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Rye Barcott was a US Marine who became interested in what fuelled terrorism and inter-ethnic violence. He decided that the way to find out would be to travel to Africa and on his way to Rwanda the young man found himself in Kibera, a very large slum near to Nairobi. The young man learned Swahili and began talking to the young people and listening to what they had to say. It was at this point that Tabitha Festo, a nurse, pointed out that he had been talking to young people but had not listened to her. She told him that she had a plan to sell collard greens but needed a little money to get started. Barcott gave her the equivalent of $26.
A year later he returned and visited Tabitha’s shack and received a great surprise. Tabitha had used the money she made from the sale of collard greens to buy medical equipment and turn her home into a clinic. Ten years later the Tabitha Medical Clinic comprises 13 rooms with doctors and clinicians, X-ray and pharmacy and HIV counseling service with over 40,000 patients visiting each year. All this from $26 and someone who was willing to listen.

Barcott’s story can be found in his “It Happened on the Way to War” published 2011.

Unsweet Charity

Keith Waterhouse is the British writer of popular novel who died earlier this year. His 1992 “Unsweet Charity” makes an interesting point about the whole notion of charity. The fictional small town of Badgers Heath has an obsession with charities and good causes. Walk outside on any day and there will be people on stilts, or clown outfits, shaking cans and asking for donations to all manner of causes. The highlight of the year is their Bonfire night but this year the Bonfire Committee are approached with a new plan, a week long Bananaskin Week in which all the various energies of the community will be focused on a vast fund raising effort. But when it is proposed that rather than donating the money to a number of different charities, but rather to one “Children of the Brazilian Forest” , Eric one of the members has doubts. He doesn’t know anything about that particular charity or how much money will be wasted on administration. His colleague Barlow however replies that Eric is not really seeing the whole point of the enterprise.
Eric is willing to admit that, even if money is spent on administration, at least some of the money gets through and without it people would starve. But now Barlow points out that all this has nothing at all to do with charity. The whole point is not the starving children but that putting money in the tin can “makes us feel good”. After all, if people really cared about starving children they’d be down there in Africa or South America trying to help directly. But there is an easier way, simply write a cheque and then the world is off our back, and what’s more it gives is a rosy glow into the bargain. That’s why it’s better to give than to receive.
A very cynical point of view perhaps. But what about those Christmas cards we are receiving this time of the year with a very prominent message on the back that “the profits from this card are going to the following charities…” or “the sender of this card supports the following charity”? Christmas cards are a business like any other business and attaching them to a charity is, in a sense, a successful marketing approach and may indeed give the sender a rosy feeling into the bargan.


The world is a highly complex and interconnected place yet so often we have the tendency to reduce the multifaceted web of our lives to a few simple maxims. A couple of decades ago the phrase “paper or plastic” would run thought people’s heads as they approached the check out of a supermarket. Each of us had to make a decision on something that would effect the planet, but which was the correct choice. It took some time for the penny to drop for the answer was “neither” – just bring reusable shopping bags with you when you go to the supermarket.
A maxim which has become fashionable today is “eat locally”. On the face of it this is the ideal solution. It reduces your carbon footprint and supports local economies – or at least that what it is supposed to do. But is it always that simple? As it turns out Canadians who eat their lamb locally have a larger carbon footprint than those who buy lamb from South America. Certainly there is a footprint involved in flying the lamb several thousand miles, then shipping it to the supermarket. But on the other hand Canadian sheep must be kept in heated enclosures over the winter months with considerably outweighs the footprint involved shipping the meat from South America.
Again if we only eat locally this means we will not be buying produce from Third World countries whose economies depend on exports – the alternative is yet another round of aid programs.
Admittedly these are rather extreme and simplified arguments and am I guilty of the same thinking that produces Maxims in the first place? I think my point is that the issues we face are highly complex and really do need thinking through. In most cases this “thinking through” may be too demanding or require a high level of expertise. Nevertheless I think we must always be willing to question those who appear to have “all the answers” and search around for new and more creative solutions.

Sustainable City of the Future

The Pari Center has jointed centers in Berlin, London, Lisbon, Tromso and Stockholm for an E.U. sponsored study of the sustainable city of the future. For more information go to

SHAPE program

From Bob Wright
Mark J. Gordon has given away 3.5 Million thru his foundation. He’s seeking to create the next generation of non-profit givers by reaching students while they are still in HS. The SHAPE program is currently offered in 41 high schools: 39 in south Florida and 2 in Vermont. Currently 1600 students are participating but they hope to take the program nationwide next year.

No Agenda Clubs

Dear fellows of Gentle Action;
I’ve just finished reading the book Gentle Action, and I feel so happy! I’ve also been browsing through your web-site, the blogs, cases, and discussions. This all looks very promising and meaningful. I really feel you’ve discovered something essential for our time.

What really struck me in the book was the passage related to indigenous tribes and their talking-sticks: “Non-natives often wonder how decisions are made within an indigenous community. In a talking circle a pipe or feather may be passed around, allowing each person to speak in turn. The topics discussed are not so much plans or proposals but people’s feelings, memories, ancient stories. At first sight this appears puzzling until one realizes that a field of meaning is being created which is owned by the whole group, rather than by the particular individuals who speak.”
This made me think of our No Agenda Clubs, where we meet in small groups with no predefined agenda, or goals of any kind. It’s really about creating a common field of meaning, or trust – looking for the small and subtle, through open and spontaneous dialogue, without any hierarchies or structures. In the book the word TRUST is mentioned repeatedly, in many contexts. In our club discussions, the three key words that always seem to emerge are RESPECT, TRUST, and PRESENCE.
So, I felt the need to build links between Gentle Action and No Agenda, in my mind to learn – and then I got this idea of sharing this story with you.
The arrangement is very obvious, there’s nothing new in that: we meet once a month in a nice place for breakfast, or afternoon coffee – and unhurried discussion. The setting varies, essential words are nice and unhurried. Average group size is 15-20 people. Usually there’s no fee, or the fee is minimal to cover the cost related to the venue and breakfast. This has been going on for years, with several groups with different backgrounds and lifespans. The very first club started in 2003, and is still up and running.
As the name implies, we don’t have a fixed program or goal, we don’t ever graduate or get ready, we just explore and flow together. Some members stay on the group for years, some attend for a few times and move on. Sometimes the flow is almost stopped, and we practice the skill of being slow; sometimes we discuss furiously some topic that has made us excited and curious.
The most common question I get when I tell about No Agenda is this: Why is agenda forbidden? How can you achieve anything without agenda?
The term No Agenda is just a provocation, not to be taken literally. We say no to predefined, fixed agendas that are decided by one person, or too few. We say no to mechanical thinking, staying on the predefined agenda even if the world outside is changing, and we should self-reflect and reframe our thinking. We say no to knowing what the other person’s problem is before we have stopped to listen to him or her.
We say yes to spontaneous, creative and playful courses of dialogue that lead to surprising paths of joyful innovation. No Agenda Club is really a Dynamic Agenda Club, or Surprise Agenda Club. It’s about setting spontaneous goals, and achieving them effortlessly. I’d like to say it’s about Gentle Action in dialogue; creative suspension in terms of unhurried discussions with no deadlines – also creative acceleration since there’s space for spontaneous breakthroughs if a point of focus is discovered by the group; building a common field of trust by practicing subtle talk and conscious listening; focusing on presence and respect, and ignoring each others’ organizational or social prestige – we actually have this motto: “everyone’s a leader” since we all have the full power and responsibility of how we lead our lives.
It’s all about taking some distance from doing and practicing being. Every meeting is an oasis of surrendering to who you really are. This surrender opens all channels, and interaction becomes easy, natural, respectful, joyful – and very effective. It’s very much about trust: small words of appreciation, moments of genuine listening, gestures of compassion that make all the difference.
This was a spontaneous free-flow writing experience to me, resulting in a No Agenda -style summary of how I see links between Gentle Action and No Agenda. If you got curious about the story of No Agenda Clubs, there’s more to read on my blog – the birth story and insights from various meetings that have taken place recently.
I wish you all spacious moments and Gentle Actions on your path!
Pekka Pirhonen
Coach, development consultant


Traditionally the way to treat malnutrition amongst impoverished Vietnamese children was for experts from outside to diagnose these children and then supply them with imported foods. This remained successful until outside aid ended and then the children returned to their old habits and became under nourished again.

Then a new approach was tried and that was to identify what healthy children were eating and why they were healthy. Once this had been properly understood then it could be applied to children with malnutrition. In other words the knowledge and the solitions did not come from outside but from the intelligence of the village itself.

Gentle Action on Youtube

Ryan Polly has made an interesting video on Gentle Action. You can see it at

Improving social attitudes

In Colombian a professor called Antanas Mockus obtained some remarkable results in Bogotá, improving attitudes of car drivers, saving water for the city, reducing alcohol consumption of drivers, and so on..

In one example, he hired 420 mimes and put them on street corners.They gave out 350,000 “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” cards. The cards were meant to approve or disapprove of other citizens’ behavior; it was a device that many people actively – and peacefully – used in the streets and helped to improve the attitudes of car drivers.

He l also launched a “Night for Women” and asked the city’s men to stay home in the evening and care for the children; 700,000 women went out on the first of three nights that Mockus dedicated to them. And this in macho society !!!

Mockus said: “The distribution of knowledge is the key contemporary task. Knowledge empowers people. If people know the rules, and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change.”

For more info see

The Sewing Machine Project.

Margaret Janowski from Wisconsin read an article about a woman who make her livelyhood by sewing but had lost her machine in a tsunami is South East Asia and how it had taken her several year to save for another machine. Janowski who was a keen artist and sewer began to collect donated machine and ship them to Sri Lanka.
Then when to Hurricane Katrina hit she rented a van and drove to New Orleans with donated sewing machines to give to the Mardi Gras Indiana so they could sew their new costumes. This grew to the point where she had collected over six hundred machines donated to help people start sewing related businesses. Her organization “The Sewing Machine Project” has also sent machines to help people become self sustaining in a woman’s collective in Mexico. When the earthquake in Haiti hit, she partnered with Family Outreach International to take a hundred machines, fabric and other supplies to help women rebuild their lives. Recently, when the Gulf of Mexcio oil spill happened, she partnered with residents of Houma, LA to start SeaHope partners – delivering machines which are being used to recycle sails into bags, providing jobs and training and funds to help the Gulf. They have now started offering small business support in broken communities in the US as well as abroad. All of this grew organically from small donations and Margaret herself can hardly believe what has happened as others have joined in with each crisis responded to and it keeps evolving beyond her imagination.

Good News Stories

Another source of positive stories, taken from the news media is “Good News Stories.”
The example of Cleaning up a Country Comes from that source.

Another source is Positive News

Cleaning up a country

A group of young people in Slovenia, having heard of a clean-up action in Estonia in 2008, proposed the idea of cleaning up the entire country – in one day! The idea was soon backed up by several partners and supporters, and nation-wide campaign started.
The campaign managed to involve and connect more or less the entire nation, including the Government, the President of Slovenia, local municipalities and organizations, media partners, Olympic committee of Slovenia, tourist organizations, Slovenian Army, Fire-fighters, trash management companies, Slovenian universities, schools and kindergartens, etc. – with several companies and well-known individuals backing up the campaign and the project. And so on April 17, 2010 people across the nation gather together in a massive cleaning action, clearing up several illegal dumping sites and picked up scattered litter across the country.

Gentle Action reflections from Hala Makarem

Gentle action – starts within, close by, expands, spreads and becomes ….
My reflections to the inquiries, ideas and experiences shared in the Gentle action book:
Natural Environment I experience the environment through its delicate movement, through its integrative nature. When I feel taken away by the noise of the day, I pause and connect with the environment around me first, and then beyond me to reconnect with the essence in all ….
Time The passage of time flows smoothly now, in some instances it dissolves and others it finds its way through ….
I do not carry a wristwatch, as I feel the movement of the moment and respond accordingly, keeping the direction clear within me, ahead of me ….
Place I live in the city, and I feel that I can with conscious awareness touch the nature that surrounds us .. The cycle of the moon , reflects itself in the expansion/contraction dance that is witnessed in our nature and the nature of where we are ….
Thinking I carry a scientific analysis when I have to identify what happened to a physical matter in terms of issue or resolution; in that state, the object is tangible, mechanical and the state of where it is right now follows/ed a tangible concrete path … this approach does not work with human relations, with integrated interrelated processes, with relational dynamic situations and entities …
Learning I allow myself to learn more, and I feel my way through the experience … The uncertainty creates a learning opportunity for opening up and sensing what is present in the field and what action is being called for to respond .. I stay with the uncertainty that is close by without jump thinking and falling into an overwhelming situation that can whirlwind my existence and trap me … I look for the questions and I state them clearly as I stay with the ultimate intentional feeling in my whole, resonating through my heart 🙂 – I no longer feel uncomfortable, I feel it a gift for exploration and discovery; a gift for trusting and surrendering while staying aware, alert, conscious and mobile ….
Chaos When I hear the word “chaos”, I sense movement that is guided by a higher force … I sense various forms of “chaos” … one in which the lack of awareness, creates a pool that traps the movement in its search for resources of survival dissipating creativity away from the center inviting destruction … one in which the awareness of few allows the mobility to flow in between the closed and the open, finding its stable balanced state for continuation more stability and slightly more creativity … one in which the awareness of many expands to facilitate a self-organizing organism that responds attentively to what is being thrown towards them where chaos becomes a space for creative order to emerge ….
Role It is important for me to remain in control, with awareness, when the life circumstance involves the basic survival situation (e.g. war, where life threatening events are coming from an external source ) .. here the call is to respond without hesitation, a control center is required to avoid confusion in the necessary actions … I can relax my control and flow into action when the life circumstance enters the realm of creative becoming and being … when I can observe, reflect, respond and grow into an experience rather than living it rigidly and linearly … I can relax my control when I become aware of my role, away from fear, and judgment …
Leadership When working with groups, a leader is a facilitator, coach, guide and expert depending on the required role for the moment … a leader models what the group is … a leader plays the role of a learner … a leader hosts the space and opens it up for the group dynamics to flow and respond appropriately ….
Inquiry Upon the exertion of power in defiance to nature, people initially out of the need to survive follow blindly, since they do not know better, and many operate unconsciously in a resistance line that starts softly covertly but if not addressed well continues to grow into an overt expression of deep conflict … however, when the sense of self starts to emerge and the satisfaction of what is, becomes real, and the trust in life’s offering starts to appear; people start to question, explore and move away ….
Self-organization I have recently entered the realm of experiencing directly the essence and meaning of a self-organizing community, as I step into the infancy stage of hosting an learning space initiative for collective creativity … on a tangent note, if I reflect, I notice that our country, Lebanon, is a perfect example of a self-organizing environment; the inherent creativity within the individuals embraces the chaos that comes with the constant living in or under the pressure of war and conflict, resulting in a chaotic order that keeps everyone aligned and moving, making sure the dance does not collapse the dancers. The country stays solid in its market and attraction, it remains resilient as the sense of love of life supersedes conflict in harmonizing chaos into a self-organized order …..
Co-initiating A group came together through the common intention and through their unwavered presence in the whole process, trusting the emergent outcome …. an existing group had people opt out when commitment became a decisive factor, when the association of “economics” to security superseded the passion that lies in the heart of the matter ….
Butterfly effect … this afternoon on July 22nd, I received the following from a co-creator “Jan has offered to help find resources, so let’s have a conversation in right timing if you think that might be needed at any time. I am so excited that our little Friday conversation (with an intimate small group in Beirut around the future of media) may spark many conversations in Lebanon and beyond… it’s incredible what a butterfly’s wing can achieve 🙂 “
Unexpected side-effects
 Working on resolving the sanitary disposal in the capital, away from a more comprehensive outlook, resulted in the shift of the crisis to another very touristic area in the country …
 The increase of real-estate business in the country, pours money into investors and the country, but the effect is that the country is no longer being developed to serve its people, who can not afford the new prices, resulting in a shift of the demographic and dynamics of the key asset of the community, its diversity and interrelations
 One of the major side-effects that I experienced which was a trigger for change, was that despite the successful implementation of development projects in the public sector in Lebanon through foreign aid, the outcome was not sustainable, the ownership was not in the right place, a state of dependency was becoming an integral culture, all of which were supporting corruption and more importantly the lack of initiative for learning and contributing … the result is an aging public sector unable to find its liberation outlet to respond to 21st century challenges ….
 One positive side effect that I witness, is when community members are invited into an authentic participatory engagement, they sense belonging and become loyal to the initiative and all supporting activities ….

Creative Suspension, the activities of observation and reflection are very active, during this process – there will be heightened awareness and sensitivity to the reality unfolding and the intuition enfolded – there will be active participation through conscious awareness; as for “just doing nothing” – the process has stopped, and unconscious activities take over, there is no connection between reality and what wants to unfold – there is a breakdown in the communication channel which increases fragmentation and inefficient processes to manifest ….

Action/Suspension Acting quickly will come as a response when what is at stake is a survival condition/situation (a robbery, a change of personnel, death, building is no longer stable …) i.e. when the impact is direct, tangible and concrete within finite resources and exceptional events – natural, external or internal – that happen sporadically and occur for a known duration (earthquakes, a sudden scheduled visit by senior observers, a strike, a riot …) – A temporary suspension will respond to subtle changes in the environment (internal and external) that require a pause and readjustment of policies and processes to be responsive to growth, sustainability and thrivability (market changes, reshuffling of political affiliations, increased resistance, employees, high turnover of human capital, ..); during circumstances that require a shift in response to underlying movements that are slowly emerging ….

Vision/Awareness I see a social, economic or environmental situation through the facts that are present out there, and through the subtle movements that are also happening and driving the path .. I follow my intuition and feel my way through the situations … I do not carry many situations, to avoid overload, I focus on what is for me in the whole story and continue … I do not depend on the media and those around me, they are one voice out of the many … Experience has shown me that where we put our attention is what we will see, and there are multiplicities of all going on at the same time; even if one area appears to be dominant at a specific time and place … So, widening the vision and broadening the space of awareness opens up the space for expansion and further clarity ………..

My Tacit Knowledge lies in every breath I take; and every action I take connected to the breath; it has been my guidance on where to put my energy and what to avoid … it has taken me on the path I am now deep in … it is valuable in the values and connection it brought to my attention … it is my awareness in the present moment ….

Birth Leadership is participatory … it is still at its infancy .. but it is empowering in a responsible effective way ….

Structure We are currently experiencing creative suspension, or maybe I can be more honest and say I am experiencing it … It is opening space for the new to come through … I have prototyped a few projects in light of what wants to emerge, and now it was time to let go and allow all to simmer before the new shows its face again … it is being patient with awareness … the new forms will appear …

Creative suspension = Healthy Digestion (an inward contraction) all in preparation for a Healthy Organic formation (an outward expansion)

Balance I used to fluctuate between thinking and feeling; and now I am learning to practice more and more the balance of both … the driver is the intuition and feeling and whole perspective, with the mental supporting through its role of distinguishing similarities and differences to remain responsive to the present moment life circumstance …..

Red phone box as a phone box!!!

A number of stories about how former British Telecom red phone boxes are featured on this blog. The latest come from the village of Northlew on Dartmore where the community purchased the box and then made a deal with BT at the cost of £15 per month. For a minimum 20p villagers can call anywhere in the world, including cell phones for a cost of only 1p per minuite

A shop without staff

Two years ago the local shop in Draughton, North Yorkshire, closed down. The village’s first move was to purchase a red telephone box and stock it with newspapers. The next step was to use it as a shop to sell groceries, pet food, batteries and stamps. The door is unlocked and it is stocked from a shop four miles away. Customers can phone in an order using a credit card or sending a check.

With no one inside running the shop, up to date nothing has been stolen.