Monday, August 11, 2008

Background and History of Constellations of Hope

We are not a formal organization per se. We are a self-organized core of women, with experience working in a variety of women’s organizations, committed to transforming relationships among the many diverse women’s organizations to one of cooperation, interdependence, respect and harmony.

Kathlyn Schaaf (Co-Founder and Former President, Gather the Women, California)
Kathy ‘Won Povi’ Sanchez (Director, Tewa Women United, Arizona)
Dorothy Ettling (Founder and Director, Women’s Global Connection, Texas)
Regina Birchem (Past International President, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Pennsylvania)

Mission and program
We find ourselves in an historic moment of rapid change, accompanied by a sense of confusion and fear, confronted with unprecedented challenges. There is a growing sense of urgency that now is the time we must come together collectively as women to reflect and act.

The project we have initiated is anchored by a collaborative core of women with organizational histories using a model of shared leadership. Our intention is to invite women of diverse cultures and political convictions to come together for a conversation on how we can share our wisdom, our experience, our skills, our resources, and our imagination to create structures of peace and sustainability for the present and for future generations.

To launch this initiative, we propose to invite 50 to 60 women who have, or have had, major leadership or inspirational roles in women’s organizations and networks to come together for a three day facilitated conversation on how we can use our collective power more effectively for the benefit of humankind. Our goal is to capture and conceptualize the common thread that unites the many diverse women’s organizations currently working for a peaceful and just human society in a sustainable, healthy environment.

A new form of community is described by Paul Hawkin as the greatest unnamed movement in history in which hundreds of thousands of organizations have self-organized, similar to the molecules and cells of a living organism, for a common purpose ~ life. Hawkin further writes: “Even though the origins and purposes of the various groups comprising the movement are diverse, if you survey the principles, mission statements, or values, you find they do not conflict.” Hawkin randomly chose groups, printed up their value statements and posted them on the wall. What he found was that the members “share a set of fundamental understandings about the earth, how it functions, and the necessity of fairness and equity for all people dependent on the planet’s life-giving systems.” (p. 21, Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World, 2007) It is vitally important for feminine principles and the wisdom of the world’s women to be integrated fully into this emerging global paradigm.

The goal is not to launch a “new” mega organization or to plan a major global conference. Rather, we propose to offer space for a representative small group to explore possibilities of more effective, fulfilling, sustainable and empowering relationships across generations and cultures. We offer the space with the intention that these organizations will discover the unity that fuels their diversity and that when they ‘remember’ their unity they will be inspired to powerful collective action.

Inspiration for the project
The emergence of a plan for this project evolved through focused and intentional conversations over the course of seven months. Through these conversations we were affirmed in the usefulness, timeliness, and urgency of an Invitation to Collaboration among women.

On December 1, 2007, a group of twelve met in Boston at the invitation of Andre Sheldon, a member of WILPF-Boston and business professional who is passionate about helping to call forth the power and wisdom of women as a source of strength in these challenging times.

Three agreements from the meeting were:
~An effective ‘call to women’ would need to come from a core of women representing women’s organizations.
~A gathering of 50-60 organizational representatives could be organized in 2008.
~A gathering should be simple and a call for a conversation on collaboration would not come from any one organization.

Kathlyn Schaaf and Regina Birchem agreed to anchor more discussion of possibilities and the planning of a potential event. An invitation to gather was drafted and initial contacts were made.
As part of the planning process, two exploratory meetings were held in April 2008: Washington, D.C. and Laguna Hills, California. The discussion was very rich and raised questions such as:

~How do we frame the discussion so that a wider circle of women will trust it?
~Do we want just the leaders of organizations or is that an old paradigm?
~Is the competition among organizations an uniquely American wound that needs to be healed?
~Are there actually several different conversations that we want to happen?
~How do we keep love and spirit at the center?

It was agreed that the gathering should reflect diversity of age, ethnicity, culture, economic resources, and geography. Though based in North America, the gathering should reflect a global knowledge, sensitivity, and awareness. It is important to transform an old paradigm of competition, scarcity and distrust in the community of women to one of open acceptance. Women must be offered a tangible reason to spend their time, energy and resources: something to give them a sense of hope and connection to a larger purpose. We need to move from fear to hope.

Over the course of these three meetings and several conference calls, the following organizations were represented: Gather the Women, Tewa Women United, Women’s Global Connection, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, The International Grail, Peace Links, World YWCA, Global Women’s Leadership Network, Women’s Corp/Kenya Collaborative,
East Timor Advocacy Network, Berkana Institute, Gush Shalom, Women in Black, Call to Women, Women for New Directions, Dreamweather Foundation, Vessels of Peace, Daughters of the Earth.

Description of the project and the need it serves
We will issue an invitation to North American-based women’s organizations to participate in a facilitated conversation about collaboration. The dates, 7 – 10 November 2008, are confirmed at the IONS Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA (outside of Oakland/San Francisco) for 65 participants. The center provides lodging, meals and meeting space in a beautiful natural environment. The event will be facilitated by women skilled in circle principles and dialogue. We are inspired by a clear sense that the time is right for such a conversation and that women leaders are hungry for connection.

Leadership and staffing
The four women who have volunteered to serve as ‘initiators’ of the Collaborative Conversation come from very different organizations, diverse cultural, political and philosophical perspectives and live in all four North American time zones. We have agreed to work collaboratively and ourselves model shared leadership. Kathlyn Schaaf has the special role of being our primary contact person. We communicate by means of a list serve hosted by Women’s Global Connection, by phone, conference calls and email.

We do not have staff and we have agreed to work without remuneration for our expenses at this time.

The event is carefully fiscally planned with no profit to any organization or individual. Registration costs will cover expenses for food, venue and lodging. Gather the Women has agreed to be the 501c3 fiscal agent for the project, receiving payment of fees and paying all expenses for the event.

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