Multi-Generational Collaboration: Shaping Tomorrow, Together

By Juanita Brown, David Isaacs and Samantha Tan | World Cafe website

Reprinted with kind permission from "Changing the World Together", Spring/Summer 2008 Kosmos Journal
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Juanita Brown and David Isaacs are co-founders of the World Café, an innovative approach to large group dialogue being used across sectors on six continents. Their award-winning book, The World Café: Shaping our Futures Through Conversations that Matter, is a key resource for fostering conversational leadership across the globe. Samantha Tan, a dynamic young leader from Singapore, is a former Research Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is a founding partner of the Meristem Group which nurtures leadership skills for change agents who are creating inspired futures in multi-stakeholder environments.



Discovering One Another
In the summer of 2004, the World Café, the Berkana Institute, and the Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership convened an innovative inquiry into intergenerational wisdom and collaboration for the common good. A multi-generational team that ranged in age from 23 to 81 hosted the gathering. What we thought would be a small ‘learning laboratory’ of 20-30 people took off like wild-fire. The meeting, held in Nova Scotia, Canada, rapidly mushroomed to more than 80 participants from 18 different countries whose life experience spanned eight full decades. We were amazed and delighted! From that powerful encounter, we began to realize that if we and others could create spaces for authentic dialogue and effective collaboration across the generations, a tremendous force for social change and innovation across the globe might be ignited.

The demographics alone reveal this exciting opportunity. In the U.S., for example, members of the ‘Boomer Generation’ (now in their 50’s and 60’s) are entering their elder years with a much longer lifespan than earlier generations. Members of this generation helped to launch the civil rights, environmental, women’s and social justice movements. Many still want to make a difference, and have the time, health and wealth to actively contribute. Those in the Millennial Generation (in their teens to late 20’s) are just discovering their own passion for creating more life affirming futures. “At the center of our new consciousness of connectedness and change is a dynamic form of transformational activism,” Joshua Gorman, founder of Generation Waking Up, noted in the Fall 2007 issue of Kosmos Journal. “We are taking up our world’s two most urgent needs—spirituality and social change—fusing them together, and unleashing powerful pathways to personal and planetary transformation.” These two generations alone are estimated to be 163 million strong and make up more than 50% of the current U.S population. If even a small percentage of the people who really care and want to make a difference from these two groups had opportunities to ‘find’ each other and learn to use each others’ gifts in the service of a better world what might we be able to create together?

Just at the time we most need all of our unique contributions and perspectives to discover innovative paths forward, we suffer in cultures around the world from the rapidly escalating tendency to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’—to create barriers rather than bridges in the face of differences in religious or political beliefs, cultural values, personal lifestyles and relationships between the generations. Yet it is painfully clear that none of us in this vulnerable and interconnected world can go it alone. How can we honor and use each other’s unique contributions and gifts to access the collective wisdom and co-creativity that resides in us, as a single generation, alive and awake together—whatever our chronological age or stage of life?

More next Tuesday…