I just wrote my new 15 year vision. I had created a 13 year vision back in 2007 for the year 2020. But, now I need a new one because almost everything in that vision has been accomplished. My new vision begins with “it is July 2028 and I am 75 years old.” I went on to say what I was doing currently, what I had accomplished in the past 15 years and how I was doing it. I am excited to begin this next journey by reflecting on my accomplishments, and with a renewed vision in partnership with my Spirit in Action team.
I want to share a story of visioning with a group I’ve been involved with since spring of 2006. The most exciting thing about this work is that it has been with young people. This month, at a national education conference, several young adult leaders came running up and hugging me. Only after looking at their name tags did I recognize them from the young people I had lead visioning with back in 2006. The first year working with Kids Rethinking New Orleans Schools — the summer after Katrina — we began with a vision of the schools and world they wanted to create 25 years into the future. One of the young boys said “this is only just pretend!” I agreed. It was just pretend, unless we created a roadmap and action plan to get there. Now, that young man is one of the leaders working with the current group of “Rethinkers” in developing this year’s curriculum and co-leading the 6 week program this summer. The dreams the young people had that first year, and subsequent years have been astounding. They have had victories around every annual visioning project they have done. Last year they made a video about visioning and the impact it has had on their work.
Has their collective visioning worked? They have had multiple victories. One such victory around changing the cafeteria food policies in their schools is shown in an Emmy nominated HBO documentary called “Weight of the Nation: The Great Cafeteria Takeover” starring the Rethink students. They were able to take on Aramark, a multi-national corporation that serves cafeteria food to two and one half million children across the United States and the Rethinkers succeeded! They have not won everything they want, at least not yet, but they now have their foot in the door and are holding these powerful people accountable to what they promised.
What does all this have to do with cultural shift? First, the idea of beginning with a collective vision – focusing on what we want to create rather than what we are against – is the most important step in creating real, successful, and sustainable change. Second, strong voices and accountability can make change – even with large multi-national corporations. Three, sitting in circle and building relationships are a critical part of developing trust, hearing each other and creating change. Four, taking action on the vision we create leads to victories. Five, giving young people the knowledge and empowering them to speak for themselves create our leaders of the present, as well as for the future.
So, visioning has everything to do with creating cultural shift. Starting with vision provides us a positive grounding to work from. It supports us to look for solutions and ways to get there. It also inspires ourselves and others to keep motivated toward that vision even during times where we feel hopeless and ready to give up. In a society where we’ve grown up focusing on the problems and what’s wrong, shifting to a positive vision approach can be challenging at first, but once you have participated in this process, you will never want to go back. It builds trust, collective power, hope, and joy. It sets us on a path toward winning on the issues we are working on. Collective Visioning helps us create a different culture in the way we do our work that is sustainable, supportive, and achievable.
To learn more about how to lead a collective vision process within your own group or organization, go to https://spiritinaction.net/toolkit/ to download a free copy of Occupy the Present, Change the Future: A Collective Visioning Guide, or if you prefer a full understanding of how to set up diverse groups, prepare and lead collective visioning with exercises and examples, order a copy Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future. Feel free to use the comment section below for any questions or ideas you have (we would especially like to hear your thoughts if you have participated in collective visioning in the past). We would love to hear from you and will respond.