A holistic approach to activist training and education
This Training for Trainers aims to support activist-trainers who want to use holisitic methods of education and facilitation for activists and change makers.
Ulex Project courses and events use an Integral Activist Training approach. Recognising the interconnected nature of the personal, the interpersonal and the political, our trainings empower integrated transformation in all three spheres. This training for trainers will share what we’ve learnt about this kind of approach over the last 10 years, so you can apply it to your work.
Change is multi-layered. The social field, our organisational cultures, and the individuals within them arise in mutual dependence upon each other. Integral Activist Training supports integrated transformation on all of these levels.
Integral Activist Training should:
• help us to analyse, strategize, and act socio-politically
• support organisations to embody the values they strive for
• offer us the inter-personal tools and methods to create effective teams
• enable us to grow as individuals, to develop our talents and creativity, deepen our self-awareness and learn to bring deep inner resources to support our struggles.
When we attend to each of these, our political struggles become a context for transforming both the world and ourselves. Integral Activist Training is holistic, transformative and participatory, as well as pro-actively inclusive, and connecting.
As a holistic approach is a systems approach. It recognises that the personal is nested within the inter-personal, that the inter-personal is nested within the socio-political, and that the socio-political is nested within the ecological. Each of these dimensions has its own systemic structure and yet also need to be understood as part of larger systemic wholes. Learning and effective practices for transformation need to attend to each of these layers and to the connections between them.
A holistic approach to learning addresses the whole person – the rational, the feeling, the sensing, and the relational dimension of who we are.
Our approach engages the intellect and helps us to explore the views we hold and how they shape our experience. It encourages clarity of thought and analysis. But, as Pascal wrote, “the heart has it reasons that reason does not know.” Despite the gains that post-enlightenment modernity has realised through championing the rational, clearly it is not enough. Unless we also engage the emotional dimension we ignore the key drivers of action and miss opportunities for deep transformation. Emotional literacy is basic to both self-awareness and working well with others. Learning how to channel anger and to develop our capacity for empathy and care are essential to good leadership and effective collaboration. Engagement with feelings is a key skill for the building the personal resilience needed to stay engaged for the long run.
Increasingly, contemporary training methodologies integrate aspects of embodied learning. We carry our habits in the body, holding memories there and patterned responses. It is through the body and the senses that we directly engage with the world. Body-centred or somatic approaches awaken the senses, draw on the wisdom of our felt senses and help us integrate our learning in powerful ways.
Lastly, we recognise that who we are is to a large extent relational. Learning about ourselves is learning about how we relate, and learning about how we relate is learning about ourselves. Much of the most transformative learning happens between us. It emerges in the field we create through our interactions – in synergies and moments where the whole reveals itself as more than the sum of its parts. To be effective in social change we need to understand these kinds of relational phenomenon, how we participate in them and how they influence us.
Integral Activist Training should be empowering and transformative. Our approach draws on the practices of participatory and popular education, to which we add the latest methods of experiential and immersive learning. To paraphrase Paolo Freire: Education is a practice of freedom. It is a means by which we deal critically and creatively with reality. It is a way of discovering how to participate in the transformation of our world. It should lead to action, especially collective action. Learning of this kind helps us to change our lives according to our own ideas.
Our trainings enhance the capacity for self-critical reflection and help us to stay alive to on-going learning through balancing action and reflection. This is most effective when it is pursued in solidarity with others, when we recognise the struggles we share, and gain empowerment through our collective activities. We can discover the transformative power of working with others and recognise the mutually reinforcing relationship between building collective agency and personal empowerment – learning to keep these complementary through the balance of autonomy and cooperation.
Training that builds solidarity needs to be proactively inclusive – making it easy for a wide range of people to take part and make their views heard. There is power and resilience in diversity. Inclusive learning processes pay attention to diversity and do not try to homogenise different opinions and points of view or cultural differences. This kind of approach should explore issues of anti-oppression and how we can ensure our groups and organisations embody that. Building movements of solidarity requires that we learn how to operate in pluralistic cultures of mutual respect and empowerment. Inclusive education supports us to learn skills and approaches that can enrich intersectionality and our capacity to forge transversal alliances. Differences of language and culture are approached in this way and learning designed to enable participation.
It is commonplace to describe our modern predicament as one of alienation. Many of the ways contemporary life is structured entrenches division. Healing division and restoring connection is key to both personal and collective empowerment. We explore this by attending to three dimensions of connection: namely the connections between people and people, people and themselves, and between people and nature.
Connecting People to People concerns the social and interpersonal dimension. It is about developing skills to work together. It is about the way we embody our values between us in our work to restore collective agency. It is about developing fresh and responsive forms of political organising – that can support pluralistic and yet transversal movements which deeply value what we have in common without denying how different we are. It is about bring forth through our work together a ‘responsive social field’ in which people can flourish. And importantly it concerns how we create contexts for collaboration which enable us to transform ourselves as we work to transform the world.
Connecting People to Themselves is about the inner personal work we can do to empower ourselves. Working with others is challenging. To resource it we need to know ourselves deeply. We need tools that help us develop psychological integration and responsive awareness. We need to develop the inner resource of emotional resilience that can support long term engagement with the immense challenges we face. Radical politics has always been about the transformation of consciousness and the formation of new subjects or individuals. In the past this has often been achieved through shifts in views and ideology. Today we can work directly with the quality of the mind and heart to realise a cognitive vitality that avoids the pitfalls of ideological closure, and helps us to keep learning as we go.
Connecting People to Nature: Vandana Shiva suggested that our ecological identity is perhaps our most fundamental identity. Modern life often hides this from us. Through practises that help us restore our connection with the non-human we can find an enriched sense of who we are, woven into the web of life. This dimension of connection can nourish us, enhancing our resilience and motivation. Further to this, connecting with nature involves the cultivation of an ecological intelligence. Nature, after all, is a teacher. Ecological and systems thinking can inform our approaches to social change. They can help us to live and organise in a world of systems so that ecological intelligence supports our organisational development, our strategizing and our movement building.
G has been involved in social movement organising and education since the late 1980’s. He is a highly regarded trainer and has designed numerous training programmes covering areas such as psychosocial resilience in activism, the ecology of social movements, and leaderful organising. As a founding member of the Ulex Project, he is known for highly innovative work blending pedagogical methodologies. This holistic approach to activist learning has inspired numerous training initiatives across Europe. He currently steers the strategic development of the Ulex Project and its social movement capacity building programme.
As a social activist and trainer, and a member of SPINA trainer’s for social change collective and European Action for Youth (EYFA) network, Ilaj is project lead for Ulex’s LGBTQI+ psycho-social resilience and holistic security programme. Ilaj works with grassroots groups involved in social and environmental struggles, and also NGOs in the areas of social and environmental justice. As a WenDo trainer – a self defense and self assertiveness method for women and trans* people – they are passionate about working with body awareness as a radical means of deconstructing internalized systems of oppression. Ilaj is a member of the Ulex core team.
Alex has been facilitating courses geared towards social and personal transformation for the past 6 years. She spent the last 10 years as a core member of the collective running the Ulex Project and has a deep experience of the integral approach we have developed. Her area of training expertise is sustainable activism and skills for developing ‘deeper resources’ for action. Her commitment to social justice and history of political activism have involved her in direct action and affinity group work focused on climate justice, anti-capitalism, queer politics and gender identity. A strong focus on the somatic dimension and embodied practice (informed by her work as a dance artist and yoga teacher) underpins both her approach.
deepening sustainable activism
a community of practice
building collective agency - theory and practice
1. A thorny-evergreen flowering shrub, with a high capacity for regeneration and resilience. Its seedpods open in contact with fire and it reshoots from charred stumps. A successionary plant that grows well under challenging conditions. It improves soil fertility through nitrogen fixing, preparing the way for renewed biodiversity.
2. A traditional choice for igniting fires. Burns hot and bright.
3. A networked project adding nutrition and fertility to European social movements through training and capacity building. It kindles the realisation of social justice, ecological intelligence, and cognitive vitality.