The Interdependence of Personal and Social Transformation by, Be Present

Jun 23, 2011

This week’s article by Margherita Vacchiano and Arianna Robinson of Be Present, a  Kindle Project grantee, is a perfect follow up to our post last week by Susan Strasburger. While Susan’s article explored the scope of looking at inner conflict, today’s article takes us through the journey of looking at personal transformation while doing the difficult work associated with the social justice movement. Not only does the article explore the honest challenges in this work, but it also points to the necessity of trudging through the inner work in order to make the social justice movement a sustainable one.

From collective experience, many of us know that fighting for the things we believe in – for social change and for justice – is work that not only tires but can also wane on the spirit. But what happens to the spirit of the movement? It wanes as well.  Be Present encourages us to explore some of these elements and their interdependence. A careful balance of awareness and action is needed, and this article bring us along for the beginning of this journey.

Be Present, Inc. encourages people to be present in their lives – to be more effective leaders in creating wellbeing within themselves as well as in their families, organizations, and communities. They provide training on how to use the Be Present Empowerment Model® to move through the issues that divide and develop systems of support, strengthening the individual and collective capacity for social justice movement building. To learn more about be present and for information on their programs please visit their website:

The Interdependence of Personal and Social Transformation
by Margherita Vacchiano and Arianna Robinson

The social justice sector is on the verge of major change. The 2008 presidential election raised the visibility of community organizers; while 2012 inevitably will focus on re-energizing this base. We are in the midst of a significant transfer of leadership from one generation to another. Changing demographics are radically transforming organizations. At the same time, current and emerging leaders are calling for real change in how we work together. New strategies and tools are being sought after to strengthen a sector affected by decades of aggressive attacks on equity and justice. Organizations striving to increase their effectiveness are searching for ways to better partner with each other, and develop sustainable solutions and alliances where cooperation and equity thrive.

We know that creating organizations that reflect values of mutual respect, trust, and authentic partnership is not only the right thing to do, it is critical for stronger and more effective social justice movements. Whether intuitively, or as a result of extensive research, we understand that this goal is achievable through building genuine relationships between individuals, between individuals and their organization, and between organizations and their partners. In short, it’s about people effecting sustainable transformation.

The Process of Effecting Sustainable Transformation

Issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, culture, language, religion, age, sexual orientation and gender identity drive our personal, organizational, social and political lives, and shape how we make decisions. They are woven through the fabric of our relationships and thereby have a critical impact on all of us, on all levels, everyday. Therefore we all are responsible for identifying how history and social contexts of these issues get encoded within us, and then externalized through our behaviors in our homes, schools, organizations, and communities – all of which comprise the systems we live in. If we are going to accomplish social transformation, then we must change how we are. We are, and must recognize ourselves as, an integral part of what is and what must be changed. When we do, we are better able to take responsibility and model a new way to promote peace and work toward justice.

Knowing oneself outside the distress of oppression[i] is an important element of this change. From self-knowledge, people can better listen to others in a conscious and present state[ii], make mindful choices, develop a practice of positive change, build trust, and work through challenges to build effective relationships and sustain true alliances[iii].  Leadership in this transformative process builds skills, knowledge, and abilities on three interconnected levels.

On the individual level, people learn how to strengthen self knowledge and ability to question, make connections, think creatively, take risks, reflect, make choices and collaborate with others. On the inter-group level, people learn how to dismantle stereotypes and myths, transform conflict, and increase collaborative work. On the institutional/community level, people learn how to transform policies, practices, and cultures to be more equitable and inclusive.

Teaching people how to develop and sustain these skills results in becoming more effective in thinking creatively, collaborating with others, dealing positively with challenging issues, and creating authentic partnerships. It also results in the ability of organizations to form strong coalitions based on trust. This comprehensive and expansive orientation to leadership is grounded in social justice principles and values. It creates transformative leaders – people who bring about fundamental change, moving successfully from personal to social transformation.

Margherita Vacchiano and Arianna Robinson are staff members of Be Present, Inc.  Margherita is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) and serves as the Associate Director. Arianna is the National Network Leadership Administrative Coordinator. They work collectively with other staff members, the Board of Directors, regional organizing core group members, and organizational partners using the Be Present Empowerment Model® to support the movement of national and global social justice agendas.

[i]Knowing oneself outside the distress of oppression” is one of three leadership realms of the Be Present Empowerment Model®.

[ii] “Listening to others in a conscious and present state” is the second leadership realm.

[iii]Building effective relationships and sustaining true alliances” is the third leadership realm.