This is the first part of “What companies can learn from Janwaar”. The second part you’ll find here. While the first part is about how to set-up the transformation process in order to succeed (= principles), in the second part you’ll find the main learning in form of nine rules. Combined these principles and rules are a blueprint for change.
As many of you know I’ve been in India for many years and my name there became synonym with skateboarding and Janwaar. India’s first skatepark in a rural village has triggered far reaching changes in the community. Social barriers were broken done, learning became something worth doing and income opportunities opened up. Most importantly skateboarding has given this village an identity – something every villager is pround of and can bond with. It has created a sense of unity in this so desperately caste seperated Indian society.
This video which was first released at the Mountaim Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado, briefly explains what I did:
The approach I’ve taken in Janwaar – DISRUPT. OBSERVE. CO-CREATE. LET GO – is very much the same you take in any organisation if you want to drive significant and lasting change. Below I’ve sumamrized nine principles companies can benefit from when striving for transformation.
systems over objects
In Janwaar, we took a holistic approach, i.e. the individual measure was always embedded in the vision of making the whole village “better”. We’ve always looked at the potential social, environmental, economic and cultural impact of a measure on the community and then assessed whether we should do it or not. For example, our Kitchen Garden, it is organic, the children planted it, tended it, harvested it, the old single very poor women get the fresh vegetables and once a week the children cook for themselves in our Community Centre.
Or our rule: Girls First! It addresses the boys and the men in the village. If we only ’empower’ the girls and leave the boys out, then nothing will happen. If nothing changes in the behaviour and attitude of the men, then it is of no use if I build up the girls/women. They will NOT be able to assert themselves in this system!
At the end of the day, there needs to be a balance of planet, people and profit. Especially for companies. We require a constant focus on the overall impact of new structures, technologies, products, processes and an understanding of the connections between people, their communities and their environments. We need to consider ecological, social, and network effects. The focus on a single object such as optimising Gwinnoptimierung revenue shares (= measuring growth only in numbers)without considering its implications in its environment is no longer acceptable. WE are embedded in something bigger and WE finally need to act within this overarching system.
resielience over strength
Strength is often equated with NOT making mistakes. We do not have a culture of mistakes!
Resilience means I want to win, I want to make it, but I allow myself to make mistakes! This has the great advantage that you don’t “close down”; you make a mistake, “step aside”, reflect and create a space for yourself between the moment when something went wrong and your response to it. You resist failure and this creates space for action that you can use creatively. Ronan Harrington has done excellent work on this topic!
So in Janwaar we deliberately allowed mistakes to happen and focused on the potential. For example, there are hardly any skateboarding coaches in India, and those that do exist don’t come to remote Janwaar where there is no electricity and no toilets. We relied on the principle: children train children. We trusted in the potential – we knew the training process was “flawed” and trusted that the process would regulate itself!
If you choose resilience, life will show up as it is and you can create accordingly – this understanding of resilience gives leadership and decision making a truly spiritual meaning and moves away from traditional business doctrines.
practice over theory
It turns out when you do things you get facts, when you plan things you get a theory.
In Janwaar we opted for pratice for each and every project. We learned along our way and we included our learning in our way forward. It was a constant way of adapting. We rather moved in small steps so that we were able to make them wisely. Yes, during the construction phase of the skatepark we lost a few bags of cement especially when it came to the pollishing of the final layer, yet the local labour was able to adapt to the “new” way of working with cement and did well. We did the same with our Open School project – together with Prakriti, a very good school in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, we designed a specific curriculum for a few of our children in the village – clearly adapted to their needs and not primarily focused on curriculum standards. And we adjusted as we moved on.
We did it, reflected on what we experienced, adjusted and moved on.
This reduced our costs of failure tremendously – would we have designed a new curriculum, trained teachers for it and so on, it would have taken much longer, would have been much more expensive and probably would have never worked out.
emergence over authorities
In Janwaar there are two castes – the Yadav and the so called Untouchables down below th ebottom line. This is Indian society – the hierarchy is set. We basically ignored this and decided to go with the flow. We wanted those kids to become “authorities” who stood out in their social skills to unify and take responsibility without pushing others aside – no matter what caste they belong to. So we did NOT define authority iby caste – rather by reputation and respect .
The ‘leaders’ who emerged were kids with a high EQ, they are respected team members and very often don’t grasp power. They are connected within the system.
It is the opposite of top-down management.
disobedience over compliance
You don’t win a Nobel Prize by doing what you’ve been told. You win a Nobel Prize by questioning the authority and thinking for yourself. This was especially difficult for the Untouchables because it is THEIR CULTURE being told what to do. Their space in society is meant to be obedient. To change this was quite a challengs and sometimes it still is. It is so deeply rooted. Yet it is crucial to overcome.
We want questions to be asked, we don’t want to repeat doing the same things over and over again. WE need stronger ME’s who are not afraid to not comply and who are confident enough to ask and question. This caused quite some disturbences in the village, it was against all odds – yet slowly everyone gets to the point that by asking questions and challenges the status quo lives does get better.
compasses over maps
We were very clear with our overall goal; we wanted to make the village a better place to live in. Yet we didn’t know how we would achieve this. The direction was clear – no map though how to move forward. As long as we kept going in the right direction, we were happy. This way it was much easier for us to adjust to challenges and blockades. We always had enough time to react in this complex and unpredictable society. This way we could safe costs and ressources. A killer argument for companies, no?
pull over push
We pulled the ideas and thoughts from our network, the village; mainly the village children. We didn’t stock and centrally controlled everything. Again, pull is in many cases more cost effective and it kept us very agile. This way we received ideas and thoughts which aren’t ours. We didn’t inverst in assets such as machinery, IP, fixed partners – we did, when there was a cause. Otherwise these things can actually turn out to be liabilities. They would make us slow and resistent to change.
This means that we did not come to Janwaar with a predefined programme, but we created a space in which new things could emerge – initiated and carried out WITH the villagers. We didn’t design FOR them. The projects emerged from the pool of ideas that were created in Janwaar by the villagers. They owned these projects and therefore took much more responsibility.
learning over education
Education is what people do to you. Schools, universities, institutions give you a certificate and you are done! No! WE need more. Certificates don’t help you in a place like Janwaar. It is much more the ability that you as a person learn, what you do to yourself. Not was the system requires you to do. It is a ME-thing, learning is an ongoing process. In an ever-changing world learning is your possibility to survive well. Learning is the best if you are able to admit that you don’t know everything and when you are open for new experiences without any filter. And this includes that sometimes others do know better – even though – acording to certificates – they are “less” than you!
We have NOT chosen the WE over ME. And we have NEVER said that we are moving from the ME to the WE. NO! I think that would be fatal. We have empowered the ME’s who can create the best WE.
And those were not always the best skateboarders or the best in school.
This is a huge challenge for HR departments in the future; they need to completely rethink how they select AND evaluate their employees.