the youth, seems to be more susceptible to endogenisation, a process likely to have generated greater traction outside of their primary place of habitat. What is yet to be discerned is the impact of this endogenous experience within ethnic enclaves, additionally the research protocol did not address or clarify this fundamental question. Guyana is often called theland of six raceswhich is often a source of pride and is a benchmark used to establish comparative distinctiveness between the high levels of co-existence here in Guyana and ethnic or race based conflicts universally. From the Amerindians, who it is scientifically accepted were the first settlers in this part of the world, to the other four ethnic groups who were forced migrants as a consequence of European colonial adventures and conquest, Guyanese have found a unique method to co-exist.

But this phenomenon is not without it's historical antecedent. Historians have commented on pre-Independence race relations as always being on the positive side, except of course for a few misadventures which somehow became characterized asrace-related incidents’, until the early 1960s when serious race and ethnic violence erupted causing population dislocation, ethnic realignment, and killings. The Cultural Poverty Reduction project being aware of the historical roots of co-existence, as part of the projects declarative objectives, attempted to resuscitate and re-germinate these positive deviances to, as indicated previously, contribute to a cultural epistemic that previously existed. The main results will be included in the policy paper, which is another of the projects objectives and was submitted for publication. It was the studied opinion of many experts that what contributed immensely to the positive race relations in the colonial era was the strong bonding between ethnic groups, perhaps in common opposition to the then colonial authorities,  and for which there were many a good reason. However, it is also that thisdiscoveryof theothergenerated significant empathy post-realization that the immediate social conditions demanded co-existence and the presence of any other options were in themselves not only significantly reduced but quite dangerous

Out of this condition arose evidences of homogenous and heterogeneous communities, mix marriages and relationships, and the interethnic experimentation with the phenomenon, creolization. Creolization was for all intents and purposes a grassroots learning process when ethnic groups were forced to coexist, not deliberatively, but through the many life sustaining mechanisms, and knowledge and awareness essentially blossomed so that each one got to know theotherculturally. Some of these phenomena include social concepts as weddings, celebration of births and deaths, commerce, as well as  sharing other ecological spaces. As Guyana progressed towards Independence political self-governance awareness was gaining traction amongst the citizenship and in 1953 Guyana elected its first form of self-government after winning universal suffrage. But in 1962-4 Guyana entered into a dark period as the country descended into civil unrest and riots, largely as a consequence of the fracture of the then single largest political party along ethnic lines.

In their conclusion the Cultural Poverty Reduction, project leaders wish to reiterate that the cultural policy research paper was designed and built in accordance with the 7 Tasks of the SEED-SCALE research method; the full research paper was submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal; other visual materials are also available on the first authors website: The project leaders wish to thank Future Generations Global Network for its support to help realize this project; additionally, project implementers are pleased to facilitate greater awareness of Future Generations University and its work worldwide.

Rohan Sagar read for his Master’s Degree at Future Generations University, in his thesis he argued for a multicultural approach to music education in Guyana where he resides. Rohan is also an ethnomusicologist presently conducting investigations in the traditional musics of Guyana amongst the Native American, African and East Indian populations. His most recent project was research assistant to the Evolutionary Psychology project with Harvard University.

Suzanne Munro is a graduate from the University of Guyana, where she studied Environmental Studies. Further development of her education took place in the obtaining of a Masters Degree in Community Change and Conservation through the Future Generations Graduate  School. Ms. Munro  has worked at Conservation  International (CI) for over 10 years, where she focuses on grants management, community development, and conservation. Currently, she is with the Government of Guyana as a Procurement Specialist  working under the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). When not at work, she is active in a small group of women that focuses on early exposure  and availability to reading in young children.