Group Reflections on the Work and Teachings of Alyona Yuzefovich and Anastasia Laukkanen
Updated: May 15
Produced by Fyodor Ovchinnikov
On Wednesday, May 4, 2022, a group of systems change practitioners gathered for the sixth peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Alyona Yuzefovich and Anastasia Laukkanen.
Participants’ reflections were recorded and processed according to the Collective Narrative Methodology to create a balanced summary of key ideas that showed up in group discussions using participants' own words and giving every participant an opportunity to ensure that their ideas are included.
Here is the recording of the group call with Alyona Yuzefovich & Anastasia Laukkanen based on this collective narrative:
We would like to directly say “thank you” to Alyona and Anastasia for what they have been able to contribute to this program. We are sending our deepest gratitude for their safety as well as for their work and its intersectionalities that are relevant to all our countries. We are sending them positive energy. They are in our thoughts and those of us who pray will pray for them.
How are the voices, the relationships, and the systems change work itself changing in these extraordinary times?
It is so unprecedented for us to have this conversation in the middle of a learning journey when we have this war happening between Russia and Ukraine. Of course, the war itself is not the reason why we are discussing the work of Alyona and Anastasia but without the Russian invasion, we would have focused more on their En-ROADS Climate game sessions and their Systems Thinking for Sustainability course where they bring people together and create a space for collective learning.
In this different context, we are curious to know who Alyona and Anastasia find themselves aligned with or connecting with? What kinds of relationships were they building when they were focusing on climate, on their university classes, and now when all that is gone in the way it is, how does it change who they are in a relationship with and what does the work actually become? Super concretely, who are other actors, what kind of activism, what kind of work, what kind of voices, what does the work look like in addition to daily life or in relation to daily life? Literally being where they are, what are they able to do and what are they not able to do? And when they look at the systems change tools, methodologies, and practices they have been using, what stands out for them as the most relevant today?
What is changing beyond conventional politics and how to name it?
Another question comes from our reflections on the ideological roots of the war. Thinking of that, some of us from the United States draw parallels with the American culture, specifically with how what we are trying to overcome on a really fundamental ideological framework level is ‘liberalism’ and all the ways in which it manifests in our culture, shaping the challenges that we have. So if Alyona and Anastasia had to choose a word, if they had to try to define it in really simple terms, to find a container for the mentality, the ideological framework, or the challenge, what would it be? What word holds all of the struggles and pieces together in a way that maybe would help us here understand the depth of what it is that they are facing and doing?
When there is such a deep level of changes required, some of us feel like one of the things that we try to understand and that Alyona and Anastasia may be able to provide some really amazing insight into is if the need is beyond just political change. If things are so volatile and so in need of deep, deep change in such an environment of crisis, beyond what kind of political change they see, are there ways in which they can recognize that politics itself is changing? As every aspect of our lives is reconstructing, what does the change of politics, both regionally and globally, look like for them right now?
How to avoid sliding back to the old ‘normal’ when the crisis is over?
Some of us also brought up reflections on some groups such as feminists or decolonialists that had largely been kept on the margins of Russia’s socio-political discourse before the full-scale invasion and that are now taking leading roles in the anti-war resistance. In this context, we discussed a concern that after the regime change, when the war and the current political antagonism go away, there will probably be a strong drive to go ‘back to normal’ without the deep and difficult work to deconstruct and redesign the mainstream cultural narratives and institutional structures which would remarginalize the very groups that are now at the forefront of cultural resistance. Do Alyona and Anastasia see this as a risk and if so, then how does it inform their work?
What can we do for mobilization and accountability around the climate crisis that is only made worse by the war?
Some of us suggested that there is a link between the war and Alyona and Anastasia’s work on climate change and systems thinking for sustainability. Specifically, while war crimes have been defined in international law mainly around human suffering and the loss of human life, some of us wonder how the concept of war crimes can be redefined from a new level of consciousness to include environmental degradation and other environmental aspects of wars including today’s war Ukraine.
Given the severe climate crisis we are in, even if we stay within the anthropocentric worldview—without including the ‘more-than-human world’, as Bayo Akomolafe puts it—we still cannot ignore that as the climate crisis is already causing human suffering and the loss of human life and it will only cause more of that as it unfolds. Today we clearly see a distraction from the agenda of climate change and the massive destruction of resources that could have been used for climate action, so some of us wonder how the Russian government can be accountable for this aspect of the war, for its global impact on environmental sustainability based on an expanded definition of war crimes in the international law.
A related line of thinking is about the mobilization that we see around the immediate threat of the war and how it contrasts with our collective failure to mobilize a wide range of stakeholders around the need for climate action. We need to have awareness and a sense of community to get people involved but with issues like climate change, it is hard for people to fully recognize and emotionally connect with them as most of their implications are not visible in the short term. So how do we involve people in addressing problems that seem to be far away? How do we keep on building a global community of system thinkers, wisdom seekers, and people who care and love? How do we build this awareness and a sense of community to get to the action part?
How can we take collective responsibility for our future globally while respecting individual and group boundaries?
Talking about decolonization, the fragility and fears it brings, and the need to build trans-local solidarity, some of us suggested that Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine is sending us all a strong message of just how important it is to actually build horizontal connections across languages and national borders, because anyone who thought that what is happening in Russia culturally, socially, and politically was none of their concern can now see a powerful example of why this was not the case. Besides the death, destruction, and suffering that Russia’s invasion has brought to Ukraine, one-fifth of the global population is now at risk of being affected by food insecurity because of this war, and this is just one of the many global implications of what was brewing within the Russian context and was largely ignored or underestimated by the global community.
This showed us that horizontal connections, solidarity, and support of generative, life-affirming forces are crucial for our collective future. How do we achieve that? How do we build communities that take on the responsibility for building the new and take accountability for all of us as a collective for such things as war or the environment? Some of us suggest that we are not in the space of taking accountability or being responsible for it yet. And as we work towards that, how do we keep the balance between group boundaries and individual agency on the one hand and the solidarity around our global concerns on the other hand?
In our conversations, some of us tried to answer the question that Alyona and Anastasia shared in their TLST materials: “What is the future we want to be part of creating?” One framing that we discussed was a world where everyone is respected in the same way in which people respect their own interests which applies to all areas including geopolitics, economics, the environment, and so on. What do Alyona and Anastasia think about that and how do they answer that question?
How to approach the complicated relationship between Ukrainians and anti-war Russians?
Another question related to the war was about the relationship between Ukrainians and anti-war Russians in the global context. In our international group, there was a lot of solidarity with Alyona and Anastasia who are anti-war Russians and who stand in solidarity with Ukraine. We shared and held together grief and sadness in this conversation about their work in their current context, about the circumstances in which they are actually doing it.
Certainly, it was very clear as we went through our small groups together that everyone is deeply touched and heartbroken by what has occurred, that we all are feeling this horrible pain and want to let Alyona and Anastasia know that they are not alone in that. Some of us even went as far as to borrow a line from JFK and say that “we are all Russians right now and we are all Ukrainians”.
In response to that, anti-war Russians among us pointed out that what Ukrainians are going through is incompatible with the experiences—however tragic or noble they are—of anti-war Russians, that Ukrainians deserve to be at the center of global attention, and that equalizing assessments of Ukrainian and Russian experiences can be potentially triggering and traumatizing for Ukrainians.
At the same time, the work that many Russians are doing can make important contributions to stopping the war, dealing with its consequences, and doing whatever possible to prevent this from happening again. So even though Ukrainian and Russian experiences are fundamentally different, Russian anti-war and broader systemic change efforts still deserve support as long as it is not provided at the expense of Ukrainians. With that, we wonder how Anastasia and Alyona see this delicate relationship between the need to continue their work in the Russian context and the need to respect Ukrainian voices and their priority on the global stage.
What factors are responsible for the war and what will reconciliation look like for Alyona and Anastasia?
As we empathized with Alyona and Anastasia’s story, there was hope that despite the whole world is already looking upon Russia mostly in a very negative way, when everything calms down, Alyona and Anastasia will be able to create more space to build cohesion or unity between Russia and the rest of the world including Ukraine by creating more living space where people will be able to share information, learn, collaborate and forge a way forward.
Some of us came to the discussion thinking that the invasion might be a mistake of maybe one person or a few individuals who are in the leadership, while the majority of the people have a different perception and are totally on a different side. This perspective emphasizes the role of leadership in this crisis: leadership, as a tool, if applied incorrectly leads to what we see is happening now, but if applied in a correct way, it can be used to build sustainable communities with the ability to collaborate, to work together.
In response to that, others argued that it is ordinary Russian soldiers—not leaders—who are fighting in Ukraine and committing war crimes, it is ordinary Russian teachers who are brainwashing Russian children with propaganda, and it is ordinary Russian police officers who are arresting peace activists for “imaginary signs”. While anti-war resistance is part of the Russian social reality, we should not minimize the role of certain Russian cultural narratives that were indeed exploited and amplified by the leadership but nevertheless made this war possible and can do it again in the future unless they are understood and let go at the societal level through a collective process that will probably be long and painful.
What do Alyona and Anastasia think of the role of leadership, culture, and other factors in the current crisis? How does that impact their work? Also, many of us wonder if Alyona and Anastasia would want to share places of hope for themselves. How are they keeping their own resilience up? How are they finding support and what plans do they have for continuing their work?
Social entrepreneurship and performing arts as sources of power and hope
Some of us were able to personally relate to the work that Alyona and Anastasia are doing by referring to what happened to our own work in our countries when the COVID pandemic came. For example, when everything got paralyzed in Kenya, some of us struggled with adjusting to that. Eventually, incorporating social enterprise into our work allowed us to keep helping the community while generating income to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the organization. This is something that Alyona and Anastasia already have in their model and therefore are more resilient than if they were running a nonprofit.
For some of us, it was incredibly exciting to read about the climate labs, and we felt that we wanted to do this too, and then to just read how it all had to be abandoned was heartbreaking. However, this is clearly not the end of everything. Just like they have been able to create harmony and connect various communities through their university course, there is even more they can do now, and they have a very big role to play.
Some of us looked back on our background in drama in Kenya and the value of performing art as a tool for promoting peace, sharing knowledge and skills with other people and noticed that Anastasia’s engagement in stand-up performance and the qualities that she is developing through this work can play a vital role as its attributes, knowledge, and feelings actually connect people of all races, of all ages globally because it does not segregate people but unites them.
Though this work might not be that easy, there is hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel that can be explored, and in the long run, we will be able to look at and celebrate some of the achievements and successes of their important work.
What can we do?
What can we do for them? Is there something that they can offer that is useful for us in listening and doing? What do they think is the most important for us to know, especially those of us here in the Evolutionary Futures Lab network, and how can those of us who are connected to the Evolutionary Futures Lab support you?
For example, if there is an opportunity for us to work online, some of us would be happy to sign up and be part of one of their climate labs. It seems like very exciting work and we hope that you do find ways to continue to move forward with it.
Beyond that, as many of us feel very connected to what Alyona and Anastasia are up to, we wonder how we can support the collective relational goals in the context of the political versus the grassroots. How can we support that from a distance and engage with them in a deep, spiritual way to intertwine our hearts as we feel their grief? How can we wrap them in our arms to hold space so that they know that we are here?