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16 Dec 2008

From the Transition Cities Workshop: Shilpa Shah’s Diversity Workshop

The notes from the Transition Cities conference are all now up, you can read them here.  One of the highlights for me was Shilpa Shah’s workshop, on Diversity.  About 25 people attended, and what follows are the notes I took during it.  At the workshop Shilpa gave out a really useful handout which offers some great tools for Transition initiatives to use, which you can find here.

Initial Go Round

Participants from Brixton, Bristol, Gent (Belgium), Glasgow, Hollaway (London), Nottingham, Sheffield, London (Tooting), Exeter, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff, Cambridge, Brighton, London (Hackney).

Key issues that arose from the initial opening go-round:

  • Beyond white, accents, middle class, ‘usual suspects’
  • Already working on Transition issues
  • ‘We’ as opposed to ‘them’
  • Not about being PC, rather the need to be more inclusive
  • Popular Education concepts (ie. Trapese)
  • Working with different faith communities
  • Equality, discrimination
  • Social justice, poverty and discrimination
  • Discomfort/curiousity
  • Celebrating difference
  • ‘Intra cultural’
  • Community development – going ‘out’ to people

In Tooting, a walk from Tooting Bec to Tooting Broadway tube stations visiting different faith groups and looking at texts that relate to the environment, did one last year and it was mind blowing
Not just about colour, also language, education, long words, education, etc.

Shilpa than gave a Presentation

Why do I think diversity is important? As has been said about many of these places, cities are deeply diverse, in terms of colour, faith, age, education, language to name just a few. Don’t want to try and just box it into diversity with capital D. The issue is how we feel about that, about working with those people. That richness is in no way reflected in environmental movement. I have done many of these sessions where people come looking for a Magic Bullet, something to just allow box-ticking.

Some people also think it will help with their funding, which rather misses the point. It is about being inclusive, working alongside people, empowerment and listening. The term ‘hard-to-reach’ is a big problem. No-one is hard to reach, some are just easier than others. One group I worked with said “we are not hard to reach, we have been meeting here every Friday for 15 years!” So let’s dismiss the idea of ‘hard-to-reach’ now.

More recent initiatives including the Transition concept has come about because Greens always have had a scary model, saying that the world will end tomorrow. The response is that we get over-busy and burnt out, while others think don’t want to know, it is a scary model, and many just put their heads under the duvet. We (in the environmental movement) use lots of written, dense, technical information, we expect people to come to us, put out the leaflet and people will come. We have made a distinction between ‘us’ who care about it and ‘them’ who don’t.

Things have improved, our messaging has become more creative, more inspiring in some ways, message has become clearer but still confusion. There is an issue around vision, is it our vision or is it a shared vision? Can be seen as patronising, going out to ‘teach’, and end up talking to people like us. I am not saying it is easy, that we should beat each other up about it. I am inspired that there are 30 people here who are interested in this.

What are the benefits of exploring diversity? One is increased resilience. We know about this term in terms of Transition, but it can also can allow us to make more of an impact… Diane Abbott wrote recently in the Guardian that climate change is a white middle class movement. She said that from Parliament many MPs feel that if more people contacted them from ethnic groups it would make it easier to change. The movement doesn’t represent the interests and concerns of 70% of the people in her constituency. The environmental justice and the social justice movement are largely the same things.

Activity. The Comfort Zone.

Getting out of your comfort zone. If we think about our comfort zone in terms of people that are organisations we find comfortable or easy to work with, it is useful to look at this at the start of this workshop. Shilpa then drew a target diagram with 3 rings, and invited people to write on Post-It notes people they felt comfortable with and those they didn’t and then place them on the target, with most comfortable in the middle, and least comfortable to the side.

Case Studies

Cambridge Carbon Footprint. This initiative took carbon footprinting out around Cambridge and ran ‘Carbon conversations’, 5 meetings across 5 months, play games, what does climate change mean to you, discuss insulation, energy meters, talk about food, public transport and so on, but found that they were still working within their comfort zone.

Akashi project was to go out, meet people on their own ground, where they are at, and set up forms of engagement that really brought people in. An example was a Hindu festival about nature, work across generations, bringing generations together, also working with older people, picture of meeting of older Jewish women discussing Jewish ideas about the environment. Poster competition, working with afro-caribbean communityworking to explore climate issues, as well as African traditions. A meeting on consumption looked at traditional African stories about the peanut, it can be ground up, part for porridge, part for animal feed, compost, etc, understanding of what goes in and out, and consumption.

What are the principles and values and what are we glad to have left behind? For the Caribbean community much discussion was around storms and sea level rise. Work with Bangladeshi women doing food growing. Harvest festival at a Baptist Church group, built the festival around food issues. Climate change henna painting. Dance workshops and performances. Making recycled gifts out of old saris.


Going out to groups on their turf. Start by listening. What are you interested in? What inspires you? What are your dreams? What do you like to do?

Southwark Friends of the Earth group in London, started with building connections and networking. Very successful. London Sustainability Exchange’s South Asian Communities Campaign was given as an example of a very different approach focussed on quantity of people reached. London Sustainability Exchange. South Asian Communities Campaign.

Longsight in Manchester, FOE ran a great campaign looking at buses. A mosque in Manchester and the Stockton Unitarian Church, green changes, food growing projects run by Womens Environmental Network, Birmingham Multi-Faith project, Birmingham FoE, London citizens and TELCO. Based on community organising model. TELCO an unmbrella organisation, unions, cultural groups, etc. Very political organisation. Marches for Living Wage, supporting asylum seekers, have got lots of pledges from Boris Johnson,

Key Lessons

It is about listening. Really is. Not ‘hi, would you like a leaflet’, but ‘hi, how are you, what are you doing?’ It takes lots of cups of tea! We need to take the time out to build relationships. Then we can more effectively work alongside people to come up with forms of engagement and solutions which are inclusive, accessible and work for all groups involved.

This was then followed by the Open Space Session. Divided into 4 groups, here are the notes from each session.

1. Twinning/Sibling with 3rd world city impacted by climate change

  • Education within our groups to prioritise diverse in practice
  • Transition and refugees?
  • City of Sanctuary concept/movement
  • Website presence of diversity stories
  • Story-telling – short videos of minority community viewpoints… YouTube
  • Recruit minorities onto steering group
  • Bring Transition to churches
  • Resources : time, energy, skills, funding, get professionals in to support applications, professional help!

2. What is our story and do we need to change it?

  • Sincerity/active listening/sharing leading to involvement
  • Is the content of the Transition Handbook what we actually want to get across
  • The story of peak oil and climate change is demanding to convey
  • Need to get away from WE versus THEM
  • Build on shared religious ideas
  • Build social/cultural story around the hard science
  • Concentrate initially on their interests e.g their energy bill
  • Remember everyone’s interested in food and fuel prices
  • Help people project their own aspirations into the common vision.

3. Why do we listen?

We bring certain assumptions to the discourse. Why do that? We need to grow experience of listening in our own projects. Needs to be an active process of purposeful listening, communicating the benefits. To grow positive listening as a practice, as an active process. We acknowledged existing body of theories and practice, NVC, co-counselling, identifying own needs, deep democracy, Marshall Rosenburg, compassionate conversation and others. Experience of not being listened to, withdrawing and feeling cut off and cross. Should we be more explicit about those experiences.

‘Conflictional celebration’, a conversation you leave feeling it went really well but unaware of the hurt and confusion caused. Humour is a very good practical way of moving a conversation forward. If you constantly say “you do that, you do that”, better to say “what I do, what moves me is…”. The sense of urgency in Transition can skew our sense of agency, can skew the discussion and sow seeds of disharmony, and problems of status and power.

One of the key things from sales is what you sell to people as the reasons to have it… for Transition, honesty, being honest from your perspective is vital.

Categories: General

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Finn Jackson
16 Dec 1:03pm

This post and Shilpa’s workshop have been labelled as being about “diversity”. But I agree there are lessons here that can be applied to every conversation in transition.

As Shilpa/Rob say, there are strong lessons about “‘Hi, how are you?’ rather than ‘Hi, would you like a leaflet’.”
And lessons about “I am doing this”, rather than “I want you to do that”.

The metaphor we are applying in Transition Farnham (with thanks to Transition Godalming for the idea) is that it is like being at the beach with bored children (teenagers perhaps??).

The solution is not to say, “Go and have some fun building sandcastles.”
The solution is to start building sandcastles ourselves, and then by showing them how much fun you are having, they can’t wait to join in!

It’s about making our transitions more like a party than a protest march. (Now, I’m sure I read that somewhere…)

16 Dec 5:52pm

Excellent stuff. This is an aspect of community I’ve been long exposed to, and thought about at considerable length. I grew up in a couple of places (Guam and Hawaii among them) where there was no avoiding it.

Here is what I think, on the chance it might be useful.

Children usually love “diversity”, and make friends from other groups easily- if they are allowed. That’s wonderful.

One way to keep your doors open would be to set up just a couple stated “rules”.

1) You are welcome here.
2) We want your ideas;and we’ll share all of ours with you.
3) In these meetings and activities there are two things that are forbidden; seriously: proselytizing; and intolerance of others.

It’s a very hard rock in the road; but I have seen good community events/traditions which eventually were ruined because- they were tolerant of everyone. Even those who are intolerant.

I don’t really know how this works out- but I think at least talking about “intolerance” as a destructive force to be avoided- getting it talked about; could help.

You’re on the right track.