Egypt FlagInnovation = Regenerating Knowledge | Integral Innovations

Co-Creating Social Innovation for Sustainable
Development in Egypt & the Middle East
by Maximilian Abouleish and the Sekem Social Innovation Team

This research-to-innovation is about the successful renewal of Sekem’s integral Human, Organisational and Community Development Approach, in theory and in practice. Building on the legacy of 40 years of holistic human development in the Egyptian desert, this evolution is geared to lay the foundation for the coming decades of Sekem’s ambitious and pioneering vision to remain at the forefront of the paradigm shift towards an integral age.

Calling: A triple Calling focussing on the interconnected Development of Individual (Sekem Employee), Organisation (Sekem) and Society (Egypt

The Call for this research-to-innovation – embedded in Sekem in Egypt – is coming from an individual, organisational, and societal level. All three levels are connected by the evolutionary process inherent in human beings, organisations or societies. Humans and social human systems show patterns of development going through stages that are similar and influence each other. Sekem’s core purpose as an organization is to develop human beings as well as Egypt and the world. So the key questions underlying this research-to-innovation are:

  1. How do human beings develop and how can organisations support this development?
  2. How can Sekem develop towards its next evolutionary stage as a living organism?
  3. How can the internationally renowned model of Sekem be replicated and multiplied across the whole country to build more sustainable communities in the desert, which are essential for Egypt’s future sustainable development?

For the call I used narrative method to describe the burning issues on my individual as well as SEKEM’s collective level. Being a student at a business school, I realised that I did not want to follow a conventional career. Instead I embarked on my own hero’s journey, which finally brought me to Egypt where I found my place at SEKEM. Not much later, I realised that building bridges between cultures and also between generations is part of my own call. Especially at work, I learned a lot but I was also frustrated by the prevailing work ethic and dysfunctional organisational structures, which awakened the urge to become a development catalyst for people as well as for SEKEM. Meanwhile, I started getting fascinated by integral theories that described new emerging forms of organisations serving evolutionary principles, such as Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organisations (2014). SEKEM was the right place for such organisational development efforts, and the Egyptian revolution was a profound individual and collective experience that expressed the need for evolution, both on the human and institutional level.

Egypt is building on a great legacy and rich culture. At the same time, the country is stuck in its evolution because of dysfunctional economic, political and educational systems. There is a need for social innovations like SEKEM in order to address complex societal problems, such as food security and poverty. SEKEM’s unique fourfold development approach builds on a unique inter-cultural strength and foundation on ecological principles, i.e. the vision of cultivating the desert and creating a space for human development. It became clear for me that SEKEM faces challenges, namely being at the threshold of its pioneering phase and finding itself in an extreme situation of escalation with regard to local currency devaluation, high debt levels and succession planning, as previously recognised by our shareholders. SEKEM needs to mature; the challenge lies in balancing the need to perform in and shape competitive organic markets while strengthening and expanding the unique environmental, social and cultural impacts. This balance is about living the Economics of Love and for me, this has to be expressed not only in external relationships to suppliers and partners, but must be intimately linked to human relationships at work. I could feel that there were existing imbalances that needed to be uncovered, which was the focus of my research-to-innovation journey.

Context: Understanding Imbalances and Developmental Potentials

The glowing stories of the call chapters require deeper understanding and contextualisation. Therefore I started using Hermeneutical methodology to interpret the narratives from the call. I introduced integral spiral theory (a combination of Wilber’s (2006) AQAL matrix and Beck and Cohan’s Spiral Dynamics theory (2005) as an underlying framework for my interpretation of the call. I further used the framework of trans-imbalances by Lessem and Schieffer (2010a) that is linked to the Integral Worlds framework.

On a transformational level, I explained how people often get stuck in their boxes of thinking that prevents their own development. I outlined individual human development potential from the perspective of Steiner’s soul development stages (2008) and illustrated the different challenges from the first two stages. On a transcultural level, it became apparent how discovering new ways of dealing with feelings represents a development challenge for both SEKEM’s Egyptian community and the German-speaking core community although from different angles. The transdisciplinary imbalance lies in acknowledging the four human bodies and recognising that in today’s world we often have a reductionist view on the physical reality alone, which cannot explain the dynamics of holistic human development. More subtle and spiritual development elements have to be integrated as well.  The last imbalance on the individual level is of a transpersonal nature, highlighting the problems in human communication, where people create low drama around unhealthy power dynamics instead of creating possibilities for transpersonal development and relationships.

I reviewed the same dimensions of imbalances on an organisational level. It is important to recognise the interrelationship between the individual and collective level and their mutual reinforcement. With regards to transformational imbalances, Spiral Dynamics helped me to gain the perspective that the next evolutionary step to GREEN is needed on a societal as well as on an organisational level. Tackling transcultural imbalances, I emphasize the importance of learning from different cultures: Hofstede’s (2010) cultural dimension and differences show why at SEKEM there tends to be a separation between the German-speaking community core group and the Egyptian community members. On the level of transdisciplinary imbalances, I reviewed how organisational development always needs to consider three different independent but interdependent organisational subsystems introduced by Glasl and Lievegoed (2014), which are related to different disciplines and knowledge realms. The risk lies in an overemphasis on the economic driven technological-instrumental subsystem. Shifting the attention from the economic subsystem, an organisation needs to overcome its pioneering phase towards an integral and association phase. This shift is relevant for the transpersonal imbalance on the collective level, because only in the integral phase can an organisation build on the trans- or interpersonal relationship as a resource for development and evolution. It is crucial to understand that all previously mentioned imbalances are important to be overcome in order to reach the integral phase, which is the next evolutionary development step for SEKEM. This can ultimately release SEKEM’s full potential to contribute to the renewal of society. To achieve that, my co-creation part was about an integral human and organisational development model that reflects SEKEM’s development philosophy.

Co-Creation: Towards a more Participatory Model of Self-Organisation-Society Development, transcending also the patriarchal Structures prevailing in Egypt and the Middle East

In the co-creation part I used Critical Theory as an underlying methodology to alleviate and emancipate from the mentioned imbalances and mainstream theories. Freire, with his pedagogical approach to liberation (1972) applied in the context of SEKEM as an organisation, informed the upcoming co-creation. I introduced Robertson’s (2015) Holacracy system as well as Schieffer and Lessem’s Integral Worlds Model (2014), in particular the GENE-rhythm, as theoretical background for the integral human and organisational development approach. At SEKEM, the individual as well as the collective level follow the GENE-rhythm, hence the dimensions of integral human and organisational development mirror and reinforce each other.

Furthermore, I presented the Integral Human Development approach that comprises individual storytelling (grounding), consciousness level and cognitive capacity (emerging), competencies (navigation), and self-management capacity (effect). These four dimensions build on each other, as from an individual story a development potential and call emerge. Cognitive capacity and the consciousness level set the right development frame, especially with regard to organisational roles. To fill roles, a person needs to have clarity on the required competencies and the level of maturity he or she is at. To master the practical development challenges and to fill the role effectively, people in general need to be empowered with a trusted system for self-management that allows them to have control of their lives. It is very important to acknowledge that the different consciousness levels of people will influence the level and style of implementing the proposed elements. This is a further research need and requires integral and experienced leadership.

Coming to the collective co-creation, I developed the outline of SEKEM’s Integral Organizational Development approach, encompassing collective storytelling (grounding), Cultura Activa (arts at work) (emerging), knowledge creation (via IPM) (navigation), and self-organisation (effect). All those areas contribute directly towards SEKEM’s design as an Integral Enterprise, and all four dimensions build on each other and are linked to the four integral human development dimensions. The collective SEKEM story provides the larger framework for individuals to contribute to – ultimately for the betterment of society. Art plays an important role to transfer the SEKEM story and also to stimulate consciousness evolution via Cultura Activa in the context of work. The below picture from the bi-annual SEKEM festival illustrates the combination of applied arts and collective storytelling.

Quasida play at SEKEM’s bi-annual festival (2017)
Quasida play at SEKEM’s bi-annual festival (2017)

Integral Project Management is the approach for knowledge creation that has clearly defined roles with competencies, a process following the GENE-rhythm and an integral impact matrix to illustrate the project’s contribution along the four dimensions of the Sustainability Flower. Holacracy, as the effecting element, provides the framework for self-organisation, and clearly defines SEKEM’s governance structure and expectations towards roles and other structural elements. This does not mean that SEKEM has to rely on self-organisation and self-management, but the potential for a transition is clear and there are diverse elements within the Holacracy system to respond to different consciousness level needs.

Having developed the interrelated, multi-level approach of Integral Human and Organisational Development for SEKEM, the last part elaborated on the actual contribution, i.e. the implementation of the different elements – how integral human development comes to life.

Contribution: SEKEM’s Integral Human, Organizational and Community Development Approach

In the final part I used Co-operative Inquiry (CI) as a method for action research (Heron, 1996). As outlined in chapter 11, I concentrated on referring my contributions to the four modes of knowledge defined by Heron that are related to the GENE-rhythm and that served as quality criteria for my research validity. I presented the different elements of the IHD approach along the GENE-rhythm and how they have been implemented with the help of the Social Affairs role, the Human Development circle and the Communications & Relations Circle (as per the individual contribution part). In the South (grounding), I present the storytelling experiments that have been done with different groups, which led to trusting relationships and experiential knowledge, out of which people’s different roles could be derived. Furthermore, in the East (emerging), Spiral Dynamics and complexity handling levels have been used to improve individual role matches and fit to role’s purpose, which I related to imaginal knowledge – also mainly driven by the Human Development circle. Regarding the Northern (navigation) aspect, different competency level definitions have been figured out and tested with people, leading to propositional knowledge with the Sustainable Development team and Bastana (an environmental learning space) as a test case.

Annina Hunziker (Trans4m Junior Research Fellow), Thoraya Seada, Dalia Abdou, and Maximilian Abou El Eisch-Boes (all three part of SEKEM’s Sustainable Development team) (from left).
Annina Hunziker (Trans4m Junior Research Fellow), Thoraya Seada, Dalia Abdou, and Maximilian Abou El Eisch-Boes (all three part of SEKEM’s Sustainable Development team) (from left)

In the West (effecting), the Getting-Things-Done (GTD) method by David Allen (2015) was shared with SEKEM employees and management from different circles to improve self-management capacity and to strengthen the ability to build practical knowledge. These activities have been mainly coordinated by myself in my function as an integrator as part of the SEKEM Future Council.

As per the collective contribution part I looked at the ongoing IHD efforts, but this time it was more focused on the organisational level. In the South, for collective experiential knowledge creation, the activities of the Relations & Communications Department were outlined with regard to external community building. For internal community building, special workshop formats were presented as a highlight for experimenting with story sharing. Regarding the Eastern dimension, I elaborated on the ongoing efforts of the Human Development circle together with Heliopolis University’s Core Programme to implement a Cultura Activa programme for different employee circles, which supports imaginal knowledge creation. Subsequently, I explained how the Integral Project Management approach was implemented at Naturetex, building on propositional knowledge, which relates to the archetypal North. I was involved in my role as merchandiser but also representing other roles from the Integral Project Management team and representing the SEKEM Future Council that coordinates all the mentioned efforts. In the West, as the culmination of all previous forms of knowledge, I shared the practical knowledge of implementing Holacracy across different SEKEM institutions. The most powerful element of the Holacracy system, which is still in its early stage of implementation, are tactical meetings, which introduce a new culture and new dimension of effectiveness into SEKEM – somehow the equivalent of GTD on an organisational level.

As a summary of my research-to-innovation journey, including as well the elements of community activation, awakening integral consciousness, institutionalized (social) Innovation driven research, and embodiment of transformation (that run in parallel to the described 4C parts) I present the following figure:

SEKEM’s Integral Human, Organizational and Community Development approach expressed in 4C and CARE logic
SEKEM’s Integral Human, Organizational and Community Development approach expressed in 4C and CARE logic

I want to highlight how all the applied elements are only small steps in the direction of an overall transition of SEKEM into its integral phase. It is clear that SEKEM will continue to live its presence in different development phases at the same time, and leadership needs to continuously adapt the proposed measurements to the consciousness level of affected people. This is indeed one of the key challenges but also one of the key strengths of SEKEM.