Last year, we hosted four incredible interviews with folks driving radical collaborations across the globe. Our world has transformed so much in the time since, but the wisdom of these great leaders sustains. Take a listen.
We are actively engaged in the dialogue and debates of our space: on issues of social justice, global development, and democratic innovation, and on the ethics and methodological evolution of design, mediation, and co-creation practice. More of our writing can be found at Medium.
Dear friends and allies,
Today, we share some bittersweet news: After an extraordinary 13+ years, Reboot will be closing its doors.
Since 2010, we have sought to tackle structural injustice across sectors and issues including global development, participatory democracy, humanitarian aid, economic justice, press freedom, immigrant rights, criminal justice, electoral integrity, public health, education, and more. In this time, our ongoing political education and grappling with our own positionality led us to experiment with various approaches: We designed campaigns, organized communities, launched new initiatives, built coalitions, facilitated co-creation, and ran programs in over 30 countries. And we learned a lot about the politics and processes of transformation.
While our theories of change and tactics evolved, our purpose was unwavering: To amplify the voices and realize the dreams of those who have been systematically silenced and excluded from positions of power. We have proudly incubated a Presidential global human rights initiative, a media innovation lab, a hub for participatory democracy, and supported over 150 efforts for dignity and justice. Along the way, our work picked up some awards, as well as coverage from outlets like Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, CNN, Fast Company, The New York Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and more.
We could only have done this work with the passion and support of visionary, heart-led partners like you. We are so deeply grateful for our collaboration, and for the opportunity to imagine, learn, and build together.
While we are sharing this news now, this milestone has been several years in the making. We’ve always seen Reboot as a vehicle to drive change on issues we care about, and to study and practice different ways of doing so. But our ambitions and curiosities eventually outgrew this container. Over the last few years, we contemplated various paths for transition, ultimately deciding on an intentional wind-down. This week marks the end of that journey.
To our remarkable partners: Your support and allyship have been such a source of strength, and your efforts for a more just and joyous world continue to inspire. We’re excited to continue the fight and the magic, together.
With deep gratitude,
Panthea Lee and Team Reboot
On Jan 20, Panthea Lee will give a talk and participate in a series of discussions hosted by Congreso Futuro, hosted by the Senate of Chile, on how to realize active democracy as daily practice. She will draw on recent experiences from the US, both the ruptures in American democracy and the exciting ways communities and movements are organizing, and reflect on this exciting time in Chile, given the recent constitutional referendum.
How can a more ‘active democracy’ break political deadlock, build civic trust and drive transformative collaboration between government, civil society and communities? On Oct 8, Panthea Lee will participate in a panel with Matthew Taylor, Claudia Chwalisz, and Graham Smith, hosted by the RSA, on novel democratic approaches to tackle acute and existential social and political challenges.
On Sept 30, at the global Creative Bureaucracy Festival, Panthea Lee will give a talk on what new forms of citizen organizing are revealing about the nature of our fragile democracies, and what governments can do to harness community energy and to work with coalitions of diverse actors—including artists, activists, and the private sector—to co-create active and just democracies.
On Sept 17, Panthea Lee will lead “Reimagining Our Roles in the Fight For Tomorrow” at the Untitled Festival, hosted by Demos Helsinki. This conversation will explore how our identities (personal and professional) are constructed, how they may be sustained by structures of oppression, and the implications for the roles we should each play in our fights for equity and justice. This is deep, personal, searching work, and it’s not easy, so we are hosting an intimate conversation for allies wrestling with these questions.
Reboot’s Africa team has worked with a number of civil society-led coalitions over the last decade to co-create and implement innovative initiatives, often enabled by appropriate technology. On September 9, our Regional Director for Africa, Adam Talsma, shared our experience alongside other leaders in the space: Catherine Anite of Freedom of Expression Hub, Oyebisi Oluseyi of NNNGO, Gbenga Sesan of Paradigm Initiative, Bukky Shonibare of Invictus Africa, and Korede Asuni of dotCivics.
On Sept 15, Panthea Lee will share insights on how activism, community organizing, and governance have evolved in response to COVID and our current global struggles for social justice at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies’ Annual Public Policy Conference. She will also examine failures of public leadership in times of crisis, and how a whole of society approach can help address these breaches of public faith—and help rebuild more just, more resilient societies.
On August 11, 2020, Panthea Lee will join the online panel “Hard Truths: Privilege and Belonging in the Social Impact World.” Part of the #BuildBackBetter webinar series hosted by Future of Good, this discussion will explore the power dynamics, privilege, racism, and unconscious biases at play within the social good sector. Alongside leaders in equity and justice, we will challenge assumptions within our work and our field, helping chart a new path forward.
We’ve always been deeply invested in the question of how to bring about social change. That’s why we’re excited to announce our new podcast—Design With—where we explore the mysteries of how transformative change happens, with leaders who are finding ways to break through. Tune in for thoughtful conversations on collaborations that build connection and shift power. Check it out, subscribe, and stay tuned for a new episode every Wednesday this month.
“Put smart, diverse people into a room together and magic will happen.”
This is the great myth of collaboration. And yet as designers, facilitators, and conveners who engage diverse actors to solve complex social issues, we have witnessed many co-creation exercises fall into this trap. So, how do we turn this around? How can we lead collaborative efforts where the “magic” is intentionally designed for, and not just hoped for?
The Design With podcast series was created to help us explore these questions head on. Together with some of the leading dreamers and doers who have inspired our own work, we dive into groundbreaking case studies of thoughtful, transformative collaborations that build connection and shift power. We explore the in’s and out’s of coalition-building, and discuss the theory and practice of how communities, civil society, and institutions can creatively problem-solve together.Read more
Panthea Lee will host a session at the Department of Dreams Online Festival taking place June 17-21, 2020, where participants will explore multiple realities and futures together through conversations, workshops, and creative projects. This event is part of a larger initiative seeking to invest in the artists, writers, designers, dreamers, and creative visionaries who are equally critical in the fight for systemic social reinvention—through the COVID-19 crisis and far beyond. RSVP for the week’s events here.
On June 4, 2020, Panthea Lee and Alyssa Kropp will lead a discussion on building collaborations with the power and potential to drive structural transformation at scale. Part of the innovative States of Change Learning Festival taking place June 1st-19th, our session will revisit the powerful insights from our original masterclass series on radical co-creation. On June 16th and June 17th, Panthea will also join panels on the cold hard truths of privilege and the role of culture and cultural activity in decision-making, respectively. Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #SOCFest.
“The road to economic recovery should not be across women’s backs.”
This is the first sentence of the feminist economic recovery plan put forward by the State of Hawai’i. Released last month, the state’s commitment to center the voices of marginalized communities as it rebuilds post-COVID is a central theme of the plan. They define these populations as those who suffer from the overlapping impacts of sexism, racism, and classism, with a focus on Native Hawai’ians and immigrants.
The plan’s approach is inclusive, and its vision bold. “We hope to make space for community ideas that speak not only about response and recovery, but also of repair and revival: repair of historic harms and intergenerational trauma playing out as male domination, gender-based violence, economic insecurity, poor health, and mass incarceration,” it reads. “It is clearer than ever that capitalism could not care for us during COVID-19. Now is the time to prioritize a revival of place-based practices and knowledge, and self-determination.”
If fully implemented, Hawai’i’s plan will be nothing short of revolutionary.
Meanwhile, on the other side of America, in my home state of New York, there is similar rhetoric about the need to reimagine society. Except in this case, the ideas are not just less inspiring—they might actually help uphold the status quo.Read more
In the final installment of our Driving Transformative Collaboration masterclass series, our team of experts will help you learn how to create buy-in for bold social transformation. Our “Steering Diverse Partners Toward Cohesive Action” session will focus on troubleshooting tips and responding to the inevitable challenges of collaboration. Join us via Zoom on Wednesday, May 6th at 12pm ET and on Twitter with the hashtag #RadicalCollab.
One of the most challenging aspects of cross-sector collaboration is getting diverse actors to agree on a common agenda. So, we created a masterclass to help you do just that. “Aligning on Priorities When Everything is Important” is the second installment in our Designing Transformative Collaboration series, where you’ll learn how to lead difficult group discussions (even online) and identify shared priorities for forward action. Join us via Zoom on Wednesday, April 29 at 12pm ET and on Twitter with the hashtag #RadicalCollab.
Are you driving a cross-sector collaboration but struggling to reach out to new partners and set shared expectations? Join us for “Designing Collaborations for Urgent, Courageous Change”, the first masterclass in our Designing Transformative Collaboration series. You’ll learn how to bring together unlikely allies and set your collaboration up for success. Join us via Zoom this Wednesday, April 22 at 12pm ET and on Twitter with the hashtag #RadicalCollab.
Now more than ever, governments, civil society, companies, and communities are being called upon to find new ways of working together to tackle the problems facing our world. But the uncertainties and anxieties surrounding COVID-19 have compounded the inherent challenges of cross-sector collaboration.
The difficult work of building trust among new collaborators, defining a shared agenda from diverse perspectives, and coordinating efforts between vastly different types of players—from the hyperlocal, grassroots groups to distributed, international agencies—can seem even more challenging today. And yet, it is also more necessary than ever.
While the urgency of the pandemic might lead us to scramble for quick-fixes and blanket solutions, the real opportunity lies in the balance between responding effectively to the pressing challenges of today, and laying the foundation for more just, equitable societies into the future.
COVID-19 demands that we build diverse coalitions to advance effective response efforts. These efforts must draw on the radical imaginations of our artists, the moral courage of our activists, the innovation of community organizers, the agenda-setting influence of our media, the values of our civil society leaders, the infrastructure of the private sector, and the reach of our public institutions.
To support those working to build and lead transformative collaborations, Reboot is offering a three-part masterclass on:
Reboot has designed and facilitated radical collaborations in over 40 countries. We have supported diverse communities to stand up new global initiatives to advance participatory democracy, protect human rights defenders, strengthen independent media, and ensure government accountability.
We are excited to share our approaches and practical, time-tested tips on how to create strong, effective coalitions—including actors that may be historical opponents—to tackle urgent problems together.
Below we have shared the full recordings and slide decks from each of the Masterclass sessions. We hope you find these to be a useful resource and share with allies and colleagues who are interested in leading effective collaborations and co-creation efforts. Don’t forget to join the conversation online by using the hashtag #RadicalCollab and tagging @theReboot on Twitter!
Throughout the series we referenced some of the projects and people who have inspired us and informed our own vision for social transformation.
“The Pandemic is a Portal” by Arundhati Roy
The following is a letter from Executive Director Panthea Lee, shared with the Reboot community this month in response to the COVID-19 crisis around the world. It has been edited and adapted for this blog.
You don’t need me to tell you that these are extraordinary times. In fact, extraordinary feels like a wholly inadequate word for this moment; “extra-ordinary” is a vast understatement.
The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the deep injustices and failures of our dominant ideologies, systems, and institutions. These failures have driven many of us to feelings of rage, despair, anxiety, overwhelm, and guilt.
In recent conversations with Reboot’s allies near and far, many of us are asking ourselves: What could we have done differently? What is our role now? How do we build a more just and resilient future? And I’ve noticed that most of us aren’t satisfied working solely on immediate response and recovery. We want moral and structural transformation at scale.
For this, we need to marry the radical imaginations of our poets and artists, the principled courage of our bravest activists, the innovation and generosity of our community organizers, the agenda-setting influence of our media and civil society, the infrastructure and tools of our digital age, and the reach and durability of our public institutions.
Our team has found immense hope as we work alongside our community toward this future we know is possible. We’ve benefited deeply from your insights. So today I write to share back some offerings to support your thinking and work—and to extend an invitation.
Thank you for all that you do.
Panthea and the Reboot team
It’s undeniable: We need to reimagine a radically better future. To do this, we need a space for courageous co-creation between unlikely allies. Many of you agree, and we’re ready to build this new space together.
There has never been a more urgent need for changemakers to break silos and work together in new and radical ways. To support these efforts, we’re launching Driving Transformative Collaboration—a free, three-part masterclass series for those of you building the urgent (and sometimes unlikely) partnerships needed to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty and create lasting networks for inclusive co-creation. Join us on Wednesdays, April 22-May 6, 2020.
“I’d like some food, please,” says the soft voice on the other end of the line.
“Yes, of course. What would you like?” I ask.
“Food.” Pause. “Any food. We eat everything,” she says. I hear a twinge of a Caribbean accent.
“Yes, we’d be happy to deliver food! What do you like to eat? We want to make sure to get things you enjoy.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Rice, cans, pasta… really, any food.”
“What about some fresh vegetables?” I offer. “Or some protein—maybe some meat?”.
There’s a long pause on the line. For a minute, I thought I had lost the connection.
“Fresh vegetables?” comes the voice. “Meat? You… you can do that?” Each word is quiet, slow, cautious.
My eyes well up. “We would absolutely love to.”
10 minutes later, I had taken down Geraldine’s information (not her real name). She was 72, and lived about six blocks from me, in a public housing complex, with her husband who was recovering from a recent stroke. I explained to her that her grocery list—which we’d filled with chicken thighs, broccoli, collard greens, apples, bananas, eggs, and honeybuns, in addition to pantry staples—would be delivered the following day by a young volunteer, also a fellow neighbor.
Geraldine couldn’t believe that I wasn’t with any organization or government. Or that she wouldn’t have to pay for her groceries.
Honestly, I could hardly believe it either.
I’m just one of 2,600 members of Bed-Stuy Strong, a 3.5 week old mutual aid group serving the central Brooklyn neighborhood made famous by Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. Home to tree-lined streets, beautiful brownstones, and many locally-owned shops, Bed-Stuy residents include a mix of families that have lived here for decades and recent gentrifiers such as myself. Before COVID-19, about 1 in 4 residents lived in poverty, and about 1 in 8 were unemployed.
Since launching, Bed-Stuy Strong has bought and delivered critical groceries and household supplies to over 1,000 neighbors. We’ve sourced and made over 600 masks for healthcare workers. We’ve made more than 400 phone calls to check in with vulnerable members of our community. Almost everyone I’ve served has been elderly, immunocompromised, or fearful—and usually all three.
The group was started by concerned residents in the neighborhood who knew that COVID-19 was hitting Bed-Stuy hard and wanted to help alleviate human suffering. Within days, volunteers (most of whom were strangers to each other) had posted flyers all over the neighborhood to offer support, set up a Google Voice line to take incoming requests, and begun supporting our neighbors in need.
To date, we’ve raised over $40,000 for our Community Fund from nearly 800 individuals, collected through a Venmo account. We coordinate via a Slack workspace which, in addition to coordinating food deliveries, also helps neighbors connect to legal aid, rally around struggling local businesses, and feel less despondent through cooking classes and photos of each other’s pets. We process all the requests for help (over 2,000 and counting) via Zoom volunteer trainings, Google Doc scripts, Airtable case management systems, and a fleet of kindred spirits volunteering by foot, bike, and car to help our neighbors. There was never a plan, people just started jumping in to do what they can, where they can. We’re figuring it out day by day.
As someone who’s worked largely globally over the last 15 years, the last 15 days—with Bed-Stuy Strong, and other grassroots efforts—have been hugely instructive for me. It reminds me of the work of anthropologist David Mosse on international development practitioners. He’s observed that these “professional changemakers” are an interesting lot. Most are diligent in keeping up with the latest conceptual frameworks for How Change Happens, and have an uncanny ability to put together long strings of obscure airport codes for optimizing travel. Most are motivated by Doing The Most Good, but as our careers progress, how we do so becomes more and more abstract. And the seductiveness of Change At Scale means many increasingly disengage from their local communities.
In coordinating with “professional changemakers” in the US and beyond on responses to COVID-19—non-profits, governments, researchers, advocacy groups, foundations, tech companies, and international agencies—I’ve found our conversations thoughtful, full of good ideas, but often inconclusive. They usually end with an agreement to follow-up the coming week, once we “get a better understanding of the situation.”
As time progresses and the pandemic continues to unfold, this has become increasingly less satisfying. I’ve felt growing anxiety, anger, and even shame—the dynamics of these emotions are so eloquently captured by Aarathi Krishnan. And I can’t help comparing my daytime experience at work to my nights-and-weekends experience with Bed-Stuy Strong. As an ethnographer with a foot in both worlds, I’ve tried to make sense of the different orientations and norms in each:
I know the two sides come from very different perspectives, and friends and colleagues in institutions want to move faster and work with new partners whose skills are needed for effective response—but there are very real constraints they face in doing so. Institutions have policies and norms in place to coordinate with other players with overlapping mandates; to ensure equity and sustainability in their responses; and to prevent waste, fraud, abuse, and outright corruption. They have to think through how to make that work and that takes more time than a neighbor-to-neighbor response. I get that.
And yet, as each day passes, I can’t help but feel that many of us professional changemakers are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
I’m increasingly convinced that the professionals need to learn from the “amateurs”—though, in all honesty, this crisis is revealing those distinctions as false. Some lessons we’d do well to take away:
As social change strategist Dave Algoso has noted, we are in the Chaos quadrant of the Cynefin framework, a framework that combines systems theory and complexity theory to articulate how we might take decisions under different circumstances. Per the framework, in times of Chaos, we need to i) act quickly to establish order; ii) sense where stability is emerging (and where it is missing) and what responses have worked; then iii) respond based on the sensing work. Doing reams of analysis to try and get to the right answer won’t help—because there is no right answer.
This is what I’ve seen with my mutual aid group. The organizers started fast and small (with flyers, phone calls), then built more infrastructure based on what was needed—including an impressive case management system that rivals some national-level social implementations I’ve seen. Now that we have an impressive community and protocols in place, we’re figuring out how to strengthen and sustain our operations.
Many of us are overwhelmed. The headlines dominate our consciousness. We’re grappling with collective grief as we try to organize and act. Most of us are not epidemiologists or economists—and even if we were, it’s an open question if expert guidance would be heeded now. And so we feel powerless: if we can’t tackle the biggest problems, then what can we do?
But COVID-19 is disrupting every aspect of society, and there is tons to do. We all have a role to play—and we must think beyond the headlines. We are professional re-imaginers, fighters, designers, and organizers and there is a lot of reimagining, fighting, designing, and organizing to do right now.
We need to take space to process and we need to act—particularly for more vulnerable populations and regions that don’t have the privilege of processing and grieving. My team has started an issues tracker to help us track challenges emerging in the wake of COVID-19—from hate crimes to authoritarian overreach to digital surveillance—and for each conversation with partners despondent about the headlines, we remind them that our collective work is as urgent as ever. Responses will only center equity, justice, and accountability if we rally to make it so.
Many professional changemakers are trying to work out how to do things on their own—and then going outside to ask for help. But this assumes that institutions know what the answer is, and that folks outside are simply there to help execute. This is wrong.
The volunteers in my mutual aid group alone are incredible writers, producers, civic leaders, technologists, and researchers. My WhatsApp is blowing up with self-organizing networks of well-respected, well-networked individuals (generally with backgrounds in data science, design, technology, organizing, civic innovation) looking for ways to collaborate with worthy institutional efforts. Tapping into these can be transformative for response efforts, since these networks can mobilize top-tier talent and resources—but they won’t do so unless there are clear, scalable paths for their efforts to deliver impact.
Institutions must reach out and ask for help—problem-solving together will be messy, but it will be worth it.
As ethnographer and organizer Tricia Wang has noted, hyperlocal community support groups were critical for the success of China’s response to COVID-19. While Western media has focused on the country’s top-down model of slowing infections, her research found “totally invisible, yet highly sophisticated networks of localized cooperation” via emergent, hyperlocal groups that contributed to a successful recovery. (For those interested in setting up groups, she has step-by-step instructions here.)
This model needs to be replicated and scaled, and doing so is especially urgent for developing countries and other regions where public health infrastructure is poor or already strained, and/or where digital infrastructure or access is limited.
We’re talking with tech partners to determine how this can inform contributions to mitigation and response especially in low-bandwidth environments. But we need to move rapidly to share the tools, templates, resources, and lessons, because the support needed to get each other through this will be beyond the scale of what governments, non-profits, and community organizations can do.
As someone who helps develop long-term strategies, this one is hard for me to say, but: we need to act now, and figure out the sustainability plan later. The world is changing dramatically day-by-day, and we don’t know what the coming months will hold. We must do what is right, and we must do it right now.
I get that many of us are trying to balance short- and long-term work, and are waiting to see how things shake out. And while I hope I’m proven wrong on this, I don’t believe there will be a point where The Thing To Do becomes clear.
With Bed-Stuy Strong, I’ve been asking neighbors if they want vegetables, fruit, and even dessert—because a hit of joy via cupcakes now feels essential, “value for money” be damned. I’ve resisted overthinking (for now) what it means for a mutual aid group with majority white volunteers to be working in a neighborhood where 49% of residents are black, as are nearly 100% of those I’ve been able to support; there will be time to analyze this later.
We need to stop thinking ourselves into circles, remember what we’re best at, and get moving. If we meet critical needs, the sustainability will come.
Big institutions must learn from community efforts, but they will never be as nimble and agile as neighbor-to-neighbor efforts—and that’s not what I’m suggesting. Conversely, mutual aid efforts can’t deliver the sustainability of programs and funding that institutions can—nor are they as well-equipped to implement measures to ensure efforts are as inclusive, equitable, and efficient as they could be (though we sure do try!). Neither can do what the other can do, and both play vital roles in the response ecosystem.
The question now is how they might work together to drive compassionate, urgent responses that are nimble and sustainable, creative and holistic.
It won’t be easy. Each side is skeptical of the other. I’ve heard smart, effective institutional leaders—who are understandably stressed and overwhelmed—dismiss grassroots efforts as ”amateur hour” and “techno-solutionism”. Among my activist and mutual aid circles, most seem to more or less agree with Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
I understand the skepticism. I’ve been burned too, on both sides. But I also believe that we need to push through it. We can’t do this alone.