Healing Solidarity’s Ocean Is Churning

मंथन Transliterated version: manthan पुल्लिंग
1. मथना, बिलोना।
2. मथानी (जैसे—समुद्र मंथन)।​
Churning, stirring, deep pondering over something, reflection through study, a hallowed place to create knowledge, molding of minds, brainstorm, introspection, realization

See also the Samudra Manthan, or the ‘churning of the ocean’ Hindu creation story.

In January and February of this year, Healing Solidarity’s Advisory Board held four Manthan मंथन, or collective discernment sessions about the future of the Collective. We wanted to come together with our members, willing to be guided in our choice making. As our invitation to these four sessions offered,

“The truth is, we do not know what to do next. But we do know that vulnerability and transparency around decision-making are key aspects of re-imagined leadership in a churning world.”

So for a total of six hours, we sat with our members, our mentors, and some key questions:

  • Session 1: What re-imagining does the ‘international development’ sector need in this moment?
  • Session 2: How do you, our members and communities, want to be supported in the re-imagining and bringing into being of new ways of doing things?
  • Session 3: How can Healing Solidarity best meet this moment, given what the sector needs, and the ways in which our members and communities want to be supported?
  • Session 4: How can we sustain/resource the work of Healing Solidarity going forward?
Firstly, gratitude

We want to extend our gratitude to those feminist leaders we admire who held and facilitated our discussions with such love and wisdom. Thank you Theo Sowa, Hope Chigudu, Shawna Wakefield, and Lisa VeneKlasen. And thank you especially to all of the members of our community who arrived in a true spirit of collective discernment as we showed up with non-answers and left non-committal to what happens next.

What we heard and shared (in a nutshell)

Firstly we were bolstered to hear from those in attendance that Healing Solidarity is valued and recognised for its contribution in the sector. We deeply appreciate this encouragement for what Healing Solidarity has offered since the beginning of its first online conference in 2018: our reimagining and modelling, invitations to pause, healing spaces (particularly for BIPOC-identifying people), focus on practice, i.e. how we do things again and again, reconnecting with others, consistency without rigidity, the “feeling whole again”, and being “a lifeline” or respite from the day-to-day of organisational/institutional life. As one member shared (paraphrased):

“It is an oceanic task, to challenge institutional structures, to fight like hell to create new understandings within our institutions, to bring it up in staff meetings. It won’t always be perfectly articulated with the right language, without silencing, [but] I am doing my best. The fire is within me. It is so great to have a space where I can be at peace and be at home without the fear of losing myself in the demands of an [aid] structure that does not value healing to change the world.”

By the fourth and final session, with input from the previous sessions, the Healing Solidarity Advisory Board shared the following six options for the future of the Collective:

Emerging options under consideration

  1. Pause and fundraise
  2. “Pay to play”: Healing Solidarity spaces and resources all become funded by collected offerings or fee/cost-based
  3. Seek individuals’ support: Crowdfund + member drive
  4. Organisational accompaniment (invest in deep/long-term consulting) and focus solely on this
  5. Close/sunset and archive and share our learning
  6. Reconceive Healing Solidarity as an organising force within the global development sector: To be determined, what would a Healing Solidarity movement look like?

While having the options laid out for us, many of which already represent a piece of our organisational strategy thus far, the Advisory Board met after the sessions to create some criteria with which to weigh these options:

Criteria for decision making among options

  1. How do we keep our current part-time staff in place as long as possible?
  2. How do we manage our contractual obligations with the current capacity?
  3. How do we keep focus on ‘ideas’ which we have the energy, time and resources to make happen?
  4. Can we aim for clarity on timelines + LOE (Level of Effort)?
  5. How do we offer true relief/alignment to Mary Ann who has been holding a lot of the operational pieces?
  6. What do we as the Advisory Circle have energy for? How do we as the Advisory Board stay connected/keep working together?
  7. Are there partnerships/platforms to consider that would expand the reach of Healing Solidarity to more people within the sector?
  8. Whatever decision we make, how do we “transition” those who have come to rely on Healing Solidarity?
  9. Are there people who want to take on the work and our roles?
  10. How can we keep the “content” or spirit of Healing Solidarity alive?
  11. How do we continue to “model” what we believe the sector needs?

The questions we continue to grapple with

With the options and criteria laid out, we as the Advisory Board still find ourselves caught up in a loop of attempting to balance the realities and practicalities of our available resources (or lack thereof) with where our labour and effort might be most strategic. This particularly relates to the labour of those doing the background operational management, and the responsibility of coordinating and engaging our members. As we weighed the options against these criteria, we uncovered that taking any decision as a next step, even a decision to sunset Healing Solidarity, will require some intention and energy.

We wouldn’t have attempted this process in any other way, and yet the logical conclusions we’d hoped for have yet to arrive. Collective discernment requires more time and patience that many of us have been taught to expect or plan for. (Thanks “Imperialist White Supremacist Heteropatriarchy”.1) We continue to notice our own conditioned “find a solution” mindset and how it relates to a sector characterised by self-imposed/inflicted culture of immediacy and constant connectivity. We have brought our best “good thinking” and “strategic dialogue” and…we still don’t know the ‘right’ or even the ‘best’ answer.

We offer this as a first reflection back to our community, and the sector as a whole. The processes which provide more chances for voices to be heard and equity to be built, for deeper reflection, require space to breathe and to live longer with the unknown than we are often comfortable with.

We are also finding that these processes are also running up against the limitations of un-embodied meaning making, let alone connecting with people in two-dimensional ways. Healing Solidarity started as an online conference and its platform is Zoom and Mighty Networks. We are at a stage in our evolution that requires more – for our leaders to be in the same room in order to dream and to disagree.

When we are not together physically, when we are relating to each other through stacked rectangles on a screen, there is only so far we can go, and this is a dilemma facing many ‘global development’ organisations today: How can we initiate and sustain vibrant, active communities, projects, and programs – with context and clarity – if we are not in the same room? We are therefore hoping to be able to get together soon and to ground ourselves together in space and anchor plans for Healing Solidarity moving forward.

Thank you for coming with us so far on the journey. We ask for your continued patience, support, and encouragement as we, the Healing Solidarity Advisory Board, move towards each other – literally – in this decision-making process. With humility and hope, we assure you there is more to come!

And thank you forever bell hooks: https://www.democracynow.org/2021/12/17/bell_hooks_legacy_beverly_guy_sheftall