Episode #141 Co-Creators of the future: exploring the birth of a new education system with YouthxYouth co-founder Zineb Mouhyi
If we are in the dying days of the system, how can we best hold space for the new one to be born? How can the older generations become allies to the young people whose world is emerging around us? How can young people make sense of a senseless world and find belonging?
Zineb Mouhyi is the co-founder of two charitable organizations, YouthxYouth & the Weaving Lab.
YouthxYouth is a movement to radically reimagine the future of education with the goal of accelerating the process of young people influencing, designing, and transforming their education.
The Weaving Lab is a global community of practice with the mission of advancing the field of weaving, understood as the practice of interconnecting ideas, people, projects, organizations, places, and ecologies to support systems change.
Zineb is also a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology and Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) where she collaboratively explores the question: How might we facilitate a planetary transition toward systems that serve all life?
In this episode, we explore the death of the old system and the birth of the new: how can the older generations become the allies the younger generations need? How can we explore together what it is to live in the wreckage of a dying system and how can we be part of the emergence of something new, generative and flourishing?
Because Zineb is deeply involved in education systems and how they might change, we explore how current education is often designed to facilitate control, to deliver workers who follow rules and orders, not lively activists who think for themselves. From here, we delve into the ways young people can reclaim their own education and mould it to serve the world that could be woven into being, not the one that is dying; how they can shift from One Truth thinking to the understanding of many truths; from linear concepts to systemic thinking, to the ways we might create toolkits to untangle ourselves from the depradations of capitalism.
We explore ways to leapfrog change, to put people, project and places at the heart of a global community of practice, to move out of the logic of separation into the logic of connection.
This is a conversation grounded in living practice of the ideals Accidental Gods endeavours to promote: finding ways to be the change, so that we might birth a new future we’d be proud to leave to the generations that come after us… but really talking to those younger than us and finding what they need and how we can help them.
Manda: My guest this week is someone who is working at the very leading edge of finding out what the generations that come after my generation need from us, who are older; how we can give them the tools to live through the death of the old system and the birth of the new one without feeling like we’re dumping everything on their heads and leaving them to do it alone. Zineb Mouhyi is the co-founder of two charitable organisations, The Weaving Lab and Youth by Youth. And the latter is a movement radically to reimagine the future of education, with the goal of accelerating the process of young people influencing, designing and transforming their own educations. The Weaving Lab is a global community of practice, with the mission of advancing the field of weaving; understood as the practice of interconnecting ideas, people, projects, organisations, places and ecologies to support systems change. And both of these are absolutely embedded in the concepts of emergence, of systemic change, of finding ways that we can be part of that systemic change while unpicking the layers upon layers of ways that it happened in the first place. And while envisioning something new. And in all of this, Zineb is also a PhD candidate in anthropology and social change at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where she’s designing a project that collaboratively explores the question ‘How might we facilitate a planetary transition towards systems that serve all life?’.
Manda: I truly cannot imagine a better and more inspiring topic of study than that. And as you’ll hear in the podcast, Zineb is approaching it with the full panoply of systemic change thinking and the ways that we can facilitate emergence. And just before we head into that, I want to dedicate this episode to Charlie, who will know who he is. I was at the Great Green gathering the week before we recorded this, which is an event for those of you who don’t know in Chepstow, in Wales, with several thousand people, as far as I could tell. And it more or less does what it says on the tin and I was there to talk about Thrutopia and lead some shamanic work. And a lady called Angie came up to me afterwards and said that she listened to the podcast. So Hello, Angie, and that she had shared it with a 24 year old young man called Charlie, who sent the most touching and moving WhatsApp message as a result. Charlie, it was a delight to read. So this episode is for you. Because it’s all about your generation and how those of us who are older can be your allies, provide the support and the tools and everything that we possibly can, to help birth the new reality that will make life worth living for you and your children and your children’s children and all of the generations on down the line. And so with that in mind, people of the podcast, please do welcome Zineb Mouhyi.
Manda: Zineb, welcome to Accidental Gods and thank you for making the time after what sounded like quite an exciting global adventure. How are you this amazing and beautiful day?
Zineb: Yeah, thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here and have one of the conversations on things that matter, which is always a pleasure.
Manda: Thank you. So you do a lot of things and you are really facilitating change in the world. And before we look at Youth by Youth, which is how I came to know of you, I would be really interested if we could explore how Zineb came to be the person doing a PhD, looking at facilitating planetary transition. Because I’m only slightly, very, envious that you get to do a PhD in that! It feels feels amazing. So tell us a little bit about how that came about and then where you’re going with it.
Zineb: For Sure. So the idea of PhD, to be honest, is because I had been working in social change for a while. Initially, I had gotten my master’s in international development looking at the role of education in economic and political development, and worked in the education innovation space, meeting education innovators from around the world. Which was both a thrilling experience and a little bit of a frustrating experience, because I started to realise that what was happening in this space, the kind of discourses that were taking place, had been the same one for decades at this point. And that the change that we were talking about wasn’t actually happening. I also started to realise that the international development sector was not exactly what I thought it was, and that the notions of progress and development that were being hailed as something that other countries needed to benefit from, were often harming in ways to actually implement exploitative capitalist practices into developing countries. And so looking at like, for instance, the Sustainable Development Goals and the idea of like spreading education around the world. I had worked in Morocco for a few years and I had gotten kind of a shock that people who weren’t receiving an education at all, often were still capable of thinking on their own, where people who have received the basic education needed to be told everything. Like every single thing, to be able to do it. They were in full control mode, which to me was a huge shock. And I started really questioning, what am I doing in this development space? Wherein I’m trying to do good and perhaps I’m contributing to something that I don’t want to be a part of. And at this point, yeah, I started wanting to really go deep into the theory of social change.
Manda: So just before we look at that, I’d really like to unpick this idea that the more educated people become, the less able they are to think. Which has just a fused lots of the wires in my head, because in my previous, previous, previous life I was a vet, but I was a clinical anaesthetist at the University of Cambridge. So we taught the students how to do the stuff that kept animals alive. And I remember vividly we’d get them for two weeks at a time, which was a terrifyingly short time to teach them everything they needed to know about anaesthesia. But actually the first ten days were spent teaching them to think. Because what you’d get was…to get to be a veterinary student you know, you’d done an awful lot of studying and education; but they they were very, very good at regurgitating, you know, the third sentence of paragraph 14 on page 783 of their notes. But they were completely incapable of joining that up with sentence 14, paragraph 783 of their notes to make a third fact that actually arose from both of them. And I thought that this was just because veterinary students had been hyper educated to the point where they didn’t dare think, because thinking didn’t pass exams. But what I’m hearing from you is that it happens some ways down the line from that. Can you just tell us a little bit more about how you saw that and then what you’re able to do with it?
Zineb: Yeah. So what I noticed is it’s actually dependent on the kind of education system that a country decides to have. And a lot of the time there tends to be an approach that is around control, where the idea behind education is actually, well, the logic of education is actually supplying the economy with the next generation of workers. And when you have economies that are not as developed, you want workers that are easily controllable in some ways. So you end up designing systems where the idea is to make people follow instructions. That’s the main reasoning behind it. Which which then means that you end up killing people’s ability to think on their own; which I think tends to happen quite often in education systems.
Manda: Is this deliberate, do you think?
Zineb: I think so, yeah.
Manda: Is this a conscious choice on people’s thought?
Zineb: I think it’s both conscious and unconscious. I think if the logic of education is serving the economy, then necessarily you’re not serving the people or their communities. So although it might not be conscious in the way that you’re thinking ‘how do we make them not think on their own?’ If the goal is to have a certain way of having workers that follow instructions, then it’s going to be baked into the education. I’ve also seen many studies that show that when governments are shown that certain disciplines might actually induce students to think less on their own, they don’t stop having those disciplines being implemented in their education systems. They tend to double down. So also, it depends where we’re talking about, but that was a big realisation for me, who was very adamant about access to education and quality of education and development and all that. Realising how destructive it is in certain places and how much by imposing the logic of one truth, which happens when you have set curricula, when you have testing and grading, it actually brings people to think there’s only one truth and one dominant system that is valid. Which means obviously that other ways of thinking and being aren’t being promoted, by spreading traditional education systems around the world. I also noticed that a lot of the time it brings, especially in rural areas, in developing countries, it creates urban poverty. So you have people who had land and who had ancestral knowledge or how to tend to the land. And then you bring education and you hear education as the main thing that they need to do. And then all of a sudden they’re educated, but they don’t know how to tend their land anymore. They don’t have any relationships to their communities anymore, and they live for cities and end up in urban slums. So it’s also really being able to look at the fact that as much as education is important, the way that we’ve been elevating it, hasn’t been serving the people that it’s meant to be serving.
Manda: Okay. Gosh, this feels like we could do the entire podcast just on this. But let’s swerve back into having made that discovery and realising that this is not how you want to continue with your world. What brought you to where you are now and and such an extraordinarily broad but fascinating topic? You could spend the rest of your life answering that question. So I’m curious as to how you picked it and then how are you narrowing it down to something that you can begin to answer, without it just exploding your head?
Zineb: Yeah, absolutely. I think the first thing for me was actually realising that the academic sector was also to be challenged. Because a lot of it and when I started looking at PhDs, start looking at like traditional big universities and kind of noticed that a lot of the time the goal is to add kind of like a little bit of knowledge into a huge body of knowledge, instead of actually integrating what we know in order that we can use it in a way that’s useful to people on the ground. And the reason why I wanted to do it was because I wanted to bridge the theory and practice of social change, in a way that was useful in my own work, but also in a way that could be shared with others in a useful way. So I found, very luckily, the California Institute of Integral Studies, which uses alternative ways of learning and being and also challenges the traditional academic models. And proposed to do a non narrow question, an integrative question, and to do my PhD in a collaborative way. So the way that I’m doing it is that I’m asking basic wide questions and then some questions behind it. And then put what I’m calling actionable artefacts; like toolkits for how to disentangle yourself from capitalism or from the logic of the state. But then inviting anyone to actually participate in it. So my goal is truly like, how do we integrate what we know in a way that’s useful to us in a time of a planetary transition? Since I guess the basic hypothesis is that we are in a time of planetary transition and we’re going to need to weave ourselves together and weave our efforts in a way that’s practical and actionable, not for the purpose of adding knowledge to the huge body of knowledge we already have.
Manda: Yes. And I heard you on the Youth by Youth video and we’ll get to that later, saying that there was a Chinese proverb that said, if you don’t change direction, you end up getting to where you were going.
Manda: Which is and and exactly it seems as if so much of academic pursuit is about edging everybody millimetre by millimetre along exactly the same path. And so you’ve deliberately moved aside from that. How far through with this project are you now?
Zineb: I’m still early in my process, but I am getting very close to making it public and starting to invite collaboration.
Manda: Okay, so if you need collaborators, we could put that out on the podcast at some point.
Zineb: Oh I Would love that.
Manda: Because a toolkit for untangling ourselves from capitalism sounds like… The whole world needs this at the moment. But you’ve obviously got to refine it. That would be fantastic. Yay! Was it hard to find supervisors who both understood the need for what you were doing and the process that you were undertaking, as a relatively non linear academic process?
Zineb: I think I actually got really lucky in that way, because that’s also why I didn’t go for traditional university models. I chose a university that was already challenging the ways of learning and being and what academia could be and how academia could serve. And so I found myself very quickly in an environment where I felt I could challenge this without sounding crazy. So I have to say, the first time I presented with my idea was and the thesis behind it and the collaborative model, I was shaky because I was thinking, they’re going to tell me a thesis looks like this: like this is this and this and this and this is the linear format and you’re supposed to follow it. And I had done absolutely none of that. I was saying we need to challenge linear ways of thinking and we can’t do that with linear formats. We also know that PhD thesis, which you imagine a thesis takes about seven years to write. On average, the number of people who read the thesis is like seven people, for seven years of work. And like maybe the format doesn’t work, you know? Like maybe that’s what we’re getting from statistics like that.
Manda: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Zineb: So when I got to presented it, my advisors really got it. Like from the get go they got it. Yeah. I’m honestly very lucky in that regard. That’s why I often recommend to young people; don’t choose the university, choose the program, choose the advisors, choose what is it that you want to learn and how you want to learn it as opposed to the big names. Which I mean, sometimes the big names can advance you professionally and can be useful. But getting to learn the way you want to learn and actually having a learning experience that’s valuable for you is, is invaluable.
Manda: Yeah. And we are in the time of transition. The big names might in the past have been good at advancing your career, but given the rate of change that we’re in at the moment, my suspicion is that careers are really not going to be a thing five, ten, 15 years from now. Not in the way that we think of them now. We had David Helfland on a little while ago, who’s who’s a very different educator, but still has similar ideas to you. Who pointed out that the process of getting a PhD was learning more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing. And that that isn’t useful anymore in the world that we’re in. So it sounds as if you’ve landed in a very exciting, thriving place and that the project will come back for another podcast definitely in a few years time when you’re further into it and discover where you’ve got to. But in the meantime, you and Valentino set up Youth by Youth, right in the middle of lockdown and COVID and all of those things. And it seems as if this is aiming to get over the hump, whereby, as far as I can tell, we are gaslighting everybody under the age of 30 with this idea that there are careers and that this linear model of learning how to fit yourselves into a capitalist economy is the way forward. Because it isn’t anymore. Capitalism is falling apart. So. How did that come about? Tell us more about what it is and how the two of you got together to make it happen.
Zineb: Yeah, absolutely. So as I mentioned, I was working in a bit more of a traditional set of foundations in the education sector. And as much as I think I met some extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, I felt like education innovations were only at the margins and not actually affecting the mainstream of education systems in the way that the transformation of education could happen. And when COVID started, I got extraordinarily mad, I think, about the reaction that governments had on just not listening to what people needed. We were going through an extreme crisis, and to me that was kind of like a mirror of the future crisis we were going to be having in the future. And showing their reaction was command and control. You do this now, you go here now, now it’s online things and no care about mental health, no care about their personal experiences of going through such a complicated crisis for so many people and not asking them along the way what would serve them at any point in time. And I think that kind of like slapped me into realising that the same way any system changes, is because the people in that system ask, demand and start creating the change inside. That education needed young people to be the ones to lead that transformation. That there was no transformation possible without the main population of education system actually rising up and saying we demand and can do something different. So the idea initially was like, reclaim your education, because as much as you might not be able to choose your school system, your education will always be yours. Education is a lifetime process. Learning is a lifetime, a lifelong process. And so even if schooling might not be something you get to decide on, your education is always yours.
Zineb: And so that was the initial kind of idea behind it. And also how to link young people worldwide so that we can start the movement towards educational transformation. And at the time I was with both Valentina and Jessica Spencer Keys, and the three of us had had this traditional way of working with education systems and wanted to try new ways of doing things. So we kind of created this pedagogical approach, which essentially is a three step process: what is? What if? And what now? So moving from sense making and meaning making, where you really get into understanding the root causes behind some of the issues that we’re seeing. Moving into What if, which is radical reimagination, so being able to actually imagine different ways of being and doing and living on earth. In ways that are actually beautiful and harmonious and playful and joyful. And then What Now is actually how do you bridge where we are with where we want to go in this first step and go into it; both personal action and collective action, centring solidarity as well as intergenerational ways of working. Because it was kind of noticed there is this little bit of a myth behind young people are going to save us. Or just I think this generation’s absolutely amazing, they really are. But at the same time, they shouldn’t have the weight of all of the mistakes of generations before. It is meant to be intergenerational, where we have an allyship model and create relationships between elders and young people in a way that can support young people going forward.
Manda: Wow. This just sounds utterly groundbreaking. And yes, absolutely, as one of the older generations, heaven knows, whatever we can do to help. And that’s again, it’s down to asking everybody what their input can be and needs to be and is. So, let me guess; three of you sat down and had these conversations – or you didn’t sit down, you did it online because COVID, you weren’t allowed to sit down with people. How had you known each other previously? How did you come together?
Zineb: So initially we were both with traditional education institutions. I was in Qatar, Valentino was in Washington and Jessica was in London. And we had met in Washington with the Brookings Institute on the study around mapping global education innovations around the world; on basically the role of education in leapfrogging change. And we also met through The Weaving Lab, which is another organisation they are co-founders of and gotten a chance to to work on for a few years. With a group of fantastic co-founders, we’re 16 co-founders in 12 countries. That’s also an interesting structure.
Zineb: And yeah, we were I guess, three younger women realising a lot of the same things at the same time and feeling like honestly soul sisters, where we felt a sense that we’re supposed to do something together. So that’s propelled us into that path.
Manda: So 16 co-founders in 12 countries of the Weaving Lab, I’m just really curious, as a starter, how did you co-found? What were the ways that you found to connect? Again, I’m assuming online because you’re spread out geographically. So that you could keep everybody in the room, keep everybody having input. 16 Sounds a little bit more than the kind of comfortable number that people tend to revolve around, which is 12, but not so much bigger that it’s impossible. Were you using some of the more modern social technologies, like Sociocracy or Dragon Dreaming, or did you evolve something that just worked for you? And if so, what was it?
Zineb: Mm So initially The Weaving Lab I think was an idea that was incubated within Ashoka initially, which is a social enterprise that kind of pioneered the idea of like social entrepreneurship and whatnot. And the idea was that a lot of the social entrepreneurs that were part of that community, felt this strong sense that they were part of the same community of social entrepreneurs, but at the same time didn’t really know how to weave their work together in a way that would create that kind of momentum that we were seeking to make happen in order for a social change to be accelerated. So the idea behind The Weaving Lab was how do we interconnect people, places and projects in a way that creates a momentum towards social change? And so because that was the idea, the point was not like, oh, we need to create like big projects where everyone needs to know everything about everything. But really, how do we create a global community of practice that enables the the practice of weaving, (which I can talk more about and explain a bit more in detail, because I’m assuming your listeners might not be familiar with it) towards social change. So that was really the logic behind creating a community, a global community of practice to enable the interconnection of people, projects and places.
Manda: Okay, people, projects and places. We’re getting so many potential titles for this podcast. So yes, say something else about the weaving. Are we talking actual weaving of actual fabric or are we talking social weaving or you’re meaning something? Both. Tell us more about that.
Zineb: Yeah, we’re meaning social weaving. So I think the best way I’ve started, because weaving is truly a complex practice, it’s how do we move out of the logic of separation, which our world is currently based on? From a personal level, like within yourselves, we tend to separate mind and body or mind, body, heart, soul. All those things tend to be actually separated in the way that we understand them, as well as in the way that we work with one another and the way that we break down different systems. We talk about education and health and not understanding that actually all those things are interconnected in a much deeper way. So the practice of weaving is how do we move out of the logic of separation, into a logic of interconnection? Whereby we recover our ability to see the connection between things and make them work in a way to create local, universal, well-being. Where the dimensions are both personal, societal, organisational and whatnot.
Manda: So tell us a little bit about The Weaving Lab and how this weaving actually works. Because it sounds as if this is really quite radical and revolutionary and I had managed not to hear about it before, which is a huge gap, and I can feel several podcasts arising out of this. But just tell us how it works and how you have seen it work.
Zineb: Mm Certainly. So because weaving is a complex practice, there’s not one way that it works. There is as many ways of weaving as there are weavers. Which is why the idea behind The Weaving Lab is creating a community of practice where we share our different methods. So for some, it’s going to be facilitation methods, where the idea is how do you create deep connection between people in a very fast way? For some, it’s how to create multi-stakeholder collaborations in order to create a social change dynamic within the place. So each weaver has actually its own way of weaving. But ultimately what we believe is that this is a practice where we can learn from one another and enable ourselves to see how social change is being pioneered in a different way. Putting interconnection at the centre, towards a thriving world, essentially. With the idea that we need to collaborate in a systemic manner in order for social change to happen. So I think I actually have lots of potential people who I think would be fantastic people to interview for your podcast and pioneering extraordinary ways of making social change happen. Some are creating eco villages, some are creating bio regional, like a bio regional approach in Europe. Lots of different ways of making that happen.
Manda: Okay. Okay. All right. So Future Podcasts coming! Because this feels like… I’m really curious. So let’s just keep it personal to you and the three of you who then went on to create Youth by Youth. How, logistically, do you work systemically? Because a lot of people listening have been inculcated in the educational system, that gets us to think linearly. And learning to think systemically is not something that we do automatically. We have to actually bring ourselves round to it. So can you just walk us through the steps of how systemic thinking feels to you and then how you began to implement it to create these ways?
Zineb: That’s an excellent question. So I think there are several dimensions when we think about systems change. The first one, especially with Youth by Youth, was how do we make ourselves think systemically, So that we can make the kind of change we want to make happen? The second was actually because we’re creating a community of young people and adult allies, that are thinking about how to transform education; it’s how each person can carry the logic behind systems in order for themselves to be empowered, with the logic behind systems thinking. So how to teach systems thinking to a 14 year old? This is often how I would think about it. And there are certain principles around systems thinking that are actually quite simple, that it doesn’t need to be complicated. Rather, I should say it is complex, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. And the first thing is, actually for us at Youth by Youth, it was adopting an emergent approach. Which means that as much as we set up programs, as much as we believe in the importance of having concrete ways that we connect young people with one another; it’s also being able to shift when we sense that the wind is going in a different direction, in order to be able to see the different opportunities that are in front of us. And also to centre youth voices. Which means that if a young person or community proposes something new, it’s not because we were co-founders or because we’re running the organisation in one way or another that we feel like we have the sole decision making ability at all.
Zineb: It was actually quite complex to think how do we empower young people more and more? To see that Youth by Youth is not an organisation that is run by people; it’s a community of people that runs the organisation. So it’s not even an organisation, it’s trying to build the conditions for social change to happen. It’s to build a movement where solidarity can happen. And within our pedagogy itself we had to be very clear around how do we teach root cause analysis and really be able to untangle what we think are sometimes like fast solutions. Because a lot of activism is actually quite reactive. Where you see a problem and then you say, Oh, young people, here is a problem, what would you do to solve it? And then they go solve it. And a lot of it is like or not even just young people, everyone has this kind of like action/reaction. And what we understand with systems change is that it’s slightly more complex than that. You have to be able to unpeel the layers and be able to see why is this happening and why do I care about it? What’s my unique role in being able to answer a certain challenge?
Zineb: And so the way we do that, is that young people themselves have their own learning questions that they carry. And then we help them with their own unique way that they want to address something to unpeel those layers. And there’s lots of ways that we do that in groups and smaller groups and pairs and buddies, so that that process can happen collectively.
Manda: Brilliant. So let’s just cover some foundational questions and then I would really like to unpick the process and how it’s working. Because you talk about young people as if you weren’t one of them. And from the perspective of my age, you definitely are. So what are the kind of age bands that define the generations for you and for them? Let’s start with that. So I would be a boomer definitely, because I was born before 1964, I think is the cut-off for that. How do you, if you had to and I realise these are very flexible, but roughly where would you site yourself in the age spectrum?
Zineb: So I’m a, I guess Millennial. 32. I have just celebrated my 32nd birthday…
Manda: Happy Birthday.
Zineb: Thank you.
Manda: What does Millennial mean for you? Does Millennial mean somebody then who was born in the years leading up to the millennium? Obviously, because you were born then in 1990, if I’ve done the arithmetic right.
Zineb: It’s not so much that. I personally don’t really even use the concept of generations that much. To me, it’s more like who’s capable, who, who is in an ally position. Where your idea is like, how do you support others doing this kind of work, because you’ve done it before versus not having had that experience.
Zineb: So with Youth by Youth, our age range is usually 15 to 25, although 15 is also because under that you need lots of parental consent and it starts getting very complicated when you do work online. Otherwise I would honestly go even lower. There is no age for activism. And similarly, 25 we go… It really also depends on how much opportunities young people have had in their past, especially considering different access to education that they might have had, or not. So some people who might be 24 can already be considered allies because they’ve run organisations and they’ve done a lot of work that they can impart on others; versus young people who are new to their activism journey. But as you mentioned, yes, we are all young people working together, it’s just what is our role within that structure might differ. But the way that I think about it is almost like what have you had access to in your education? So for instance, in my education we’ve never talked about climate change.
Zineb: We weren’t aware of this kind of social issue. So I feel like I’ve learned a lot of things and unlearned a lot of things, whereas for Gen Z they learn those things, the same things that I might have learned, but at the same time as they’ve learned about all the social chaos that we’re currently going through. Which often has created in them a little bit of almost like two antithetical things that don’t marry and create a form of absurdity, that makes them want to learn more about this absurd thing where you’re telling us How do we be successful? At the same time as you’re telling us, here, this way of being successful is currently ruining the planet and might mean that you might not have a very happy future. So they’re trying to reconcile that very early. So it’s more where I draw the generational gap than age per se.
Manda: And as we get more authoritarian governments around the world who decide that you’re not allowed to teach things like climate change anymore, because it’s ideological and you mustn’t teach it, then that’s also going to affect young people’s education. But it seems to me that however we define the generations, the generations that have grown up with broadband as part of their life, where you have access to the whole of the world’s knowledge, insofar as you are able to actually get to it and you don’t live somewhere where it’s very constrained; then self-education and networks and educational connected networks are going to be every bit as important as what they teach you in school. Because what you learn online at home is very different to what they’re teaching at school. Just the sheer number of hours that you spend online at home are going to outweigh the amount of time you spend in the classroom, and that’s going to be more important. Are you finding those dichotomies are rising in the young people that you’re connecting with yet? And if so, how?
Zineb: Absolutely. So that’s also why I was mentioning earlier that we advocate for reclaiming your education. That even if you can’t control what’s happening in your school, you have access to the whole of information out there and actually can be very intentional about what you seek out online. And so there’s definitely the sense that we’re at this point where I think a lot of people are losing trust in their government’s ability to actually acknowledge that we are in a moment of crisis, and acknowledge that there is a collapse that is slowly rising. Or I wouldn’t necessarily call it a collapse, maybe like civilizational death is more like it. And instead of actually accompanying that death with grace and with a little bit of ‘oh, what have we learned from this and what can come out of it?’ It’s like an old person refusing to die, you know? Just like, no, I will live forever.
Manda: We’re going to stick it on life support and pour all of the planetary resources into keeping this dying thing going, instead of allowing something new to grow.
Zineb: Exactly. Exactly. Which is why I also work a lot with different organisations that are putting the kind of knowledge that is needed online. So I also work with an organisation called Curriculums for Life, where the idea is to provide a simple curriculum both for self-directed learners and for teachers who want to start teaching new things, around things that are missing from school. With the idea to create better relationships with oneself, with each other, with our places and the planet. So I’ll give you some examples of the kind of curriculums we’re currently creating, which is learning for life. So all the things around learning and how to learn and why we learn and why it matters and learning from failures and all the things that tend to be missing. Sense making. So how do we make sense of the world? How do we trust our intuitions, emotional intelligence, all the things… how to become an adult. So how to pay your taxes, how to pay your bills, all those things that aren’t covered and then you’re thrown in the world and have to figure out how to do. We try to actually see how to make those kind of curriculums available, not by necessarily creating it, but actually curating what already exists online in a way that makes it more easily navigable.
Manda: I had on my iPad in capital letters with several question marks ‘SENSE MAKING’ and I think you’re answering this, because it seems obviously that the more access we have to deliberate disinformation online, the harder it becomes to decide what we can actually trust. So Curriculum for Life. Sounds to me like a project that is deliberately, first of all, curating stuff that you can trust and then teaching the skills of how to make sense. Can you just talk us a little bit more through how people do that? Or would it be better for young people who are listening to just go to curriculums for life? Sign up to that and get help with their sense making that way.
Zineb: So I think that project is going to become available online in a few months. It’s still in the works, but we’re prototyping with young people at the moment. So every time that we create the lesson, we prototype it with young people and refine it to make sure that they’ve had a say in the process as well. For sense making itself, I think there’s a couple of things that I want to say about it. The first one being that – and I think that’s something that I’ve heard from another person in your podcast – which is we can’t make sense of the world by dividing disciplines. If we put everything in little boxes, we can never make sense of the complexity of how they interact with one another. So how do we recover that ability to actually understand what is happening in a complex world? It’s something that a lot of interesting people are currently working on, and I think we’re still finding out ourselves how to do it. So I feel like in a lot of ways, as I’m trying new ways to make sense of what’s happening, I’m able to teach them. And that’s also where, you know, I should like the theory and the practice bridges. Because I often look at my PhD research and try to look at different things that way and then teach it through Youth by youth or curriculum for life or the weaving lab. And like all those things actually end up interconnecting because again, there is no point in separating work from life, from research. All those things are one. And at the end of the day, I see myself as someone who is trying to support both the death of a world, of a civilisation that no longer serves us, and the birth of a new civilisation where we can live in harmony and stop destroying so much of the richness of the life that surrounds us. And I don’t want the parts of my life to be separate in that direction. They need to be integrated.
Manda: Yeah. You are the living embodiment of what it is to be an emergent processor, to live in an emergent process and to help accelerate it. This is so exciting. Just fantastic. So. There’s so many things that I would like to drill into, and I suspect that the answer for most of them is we’re still in the process of working this out. So, for instance, I have written quite a while back, how do we teach root cause analysis? How how are we going to teach that? How are you beginning to teach root cause analysis and then help young people to apply that capacity, in a very rapidly changing circumstance of systemic collapse, which is what we’re in at the moment, in order that we can also then facilitate the growth of a different system. And I imagine because I get overwhelmed thinking about this quite a lot, that this is quite overwhelming. But it seems to me that you’re one of those people who isn’t letting the overwhelm weigh you down. You’ve got little anchors in the emergent future. So I would really like to look at that emergent future and I’m aware of the time. But let’s just have a little bit about how do you teach root cause analysis? I’m really interested in that one.
Zineb: I think that one kind of depends on the different ages and how deep can we go. But I’m just going to give you one example of the way we teach it, which is called the five Why exercise, which essentially means you look at a problem and then ask, why is this happening? And then why is this happening?
Manda: Five times.
Zineb: Five times. So you try to get to the bottom of it. And there’s simple exercises like that, that people can do to be able to see that when you think you’ve gotten it, there is a layer deeper. And so as much as like we teach it sometimes or with people with their own learning questions, try to go and unpeel those layers. There’s also a stance that I think really matters when we do this work, and it’s the humility stance, that you haven’t gotten it ever. You understand at some point and then like I love the Maya Angelou quote, ‘do as best as you know. And when you know better, do better’. It’s so simple. But at the same time, it’s just being able to not have an arrogant stance and be able to say, yes, we’re doing this work and also we’re finding out new things and we can look at the origins. That’s also another exercise is when you look at, say, an issue of concern within a certain system. Let’s say it’s within the education system or within the capitalist system. We try to say go back to the origins of that system. How did the system actually emerge? Why did it start? How did it start? And what does that tell you about the underlying intentions it carries? So, for instance, with capitalism, I found that one of the first corporations or the first corporation to ever be created was a British corporation that was meant to essentially exploit India. That was the whole point of the creation of the first corporation that was ever created. And the DNA of that origin is carried in capitalism, where the imperialist structure behind it and the exploitative structure can be read in its origins.
Manda: Okay, this is a rabbit hole I’d really like to explore with you, because it seems to me that our capacity to go back then depends on our education. So if we didn’t have history books of some sort, we don’t necessarily have to go through school history texts, but historical records. We wouldn’t know that, for instance, the Dutch East India Company existed or whatever it was that was the first company that was explicitly designed. And that the whole concept in Western Europe of the removal of people from the land and the enclosures and bringing them into cities was to design poverty. To make it so they couldn’t grow their own food, because then they have to work and then you can make them work for less. And then you describe this still happening all around the world, where people are basically educated off the land and then they don’t have the capacity to feed themselves. And yet, partly because Rome was my obsession for about ten years, I know that if we go back to Roman times, they charged interest on loans, they had cumulative capital. They had all of the commodification of land, labour and property that we talk about now as being the origin of capitalism. And I’m sure they didn’t invent it. I just haven’t gone back that much further to look at how did Rome discover the commodification of land, labour and property in order to then spread it so efficiently around what was then the known world, so that everybody decided this was the model. Because it seems to me, one of my theses is that we are actually in the dying days of the Roman Empire.
Manda: It’s just that we don’t always stretch back that far. But if we go back before that, before that, before that, there must have been a time where a group of people, possibly even one person, was so traumatised and so dissociated from the web of life that the way of living connected to it became unappealing or impossible. And this whole cycle of exploitation and destruction and separation was kicked off and dragged people in. The whole concept of the Wetigo or the Wendigo, that it’s kind of almost like an infectious virus. And I don’t suppose we’re ever going to be able to go far enough back to know when that happened or how or why. So in your five whys, assuming you end up with 555 whys going back all the way to, I don’t know, ten, 15, 20,000 years ago to something that we’ll never be able to find out. Then presumably you come forward to; So we’ve uncovered, uncovered, uncovered, uncovered a lot of whys and we get to what is which was one of your three. What is? Then how do you move forward? How do you take the historical perspective and allow you to break out of that linear narrative into something different?
Zineb: Thanks, Manda, for for such an interesting question. I think I want to go back to one thing before I answer it. Which is, it’s very interesting to actually also become aware of this Roman collapse replaying itself. But it’s interesting to look at like our 500 year band of this new modern civilisation and then understand it’s like birth and collapse. And then also how does that inscribe itself in like a spiral of birth and death of different civilisations? So being able to go both in our trench; like really understand what’s happening here; as well as the entire historical perspective. And as you say, I think as much as we can learn about it, there’s also the sense that there is more that we’ll never know, compared to what we’re capable of knowing about it.
Zineb: So at the same time, as history really informs us and makes something grow in us, where we become part of a lineage with civilisation and throughout human history, we see like it’s how do you learn to see yourself as your self? An emergent process of what wants to be born. I’ve read recently someone who I’m not going to remember the name of the author, but I’ll send it to you after, who says, Well, we belong to what we long for. So it’s almost like finding within yourself both like I almost imagined myself as like a flower on earth. How does it want to be expressed? What is it that you uniquely are there to bring into this earth? At the same time as you’re looking at, like my understanding of it is like the more we learn (and that’s why radical reimagination is also a big part of it) the more we’re capable of imagining it and feeling it and then being it, the more the easier it becomes to actually make it come to life. Because you are it. You’re no longer dissociated from it.
Manda: There’s so many exciting things here. I do want to come back to Youth by Youth, very quickly. But just radical reimagination; because from a shamanic perspective, if we can imagine something to the point where we can feel it at a core level, then our energy kind of hones in on that, and it’s much more likely to arise. Which is one of the reasons I get really cross with people writing dystopian futures. Because you don’t need to take people’s imaginations and throw them forward to how bad it could be. We all know that, we don’t need to rehearse it. With Youth by Youth, in bringing it into being, how much of that was your process of radical re-imagination? Did you the three of you sit in your COVID separated little bunkers and undergo radical reimagination? Was that how it arose?
Zineb: Partly, yes. We did lots of radical reimagination exercises ourselves, and we did and do have a tendency to try on our own before suggesting other ways of doing things and imagining with our young people. So we imagine kind of different exercises like the headlines of the future of how does that actually emerge. But to me, as much as there’s two dimensions to radical reimagination, there’s the future dreaming and there’s the being it right now and actually being a representation of the future you wish existed. So for that, part of what we do is like we’re truly driven by love and we tell our young people we love them all the time because we really do. And we created the team of young people that is the core team and then the whole community around it that guides us. But we’re very intentional about expressing our care and creating a community of mutual care and of true solidarity that doesn’t have to wait for the future to emerge. We can be that for each other today. And so being able to practice those ways where you can say in a team like, I love you, how are you? Like, How are you? Can you tell me about your life? Taking a half an hour at the beginning of every meeting to hear each other’s true state of being, so that we can respond to that. Those things that are currently missing because we go into operational optimisation. How do we create change? Like so much of the social sector looks like that. Where we go to objectives in that way, but it doesn’t actually end up being a representation of that future world because it still uses the logic of the world we’re trying to undo, to create that new world. And I don’t think we can do it that way.
Manda: Yeah, Brilliant. Brilliant. No, I’m sure we can’t. I’m sure you’re right. So let’s drill down into how many… You said there was a core group of young people in Youth by Youth and then expanding numbers. I don’t know if you want to share numbers, but can you tell us roughly how many there are?
Zineb: So, we’re a team of six people in our core team, which basically do most of the program organising. But then the way we function is that all of our programs, for instance, now we’re launching a program which is called the Global Action Circles. It’s a five month peer to peer learning journey that is led by youth hosts, which go through a little bit of a training and actually decide how they’re going to be facilitating that process and end up in groups of between 12 and 14 people, intergenerational but youth led, with between two and four adults and the rest being young people. So for that program, we have 24 youth hosts that are leading the whole process. We give them the principles, the different agendas that they might want to rework, but then they’re the ones that end up leading a group of 12 to 14 people through a five month learning journey, where, again, everyone comes in with their own learning question and then uses that process to get them from what is, to what if, to what now. And so they move from question to projects within five months, which they then get to present to our global community, because we have an annual learning festival where we usually have between 300 and 500 people who show up. So it’s almost like expanding circles essentially, or circles of circles of circles until the whole community can actually come together and start creating those changes.
Manda: All of this has arisen inside of two years. And if you got 2 to 300 people who actually show up, then there’s easily ten times that many who just don’t quite get round to it. That seems to be a kind of core rule of thumb. So this is astonishing. Have you got anything that you’re highlighting as here are aspects of change that we’re beginning to see in people’s lives? Or is it too soon for that?
Zineb: So we’re seeing where there is a clear drive from young people to be front and centre in their approach. I’m not sure if it’s like concrete ways of changing, but definitely noticing with COVID that the focus on mental health has become really, really, really important for many of them. This period was not easy for them at all. And generally, when you have absurdity within your system, of not understanding the world you’re being brought into, I think that that can generate a lot of mental health issues. Which we’re learning as a community, I think, that mental health issues and I’m putting this in the quotes, are often the way that there’s a chaos before a rearrangement. And so it’s like a breakdown before breakthroughs. So really reframing the way mental health affects young people, to kind of acknowledge like it’s very normal that there’s mental health issues arising; because you’re you’re living in a time of transition where everything is changing. And so like embracing that as something that might actually teach you a lot and learning to embrace those dark moments as signs of how we need to change and how we need to evolve, has been a big area where people have been doing incredible work. Others are climate education, youth led education transformation, where many of them are creating manifestos in their communities or trying to contact the ministries of education to create youth councils, in order to create that dynamic of putting young people at the centre of those kind of transformations that are needed.
Manda: I’m realising that I’m still thinking linearly and everything that I’m hearing from you is about emergent processes and people being the change, exactly as you said. It’s that old Gandhian thing. But giving young people the tools to enable them to be part of their communities and to have voices that are heard. And presumably, I am guessing and correct me if I’m wrong, that a lot of the work that you’re doing, the integral work and the small group work and the peer to peer work, is about giving young people the confidence to then go out into the wider world and go, Guys, it’s just not working. The old systems that you think… It feels to me we’re so much… I don’t know if you watched the cartoons when you were small, but like Wiley Coyote has run out across the canyon and just is refusing to look down and there is a 3000 foot drop. And the person who’s going, ‘guys, there is no solid ground underneath us anymore’ is not going to be popular. Unless they can go there is no solid ground underneath us, but look here, I can help us to fashion a rope and we’ll get to the other side and everything will be different. And that what you’re doing is giving young people the voice to say, we need to see that the old system is broken. And at the same time you don’t have to panic, all the old people who’ve been educated into that old system and don’t have the tools to do something different; because here we are, the young people and we have ideas and you just need to listen to us and things will move forward.
Zineb: Yeah, to me it’s almost like we’re teaching or supporting them in transforming education because every other system in their life is going to have to transform. So that’s the one they’re currently a part of that needs that change and that themselves reclaiming that education, to gain the skills that they need in order to make all those other changes, that are going to be part of their lives. Sometimes I find it like a balancing act, like it’s a tight line to walk on, between acknowledging where there are problems and acknowledging without falling into despair, essentially. So being able to say it like it is and not sugarcoat that things are actually better than we think or like, look, the world, blah, blah, blah, while at the same time being able to say there’s a death and there’s a birth, and you’re in that time, in the middle, for a reason. Find out that reason and then learn to be okay with that death. And also to find out what it is that you want to bring into the world.
Manda: That’s so, so inspiring. And I love the groundedness of it. So that we’re not trying to say everything’s going to be beautiful, we’re just going to say everything is going to be different. And actually, we have no way of knowing exactly how different.
Zineb: Thank you
Manda: So let’s explore it together.
Zineb: It feels like that’s a really clean, clear place to end. It feels, to be honest, as if we’ve only started beginning this conversation. I would be very, very glad if you’d come back in about six months and we could continue.
Zineb: I would love that.
Manda: But as we’re heading off out into the world and I will point everybody at your websites in the show notes; is there anything else in closing that you’d like to say, particularly to the young people listening?
Zineb: Hmmm..I think I would say don’t forget your co-creator of this world. You’re not a victim of it. And you’re here, yeah, I truly believe you’re here for a reason. That we have so much beauty to bring in, as well as rough things that we’re going to have to go through. But if you can find the people you want to go through hard times and good times together, all of it will be more joyful. So surround yourself with love, with joy, with play, along the way.
Manda: And with people who really get it.
Manda: Who are there, at Youth by Youth.
Manda: So, Zineb, thank you so much. This has been such an inspiring and enlightening and emerging conversation. I have loved every moment of it. Thank you very, very much.
Zineb: Thank you, Manda. It was a true pleasure chatting with you, and I really hope we get another chance very soon.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Huge, huge thanks to Zineb, for all that she’s doing. Honestly, for most of us, being a PhD candidate is enough. But to be doing that and setting up and running youth by youth and still being part of the coordination of The Weaving Lab feels absolutely huge. And I don’t know how there is time in one life for all of that. But I’m enormously glad that there is. So whatever age you are, please head over to youth by youth and explore the ways that you can become part of this movement. This emergent property of the new life that is being born out of the death of the old one. The more we can let go of everything that we thought we knew to be true and embrace what the moment needs, instead of what we’d like to think it needs, the faster we move to the new system and the more likely it will be to flourish. So that’s your job for this week, people. The link is in the show notes, but if you don’t feel like going there, it’s https://www.youthxyouth.com/ Please do head there and see how you can make a difference to bringing into being the more beautiful world that our hearts do know is possible.
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