Transforming a Society (Venezuela) Against All Odds – Part 1: Setting the Scene

By Helio Borges and originally published on

This article is the first in a series of four that follow a five-month evolutionary journey of three dreamers, who in their effort to transform a society that is suffering the effects of a complex humanitarian emergency under a very authoritarian regime, are undertaking a transformation of their own.

Part 2 is here.

Small Sample Of Change-Makers’ Stories

The news that a group of teens led by Maryuri Ruiz, all students of the Maria Inmaculada school of Petare the largest slum in Latin America, organized an emergency brigade might not look like a big deal. What makes this event an extraordinary one, is that the purpose of the Hikola Brigade is to bring emotional support to the members of the school’s community, students, teachers, parents, and workers.

They do it by holding deep listening sessions learned during their four months formation at Proyecto Hikola. Maryuri and her fellow students turned the school system inside out, assuming the responsibility for bringing to light and addressing the precarious emotional state of the school’s community members.

Vicente Paez is a young man who lives in Petare. His personal political views led to him being estranged from his own family. His parents are local community leaders for the government party, while Vicente is a councilman for the Primero Justicia opposition party that was outlawed by the government. Seven years ago, Vicente was expelled from his paternal home for his political thinking and for a while was homeless.

When he began the program, his intention was focused on his political future, because he believed that Proyecto Hikola was going to help him polish his political skills. However, with every session to which he attended, his intention slowly shifted back to reconcile with his family.

Now Vicente has been able to reach out to his family and engage them in dialogue. Today, Vicente is more aware of the importance of human relationships, looking to develop spaces for deep listening and generative conversations in his personal life and political career. In an extremely polarized country, Vicente’s example has the potential of becoming a model for political reconciliation.

Raixa Rivero is a Master Coach with more than 20 years of experience in teaching, counseling and mentoring, and has held key executive positions in different coaching schools. As a participant in our second cohort, she was exposing her case in one of the deep listening circle sessions, and she said: “What makes me really happy is to do voluntary work”.

Later on, while having a conversation with her coach and friend Marietta Perroni,

she unveiled a purpose of massive transformation to positively impact the world “by connecting and transforming lives” with the creation of human “oases” where its participants would live full experiences in the loving company of other people.

With that call in her mind and heart, she went to Father Ángel Ríos, Parish Priest of El Hatillo and Mercedes de Silva President of the local Pastoral and they founded #TejiendoEsperanzas (Knitting Hopes), where 30 neighbors, mostly grannies from El Hatillo district participated.

Their knitting work impacted directly and indirectly about 528 people in their first year of operation, mostly young mothers and their newborn babies. A new social startup had been born.

Maryuri Ruiz and her team, Vicente Paez, and Raixa Rivero. Photos: @hborgespics

Proyecto Hikola

These transformational stories are a small sample of the testimonies of change that the 220 participants in the Proyecto Hikola program experienced in 2018. Proyecto Hikola is an adaptation and customization to the Spanish language of the MITx course u.lab. Leading From The Emerging Future.

It was an initiative of Maria Antonieta AngaritaMarietta Perroni and I. We are the Co-hosts of the Caracas Ulab Hub, the local center for action research, diffusion, and discussion of the Theory U in Venezuela.

This program builds capacities on social leaders that help them change their mindset so that their decision-making process is focussed on the wellbeing of the whole system.

Consequently, the educational community members, social activists, and NGO leaders of the Great Caracas area who took the program in 2018 are more able to identify, bring to light and address in their communities and workplaces, the deep causes in which the Venezuelan crisis is rooted.

We wholly appreciate the understanding and collaboration given by the Universidad Metropolitana of Caracas and Opción Venezuela, and we are deeply grateful to Barrett Values Centre, whose fund awarded us a grant because they “were inspired by our efforts to bring positive change to the educational ecosystem”. Thanks to those organizations, Proyecto Hikola is a reality today.

The Societal Transformation Lab. Expanding Our Scope While Living The Disruption

“Welcome to the Societal Transformation Lab! We are really excited to have you on board for this journey”.

That was the heading of the letter that we received last Jan 2, 2019, from the Presencing Institute. We were one of the 300 teams from all over the world that had been selected to participate in that program.

We felt blessed for having been given this opportunity to take our work to the next level.

u.lab-S. Co-Initiation. Image: “Intention”. Olaf Baldini, Presencing Institute

u.lab-S. Co-Initiation. Image: “Intention”. Olaf Baldini, Presencing Institute

The Societal Transformation Lab is an initiative of the Presencing Institute, a think tank located in Boston, USA, founded by Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer of MIT, and creator of the Theory U.

His books, courses and programs “outline a framework for updating the “operating systems” of our educational institutions, our economies, and our democracies, applying the core concepts of Theory U to the transformation of society at large”. 

He believes that “true leadership today is the capacity to facilitate a shift of mindset in multi-stakeholder groups from a narrow understanding of self-interest (ego-systemic) to one that makes decisions based on the wellbeing of the whole system (eco-systemic). We call this capacity Eco-System Leadership.

The Societal Transformation Lab aims to build this type of leadership capacity at scale, across multiple sectors and geographies. Ultimately, the aim of STL is to activate a global ecosystem of innovation that works to ensure wellbeing for all”.

In Part 2 Helio Borges describes the initial stages of  the Societal Transformation Lab process

Republished with permission.

Featured Image by Block quoting added by Enlivening Edge Magazine.