Zimbabwe FlagInnovation = Regenerating Knowledge | Integral Innovations

The Calabash of Integral Knowledge Creation:
Denhe re Ruzivo
by Elizabeth Mamukwa, the Cooperative Inquiry Group of Turnall and Pundutso, Zimbabwe

The integral innovation of Elizabeth Mamukwa and her team sought to address the absence of continuous and sustainable knowledge creation in organisations and communities, in an African context specifically, in the third world in general as well as in the world at large. The Calabash of Knowledge Creation (Denhe re Ruzivo) seeks to empower individuals, organisations, communities and society to be in control of their knowledge banks by harnessing existing knowledge, imparting it to people in the relevant contexts and improving such knowledge by coming up with new and more relevant concepts and theories.

Calling: Insufficient local and indigenous Knowledge Creation

What inspired Liz Mamukwa to pursue this innovation was the realisation that Zimbabwean people have on the whole perfected the art of accepting exogenous knowledge and technologies as standard, and working with such without necessarily making a contribution to them. When there is skills flight, as happened to the Zimbabwean market during the hyper inflationary era, factories grind to a halt because the remaining skills have not had enough interface with machinery and technology to bridge the skill gap. Those that have had such interface limit their knowledge to what has been transferred by manufacturers without extending it further to see how such knowledge, machinery and technology can be improved or modified. People are, in a sense, intimidated by exogenous knowledge and equipment. It is in this background that this journey to innovation was embarked on.

Innovation Ecosystem: Multiple intertwined Groups of Co-Researchers

Liz Mamukwa’s primary research was at Turnall Holdings Limited, a public listed manufacturing company in Harare. Here she worked with two Cooperative Inquiry (CI) teams. One was a cross functional team with employees at various levels in the company. This group named itself Denhe re Ruzivo (The Calabash of Knowledge), so this is where the name emanated from. The other was a de facto CI team made up of Executive Managers. This brought a balance to the research process as it was possible to include two perspectives of the process, one from the workers’ side and the other from the leadership side. Over and above this, Mamukwa also worked with an academic think tank of two fellow PhD researchers (Passmore Matupire and Josh Chinyuku) working in public listed companies as well, which availed additional testing ground during the innovation process. This academic think tank co-evolved into the Pundutso Centre for Integral Development.

Denhe re Ruzivo Cooperative Inquiry meeting
Denhe re Ruzivo Cooperative Inquiry meeting

Over and above the Innovation Ecosystem described above, there was an even broader ecosystem consisting of around 10 other PhD students at various levels of research. Liz Mamukwa and her ecosystem also worked with the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) through Dr Chinyuku who was at that time President of the Mashonaland Chamber of that organisation. All these collaborations made the research experience rich and varied, providing a sound ecosystem for the innovation.

In embarking on an integral research and innovation project Liz Mamukwa and her colleagues were asserting the need for a problem solving approach which distinguishes this methodology from the academically oriented research methodologies. The focus was not on a hypothesis and statistical calculations, but on real visible contributions to improving enterprise and society in a way that is permanent. The researcher becomes part of the community, and not a specialist looking from a distance.

At this juncture it is important to dwell on the issue of Mode 1 and Mode 2 Knowledge production, in an attempt to clarify the philosophy of this research. According to Gibbons, et. al., (1994) Mode 1 knowledge is “generated within a disciplinary, primarily cognitive context… Mode 1 problems are set and solved in a context governed by the largely academic interests of a specific community…”. In this mode of knowledge production, peer-review is central, and success is defined by scientific excellence. Innovation is linear, and the research community consists of disciplinary, homogeneous teams which are university based. In Mode 2, on the other hand, the context of knowledge production lies in economic and social applications. Problems are set and solved in the context of application. For example, in the Turnall case, the problem was about knowledge creation and societal learning, to respond to the issue of massive skills losses during the hyper-inflationary era and the resultant loss of knowledge, and this was the basis of this research project. The approach was to start with the familiar, moving to the unfamiliar and eventually integrating the familiar and the unfamiliar. Put differently, the starting point was the indigenous rhythms with which we are comfortable as an African people, before we can begin to appreciate and deal with the exogenous, and indeed before we can hope for a fusion. The research community consists of transdisciplinary, networked, heterogeneous teams.   Research is solution focused. Success is defined by the ability of the resultant innovation to satisfy a wide range of stakeholders. Mode 2 knowledge production is the philosophical basis upon which the research was anchored.

The rhythms used include EUREKA (Energize, Understand, Research, Expertise, Know-ho and Actualisation, which all leads to Integral Innovation), OFET (Origination, Foundation, Emancipation and Transformation) and GENE (Grounding, Emerging, Navigating and Effecting). The Integral Worlds model was also a useful tool for understanding the indigenous and exogenous aspects of the burning issue.

Integral Innovation: Towards the Calabash of Integral Knowledge Creation

In her research process Liz Mamukwa used the metaphor of the calabash because it relates to Africanness. Apart from its place in the indigenous society, the use of the analogy of the calabash is, among other things, to remind the people in the Southern Relational world of humanism of who they are and where they come from, regardless of their current physical location. If people are true to themselves with regard to their real identity they are likely to come up with sustainable solutions to their challenges in life. The calabash was among one of the first plants to be cultivated in the world. Although it is edible, it was not cultivated for its culinary qualities but rather for its use as a container, a musical instrument, a bottle or a pipe. In Africa the big calabash is used mostly as a container for water, beer or other non-alcoholic drink such as maheu (an opaque drink made out of fermented maize meal). The smaller size is used as a drinking cup, and for sharing drink and water. Medium sizes can be used as food containers. The calabash can also be used as a musical instrument (hosho) to bring rhythmic harmony to any situation, including the workplace.

Mamukwa - The Calabash of Knowledge Creation
The Calabash of Knowledge Creation

The key features of the Calabash of Knowledge Creation include:

  • Socialization, which ensures that knowledge is shared.
  • The opening at the top, which places emphasis on the need for openness with knowledge so there is free movement of such, in and out of the organisation. This promotes cross fertilization and improvement.
  • The spiral in the centre which reminds us of the criticality of positive relationships if the transfer of old knowledge and the creation of new is to take place, as well as the continuous nature of the process.
  • Recording of knowledge during externalization is critical (which is a major gap in a typical African setting).
  • Combination emphasizes the fact that even our indigenous knowledge has a role to play, even in an exogenous set up.
  • Testing brings authenticity to new knowledge before it can be classified as such.
  • Internalization focuses on total understanding of the newly created knowledge, ownership and personalization of new knowledge while internationalization speaks to the issue of sharing the knowledge as widely as possible.
  • The solid arrows show the fundamentality of continuity of the process, as knowledge transfer and creation goes on in perpetuity. There can be no end to it.

Integral Impact: Applied in Various Organisations

The Calabash of Knowledge Creation has been used in at least four organizations so far. The Academic Think-tank has developed into Pundutso Centre for Integral Development. Pundits has organized and run Ubuntu Circles where members of society have been energized to ground themselves and reflect on what roles they can play to address imbalances in their homes, communities, work places and in the greater society. The Calabash of Knowledge Creation has also been presented to as far as Slovenia, and Liz had the opportunity to interact with the Integral Green Slovenia team and encourage them in their Integral Green Slovenia journey.

Celebrating the Calabash of Knowledge Creation
Celebrating the Calabash of Knowledge Creation


For the outstanding achievements embodied in this integral innovation, Dr. Mamukwa was awarded with the NDLOVU Award, by South Africa’s Da Vinci Institute.

At the Da Vinci Institute, South Africa, receiving the Ndlovu Award
Elizabeth Mamukwa, at the Da Vinci Institute, South Africa, receiving the Ndlovu Award

This award was instituted and sponsored by Dr Arvid Huss, a former Programme Designer at The Da Vinci Institute. Ndlovu (elephant) as described in Arvid’s own words is “a remarkable animal who is extremely sensitive to the needs of the community in which he/she finds solace – a remarkable communicator and a giant amongst others”.