Inner Growth for Social Change

Cultivating the inner qualities of a systems change leaders through a focus on inner wellbeing and self-awareness

By: Catalina Cock Duque, Ashoka Fellow in Colombia

Building a peaceful, democratic and inclusive country is a long term challenge which requires systemic changes to face the roots of our problems. Such changes imply transformations in politics, power, relationships, attitudes and values. In order to achieve this, alliances between the public, private and social sectors are necessary, as well as between leaders with diverse approaches who can support alliances to adopt new ways of doing things.

This may sound obvious, but working with different actors can be difficult. For instance, the building of trust is a great challenge and, as has been expressed by Katherine Milligan and Nicole Schwab in their article “The Inner Path to Become a Systems Entrepreneur,” competition over financial resources for social investment discourage collaboration, and there could be rivalries over who gets the credit within a coalition around a specific issue.

How to cultivate a context where egos can be left aside, and the common interest comes before individual interest? Such question must be answered in order to achieve structural changes.

Catalina Cock Duque

Ashoka Fellow since Aug 2004

Corporacion Oro Verde Fundacion Amigos del Choco

There is increasing evidence that the inner condition of a leader is crucial to achieve meaningful changes, and that it can be cultivated through a path leading to greater awareness of oneself and to inner well-being. Along the same line, great names in the field of social entrepreneurship such as Skoll, Synergos, Ashoka and Schwab Foundation, are promoting a global movement, through their “Wellbeing Project,” to support inner growth as an essential aspect of social change.

There are many options to advance along an inner path, including a deep process of self-knowledge. Getting to know ourselves in all our dimensions allows us to project our greater strengths and to work on our weaknesses. The mere fact of becoming aware of the latter may allow us greater control over our emotions, such as fear or anger, which in turn may undermine confidence and hamper the building of bridges between different sectors. Through inner work, confidence in oneself may be developed, as well as the ability to listen, empathize and follow your intuition, among other crucial skills in the construction of common projects departing from difference.

Investing in the inner well-being of leaders is a way to support the sustainability of their initiatives, or, is it possible for a leader to reach his or her maximum potential when emotional health is at risk or human relations are weak? Will it be possible for his or her impact and leadership to prevail in the long term? I don’t think so.

When people invest in their personal well-being, when their deeper purpose is clear, when their greater inner connection is achieved, they reach their extended-self or their greater-self; according to Peggy Dulany, founder of Synergos, such people have an open heart, which can feel gratefulness and access more creativity; they are connected with a greater whole, they know who they are and they like who they are.

If we get closer to our extended self we can feel more confident and connected in a broader sense, and thus explore our maximum potential as human beings. This is crucial to building high potential teams, networks and movements, to overcoming egos and personal interests, and to understanding the complexity of our reality from different perspectives. Only by advancing along our individual path, will we be able to advance in the political, economic, social and cultural changes Colombia requires to build a fairer, more peaceful and inclusive society.