Crisis, Chaos and an Unexpected Gratitude

Crisis, Chaos and an Unexpected Gratitude

For the first time in the 4 years that we have been working on the ground with citizens in Greece, I heard Greeks saying that they are grateful for the collapse of their systems. No, not in a lighthearted way, not an the easy “This is all good.” Rather, they are saying it through the pain and despair of feeling the life they knew fall away and something opening on the other side of that despair.

In the Art of Participatory Leadership we offered this April (2015) in Athens, we heard participants speak of the anger and shame of encountering bureaucrats who do not take pride in being a civil servant – but who rely on old responses that have nothing to do with the collective reality or with supporting those who are wanting to change things. We heard of the potency of loss – the loss of identity, material life, money, hope –  and the necessity of re-inventing oneself. We heard of the gratitude for seeing new perspectives and world views that offer connection with each other and with a future that has a different blueprint than consumerism.

We heard this: If there had been no crisis, we would not have met this way, could not have known this kind of quality of being together was possible.”

Since 2011, through the SIZ-Hellas, we have been witnessing and living the incredible stories of people on the ground in Greece, in their communities, across this country and beyond this country. People who are birthing new systems, ones that return us to the meaning of democracy, where citizens self-organize around what is needed and what we dream is possible in service to the Commons.

These stories, this courage, these actions of ordinary citizens who are creating the future now, are the threads of a new narrative that is emerging from places where the current systems are collapsing or deteriorating.

We speak a lot about the Chaordic in this work of Participatory Leadership: the chaordic that is born from creating the minimal optimal structure that allows just enough chaos to meet just enough order to find its route towards emergence. But the reality in places of collapse and crisis is that chaos is dominant.. So sitting with and in our internal and external chaos is an essential human capacity that needs attention.

The thickening threads of the narrative that make the new stories possible are around HOW we create the conditions to meet in our collective chaos, to BE in our personal chaos, and let the new patterns within that chaos unfold to show us a way, rather than trying to avoid the angst and fear of this state of being.

What I have been learning by working and living in Greece, and in Israel and Palestine, and being in the many places in our translocal network where the precariousness of life, the unpredictability of responses, and the shaking of the old and new which is not comfortable but filled with human emotion, historical tendons, unspoken inter-generational traumas, and the dance of paradoxes that are hard to reconcile – what I have learned is that

  • Coming together to be in conversation about what matters most to us is a seriously political act, one that can often be a great risk to one’s personal safety or create the risk of being excommunicated from one’s “tribe”;
  • Listening in to what we don’t yet know or see is an act of faith and also a skill, and this quality of listening is the most important skill to cultivate in oneself and collectively;
  • Witnessing each other in the honesty of our expression – whatever that expression may be – is healing beyond all measure; and that
  • Navigating chaos together by doing these simple, yet very difficult, things IS itself the work.

I say it is the work because once we have done this, once we have been in the hardest stuff together and learned from it and allowed it to touch us, there is a clarity and depth that is a new landscape. A new landscape of relationship and trust and shared wisdom. This becomes the ground, the new soil, for what we can plant.

To meet chaos, to be transformed by what we did not know or see before, to let these discoveries become part of us, and to let go of the old identities is a form of initiation. We are learning how to be in the chaos of our dying systems and create chaordic spaces for the emergence of the new, and importantly, we are learning how to be in this together. This is one of the many ways that courage is bred, and when we find our courage, live from our depths, trust our relationships, feel our gratitude for the hard things that have happened, then our actions … well, they are really something.

~Vanessa Reid, May 2015


AoPL Athens 2-15 Exploring the Chaordic. Graphic recording by Nikos Rovaris of Process Makers @ the Art of Participatory Leadership, Athens (April 2015).

Save the Date!  The Next Art of Participatory Leadership, Athens is April 17-20, 2015.

Save the Date! The Next Art of Participatory Leadership, Athens is April 17-20, 2015.

As citizens, leaders and professionals, what are the ways of working we need to develop that will allow us to collaboratively address the challenges in our cities, communities, organizations and society?


Since 2010 Greece has been the center of attention worldwide for several reasons: economic crisis, austerity, citizen movements, social innovators, corruption, the future of Eurozone and more. With the results of the recent elections, Greece once again draws attention to whether the new government will bring hope and change or if the economic situation will get worse. It is a question that reflects not only the future of Greece but also the future of Europe.

Underneath this is a question about what we mean by demokratia – the power of citizens to collectively define and create their lives and steward the commons with the interest of future generations in mind. We believe that the main differentiator that will make this new “era” successful is how citizens are engaged in new forms of governance, forms that are based on participation, dialogue, self-organizing, diversity and true consultation.

We invite you to this 4-day training to explore together:

As citizens, leaders, and professionals what are the ways of working we need to develop that will allow us to collaboratively address the challenges in our cities, organizations, communities and society?

WHEN: We start at 9.00 am on Friday April 17 and will to 5 pm April 20, 2015.


This training takes place at the IMPACT HUB-ATHENS, a multi-use space and place for social innovation in the center of Athens. It is located in the Psiri a neighborhood known for its unique atmosphere that still has a sense of the old Athens. Accommodation will be at nearby hotels or local Air B and B. Details and options of accommodation and how to get to our venue will be provided upon registration.

PARTICIPATION FEE: A sliding scale participation fee for 350 to 900 Euros

In Greece, there is a growing network of complementary currencies and alternative economies flourishing. This is due to the massive disruption to the “mainstream” economic system. We want to honor that there are many people in Greece and elsewhere who are working and living with these multiple forms of currency, and that in fact, cash and money is not always available, but other forms of currency are.

We offer a sliding scale participation fee for 350 to 900 Euros which includes the training and a light lunch each day. This fee does not include accommodation. We wish to make this training available to as many people as possible and do not want economy to be a barrier. Therefore we work on the value “offer what you can and little more.”

Should you have ideas about offering OTHER FORMS OF CURRENCY to this AoPL, please contact us with your ideas! Also if you wish to join us and can’t afford to pay the lower price please contact Odysseas Velentzas:

LANGUAGE: The training is in English and informal Greek translation will be available, if required.

REGISTRATION: Please contact Odysseas Velentzas to receive a registration form or to ask any questions:

*For more on “What is the Art of Participatory Leadership”, click here.

When Nature Calls – the Art of Participatory Leadership at Axladitsa August 2014

When Nature Calls – the Art of Participatory Leadership at Axladitsa August 2014

Come and join us from 28- 31st of August for our next Art of Participatory Leadership training. Living systems exist everywhere in nature. From the smallest living organisms to the largest mammals, life is organized in interrelated-interdependent colonies, nests, packs, herds etc. In nature, change is constant and occurs through self-organization and emergence. We believe that nowadays our societies, organizations and institutions are at the point of fundamental change. However we humans tend to seek for change in a mechanistic and controlling approach rather than work through emergence and self-organization. As a result we tend to struggle in the same loop while only dynamic changes occur. This 4-day training invites you to come to Axladitsa, a 24-acre organic olive farm in the Pelion Peninsula in Greece to explore together, with people and with our natural environment the question:

How can nature teach us to create communities, work and initiatives that are based on self-organisation by enhancing our understanding of how living systems behave?

On this 4-day training we will learn participatory leadership techniques and mental models as a way to work in self-organising patterns and we will explore and be inspired by nature’s patterns. In addition we will focus on how we can bring these patterns to our everyday lives, our institutions, our work, social movements and our organizational structures. We will be informed by Axladitsa’s nature itself. We will live with the rhythms of the land, the weather, the creatures here, as well as with our rhythms of the day which will include homemade meals, fresh from the garden. The land of Axladitsa holds many stories, ancient wisdom and practices -these will also be our teachers. This training is held by Stewards and Practitioners of the Art of Hosting Network, and is offered by Living Wholeness Institute and Process Makers who together are working on social change initiatives in Greece, Europe and the World. Come and join us in creating a powerful “parea” from 28th August to 31st of August at Axladitsa. *Parea: (Gr.) A Parea in Greek culture is a group of friends who regularly gather together to share their experiences about life, their philosophies, values and ideas. The Parea is really a venue for the growth of the human spirit, the development of friendships and the exploration of ideas to enrich our quality of life that is all too brief in time. In Greece, the Parea is a long-lasting circle and cycle of life nourished by the people who participate. photo by Vanessa Reid

Citizen Participatory Leadership in the Re-invention of Democracy

Citizen Participatory Leadership in the Re-invention of Democracy

What happens when a society goes through a phase of creative destruction. This is what we can now learn from Greece. To learn what it means to live in a paradox where institutions no longer deliver and citizens need to find new creative ways to organize their life. This is the space where democracy can be re-invented through participation.

Maria Scordialos, one of the co-founders of the Systemic Innovation Zone – Greece, affectionately known as the SIZ, speaks at the Trailblaze in Ireland on the resilience and solidarity that is knit together in the social fabric of the Greek culture at this time.

At the Trailblazery Speaking of the Dis-integration and Re-Birth of Greece.

Activist. Systems Theorist. Pattern Recogniser. Maria is co-founder of The Living Wholeness Institute based in Axladitsa Avatakia, a farm and home that hosts immersion learning in Pelion, Greece. She is also co-initiator of the Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversations, a practice that invites people to create new collective intelligence through generative dialogue. Maria is passionate about citizen led democracy where people can be part of crafting their own lives by living their soul’s purpose.


An Urban Flow Game at the Athens Plaython

An Urban Flow Game at the Athens Plaython

In September 2012, the SIZ participated the Athens Plaython at the Technopolis of the Municipality of Athens. The Plaython invites Athenians “to get out on the streets and re-imagine their cityscape, use a bench as their headquarters, play with projections on the walls, plan maps out of chalk, jump over imaginary obstacles, defend a fountain, dance in front of changing traffic lights, hide a treasure under a bus stop.”

The question we wanted to play with was:

What is the Action that We Need to Take in order to Turn Crisis into an Opportunity?

We created a version of the Flow Game especially for this urban and collective setting, as one of our SIZ members, Sarah Whiteley is a steward of this game. It is unique form of board game that invites us to follow our questions and finding “flow” to them by traveling through directions and questions that can guide us to new understanding.

We re-framed the game inspired by the City of Athens itself, its landscape and more specifically the four main rivers flowing in the ancient city and their associated myths. The more we researched and excavated the more we were guided to Greek mythology as an organizing pattern for this urban version of the game. The 4 directions of the Flow Game corresponded to the 4 springs of the rivers Ilissos, Iridanos, Kifissos and Erassinos and were characterized by the character and stories of Leto, Theseus, The Muses, and Plato.

Some of the outcomes or discoveries:

In four groups of 5-7 people, we moved through a collective inquiry and discovered the rich roots of Greece and its people, including the informal networks of family and friendship, are the organizing patterns for new forms of democracy – and that these are already taking root in creative and surprising ways in communities.

What is the relevance of games and urban play in the context of economic and systems breakdown?

We discovered how playing is a way to engage citizens in a larger, participatory conversation about their collective future that moves us from protest to “parea” as a form of collective citizen engagement. Parea is the Greek word for “good company” or what happens when you are in good company. It has become an organizing model for SIZ-Hellas as we see more and more that incredible things happen in the spaces between conversation, a good meal, laughter, storytelling, living daily life together, friendship and being playful.

Curious? Click here to get right into the action and watch our video of this Urban Flow Game in Greek and English.

Click here for more details on the Athens Plaython.


by Vanessa Reid and Maria Bakari

Akademia Platonos – Plato’s Academy is Pioneering Once Again

Akademia Platonos – Plato’s Academy is Pioneering Once Again

A self-organised movement of citizens is currently evolving around this special place: the actual archaeological park of Plato’s Academy, the Philosophy School founded and led by Plato.

Citizens have set up a collaborative cafe called Akademia Platonos just opposite of the archeological site, which has become a lively community of change makers and young people involved in various urban projects related to transition, skill-sharing and creating a new way of life.

The first time the SIZ was invited to work in the Collaborative Cafe was in March 2012 when we hosted a gathering which brought together those who want to explore the question

“How can we co-create new ways of organising, relating to each other, working and collaborating, connecting and networking?”

Forty people joined us for a participatory dialogue process using a World Cafe approach which invites us into a series of conversations to see what is present in and emerges from the richness and diversity of voices in the room. Together we discovered the many new initiatives gaining more and more ground in Athens, projects ranging from urban vegetable gardens, to co-work spaces and alternative economy initiatives and networks.

Recently the citizens have self-organised around an issue that emerged about the identity of the neighbourhood, which was sparked out of the announce of a plan to turn the nearby property into a mall. Local citizens and people from all over Athens organised a two-day festival to raise awareness for the matter, connect people and ideas, see a citizens-owned vision for the area and empower the grassroots action, projects and initiatives that are being prototyped in this specific area.

SIZ-Hellas was invited to host and offer a participatory process in the context of the unfolding initiative around the “Plato’s Academy neighbourhood in transition” on the first day of the Festival. In partnership with the Collaborative Café, we offered an outdoor participatory session in the park. We sat on the grass under the shade of olive trees inspired by the same ancient marble that Plato and his students used to see and touch 2,500 years ago.

Working with the question: “What do we see and/or want to see happening in our neighbourhood?” we created a participatory mindmap which was then followed by Open Space Technology which gives those who.  We self-organized into conversation groups all over the park creating a buzz of creative energy resulting in very concrete and tangible ideas and actions.

The momentum of the people’s guardianship and ownership of the Akademia Platonos area is remarkable. The plethora of initiatives already happening there range from collaborative economy projects to free Greek lessons for immigrants and web-radio. We are happy to be closely connected to the social innovation and systemic change springing from this extraordinary place ~ Philo-Sophia…

Text by Maria Bakari, photo by Vanessa Reid

A World Cafe in Athens – participating in the making of our lives

A World Cafe in Athens – participating in the making of our lives

When the crack began to open around the Greek economy in 2011, there were many and varied responses from individual despair, collective protest to imposed austerity measures and more. The focus of many of these responses was on what was wrong, what went wrong and who was wrong.

Our response at SIZ-Hellas was to bring people together to be in conversation. The very simple act of creating an invitation to come together at a difficult time is deeply meaningful, particularly when citizens feel isolated and fearful.

In December 2011, and in partnership with SOL-Greece (Society of Organizational Learning), we invited citizens to a World Cafe conversation which is a methodology that gathers people around a central question to have several rounds of conversations with others at cafe tables. It allows us to then collect the wisdom from all the smaller conversations into collective insights and actions that we can move forward. We worked with the central question:

 “What are we proud of at this time about our land and ourselves?”

With this question, we shifted the focus from complain and blame to discovering each other again as citizens who care about their collective futures. We were able to cultivate a sense of potential – even in the despair and chaos of the situation. By offering a space for citizens to participate in their lives and in what matters to them most, we began to see the bigger picture together of what might be possible if we were to respond to the situation from a place of actively participating in creating our future.

*See the original invitation here which is also the blog post “A World Cafe in Athens – participating in the making of our lives.”

World Cafe QuestionDeep in conversation

Photos and text by Vanessa Reid

Building the New Networks and Leadership ~ introducing the SIZ

Building the New Networks and Leadership ~ introducing the SIZ

“Hi! My name is Odysseas. I’m a young Greek citizen. I am 27 years old.

Me and my friends – I say friends because I can cooperate from my heart with them (from the person that I am I mean) – we made and created the Systemic Innovation Zone. Systemic because we want to have real systemic change, not to create something that in 20 years will collapse; Innovation because we need social innovation technology in order to step forward and make a new beginning; and Zone I would say in a mental way, rather than a specific area.

Here in Greece we train people in Participatory Leadership and also help them create projects in social innovation. Why not transfer our experience and learning to the rest of Europe and to the world? In Greece, actually, the system hopefully will collapse. I say hopefully because I need something new – everyone I think needs something new in Greece and in Europe, and we have to take action by all the people coming together to create the new system that we want to live from, to take decisions about our lives.

The people in Systemic Innovation Zone, I think, have the experience to help people to learn how to use participation. Actually, Greece is a country where the West and the East come together, which means the collective and the individual comes together. We need to bring back the old patterns that Greeks had, which is to help each other. Greece’s economy has collapsed many times but has survived many wars as well, and what helped the Greeks to survive was to help each other – and this is something that needs participation.


With SIZ we have the Art of Hosting in Participatory Leadership. I think it is very important. We don’t need experts and technocrats any more. We need leaders that we don’t actually know, and their work will create the space for people to come together and share ideas; we need to collect intentions, in other words.

So, in that way, I think our training in the different roles will be a new beginning here. And also for me, as I will participate. I really want to learn to train people in participatory leadership for two reasons: Mainly because in Greece we need to share this fire, to make the fire spread, and we need people to get used to participation in a real way. And secondly in order to create a sustainable way of living, not only for me and our project, but so that we can train people in other countries and share with them our experiences from Greece and the rest of Europe.

In that way this 3-day course will be very important. We want to help other Greeks to come and participate in the Art of Hosting. For the majority of them it is very difficult, so anyone that can support is inspiring, let’s say, and we will understand that we are not doing our work alone; and even if you are not here, your soul is here anyway.

We are happy to share our experiences in Greece. In this place, really, many things happen. The television doesn’t show that: social innovation with complementary influences; citizens taking care of their city. And we want to bring these new ideas to the surface.”

*thank you to Megan Williams for transcribing, and Dylan Reid for editing*

Athens Learning Journey – Meeting the Collaborative Solidarity Economy, April 2013

Athens Learning Journey – Meeting the Collaborative Solidarity Economy, April 2013


There are numerous self-organizing initiatives going on all over the city as a response to the breaking down of our political, economic and social systems, and we invite you to come and meet, speak and interact with the people and places who are creating new social realities. Some people conceive a glass half of water as half full and others as half empty. Today through an alternative tour in Athens we will see that the glass of water is as full as we want it to be!

Our tour will start at 11.00 am, at Panepistimio Metro Station. During our tour, we will visit places in the Exarcheia area of Athens where there are many initiatives that are being created by citizens for citizens, such as:

– the self-managed Navarino park
– the “Colleagues Publications” Cooperative
– the social kitchen initiative “The other man”
– the immigrant supportive team ASANTE
– the immigrant’s multi-cultural team
– the social clinic of the neighbourhood
– the self-managed cultural initiative “Nosotros”
– the social grocery “Sessoula”
– the exchange initiative “Moth”
– the free self-managed EMBROS theatre
– the “SynAllois” cooperative

After a break for preparing the lunch and co-eating with other people we will have a meeting at Little Tree Bookstore at 5.00 p.m. to have a conversation with some initiatives and teams of the of solidarity and cooperative economy, such as:

1.  VIOME self-managed factory
2.  Self-managed cooperative at Akadimia Platonos
3.  SynAllois
4.  savegreekwater
5.  antigoldgreece

6.  Self-managed park at Ellinikon
7.  Votsalo network
8.  Athens Time Bank
9.  Social clinic of  Ellinikon
10.Social pharmacy at Patissia
11. Immigrant’s support ASANTE
12. University of Solidarity and Cooperative Ecomony
13. Self-managed music conservatory <>
14. Solidarity4All
15. Iliosporoi
16. Traditional seed exchange Peliti
17. Spithari Ecocommunity- The Marathon Project
18. Free Self-managed theatre EMBROS
19. Neighbours’ Assemblies
20. Social Kitchen “The other man
21. Self-managed space Votanikos Kipos
 Welcome in the bright side of Athens!
Photos by Vanessa Reid
Athens is Burning

Athens is Burning

Athens is burning. We are here, safe, but witnessing the shift hitting the fan, so to speak.

The birthplace of democracy is holding a vote in its parliament tonight on the next level of austerity measures. The schism between national and trans-national officials and their constituencies is too wide. There are massive protests. Some parliamentarians are resigning while others are refusing to vote because it is just impossible to put a country through such measures. The situation is completely unsustainable, so the cracks are widening.

“Today, many things indicate that we are going thorough a transitional period, when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if something were crumbling, decaying, and exhausting itself, while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the rubble,” wrote poet and world leader, Vaclav Havel before his death.

He was right. I am watching a live stream of the protests in Syntagma Square. The reporter is shouting, “Come out, come out on the streets! Especially the legal people, the economists, the security offices, city halls and people who give speeches...” as he witnesses the chemical-bombings by both Greek and European police who have been called in to the centre of Athens. There is now fire all throughout the beautiful old centre of Athens. I hope a phoenix will rise from it –  this is full of paradox and potential, but right now it is just awful to watch…

“This is what outrage looks like. When people burn their own cities to be heard, then democracy is on life support,” says our friend Charlotte, with whom we worked on the Finance Innovation Lab, our work in the UK. We have to ask the audacious questions – how do we create systems that sustain and serve both people and planet? And then be brave enough to act on them.

So we are here in Greece to carve new pathways forward, in particular with young people, innovators and those holding the DNA of the fundamentally new systems.  While there is still a big focus on “fixing” a problem, and not yet civil-society led transformative alternatives, there are many citizen-led initiatives and complementary currencies popping up here in Greece.

We are starting an initiative here called the Social Innovation Zone Athens, and a SIZ-Atelier for collaborative innovators to gather, learn, connect, experiment and just get on with it. Our experience and partnership in creating the practice ground of the Finance Innovation Lab, an open lab to bring people together to create the new financial systems, is a great foundation for this initiative. But it is a very different context here in Greece. This is not a LAB. It’s life. Pretty much everything is at stake.

What is the connection between social innovation and democracy? With the cracks opening in places like Greece, where citizens are refusing to be punished for the actions of elites and abstracted global systems that are damaging both people and planet, it is time to entreprendre the new systems of governance, education, economy etc in new ways. Entreprendre, as in undertaking something with our own two hands, not outsourcing to experts but as Gandhi said, to “hand-craft our lives.”

It is time!


by Vanessa Reid