Produced by Fyodor Ovchinnikov
On Wednesday, May 18, 2022, a group of systems change practitioners gathered for the seventh peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Cleofash Alinaitwe and Ignatius Ahumuza.
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 Cleofash Alinaitwe and Ignatius Ahumuza based on this collective narrative:
We are really grateful that this space is created for us to discuss the work of Cleo and Ignatius because these conversations do not happen unless such a space gets created and we are easily kept from each other unless we have such opportunities.
It was very inspiring to discuss what Cleo and Ignatius are doing, and it helped many of us put our own work and our own challenges in perspective and learn things that are directly relevant to what we do. In our conversations, we discussed that we want their leadership and that their voices are very important for transregional and global conversations.
Those of us who had known Cleo and Ignatius for a long time shared that we had always been amazed at what they are doing. This is a fantastic example of systems change that is authentic, that is rooted in local communities, but at the same time open to the world globally. Cleo and Ignatius are bridge builders who are present in multiple worlds.
Recognizing the role of food production in achieving autonomy in Africa and beyond
We discussed how Cleo and Ignatius are building communities and organizing agriculture to make sure that people have autonomy. They have been very resilient in pursuing their goal of empowering smallholder farmers to tap into local resources for food production and of achieving sustainability through agricultural practices in their rural community, in Uganda, and eventually in the whole Africa.
We all need food and we all can do our best work when we have autonomy, so we need to create balanced, sustainable communities where people have food autonomy. In some contexts, it is possible to have this autonomy through trade and money using other resources that are available in the community. However, in situations where resources are very limited, we need to use the soil and whatever else we have to produce things.
Because in Africa many families struggle to have food on the table, giving people the power and the ability to produce their own food lays a path to success in life for them and their families. When a family is fed, they can work on meeting other needs such as access to healthcare, so one way for people to get out of the poverty cycle is to have the ability to produce their own food in a sustainable way. This is what the Kenyan perspective in our conversations helped us understand about the role of food production in addressing poverty and related issues.
Besides having significance in the current African context, the vibrant work of Cleo and Ignatiusis is relevant for various other contexts. Looking at our projects in Greece, the United States, and other countries outside of the African continent, some of us found that we have things in common with what Cleo and Ignatius are doing in Uganda.
Appreciating the importance of guidance from Cleo and Ignatius as we face the risk of civilizational collapse
Thinking about the upcoming TLST session with Dr. Chong Kee Tan who speaks about the risk of a civilizational collapse, we realize how important the work of Cleo and Ignatius is for building people’s capacity to adapt to a post-collapse reality. Organic, sustainable food production is indeed part of our survival skills.
In addition to that, as systemic leaders whose work is rooted in both local communities and the global context, Cleo and Ignatius can share insights that are desperately needed in places where current systems of influence are holding us back from adequately addressing existential threats that we all are facing today.
Further exploring the organizational and other structural aspects of the work
Some of us expressed fascination with the structure of what Cleo and Ignatius are doing and there was interest in more focus on the organizational and other structural aspects so that we could compare it with our reality and see if that is going to help us. What specific steps did they take to get all the people they work with on the same page? How do Cleo and Ignatius get to their communities, how do they intervene, how do they share their knowledge, create the systems that help people work together? Which steps have been the most important for their work?
Some of us were particularly interested in the applicability of their model of farming in other places like Kenya. Also, some design solutions can be applied to urban gardening where people produce food—small things like onions, tomatoes, even kale—on balconies or even in their houses so that they do not need to spend much more money to buy what they have the ability to produce.
Others saw a parallel between the work Cleo and Ignatius are doing in their communities and how it emerges in the United States around national organizations of domestic workers. How do we organize domestic workers if they are in the places where they are working? What is it that connects them to each other? The structure of what Cleo and Ignatius are doing, as some of us suggested, has this same question: What does it mean to build networks of farmers in their own locations? This is something that some of us are figuring out in our own contexts.
Obviously, Cleo and Ignatius are doing enormous work around agriculture, but one of our questions was about what kinds of relationships outside of agriculture they find themselves making use of or that they would be able to make use of. How is that working for them? For example, in the past, they have talked about their relationships with the media, government institutions, etc., and we would be curious to know what more of that looks like for them at this point.
Exploring ways to build trust and momentum in communities
Some of us were particularly curious to know how to build trust within the community. Especially looking at challenges and mistrust, how can we turn that around and see it from a different perspective, how can we work together? This is so important in any community.
As we talked about the communities that Cleo and Ignatius are working with, some of us wondered how people felt which is very important because they work with humans and these humans have feelings about the work that Cleo and Ignatius do and the service that they provide. So we would like to hear about how these people feel about the work of Cleo and Ignatius and how they made the decision to move forward with this work based on that.
Some of us brought up the topic of changing relationships that are more and more win-win relationships and less and less win-lose relationships. What we usually see the most in competitive Capitalist systems is that each person wants to get maximum value out of a transaction. In contrast to that, to really build communities, we need to establish win-win relationships, and some of us are very interested in learning more about how Cleo and Ignatius are building such relationships in their projects.
It would also be really valuable to hear from Cleo and Ignatius about stories from their work that they find significant, stories that might have parallels with the work that some of us do in our communities. How do they see momentum being built? Where do they see potential barriers or shifts in resistance at all levels such as their communities, officials at various levels, people who are representing institutions that have the potential to open pathways, provide resources or create barriers, etc.?
Preserving the integrity of the local work while facing global systems of influence
Some of us argued that when we look at global or international institutions that are trying to address our systemic crisis and solve the many problems we have at all levels, it is clear that these institutions are themselves based on premises that actually got us into where we are today.
At the same time, many local community leaders in different countries do incredible work and this work is often genuinely systemic. This comes naturally and they do not even have to learn any theoretical concepts to actually start working systemically simply because the problems they care about are systemic and cannot be addressed without transforming their systemic conditions.
When these local systemic leaders start getting some traction with their work they often get noticed by agents of large institutions and many start seeking guidance, funding, or other kinds of support from those institutions. When this support comes from people or institutions that are ignorant of the local context, local leaders can find that support incompatible with the integrity of their systemic work but still trust them and get screwed at the end.
Over the last ten years, Cleo and Ignatius for nine years have been able to come from organizing students to building and implementing long-term strategies for transforming agricultural systems in Uganda and Africa in general. On this journey, they have been able to leverage a lot of opportunities, such as international fellowships, awards, investment, etc. How have they been able to see whether a specific opportunity would actually be helpful in doing the work the way they felt was right? What principles do they use to explore the opportunities outside of their local context? How do they navigate cultures and institutions that are part of our current systems of influence? How do they navigate knowledge? Have they had to say “no” to an opportunity or ignore advice because they felt otherwise they would compromise the integrity of their work? Have they ever accepted support that appeared to be harmful or just not helpful? What is their inner compass for this kind of decisions? What advice can they give to help people doing place-based systems transformation in other communities avoid some of the pitfalls you have encountered and learned from?
Looking at the big picture and establishing global thought leadership
In addition to that, is there anything else they have been seeing over the past decade that is notable to them? And where has their work gotten since they responded to the collective narrative of the first cohort of TLST participants last year?
Understanding how Cleo, Ignatius, and others share their knowledge and organize communities to make sure that this knowledge can be leveraged to help people be more autonomous is really interesting and we would like to know a lot more about it. So some of us wonder if Cleo and Ignatius have any specific plans to keep sharing more about their work online or if they plan to invite others to visit them in Uganda to learn from them.
Also, from where they stand right now, what do they think it is going to take to do what they want to do for their country and for the whole continent? Where are they at in this process? What would they like us to hear and what would they like to ask of us or others who might be getting their message? How would they like to see global institutions transform? When they imagine a world that creates the best conditions for their current work in Uganda, what would that world look like? Ultimately, how can we best support each other to catalyze systems transformation work across local contexts?