#174   The Fine Art of Huddles: multiplying our potential by the power of our peers with Zahra Davidson of Huddlecraft

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How can we begin to shift away from the old hierarchical dominance structures of our past 2,000 years, towards something where everyone brings the best of themselves and embraces and celebrates the best in other people?

It was in hunting for answers to this, that I came across this week’s guest: someone who is opening doors all round the world in the creation of a regenerative, emotionally literate future.

Zahra Davidson was Co-founder of and is now the Chief Executive and Design Director at Huddlecraft, an organisation that promotes and supports peer to peer learning. With a background spanning social entrepreneurship, service design, system change, sustainability and visual communication. she describes herself now as a purpose-led designer and strategist, working for a post-growth future for our finite planet.

As you’ll hear, Zahra and Huddlecraft have evolved a system of peer to peer learning that absolutely helps those involved to grow the emotional literacy – to exercise their conceptual and psychological muscles – as a way of shifting our culture’s centre of gravity in a more generative direction.

As part of this, she is Strategic Advisor to Money Movers (formerly called OwnIt), a movement designed to empower women to take Climate Action by moving their personal finances – and they are aiming to move £1billion by 2030.

She and Huddlecraft are also involved in the newly formed Collective Imagination Practice Community – and any of you who have listened to more than a couple of podcasts will know that I’m fairly firmly of the belief that if we’re going to get to that flourishing future we’d be proud to leave behind, we’ll need a massed act of collective re-imagining of our trajectory.

In Conversation

Manda: Hey, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is still time to create the future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your host, in this journey into possibility. And one of the key questions I’ve found in this quest for the flourishing future, is how can we begin to shift away from the old hierarchical dominance structures of the past 2000 years, towards a way of being where everyone brings the best of themselves and embraces and celebrates the best in the other people that they’re working with. It was in hunting for answers to this question that I came across this week’s guest, someone who’s opening doors all around the world in the creation of a regenerative, emotionally literate future. Zara Davidson was co-founder of and is now the chief executive and design director at Huddlecraft, which is an organisation that promotes and supports peer to peer learning. With a background spanning social entrepreneurship, service design, systems change, sustainability and visual communication, Zara describes herself now as a purpose led designer and strategist working towards a post-growth future for our finite planet. Which seems to me pretty closely aligned with this podcast. As you’ll hear, Zara and Huddlecraft have evolved a system of peer to peer learning, that absolutely helps those involved to grow the emotional literacy to exercise their conceptual and psychological muscles, if you like, as a way of shifting our culture’s centre of gravity towards a more generative future.

Manda: And as part of this, Zahra is a strategic advisor to Money Movers, which used to be called Own It and is a movement I think started by her, designed to empower women to take climate action by moving their personal finances. And they’re aiming to move £1 billion sterling by 2030, which sounds pretty heroic and very good to me. Zahra and Huddlecraft are also involved in the newly formed Collective Imagination Practice Community. And any of you who’ve listened to this podcast for more than a couple of episodes will know by now, that I am absolutely of the opinion that if we’re going to move to the flourishing future we’d be proud to leave behind, we absolutely need a massed act of collective reimagining of our trajectory. We need a vision of how our world could be different. And she’s part of something that is building that. So with great enthusiasm, people of the podcast, please do welcome Zahra Davidson.

Manda: Zahra, welcome to the Accidental Gods Podcast. Thank you. And thank you for turning out on a day when you’re not feeling so great. I’m enormously grateful.

Zahra: Well, thank you for having me. And actually, there are a lot of things which would be far worse to do, feeling a little bit unwell, than have a conversation. So I’m happy to be here.

Manda: Brilliant. Thank you. And we’ve both got cats helping us. So, guys, if you hear noises of paddy paws over keyboards, it’s the cats, one at each end. So in my exploring, of all the amazing things that you do and you do so many different extraordinary things, I came across a moment in one of your blogs where you were sitting at St Pancras station with a mentor, and your mentor asked you if you would rather set up a mediocre social enterprise or a movement. Which does, I have to say, sound to me like a really leading question. I can’t imagine any human being on the planet faced with that question, going, Oh, well, really, I’d like to start a mediocre social enterprise, thank you. So there was really only one answer to that, but I would like to hear how you came to be sitting on St Pancras station with a mentor in the first place. Because that is pretty much outside my realm of experience. And then having been prompted, where did that question take you? 

Zahra: I do think that my mentor at the time was trying to challenge me to be more ambitious in the way that I was thinking. And so I do think it was a leading question. But yeah, in terms of how we ended up there that day. So a couple of years prior to that and this was already several years ago, I had started a social enterprise which at the time was called Enrol Yourself. We’re now called Huddlecraft, but that was our name at the time. And I had started Enrol Yourself really to fill a gap that I felt was missing in my own life. So I had been looking for a way to keep learning, keep pushing myself, keep stretching myself alongside work in the way that I felt I had been able to do previously at art school or in other sort of creative learning communities. And I really missed some of the sort of fizziness of those experiences. And I wanted that in my everyday life and alongside work. And so the idea for Enrol Yourself really came about from that need. And what it was, was peer groups. The simple ancient technology of gathering a small group of people into a circle, for them to share and exchange ideas and resources and perspectives in order to support one another. To, you know, go in a direction that they wanted to, to think about something they wanted to or learn something that they wanted to.

Manda: Excellent. Beautiful. So two obvious questions running from that. And the first of which is what were you working at? And the second is what I’m hearing or what I think I’m hearing is a lot of us loved being students and loved going through an educational process, where we were just learning and our brains turned into sponges and we could just draw everything in and spark the ideas off other people who were learning in the same space and sharing the same idea frames. And so other than what were you working at, I’m really curious to know whether once you got out into consensus reality, you could create the same magic by bringing a group of other working people together. Because my experience sometimes has been that people just get very tired at work and their sparkiness is less. And I’m curious, genuinely curious to know, were you able to re-spark people with your Enrol Yourself? So let’s start with what were you working at, just for us to situate ourselves in your life and then move on to Sparks?

Zahra: Yeah. So I was working at the time for Forum for the Future, which is a sustainability non-profit, and to be clear, that was a brilliant job that I was very, very lucky to have. And it was interesting and stimulating and challenging and purposeful in a lot of ways. So I think it’s important to recognise that I was probably already one of the lucky ones. But I think there was an emergence and a creative freedom that I was really looking for, that was quite a different mode of thinking to the kind of thinking that I was sometimes having to do at work and that was what I was seeking, I think. In answer to your second question, I would like to say yes, I do think that is what happened for people through becoming part of peer groups, through becoming part of Enrol Yourself. Because I don’t think I would have had the momentum or energy required to continue with that project, had it not had that kind of impact for people, where they were really gaining something and they were really able to create something or explore something or do something. Or just be in a kind of state of being or state of working that they were in some way missing.

Manda: And what are the different modes of thinking? You said a moment ago that that you were looking for the different modes of thinking. It seems to me you and I are both working towards changing the system. Total systemic change, really, I think. And that’s going to require really different modes of thinking and the capacity to let go of the assumption that the world will carry on as it is. Have you got an inner sense of, or a capacity to recognise is possibly a better way of putting it, what different modes of thinking look and feel like and how to help them arise?

Zahra: That’s a great question and I mean there must be so many answers to that. I think one of the reasons I’m fascinated by peer groups and their potential, I think, is because the process of being part of a learning cooperative or a collective, this sort of non-hierarchical space where everyone is responsible for what is created and what happens, that is culturally and socially quite different for most people, I think, than the sort of cultural social norms they might have at work. So just the process of learning how to be part of that group and give value to others, you know, navigate the huge amount of value that a group of ten, 12 people can offer to you. I think that, in and of itself is quite a different way of thinking and one that really recognises that one person won’t have all of the answers. And one that really recognises the need to sort of think and act interdependently with others around you. And that’s how I connect learning within a peer group space or peer to peer learning to that bigger picture system change. Change of consciousness that you know will be needed in the coming decades, in order to make some of the radical changes that we need to make. And you can read a book about the changes that are needed, but you’re fundamentally learning and digesting information in exactly the same way that people always have. I think that participating differently in the learning gives you an opportunity to embody some of the future that we’re actually trying to create. And I think that’s really powerful.

Manda: Yes, really helpful. And I am thinking that you probably didn’t get to this in one iterative step, that it took a while to evolve that level of understanding and shared practice that works. So in the beginning, the St Pancras station moment, you had created Enrol Yourself. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that did, how it did, and then how it’s evolved more towards what it is now.

Zahra: Yeah, definitely at that stage. Enrol Yourself was peer groups, which we now call huddles. That was the core of what we were doing. It’s still very much at the heart of what we’re doing today, although we have evolved some other strands of activity, that essentially help us to surviv on the one hand, the practical side. But also that help us to spread the power of peer groups and peer to peer learning in other ways. But at that stage, you know, I’d spent several years hosting peer groups myself, usually over a six month period of time with a group of people. Then I had started training other people to play that role of host or facilitator, and they had begun to initiate peer groups in their own town around a theme that they cared about. So all the while there was that iterative process going on and we were really refining how to do it well.

Manda: So let’s dive in a little bit to what it was that you were learning. Because you probably didn’t emerge from art college knowing how to run peer to peer groups. You’ve evolved this and it would be really interesting, I would find it interesting and I think the listeners would, to understand a little bit of the learning process that you went through. Even understanding that peer to peer learning is a thing. Were there other social enterprises who were doing this kind of thing that you could learn from, or is this something that you’ve evolved by trial and error?

Zahra: I think very much trial and error. Which is not to say that there weren’t other people out there in the world, practitioners of very similar processes. But the way that we and I were learning at the time was definitely much more by just putting ideas into practice and seeing what works and then making changes. And I think that’s a personal preference, but also, you know, an effective way of learning. And yeah, it was a huge learning curve. I mean, one of the biggest learning curves at the start, because I was playing the role of host, but I was also wanting to participate and have my own learning question, my own learning inquiry through the process. So I was learning to juggle those two roles. And I was also learning how to respond when other members of the group wanted to, in some ways, revert back into a teacher student sort of relationship that we’re all used to from education. So, you know, asking me for what I felt like was too many answers, you know, or for answers on things that’s to do with their personal learning question, their inquiry. I don’t know the answer to that. You know, I can’t tell you whether this is meeting your sense of purpose or not. So I was learning to sort of push back on that and actually the discomfort of doing that was also quite valuable, because then we were all sort of shifting into new roles. At the same time I was also having to take myself out of the process and not feel too responsible for where other people got to and whether that was good enough in my eyes as well.

Manda: It sounds like this is requiring quite a high level of emotional intelligence, to even be able to grasp that. And so many of us come into groups, sort ourselves into a hierarchy that seems to be kind of limbically associated, that we all get into a group and we’re like hens. We know our pecking order, we slot in, we stay there, we defer to the people above us. We step on the people below us. And it’s so subconscious that it takes somebody like you to say, I guess this is not how we want to do this anymore, and begin to move us into a more horizontal peer to peer equivalence where conversations can begin to flow. And I’m hearing, I think, that you were having a bit of resistance on that. Did many of these original groups fall apart because people wanted the hierarchy and were not able to cope with the horizontalism? Or were you able to hold the space with sufficient, I guess, emotional intelligence and empathy and compassion that it was possible for it to happen in real time?

Zahra: I think yes, we did manage to do that. We’ve been well, lucky, skilled, I don’t know. But we’ve been able to steward these peer groups, these huddles, without them falling apart. Which is not to say that there aren’t individuals who’ve chosen to drop out of the process. That happens occasionally, but in the vast majority of cases, groups are able to sort of keep a centre of gravity or enough glue that they are able to stay together through that process. There was one of our hosts last year or the year before, and I think what they said at the end was that it was a personality workout, amongst other things. But that playing the role of host was a real sort of character stretch because you’ve got those other people and all of their needs and also you need them to contribute, in order for the whole thing to come alive. So you’re sort of juggling quite a lot of things when you’re playing that role. That’s quite different to being a teacher, I think, or, you know, giving a presentation. It’s quite a different skill set. So I think that’s been common across hosts of our huddles, that they will report back on that idea of emotional intelligence or character development or personality workout even.

Manda: Yeah, I love the idea of personality workout. It sounds grand. And do you kick off the huddles, the peer groups, with a host with the intention that at some point the host ceases to host and it becomes a self hosting group? Or is the host the host from start to finish?

Zahra: So typically the host is the host from start to finish, although the intention is that the role will shift in that time. Although I would say that there have been some hosts where actually the thing that they’re really, really interested in might be self-organisation and then, you know, their intention might actually be to step away more than some other hosts. So we had one of our hosts, Dan, who’s now a member of our team, he ran a huddle, which was called an experiment in collaboration. And so part of what he really wanted to lean into and to test, was how much can this group really take ownership over the whole thing and how much can those roles shift along the way? Whereas for other huddles that’s been less important or less sort of close to the focus of what people have been doing.

Manda: So let’s have a look, then, at the kinds of things that huddles, now that we’ve moved from Enrol Yourself to huddles. Actually, let’s not. Let’s take a step back. You were Enrol Yourself and you became Huddlecraft and then somewhere in the process also was Money Matters. So let’s just have a look through the arc of your timeline and see where those came. And then let’s have a look at what kinds of things huddles are doing and what they’re good for.

Zahra: Yeah. So at some point after that conversation with my mentor, we were doing a collaborative process essentially with people who’d been part of our programs at Huddlecraft, and we were looking back at the impact of the work that we’d done and who’d been involved and what we’d achieved. And we created a book or a sort of report which we named Huddlecraft at the time, and there was some collaborative community input into creating that and also naming it. And when we published that and then shared it with members of our community, people were just resonating with that name and sort of sending feedback I love the name. And we had a conversation as a team at the time, about whether we should change our name. Because we were beginning to feel like Enrol Yourself spoke very much to the huddles themselves and the programs that we’d been doing. But now that at this point we’d also started working in collaboration with organisations and working on briefs and offering training, we were finding that the name didn’t quite encompass all of the things that we were doing. So we had that conversation and tried to come up with options, but really it was already there and we already knew what the right answer was. And so yeah, at that point we changed the name.

Manda: Okay. And so you were no longer working for Forum for the Future by this point? Had you begun to be a full time self employed or co employed?

Zahra: Yeah. So I had been working full time on Enrol Yourself then Huddlecraft at this point, for a number of years. So I think the first year of development more or less, I was still working for Forum For the Future part of the time. And then after that I left and focussed on this full time.

Manda: And was that always something that you wanted to do? Because there are some people for whom the idea of being self-employed is terrifying and some for whom it’s the ultimate liberation. Was it your aim?

Zahra: Sort of yes and no, I think. No on the surface, as in when I started working on Enrol Yourself, it really did feel I want this thing that I can’t find; let’s make that happen. And then there was a certain amount of snowballing and sort of momentum that it that it gained for itself. So I didn’t set out working on that, thinking this is going to become a thing or this is going to become a business. But then I also do have memories, even back at at uni, of kind of being out with friends and occasionally sort of, you know, talking to people who I was collaborating with on projects there and kind of trying to pin them down and almost start an agency with someone or something like that. So I think like the energy to start something was in there and then that came together with this particular project. Seeing that people wanted to be part of these experiences and then deciding to go ahead with that.

Manda: Brilliant. Thank you. So you’ve got a model of peer to peer learning, which is groups of people get together, share ideas around a common theme and expand it and see where it goes. So I have yards of questions, but the one that comes to the top is how did you decide what size a huddle should be? Does there seem to be, is there a kind of Dunbar number for huddles where beyond that our Palaeolithic emotions can’t handle the number of people? Or is it a feature of the topic?

Zahra: My opinion is yes, there is a number that it shouldn’t go beyond, and that number is 12. Which is not to say you can’t have brilliant group experiences or peer exchange experiences in groups of all sizes, but in terms of this particular model of a huddle. And actually I think the best number is 8 to 10, but there’s always other things that hosts need to take into consideration as well. Because the way the model works is that hosts pay us to be part of our host fellowship and we give training and support and mentorship and resources and everything that that person needs to then start their own huddle. And then they can charge fees from their participant and that is how they’re able to make that sizeable commitment something that’s viable for them, in most cases. And obviously, you know, having a group of 12 can be easier than having a group of eight. But I think 12 for me is the limit, where that’s the number where you can really know everyone, know their learning question, hold them in mind and sort of be following their learning journey and their learning inquiry. And I think when it goes beyond that point, you start to lose that visibility. And that’s when accountability will break down more as well, because if no one notices when I’m not there, then I can just duck out, you know? 

Manda: Right, and presumably if you end up with larger numbers, closer to 20, it begins to self separate into cliques and you end up with subgroups anyway.

Zahra: Yeah.Exactly.

Manda: Interesting. I remember listening to I think Jamie Wheal and Daniel Schmachtenberger, a group of those, and they were endeavouring to see how many people they could engage in a conversation where they felt that they were able to say exactly what they needed to say in the moment, without self-censoring. And I think they got to 12 and I didn’t ever hear it getting any bigger. So it does seem somewhere in our Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and technology of Gods, that 12 to 13 – I’m guessing one plus or minus is probably not hugely important – is a core and key number. So let’s take our groups of 12 of self-selecting people who are really interested in a question and come with their own learning inquiries. And I’m really interested to know how you formulate one of those. So throw us some of the topics, because you’re beginning to work with organisations and presumably they have questions relating exactly to what it is that they do in the world. And other people are coming, I’m guessing, with bigger existential questions of where the world is going and what we’re doing. Give us a range, give us some ideas and then we’ll pick one and you can talk us through how it works.

Zahra: Yeah, there’s so many. And the ones I have in my mind at the moment are the huddles that are currently open for applications, because we we have a whole group of hosts right now who are doing that. And so we have a group that is called Death x Life. That is a creative exploration of, yeah, death and life and using that as a creative starting point to, I guess, turn grief into something productive and something beautiful and something healing. We have a group for parents called Parent Project, which is all about parents who want to sort of think critically and creatively about what it means to be a parent at this particular moment in time. And again, to sort of maybe work creatively with that or to develop themselves as a parent. We have a group called Fear Factor, which will be hosted by someone called Rose, which is all about facing a fear or doing something that feels a little bit out of character. And the group coming together to actually provide the strength and the encouragement to do that and to lean into that. So it can be really broad in its application.

Manda: Yeah. It sounds like the kinds of things we explore in the shamanic groups, to be honest. These feel like the big questions of our time. And none of these sound, to me anyway, as if it’s organisational. And I know you have done some work, you’ve done work with the NHS, you’ve done work with some really big organisations. Without breaking organisational confidences or having signed great big NDAs or anything like that, can you give us a flavour of how an organisation might approach huddles?

Zahra: Yeah, absolutely, yes. So we have also done a lot of work with organisations and I think the principle there tends to be really similar. So for example, working with Nesta, we ran a huddle for their employees. And that was very much for employees to bring their learning questions and to develop themselves and the kind of learning edges they were thinking about. Whether that was becoming better collaborators or leaders in their roles. And then a really different example would be work that we’ve done over the last couple of years, with Doughnut Economics Action Lab and Civic Square, an organisation based in Birmingham. And there what we’ve been doing is starting a whole bunch of huddles, 12 of them I think, across the UK and maybe 1 or 2 abroad as well. Where the goal has been for the groups to digest the content of Doughnut Economics, the book by Kate Raworth, and then to put those principles into practice locally in their neighbourhoods, in their local area. We’ve also been working on Money Movers, which I think you mentioned just now as well, where we’ve been using a similar model, but a bit lighter touch than our usual huddles. Where the aim is for women to move their money for the planet. So for example, by moving their pension to a more ethical fund, we bring women into small peer groups who meet three times over a mini programme of three sessions, in which they are helping one another to take these legitimately quite boring actions and, you know, just get them done and make progress on them. So again, there’s this sort of big range of social environmental questions, which I think that this type of of learning can address.

Manda: Brilliant. I really want to drill down into these, but I can feel the spirits of future podcast listeners screaming in my ears, asking, how do they find the ones that are still open? The ones that you mentioned, the Death Time’s life and the Parenting project and the fear factor. How do they find those if they want to sign up to them?

Zahra: Yeah. So go to Huddlecraft website: will take you directly to our listings page and that’s where hosts will list the huddle that they’re working on. And I think there are about 12 or maybe even a few more themes on there at the moment, in different parts of the world, some online. Something for almost anyone I would say. 

Manda: Brilliant. I will put that in the show notes people. So you’ll find that on our website under the podcast page or if you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or any of the others, it’ll be in the blurb as well. Excellent. Thank you. We might go towards it at the end of the programme and have a look at what else is there because it sounds really exciting. But in the meantime I want to take two steps back, one to the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, because we’ve spoken to doughnut Economics before on the podcast, and then to look at Money Matters. So Doughnut Economics and Civic Square, 12 places around the planet. These are therefore in-person meetings. So that was one of my key questions. I’m guessing over the pandemic, everybody was meeting on Zoom. Is it the case that it works better in person or is a Zoom huddle as effective?

Zahra: Well, we swiftly learnt, when the pandemic happened, that everything that we had been doing purely face to face could work online. So it wasn’t a pain free process, it was quite a transition that we had to make at that point. But it was also a relief really, at that time, to discover that actually this this works online as well, because I had been worried about our future. I think there are certain qualities of a face to face, in-person huddle experience that cannot be replicated online. And then I also think there are some things that you can do online that can’t be replicated face to face. Like the level of access and simply the diversity of people who you’ll be able to reach with your huddle and who might then become part of it. So I really do think there are trade offs, but there’s a tactile rooted connecting, place based thing that obviously an in-person huddle can have that is wonderful, that is difficult to really replicate online.

Manda: Yeah. And I’m guessing in the long term we might end up with hybrid ones, as I am imagining, having recently spoken to Simon Michaux and understood the supply chain crash that’s on its way towards us. That that actually transport is one of the big things that’s going to be a lot less and that moving around will happen less. So we’ll either be meeting with people we can walk or cycle to, or we’ll be meeting online, assuming that the internet stays up. So I guess in that circumstance we might end up having ten meetings online and one in person.

Zahra: Yeah, and actually that is what a lot of our current hosts have chosen to structure their huddles around. So a lot of them are having face to face kick off days or kick off weekend together in person and then some of the regular meetings online as a way of, yeah, blending the benefits of both.

Manda: Okay brilliant. And then Doughnut Economics and Civic Square. They’re looking at the book for people who haven’t gone back to whatever it was, podcast 98 or something. It probably isn’t that. I’ll find out. I’ll put it in the notes. So the doughnut is the economic doughnut where we have social minima, giving us a floor below which we don’t go. And then planetary maxima, hopefully boundaries that we don’t break, although we seem to be breaking them quite fast at the moment. But let’s leave that one aside. And in between that you have an economic space where people and the planet thrive. That’s the kind of elevator pitch of it. So you let people read the book. Yay, more people reading the book. Good. And then have they got together in groups of 12 to work out how to apply that? Because I’m imagining that you know the average town council is like 48 people or something. How how does a group of 12 have the ripple effect to bring doughnut economics to their local area?

Zahra: Well I think this particular work was around the idea of neighbourhoods. So it was that real small scale. Rather than thinking about, you know, how can our peer group influence the economics of the city of Birmingham or something large. You know, it’s sort of scaling down so that there’s that more direct connection between what people are doing and the impact that it can have. And I think that was part of what was important. And yes, there were groups of up to 12. So some of them were were a little bit smaller and in quite different neighbourhoods as well. So some were urban and some were more rural. And then there was at least one group of people who were gathering online from different locations, where they were each embedded within their own neighbourhood and thinking about their own neighbourhood. So there were different versions in there. And what we did was not just read the book, but actually use our model of sort of co-creating the journey. So everyone in the group would have been responsible for one of the chapters of the book and engaging the rest of the group in a workshop about that chapter. So we were really encouraging people to sort of digest and use the content beyond reading, even at the early stage of the program.

Zahra: And then in the second phase of the program, that’s when the groups were thinking, okay, so now we’ve done all of that stuff with the book. What should we do now? What can we do in our neighbourhood? And the outcomes were really, really different from person to person. You know, there were there were people who set up a wormery in their garden for the first time, for example. And then there were people who started doing that kind of thing and maybe sharing that with neighbours, or doing that more communally in their area. Then there are people who have taken the model of peer to peer learning, have found funding and are going to do it again in their towns. So that’s happening in Cheltenham for example. So there was a real range of impacts.

Manda: So you’ve got people who are taking the book and applying it literally on the ground with the worms, and you’ve got other people who are taking the learning process that they’ve just been through and multiplying that to a larger scale.

Zahra: Yes, exactly.

Manda: Fantastic. This is genuine ripple effect. That’s really impressive. And are those still going on if people are interested in in joining a doughnut huddle, is that happening again or is it a thing that’s been and gone and done?

Zahra: So at the moment it’s something that we’ve done and completed that work. However, I would love to see more doughnut economics huddles. And so I think the next step for us at Huddlecraft is to have some more conversations with the partners and see what we can do next. Because we can see from the people who are already beginning to replicate parts of the learning process, where there is appetite from people to do this. And so, yeah, I would love to make it available to more people one way or another. So we’ll be thinking about how we do that. 

Manda: Okay, watch this space, people. If you do that, let me know. I’ll make sure the podcast listeners know. And just in passing, I want to get back to Money Matters in a moment, but can you tell us a little tiny bit about what Civic Square is and what it does? Because it’s not something I’m familiar with.

Zahra: Yeah. So Civic Square is an amazing organisation in Birmingham, and as I understand the work that they’re doing, they are demonstrating what a truly participative, engaged community could look like that could exist within the doughnut. So that could exist in a way that is not extracting from the local environment, but that is also providing people with everything that they need to live thriving lives. So they’re really trying to model that and demonstrate that and put that into practice in Birmingham. And doughnut economics is a key way that they’re doing that and a key model that they’re using.

Manda: Brilliant. So they’re using the model. They’ve created a structure which I’m guessing is more than 12 people then to to build that up. And that could be replicated in any town or city anywhere in the world.

Zahra: Yeah, possibly. I mean, there are examples of other organisations doing similar things in a way. So Participatory City in London, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of them. That’s a similar idea of sort of really modelling a full spectrum of participation and what are the impacts of that on the medical system locally and you know, all of these different things that are interconnected. But I also do think, you know, there are incredibly passionate, driven people at the heart of these projects as well. So that becomes the question about are there enough of those people who are willing to take on so much responsibility in their local town or their local city, to put those models into practice.

Manda: And have the energy and the time and the bandwidth. And I’m noticing on huddlecraft on the huddles. One of them is called Beyond Burnout. Peer support for purpose led women who want to move beyond burnout for good, which I have to say, feeling teetering on the edge of burnout in a pretty much perpetual basis. Sounds like a really good idea. Because we can’t afford for the people who are really at the leading edge of making the world different, and I’m not suggesting I’m one of those people, but we can’t afford for the people really making the difference, to burn out. So finding ways not to sounds a good idea. So let’s go back a bit towards money movers and find out what it is, what it does. Because as far as I can tell, it’s a separate discrete organisation that you have founded, I think. And so why and how? And what’s it doing now? All the good things about Money Movers.

Zahra: So the story with Money Movers. It’s not yet a separate organisation from Huddlecraft. It is a project that we are leading and that may one day become its own organisation, should that be the right vehicle to keep going with the work. And we’re actually at huddlecraft under license from Friends of the Earth to be leading Money Movers. And it came about because the experiments team at Friends of the Earth had this insight really, which was that women are very much wanting to do good with their money. More so often than men. But that they are often more excluded from financial products and services and systems and so on. And so they had this idea, you know, what if we could use peer support in some way, to help women divest their money from fossil fuels and move their money somewhere where it can be creating a better future. Investing in the future that they actually want to see. And that’s when they got in touch with Huddlecraft to find out whether we could help them to develop a model that would enact that peer support. And that’s what we did. And then after running a series of pilots, we we then got into this conversation about what the project needed to go forward. Because through working with 140 women, we had moved more than £1.2 million and so we thought, you know, there’s real potential here! And how do we move £1 billion and how many women would need to be in the Money Movers program in order to do that? And so now we are seeking funding, developing corporate partnerships, running the program again and again, in order to keep that work going and see how many women we can engage and how much money we can move for the planet.

Manda: Wow. That’s so exciting. So how do people find that?

Zahra: Yeah. So is where you need to head for that. And we will be opening applications again this week, I think actually, for the next round of the program. So you can train to be a money movers host or you can participate in one of the groups. So there are different levels of of commitment depending on how much you want to get involved.

Manda: Darn, I just got the edits back on the book. I have absolutely promised that I will lock down and do nothing else until the edits are done. Otherwise I would be there. Because moving money does seem, given I am fairly strongly of the opinion that we need the entire economic system to be predicated on completely different rules. But within the system we’ve got, moving money does seem one of the ways of tipping its balance towards something slightly less predatory. I’m really curious that you’re seeking funding from corporate entities who are by definition profiting from the beast. You know, they are an inherent part of the giant vampire squid and you’re persuading them to cut off their own tentacles? Is that an easy persuasion?

Zahra: It’s not an easy persuasion. And so that is one of the challenges that we are working on, on a daily basis almost, to encourage people to sign up to this and to be part of it. Because, you know, organisations always have this infinite complexity, of course, and they have the rules that they set up that they’re still working within. But then they have people within them who believe different things and then they can recognise that we’re heading to a different future and that they need to change. And so I think with organisations, just in the same way as with people, we should be looking to that better version of an organisation or that better version of a person, and holding a belief that that is possible. Rather than saying no, you don’t comply to this standard that we’re setting and therefore we won’t work with you. Obviously there are exceptions and there are organisations that it wouldn’t be right for money moves to work with. But in many cases that’s sort of the attitude that we’re taking.

Manda: Okay. Yeah. And if you can identify the people in there and move a centre of gravity, that’s how tipping points happen. So yay, all righty! There will be a link to that in the show notes as well people. So there are a lot of ways I would really like to delve into, particularly into corporate things, because it does seem that that’s core to where we’re going. But I think that might be for another day. With the time we have left, I’d really like to look into the Collective Imagination Practice Community, which you seem to be an integral part of and possibly part of founding. I don’t know. I only just found it before we came online. So I have signed up because it seems absolutely in line with the whole thrutopian notion, which is part of what we’re doing, of trying to get creative writers to build clear visions of a future and how to get there, rather than writing the dystopias or utopias that frankly are lazily easy. And pointless and not really helping. Rant over. So can you tell us a little bit about the Collective Imaginations project, what it is, how it arose, what’s happening?

Zahra: Yeah, absolutely. So this is some work that Huddlecraft has started getting involved with for the first time really this year. So Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Emerging Futures Team are stewarding, if you like, some of the collective imagination, community and practice that seems to be burgeoning, growing, emerging at the moment. And so, for example, they had an event a couple of weeks ago which was all about creating the infrastructure required for people to imagine different, better, more beautiful futures.

Manda: Yay!

Zahra: And it was free to attend. Great. Yeah. And so they are taking some of that work forward. And before Christmas they were looking for individuals or organisations who wanted to steward this collective imagination, practice, community. And so Huddlecraft in collaboration with another organisation called Canopy, who do what they call social imagination. We put together a proposal for that and we are working on that now, which is great. We’re also now collaborating with the Centre for Public Impact too, so it’s a sort of a growing collaboration of organisations at the moment. And over the next year we will be doing a variety of different activities that people can get involved with if they want to develop imagination practice themselves. Or sort of contribute to a shared body of imagination practice. And we’re also stewarding a fund of £100,000 also from JRF, and that fund is for the community of practice to draw on, in order to make all of this practice development happen. So people will be able to write blogs, they’ll be able to propose collaborations, they’ll be able to propose field trips, things like this that will develop their practice. And we’re also going to be doing some huddles as well. So people will be able to apply as huddle hosts or participants to explore important collective imagination questions as well.

Manda: This is glorious. So just to check that I’m not projecting all my own stuff onto this, tell me what your interpretation of collective imagination is and why we need it.

Zahra: Mmm. My interpretation is that collective imagination is a bit like peer learning to your solo learning, but collective imagination to your imagination. So in the same way that we at Huddlecraft might talk about there being more learning required over the next decade than at any other point in history, I think the same thing is true of imagination. More imagination is going to be needed over that period of time as well. And like with most things, I think they multiply when people come together. And I think that’s what collective imagination is all about. Unlocking new realms of imagination by doing that collectively.

Manda: With the aim of total systemic change? Or is that also part of my projection?

Zahra: Well, I mean, I guess people might have slightly different aims, but I do think that the people who are drawn to this work and the people who want to participate in this, are people who in one way or another envisage a regenerative future. System change, a regenerative civilisation, whatever language they’re using to describe it. I think we are all really talking about the same thing at heart.

Manda: Okay, sign me up. Yeah, if there’s a group. Seriously. God, I do have to finish the book. If I can get the edits back by June. It could be published by next April. And it has to be out by the next election because it shows how the next election could be very different. And if it’s five years til the next one, it’ll be too late. But if I can make the time. Well yes, it feels very exciting. But also the capacity to sit in a huddle and talk to people about the route to total political, economic and systemic change, would feed into the book. I could tell myself I was doing research, that would be just fine. Also because there’s a sequel to be written. So the book ends on the night after the general election, and then I have to write the sequel. So actually this feels… I can’t believe I didn’t know this was happening. Listeners we are doing research in real time, because I genuinely only discovered this, actually it only went up on March the 15th, so I’m only a couple of weeks behind.

Zahra: Yeah, it’s all quite new. And we’re doing a launch event on April 14th. I don’t know whether this will come out before then or not and there’ll still be opportunities to get involved afterwards. But we’re in the early days, so there’s absolutely room to get involved.

Manda: All righty. I will put huge numbers of links onto the show notes so that people can find this and I will pass it on to our Thrutopia Masterclass group, because because they definitely need to know this. This is the wonderful place for all the various intercepts of my being all collide in one place. It’s grand. I love it. So we’re nearing the end of our time. With me getting all twiddly and excited about that, is there anything else that we could be usefully talking about, about huddles, to give people an idea of what they are, how they work, what the potentials are? How does someone become a host? Do they need to have been in a huddle first before they can become a huddle host?

Zahra: They don’t have to. And actually, a lot of our hosts have not been part of a huddle, although some of them have. So I think that’s entirely up to the person. If the idea of facilitating and guiding a group and being able to be the one at the beginning, that sort of sets the theme that everyone gathers around. If that appeals, then the training that we offer will support you to prepare to do that. Um, and I would also say that there’s not an open call for hosts at the moment and there won’t be for another year or so because we’re currently working with a group of hosts. So if this kind of cooperative, generative learning is something that sounds exciting to you, then definitely join a huddle because there are lots open and that would be the way in.

Manda: Yes, and there are. Just looking on the site, there look to be 14 that are obviously open on the site. And I’m guessing Collective Imagination Project will spawn a few more in various places. And are many of the ones that exist online or are they mostly linked to a specific location?

Zahra: There’s a combination, so I think the majority are actually blended, so they are in some way linked to a location, but there are some that are just online as well. So if you are not in the UK, for example, there will be things that are open. And certainly with the collective imagination work that is going to be open internationally as well. So if you’re in another part of the world, definitely check it out and have a look.

Manda: So we’re nearing the end of our time. And other than me being so excited about the Collective Imagination project, genuinely that’s made my week. Is there anything else in terms of huddlecraft that we could usefully bring to people to help them understand what it is, how it works or their potential to become involved in peer to peer learning?

Zahra: Yes. So there is one more thing, and I do really have this feeling of there’s such an abundance of things that we have open for people to participate in at the moment. But yeah, one more thing, which is Huddlecraft 101 training. So this is something different to our host training where people learn specifically to, to put a huddle into practice and have our support to do that. This is much broader. It’s open to individuals but also to organisations and even teams. And we’ve basically bottled everything that we’ve learned about peer led approaches, peer to peer learning, how to do this stuff, how to apply it to different social environmental challenges. And we’ve put that into a training course that we do twice a year, which is online. The next one is happening in May. And so if this stuff is your bag or if you think this could be useful or strategic or generative for your organisation, then do have a look at that as well.

Manda: Brilliant. And and yet again, I will put a link to that in the show notes so people can head over and find it. Zara, thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast. This feels really exciting and generative and I will definitely be involved in something that you’re doing sometime soon. Thank you.

Zahra: Awesome. Thank you for having me.

Manda: And that’s it for this week. Enormous thanks to Zahra. For everything that she’s doing. For the Doors that she’s opening, for the emotional literacy and capacity to connect that it sounds like she is creating, in so many ways and so many places around the world. I’ve put links in the show notes. You’ll find those at and go to the podcast section. Or if you go to the blog, we now have a searchable blog, so go to the blog at and go down that page and you get to the bit that says Search our categories or search by keyword and you’ll find what you want. And I am heading into the book edits, so it would be really nice if you could search for things rather than sending me an email asking me where they are. Emails are fine, asking me where they are. I don’t mind emails at all, but I am really going to try and get the edits on the book done by June and I would be enormously grateful if you could use the search on the podcast page before sending me an email asking me what we’ve done before. But that apart, there are so many things that Huddlecraft and Zahra are doing and I have put links to absolutely all of them on the page on the podcast and I really recommend that you go and find them. Because this feels like one of those times when we always get to the fact that we need to create more community. And I always ask people how and they always say, I don’t really know yet.

Manda: And Zahra really knows. She’s creating huddles. And the huddles are those seed corns of community. So if there’s something up there you want to join, go join it. If there isn’t something up there that you want to join, create something. Because everybody wants to join something. I am pretty convinced of that. So we’ll be back next week with another conversation. In the meantime, huge thanks to Caro for wrestling with the sound. Thank you also for the music at the head and foot. Thanks to Faith for the website and for creating the searchable function for putting into it 178 different episodes. Working out where they could go in the categories. I am beyond grateful and I will, I promise slot everything that we do from here on in into a useful category. Thanks to Anne Thomas for the transcripts and as ever, a huge thank you to you for listening. If you know of anybody else who would like to be part of something, anything that Huddlecraft are doing, even if they don’t know yet that that’s what they want to be doing, then please do send them this link. Word of mouth is how we spread the ripples around the planet. And more than ever, we need to be creating regenerative change. So go for it, people. That’s your mission for this week. Spread ripples of huddles as far and as fast as you can. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.

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