Feature Article: Integral Africa: How far can integral go? …transforming a continent?

Susan Cannon and Yene Assegid

Susan Cannon

Yene Assegid

At this critical evolutionary moment in Earth’s history, as the integral wave begins to coalesce, “boots on the ground” global initiatives for Integral Leadership development thankfully are emerging. One such initiative is Integral Africa, at this very moment self-organizing against the fearsome odds for which Africa is renowned. Yene Assegid, a native of Ethiopia and an emerging woman leader in her own right, was so profoundly changed by her experience in a Seattle-based Integral Leadership development program, that she is taking the audacious stand to bring a similar learning experience to Africa.

For her part, Yene is the founder and Executive Director of everyONE, an Ethiopian NGO dedicated to empowering and improving the lives of persons living with HIV/AIDS and other debilitating diseases. everyONE accomplishes this feat in part by creating enabling conditions for “the economic and personal development” of their clients—a break with traditional African NGO models.

Success stories abound. I witnessed a crippled leper living in an underground sewer now enthusiastically supporting himself as a community HIV trainer. I met grandmothers, facing life in the streets, who now sit together embroidering goods for sale while passing their wisdom on to the young girls at their feet. Yet even with this tangible expression of her leadership, Yene felt called to do more. The program that lit her integral fire is the two-year Generating Transformative Change in Human Systems ( program currently offered by Pacific Integral LLC. With the integral framework under her belt, Yene was able to see and experience a pragmatic way to realize her dream of helping the continent of Africa through these dark days to a more positive future.

To implement the project Yene in the past year has gathered a working board and incorporated everyONE-USA. She and the board are in the process of articulating the situation in Africa and the following two sections provide examples of that. The article will conclude with Yene speaking of her own experience and how an integrally-informed approach to leadership development has changed her world.

The Problem

Africa, largely the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, is the poorest region in the world. This is hardly big news given that it is a major constituent of the Third World. Yet of the seven continents gracing our planet, Africa is the only one that is moving backward in growth and development, and worse, has been steadily marching in that direction for the last 40 years. Thirty years ago the average income in sub-Saharan Africa was twice that of both South and East Asia. Today it is well below half of East Asia, and similarly compared to Latin America, South Asia, and the Middle East. Africa sits at the bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index rankings for life expectancy, education, and income per capita. In Africa are the 28 lowest of 162 countries ranked.

The implications are startling, and not just for Africa. According to the 2050 Project, a comprehensive five-year study of global regional trends from 2000 to 2050, the accelerated downward spiral in sub-Saharan Africa is such that the region literally teeters between collapse and stability. A failed continent “will be at least a humanitarian nightmare and probably an environmental, health, and security nightmare for the world at large”.

It is hard to imagine how things could get worse. Already, half the population lives in extreme poverty (less than $1 per day), life expectancy is down to age 46 and falling, and one in three children do not complete school. Africa bears 75% of the world’s deaths from HIV/AIDS. This has orphaned about 12 million children to date. In a torrential brain drain, 70,000 skilled personnel flee Africa yearly. Zambia lost 1200 of its 1600 doctors in recent years. 32% of the world’s refugees are African. mostly they are fleeing civil war. The situation is aggravated by the world’s worst infrastructure, in part the legacy of colonial interests that favored mining exports over people movement. The continent remains geographically fractured, with limited to zero rail, air, highway, or phone connections between and within African countries. People simply cannot connect with each other. And as if to rub salt in the wound, Africa stands to lose more from climate change than any other region of the world.

Modern history has chronicled many well-meaning attempts to alter this course. But the $500 billion in western aid that has flowed into Africa since 1960 is a testament to the failure of conventional aid and development approaches. According to George B.N Ayittey, a native of Ghana and Distinguished Economist at American University, Somalia is a textbook example of unintended consequences. Foreign food aid actually eroded the traditional economic support systems, decreasing food security, and financed weapons that were used violently against the Somali people. The burden of corruption is difficult to exaggerate. According to figures recently compiled by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, cash secreted out of that country alone (£220BN) virtually matches the entire balance of post-colonial western aid, or six Marshall Plans.

In light of these discouraging statistics, many westerners secretly (and sometimes openly) write off Africa as a lost cause. But Africa is not a statistic. It is 600 million human beings. And by mid-century, their ranks will at least double and perhaps triple. For many of us, our compassion for human suffering on such a scale means we cannot turn our backs on Africa. But what can we do, realistically?

The Opportunity

Recent advances in our understanding of complexity and of human systems development are helping us gain new insights. The intractable problems the world is grappling with today, such as HIV/AIDS, violence, poverty, and environmental degradation can be understood as “adaptive challenges”—problems that require not just conventional technical fixes but profound changes in behaviors, beliefs, and worldviews. Such knowledge does not come from conventional skills training, but from transformational learning that can change someone from the inside out.

Intractable problems also tend to be complex, requiring as Einstein suggested, a level of thinking beyond the level that created the problem in the first place. The complex nature of the situation in Africa is evident in the 2005 report by the Commission for Africa, chaired by Tony Blair. The Commission concluded that Africa’s problems exist in “vicious interlocking circles” that “shackle the continent”. They concurred that the intractable, self-reinforcing problems such as poverty, corruption, violence and instability, basic health and education, and HIV/AIDS “must be tackled together” for any possible effect. In complexity language this means that all parts of the problem—subjective, objective, for one, for all—must be involved in the solution. This requires a whole or “integral” approach.

But where should we start? We know that Africa, despite its grinding poverty, is mineral and resource rich with more than enough arable land per capita to feed its people well. Besides oil, vast geothermal energy reserves lie untapped beneath the Rift Valley. Encouragingly, the research of the 2050 Project determined that given existing conditions and trends, a positive African scenario is entirely possible. Sub-Saharan Africa could conceivably experience sweeping reforms and social consensus, becoming a net exporter of food and a low-cost, environmentally friendly industrial and manufacturing center. This could provide, across the continent, modest lifestyles, peace and freedom from the struggle to obtain basic necessities.

What is the key to this attractive possibility? The answer can be heard in the voices of a new generation of African leaders who are quietly gaining influence within institutions and among the people. Their values and beliefs, unlike the preceding generation, are pan-African. They seek a higher purpose beyond their individual and tribal needs and are prepared to dedicate their lives to the betterment of the continent. The 2050 Project identifies this phenomenon as the critical trend for the positive scenario, stating, “pragmatic, economically sophisticated political leaders are emerging?…genuinely interested in improving their country rather than enriching themselves”. The Commission for Africa similarly concluded that the core problem underlying all the difficulties boils down to governance: the leaders themselves as well as the institutional systems they influence. The Commission further resolved that more investment, aid, and infrastructure development will not help if the core problem of governance is not addressed. Thus, this emerging generation of relatively young, conscious African leaders literally stands at the tipping point of the continent.

The mission of everyONE-USA is to develop, in crisis spots around the world, leaders of integrity who can reliably resolve complex adaptive challenges of any kind. In addition, everyONE-USA endeavors to provide these leaders a global network through which they can exchange with, learn from and support each other in their efforts to eradicate appalling human suffering and make possible a decent life for everyone. The Integral Africa Project is designed specifically to address the urgent needs of Africa.

everyONE-USA recognizes that the greatest leverage (i.e., largest number of persons receiving critical quality of life improvement per dollar spent) can be achieved by increasing the capacity of promising indigenous leaders. everyONE-USA brings to bear leading edge, proven methodologies in integral transformative learning and development that builds such capacity in leaders. With this approach, the leaders themselves can make appropriate fundamental changes in the systems and cultures they influence. The leaders who will participate in Integral Africa will be capable of implementing solutions that respect Africa’s unique cultural, political and economic heritage and fit into Africa’s socio-cultural milieu. In time these leaders will become the teachers and mentors of the program, creating a virtuous circle of positive change.

The vision for Integral Africa is breathtaking in its possibility, yet eminently achievable. By 2010, it promises to enable the emergence of a potent wave of 600 African men and women with the leadership capacity to meet the complex challenges facing Africa. They will join forces with peers in the creation of healthy, thriving families, communities, organizations and institutions in Africa and the world. In the past, elaborate projects and a fortune in resources have yielded a backward slide in Africa. The everyONE-USA Integral Africa Project offers a low cost, intelligent, yet radical approach for the positive future of Africa.

Yene’s Experience

During my work and involvement with the UNDP/BDP HIV/AIDS Program I had the opportunity to be introduced to basic transformational leadership and the integral approach as tools to be used to challenge the spread of HIV/AIDS. Very much a skeptic initially, I had to force myself to try this “integral way” of thinking or being on myself first. I needed to be convinced enough to fulfill the responsibilities I was hired to do. I was recruited as facilitator for the training of local leaders at all levels in transformational leadership. Applying the learned tools yielded immediate results in my own life, which really seriously caught my attention.

A few months down the line, I participated in the Pacific Integral, Generating Transformative Change (GTC) program and had an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the integral approach. Here again, the results were mind boggling to me, because I reached a place where I could witness my reality and to see how all parts come together to form my current reality. I gained a capacity to engage the future as opposed to being helpless in the grips of destiny. Change leverage points became visible and change did not seem as unattainable anymore.

After working in development and especially on the issue of HIV/AIDS since the late eighties, I had reached a level of frustration that most my colleagues share – that of putting in the effort, time, money, heart and still not seeing proportional results. The integral approach gave me the missing pieces to make sense out of the reality and the tools to understand how current reality can be handled to create the desired future while we avoid repeating the past.

My thoughts were that if my colleagues back home and all others working for the development of the African continent had access to this integral school of thought we could in fact truly change the direction our continent is heading. This thought of the possibility to contribute to changing the future of Africa is what led me to initiate Integral Africa as a strategic initiative to contribute to African development through the empowerment of the next generation of leaders and the creation of a cadre of integrally informed change agents across the continent.

An example of our work on the ground is the Home-Writers Program, an AIDS patient care and support strategy designed in a creative way. We, at everyONE-Ethiopia, actually hire bed ridden AIDS patients. Their job is to write. They can write whatever they want and as little or as much as they want. Subsequently, the writing is used for publications.

Our rationale behind the program is to give some income to AIDS patients as the whole persons that they are. They can use the income to buy drugs, to buy groceries or even buy a beer, if that is what they wish. Giving the right to “choice” to individuals who have been cast as “finished” brought new life and new energy to these individuals, as well as the entire family/community they belong to. We have witnessed a significant decrease in discrimination, an increase in self-esteem of the individual as well as of the family, an increase in hope and a will to live. The coordinator of the Home-Writers Program is actually a Home-Writer herself who went from being 39 kg, semi-paralyzed from the waist down and bed ridden to gaining back her weight up to 55 kg, walking and coming into the office every day to lead the Program.

From the integral perspective our Program changed the paradigm of resignation to that of resilience in all quadrants. AIDS patients were empowered to regain their self-value and self-appreciation, which was reflected in their working (in writing), their ability to gain some purchasing power, their ability to choose also what they wished to buy (and this included all things, not just drugs). It is a program that has given soul strength to those condemned to die in bed. Now, they still may die, but it will happen from a different consciousness and a reality rooted in resilience.

This Program has also allowed the collective culture and perception of AIDS patients to change. Today, neighbors come by to drink coffee in a household they previously avoided for fear of contamination. Today, the family holds in admiration the AIDS patients for their resilience and will to be productive regardless of their predicament. In parallel, our organization provided the systems and structures needed to keep the program working, to keep the income regularly coming and to support the families, the communities and the AIDS patient.

I feel the design of this program holds many answers. It will need to be elaborated more, but for the same or less cost than the on-going care and support program, it offers the opportunity to change the paradigm of existence for leaders in Africa, and in their wake, the people of Africa.

The Role of Integral

One of the issues that African Nations must address to overcome the challenges confronting the African population at both the country and regional level is leadership. In the 2005 report Striving for Good Governance in Africa, Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary Amoako calls for a “bold and innovative program to effectively develop and use Africa’s governance capacity”.

Leadership is fundamental to the healthy development of individuals, groups and societies. Without the vitalizing power of leadership, the future for Africa can only resemble the present…or worse. And in the calculus of an interdependent world, a declining Africa means a vanishing possibility for everyone.

Leadership emerges as the single element that, if properly developed and reinforced, can allow African Nations to make a substantive shift toward long awaited, sustainable changes with tangible results for human and economic development. As a human development and systems analysis program Integral Africa incorporates three dimensions: philosophical, technical and political. It reinforces personal development for fine tuned aptitude in leadership and radically expanded capacities of the individual. The individual is then able to reflect the learning and acquired transformation into their communities, their organizations and their nations – and create environments ripe for fundamental societal changes and a shift of the existing paradigm.

“Integral” refers to an approach to understanding complex systems which includes both their objective and subjective aspects, recognizing that individual, communal, interpersonal and functional aspects of life are each a world unto themselves yet a fully interdependent whole. An integral approach insists that what causes change cannot be reduced to either subjective (e.g. psychological) or objective (e.g. economic) variables. Most leadership efforts today focus more or less exclusively on the objective or material factors involved in the situation. An integral approach insists that the interior factors at both the individual and collective levels are completely interdependent and this complexity must be taken into account when designing and leading change and development efforts.

What may be the primary distinction of transformational leadership development is that it is starts with and insists on the primacy of personal growth as the key to new levels of leadership. The first complex human system which program participants must work with to transform is their own being, and their own selves, as transformation of greater system only comes through the reflection of personal transformation undergone by individuals within that system. To lead transformational change efforts it is essential that the leaders themselves be involved in an ongoing process of self-development. When a leader has directly experienced transformational change, she can lead others through it. When a leader is constantly bringing himself to his own “learning edge”, he will have compassion as those he is leading struggle to move through their own barriers to (under construction)

The Authors:

Susan Cannon, PhD,is an interdisciplinary scholar-practitioner, educator, and futurist managing a portfolio of projects related to transformative learning and change in human systems. She brings over 20 years of practical experience as a corporate executive, international organizational consultant, engineer and radio talk show producer together with program development, teaching and research at the university graduate level. Susan’s work draws from the theories and practices of cultural and human development and is grounded in the complexity sciences. Her recent work emphasizes leadership capacity building as a strategy for global systems change. Susan is on the Board of Directors of EveryOne USA, co-founder of the Women’s Integral Leadership Circle program at Antioch University Seattle, Director of Research and Development for Kore Leadership Inc., Science Advisory Board member of the Integral Science Institute in Chapel Hill, NC, and works with the Arlington Institute, a futurist think tank in Washington D.C.

Yene Assegid, MBA, is a development practitioner focusing her work and energy on the advancement of Africa, with a special emphasis on human and organizational development. She brings more than 15 years of professional experience in a diversity of thematic fields within Africa, Europe and the U.S. Yene joined Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as one of the pioneers to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Ethiopia by designing and managing the first series of communication programs aimed at reaching women surviving from commercial sex in the urban areas. In the new Millennium, Yene joined the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as a consultant to formulate, design, monitor and evaluate regional programs in Central and Eastern Africa. Yene has a B.A. in Investment Analysis and Financial Management from American University in Washington D.C. She also holds an M.B.A. from University of Maryland, College Park. Yene is currently pursuing her Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies. or