Text: Nicole Asis | Edited: Joan Sleigh | Photos: screenshots from the Web-Seminar
The World Social Initiative Forum launched its first Web-Seminar “What Now?: Social Needs of Today” last July 31 via Facebook Live. To date, it has reached more than 1,000 views, almost 400 interactions, and an organic reach of 2,600 people worldwide.
“What is it in each one of us that shifts one’s attitude from observer to participant? That we can believe in the impossible, step up, and actually do it?” – Joan Sleigh, WSIF Project Leader
The World Social Initiative Forum (WSIF) launched its first Web-Seminar “What Now?: Social Needs of Today” last July 31 via Facebook Live. WSIF Project Leader Joan Sleigh and SEKEM Managing Director Helmy Abouleish met 80 people online for a dialogue on the current social needs we face as a global society and the possibilities of a more dignified future – if we take it on. To date, the Web-Seminar has reached more than 1,000 views, almost 400 interactions, and an organic reach of 2,600 people worldwide.
The Three Social Needs: Fear, Isolation, Unemployment Joan highlighted fear, isolation, and unemployment as the three main social challenges aggravated by COVID-19. She emphasized how the pandemic made these social ills into a shared experience worldwide – in which “we are all united and no one is spared.”
Joan posed the following questions when looking at fear: “who is responsible for my reactions? Are they determined from outside – programmed through fear? Or am I actually free to take myself to such an extent that I can flow with it and shape my own responses?”
She cited author John Carlin describing how Mandela responded to Chris Hani’s assassination in 1993. Hani was a celebrated freedom fighter at that time and his untimely death stirred anger and polarization across South Africa. After hearing the news, Mandela paused for five minutes – in utter silence – before addressing the nation.
Joan recalled that his six-minute address to all South Africans was “completely inclusive and understanding”, which saved the country from imploding into revolution. Out of this example, she proposed facing both fear itself and the “gap within ourselves” as a way of liberating us from paralyzing thought patterns to “recognize the nothingness for a chance of finding new possible futures.”
Despite the imposed physical distancing and travel restrictions, Joan sees how online platforms – like this Web-Seminar – make it possible for people all over the world to meet and interact. She queried though if this is really a substitute for a face-to-face encounter with another, “how do we awaken empathy and social justice through being faced with isolation and distancing?”.
She added, “out of this, we are becoming more aware of the need for human encounter than before. And this need to develop empathy and understanding carries an urgency to really see every human being in dignity, in their spiritual value, in their real humanity.”
Recognizing the huge impact of unemployment worldwide, Joan emphasized the importance of work that goes beyond mere survival. “What is to have employment as not just having a salary at the end of the month but also of having a place where you can contribute?
She encouraged a paradigm shift on how we see employment: “work should not only be seen as salary-centered but more a purposeful action – a vocation in which one finds where one belongs and where one can make a difference.”
Envisioning the World in 2050 Out of these challenges, what kind of future do we hope for that will make the world a more humane place? “Our picture of humanity in the future as envisioned by WSIF in 2050,” Helmy shared, “is where people can unfold their individual potential freely, practice empathy and genuine interest in another, contribute to an associative economy in service of the needs of others, and sustain the vitality of the earth as a living organism.”
The WSIF vision is based on the Threefold Social Order, a societal framework proposed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, adding ecological responsibility as its fourth dimension. Though he named the vision as “mission impossible”, Helmy acknowledged that we are not alone on this path and that the organization is committed to realizing this vision with its partner organizations and other anthroposophically-inspired grassroots initiatives worldwide.
He invited everyone to participate in this call to enable change, in whichever capacity, shape, or form. “We exactly know that this is not going to happen by itself. We cannot lean back and just wait for things to happen,” he added. “We have to engage. We need many more activities, initiatives, World Social Initiative Forums in every country happening on these topics, with people connecting locally and regionally.”
He ended this call with hope and an impulse to act. “Miracles are possible. Our own experience shows this every day. But it needs to connect, to join, and to share.”
Questions from the Viewers WSIF Co-worker Juan Bottero moderated the Q&A with the audience, making the Web-Seminar interactive and conversational.
David Fairclough from Ireland asked, “Could you suggest one practical thing that we can do wherever we are to help further these intentions?”
Helmy answered, “Make the right choice as a responsible consumer – in what you buy, what you pay, what you do every day from morning to the night in all products and services you consume. You create the world out there with your decisions.”
Joan added, “Every locality has social needs because we are human beings. Once we have identified them, let us shift the focus to ‘what is my abundance, which I can offer to help address these needs?’”
Edward Baumheier from the US asked, “How do we take on wealth inequality?” As an example, Dottie Zold from partner organization Elderberries 3fold Café shared reports that farmers are even unable to afford the food they themselves harvested.
Helmy suggested a reinvention of the economy by transitioning to need-based salary: “We have to move away from salaries which are related to jobs or responsibilities to a salary scheme that covers the needs of a human being and nothing else.”
He continued by mentioning SEKEM’s attempts through “Economy of Love”. “Instead of focusing on profit maximization and shareholder value, we look at economy as providing services and products to those we love, with prices that everyone can afford.” He added, “we do not want to provide products which can only reach a certain income elite.”
The Q&A ended with Adria Subirats Rivas of Catalonia asking: “how does the individual respond to the restrictions of our freedom and needs by the state that should actually protect them?”
Both Helmy and Joan agreed that government-imposed restrictions are our “new normal”. But we can also see it as an awakening point on how to navigate between individual freedom and social responsibility.
“Civil society has to become strong now,” Joan said. “Each of us has to step up and take on the urgency of the situation.”
Helmy added, “We are all facing the same restrictions. Yet, within these legal regulations, we have to have enough space as a civil society to still organize a good life, a good livelihood.”
What is ‘The Gap’ With the looming hopelessness and pronounced uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Joan asked, “what is it that motivates us into action? What is it that shifts – from being an observer to becoming a participant? – that we can believe in the impossible and actually do it?”
“The only way is for people to believe in themselves – to find their inner voice and their ability to change the world. Their call. Their sources of inspiration,” Helmy answered. “These can come from religion, through meditation, or the arts. It needs this source to find the necessary commitment and self-confidence. It is beautifully said in Islam, ‘the divine light in every one of us, which is there, needs to come out’.”
He took it a step further by inviting everyone to get out of one’s Self and connect with others: “The next logical step – and this is our call – is to share, to unite your efforts with others, to create a community, a movement. This is what we need.”
Joan encouraged everyone to “go into the gap within” where stuff comes up which we are not expecting, which we didn’t know was there, and then participate “because we are all part of the in-between spaces, of the ‘livingness’ we want to keep enhancing.”
A Call to Action Helmy concluded with optimism – that mission impossible can be done: “I believe that the pandemic, with all the sorrow and pain it brought to the world, and obviously our prayers and our thoughts are with all those who suffered, is a huge catalyst for change. People today are ready for change, seeing that change is needed. Hence, I am very optimistic that we will come out with better ideas to achieve our vision even a little bit earlier than 2050.”
Joan then rounded off the Web-Seminar the reason behind its title “Living In Between Spaces”.
“Living is all about bringing life to the planet, to our economy. We need to bring life into our cultural life as well, adding a spiritual aspect to how we live. And of course, bringing life into society as a relational community.”
She continued, “‘In Between Spaces’ has got to do with the gap – how do we live, how do we bring life through this in-between space between human beings and also that gap in ourselves – own in-between space between me and my Higher Self. How do we re-enliven these in-between spaces?”
With its first Web-Seminar, WSIF along with SEKEM and other anthroposophically-inspired initiatives and partners all over the world tried entering the gap by foreseeing the impossible as “possible”.
It turned into a dialogue that hopefully ignited hope where there is almost none; and where diverse possibilities emerged amidst the nothingness – if we have the courage to find the light in us, work with others, and act.
Like what Nelson Mandela said, “it is impossible until it is done.”
The next Web-Seminar: “The Power of Commitment: Safeguarding What is Human” will be streamed live on August 28 at 16:00 CET via Facebook Live. An online Network Workshop will also be launched on the 16th of October, where members of the network will have a more participatory role through pair work, break-out sessions, and open forums – all of which will be hosted by WSIF online.