Exploring the human factor in global change, and prospects for partnership, at Caux

This post was written for ICAI Winds and Waves, September 2015 issue.


Caux PalaceThe week before last I was in Switzerland to support the design and facilitation of Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business, a conference of Initiatives of Change (IofC) at Caux Palace – a fairy-tale castle of an international conference centre, high above Montreux and enjoying stupendous views down along Lake Geneva.  As luck would have it, Jonathan Dudding of ICA:UK was there the same week supporting the parallel International Peacebuilders Forum conference, and world leaders of IofC International were beginning to gather for their IofC Global Assembly the following week. As a result, Jonathan and I were able to meet together with leaders of IofC Caux and IofC International to discuss prospects for a global partnership conference of ICA and IofC at Caux next year.

I came away (‘down from the mountain’, as they say with good reason at Caux) encouraged and enthused for the prospects of such a partnership – by my experience of the conference and the conference centre, and by what I learned of IofC and the commonalities and potential for synergies between it and ICA.  I am excited therefore that, since then, ICA International has decided in its online General Assembly in the last week to seek to develop such a partnership with IofC. So, how did such a proposal come about, and what can I say from my own experience at Caux about how I see the prospects for such a partnership?

ICA:UK and ICA Spain have partnered with IofC Caux over several years now to support the design and facilitation of their annual summer season of international conferences, and in providing ‘Technology of Participation’ (ToP) facilitation training for IofC members and others – next scheduled for 25-26 November in Geneva. Other connections and collaborations between individual members of ICA and IofC around the world date back over 30 years in some cases, in countries including Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and Ukraine. Ideas for building on these foundations to explore the potential for broader collaboration have been brewing for a year or two among those involved on both sides.

A partnership approach to a global conference in Caux in 2016 was proposed to ICAI last December by ICA:UK, with the support of ICA Spain and other European ICAs, to follow ICAI’s 8th quadrennial Global Conference on Human Development in Kathmandu in 2012.  This proposal was recommended to the ICAI General Assembly by its Global Conference working group, and approved in principle this last week. Parallel conversations have been underway within IofC, including at its recent Global Assembly in Caux, and we hope to be able establish a joint committee in the autumn to develop a partnership and our approach to the conference together.

I have found numerous encouraging parallels in our respective histories and approaches. Initiatives of Change describes itself as ‘a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own’. It was founded in the late 1930s as the Moral Rearmament Movement by Frank Buchman, a charismatic American minister whose ideas and practices had been developed largely working with students in what had been known as the Oxford Group. The once-grand but then derelict Caux Palace Hotel was purchased and refurbished by Swiss supporters, in time to open in 1946 as an international conference centre where those who had suffered in the war could come together and build new relationships. Further centres were established in the USA and around the world, supporting reconciliation and peace-building through dialogue and, particularly at the Westminster Theatre in London, also through drama.  Today IofC international comprises member organisations in around 40 countries worldwide. IofC Caux hosts a series of international conferences over three months every summer, under the banner “Exploring the human factor in global change” and with the aim “to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves”.

ICA (the Institute of Cultural Affairs) was founded somewhat later, but also from a faith-based movement, as the secular successor organisation to the earlier Ecumenical Institute and University-based Faith and Life Community founded by the American former Methodist minister Joseph Wesley Mathews in the 1950s & 60s. ICA describes itself as a global community of non-profit organisations ‘advancing human development worldwide’ – sharing a ‘concern with the human factor in world development’ and seeking to mobilise and support individuals to transform themselves in order to transform their communities, organisations and societies (‘Changing Lives, Changing Societies‘). ICA pioneered its approach, including ‘imaginal education’ and what became known as the ‘Technology of Participation’ facilitation methods, in the west side of Chicago in the 1960s. ICA USA’s GreenRise building in Chicago was rescued from dereliction by volunteer labour and in-kind contributions in the early 1970s, to serve for many years as ICAs global headquarters and venue for its annual summer Global Research Assemblies, forerunners to the quadrennial ICA Global Conference on Human Development since 1984.  The ‘Band of 24’ pilot Human Development Projects in each of the 24 time zones worldwide, launched in 1976 (40 years ago next year), became the basis of today’s network of member organisations and groups in around 40 countries – about half of them countries in common with IofC.

My experience of the AEUB conference at Caux suggests that we have more in common than aspects of our histories, the language we use to describe our approaches, and our shared vision of a just and sustainable world for all.  Participants familiar with ICA’s centres in Chicago, Brussels and elsewhere, and with our tradition of living and working together in community, will welcome the expectation at Caux that everyone contributes to the care of the community and broadens and deepens their relationships by taking part in kitchen duties together. They will also welcome the time for collective reflection and for other spirit practice that is scheduled daily at Caux, as a reflection of ICA’s tradition and practice as well. They may be pleased to find that most bedrooms in the former Caux Palace Hotel have their own bathrooms (unlike many ICA facilities of the same era), and they will likely find the simple and even antique furnishings and fixtures as charming as I did. Certainly few visitors will fail to be impressed by the views from their windows and balconies, and from the garden and terrace below – the mountain location, accessed by funicular from the lakeside, was well chosen indeed for a retreat centre.

I hope that we may find plenty to learn from our differences, as well as our similarities. Whereas ICA’s focus is primarily on community and more recently organisational development, and through demonstration projects engaging the disempowered, I understand that IofC’s focus is primarily on reconciliation and peace-building, and through dialogue engaging citizens with those in power. I expect that IofC’s activities and emphases have diversified over time and geography as ICA’s have, however, and that our own people and our partners worldwide would find much to share with and learn from each other on their diverse experiences of leadership and change in their own contexts.

AEUB opening plenaryFrom a practical point of view, I think ICA could benefit greatly from Caux’s well established year-round capacity to manage the logistics of conference organisation, from handling international registrations and finances to mobilising and managing teams of summer interns and volunteer interpreters. I expect IofC could also benefit more from ICA’s participatory process design and facilitation expertise, as it has begun to do in recent years for its own conferences. The venue itself I found to be well equipped with a wide variety of spaces and facilities, from small break-out rooms and gallery spaces, terraces and gardens, to a tiered auditorium, a large and fully-equipped theatre and of course the Grand Hall. I understand that the capacity of around 400 in total allows comfortably for around 270 conference delegates at a time, in addition to the many resident volunteers, staff and other visitors.

This year’s AEUB conference seemed to me to be very well received by its impressively international, multi-lingual and multi-generational participants.  I look forward to being able to share in making the ‘magic of Caux’ again in future conferences – starting, I hope, with a 2016 partnership conference ‘exploring the human factor’ in global change and development.

For more on Initiatives of Change at Caux, find them on twitter, flickr and youtube.

A Quaker Congo partnership, for peace and development in Eastern DRC

This piece ‘from the archive’ was first published in the June 2008 newsletter of the Manchester & Warrington Area Quaker Meeting. I had just returned from a partnership project visit to Eastern DRC on behalf of Cambridge and Manchester Quakers – see also Building Links with Congo YM in The Friend.

I subsequently joined the committee of Quaker Congo Partnership, which is now an independent UK charity (see QCP March 2015 newsletter), and still working in partnership with local Quakers and others for peace and development in Eastern DRC.


Students of the Friends Peace Centre literacy class, UviraI was born and brought up a Quaker, in Edinburgh and Cambridge, and transferred my membership to Mount Street meeting when I moved to Manchester in 1995. Although I have seldom attended meeting since my teenage years in the early 1980s, I didn’t want to let my membership lapse, so I am grateful to have been accepted by the meeting as a non-attender all these years.

What finally prompted me to show my face among Friends again was my recent trip to visit Quakers in Eastern Congo (DRC) in February, on behalf of Cambridgeshire Area Meeting.  My mother Janet Gilbraith is active in their “Congo Group”, through which the meeting has been supporting the work of Congo Yearly Meeting (CEEACO, the Community of Evangelical Churches of Friends in the Congo) for several years.

On the strength of my many years of experience working in international development, including some experience of Africa, and in spite of my rather limited recent involvement with Friends, I was regarded as a suitable companion to Hazel Shellens of Huntingdon Local Meeting for a one week visit.  Our aims were to demonstrate to Congo Friends that Friends here are alongside them, and to assess how best we might be able to help them in the future, both financially and otherwise.

Manchester Friends may remember Mkoko Boseka of CEEACO from his several weeks in Manchester last summer, after attending the Friends World Triennial in Dublin.  He had spent time with Cambridge Friends on the same visit.  After learning that Manchester Friends also had a connection with Mkoko and CEEACO, and a wider interest in the Congo as well, I made myself known and invited Manchester Friends to also take advantage of the trip to develop their links with CEEACO as well.

CEEACO’s Trauma Clinic and Peace Garden is to be built on the lake shore at Abeka - there is already a sign at the main roadI shall not describe our trip here in any detail, or what we saw and learned of CEEACO.  Some of you may have attended the slide show I presented at Mount Street in March, and whether you did or not, you can view it yourself online – 89 photos with captions, plus links to video clips and other sites. To do so, point your browser at http://www.flickr.com/photos/24338406@N05 or go to www.flickr.com and search for “CEEACO2008” (in “People”).  A few of the photos are reprinted here, and I would be happy to deliver the slideshow in person again for other groups – please get in touch to let me know.

Also, I shall not explain here in any detail what I have learned about the country and the region – except that it has suffered as many as 5.4 million deaths in the recent wars since 1996, although these barely registered in the media or public consciousness in the West; and an unparalleled history of brutal exploitation of its people and its wealth of natural resources by outside forces, both during and since Colonial times.  Since I first began to read, feeling quite ignorant of the country and the region, to help me decide whether to take up the opportunity of visiting the Congo, I became quite obsessed and read over a dozen books in a few months – not to mention a number of reports and other publications on the invaluable online resource Relief Web.  For those who are interested in finding out more, I have listed the books that I found helpful.

I shall say here, however, that we were very well looked after, the trip went smoothly, and it served our aims well – and I returned inspired by the people I had met and by what I had seen and learned, and enthused to encourage Manchester and other Friends to join with Cambridge Area Meeting in expanding and extending their support to CEEACO.  I was happy to be able to deliver greetings, as well as a laptop computer for use at the Friends Peace Centre in Uvira, from Manchester Area Meeting – and also to deliver greetings and thanks from CEEACO to Manchester AM in return.

Hazel with members of the Women's Yearly meeting, in front of the Abeka field cultivated by widows as an income generating activityBased on what we saw and learned, and on the clear requests and priorities of Congo Friends, Hazel and I have recommended to Cambridge AM the outline of a 3-year partnership agreement with CEEACO for ongoing support for their work in Abeka  – in particular the community hospital, the Trauma Clinic Peace Garden project, and a women’s revolving loan fund.  This would entail a commitment to substantially increased financial support to CEEACO, while still sufficiently modest to be within their and our capacity to manage it effectively.  We have included in our recommendation that we take advantage of the opportunity for experienced local support and monitoring by CAPI, a Kenya-based international NGO with long experience of working with CEEACO on behalf of Quaker Service Norway.

We hope that Cambridge AM will decide to commit to financing at least part of the budget from existing funds, but additional contributions from Manchester and/or other meetings, and additional fundraising, will certainly be needed.

The intent is to provide a framework within which British Friends may commit their support collectively, in such a way that CEEACO can plan ahead and develop an effective and focused single working partnership, rather than dealing with a variety of disparate small-scale contributions.  However we have already heard from Friends as far afield as New Zealand that they may wish to contribute their support as well, so we hope we may make room for all!

CEEACO are also keen to host volunteers with appropriate skills and experience, to support them there in practical ways, so we will also be looking at ways that we can support that.

Martin with the Abeka tree planting teamManchester AM has since nominated Margaret Gregory, Elizabeth Coleman, Chris Green, Jaques Kanda and myself to form a Manchester “Congo Group”.  We will be meeting in June for the first time, to consider how we might best support Manchester Friends in acting on their concern for the Congo – and, in particular, to respond to the invitation from Cambridge Friends to join them in their proposed partnership with CEEACO.

If you are interested in finding out more, or getting involved, please do get in touch with me, or with any of us.  Please also make a regular donation toward Manchester AM’s new Congo fund, by means of the annual schedule, or by contacting the Treasurer. Please also come along to the annual garden party at Sale Local Meeting on Saturday June 21st, where I and others of the new Congo group will be there to bring a Congo theme to the event, and to provide opportunities for Friends to find out more and lend their support!