19 Jun 2023

How Weavership Can Foster Intergenerational Collaboration and Leadership to Transform Education Systems

YxY Core Team (Morocco Retreat 2023)

Valentina Raman is the Co-Founder of YouthxYouth and the Weaving Lab, a community of practice for weavers of learning ecosystems. She serves as a youth development consultant for schools, NGOs and governments seeking to accelerate the process of young people influencing, designing and transforming their lives, learning experiences, and communities. Before YxY, Valentina worked at Ashoka building partnerships for their Start Empathy Initiative and Changemaker Schools network. Valentina has been actively involved in local education transformation as Board Member of EmpowerEd, a teacher-led advocacy group advancing equity in public education, and Advisor of the Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School, expanding access to nature-based education across the region. She also served as Director of Service Learning & Social Entrepreneurship at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School. Beyond her education-focused work, Valentina is a weaver of artists locally and globally, where she seeks to shift power and narratives through her music and writing.

YouthxYouth (YxY) is a global community of youth activists and adult allies reimagining education for collective liberation. Started in 2020 as a 3-day learning experience to evolve our conscious activism, radical reimagination and co-creative action to transform our education, YxY is now a youth-led organization aiming to ignite a global intergenerational movement to transform our learning and education. The goal is to accelerate the process of young people influencing, designing, and transforming their learning experiences and education systems.

This article is a part of the New Education Story Global Insight Series, aiming to showcase what education transformation looks like in different contexts.

Eva: Valentina, what was the starting point of your work with youth?

In my professional career in education, I started working at Ashoka on its Start Empathy Initiative, which aimed to bring empathy and social-emotional learning in the more holistic development of young people into schools and systems. As I was learning from our network of Changemaker Schools and bringing those insights into global conversations, I realized that there was a very key group of people missing, and that was young people. Back then, I was 22, and I was the youngest person in that room. 

Especially with the evolution of the OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 vision, youth-centeredness, youth voice, and youth agency were growing principles. Yet, there was this constant lack of youth voices from the Global South and Global Majority, where young people are in the majority. 

So this brought me closer to another individual from Morocco who happened to be the second youngest in the room, who became my co-founder: Zineb Mouhyi. With this idea of weaving more intergenerational learning ecosystems, we were also growing another community of practice called The Weaving Lab. We had become a part of that journey and the co-founding team. Being that youth voice in these spaces about how we transform our education systems into more thriving learning ecosystems made me think – how do I design what I’m creating to open more pathways for young people to participate in a similar way as I am in the transformation of learning ecosystems?

Eva: The topic of intergenerational collaboration and leadership is a recent addition to the global debate regarding transforming education systems. Given your experience, what are the things you’ve learned that you’d like to see acknowledged and included by people who are new to this work?

One of the easiest principles to understand and implement is the idea of allyship and the mutually beneficial exchange of generational wisdom. The idea of allyship means that our progress is bound up with one another. There’s a quote by Lilla Watson:

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”.

Lilla Watson

I think that’s the posture that we have to embody in this work; it’s not about adults coming to rescue young people or save the future. We need to be the recruits of young people and the collaborators and co-conspirators of this vision for a thriving world for all people and the planet. We also need to acknowledge that learning happens lifelong and have that posture of leading with questions and curiosity on both ends to facilitate the knowledge exchange. In the complex and rapidly changing world that changes faster with each day, young people are not only experts of their own experience. They are closer to the understanding of how the future is going to look like and the tools that are emerging, and how we use them effectively. Adults don’t seem to recognize that, which limits their ability to let go of their ways of doing and ways of being and adopting the new ways of learning, being and doing that young people are already practicing. So I bound up all that in the concept of allyship.

Eva: You’ve mentioned before that you created initiatives around weavership. How would you describe what it means and how it looks in practice?

The simplest definition of weaving is connecting people, places, and projects into thriving ecosystems and communities. We’re not deficient in innovations; we have the innovations, potentials, skills, and capabilities we need to co-create more thriving learning ecosystems, communities, and spaces. The discipline that we’re not practicing enough is interconnecting these people, places, and projects into our existing systems and structures, and weaving these innovators together to truly collaborate and co-create rather than continuously compete.

Another quote I love that challenges the notion of the lone social entrepreneur paving the way for innovation comes from Buddhism and was spoken by the Dalai Lama: “The next Buddha will be the Sangha”, which means community. Weaving is acknowledging that entrepreneurship and innovation are not something that is led by an individual but it’s led by communities. The four core skills of weaving are aligning and connecting the individuals that are part of a community, fostering collaboration towards systemic change, learning together through practice and sharing of stories, and embodying universal well-being in our personal, societal and ecological lives. All of that in motion is the practice of weaving.

What a young person can do through YouthxYouth, is not just learn how to be an activist in the education transformation space, within their own project, but also learn how to hold space, host, facilitate and weave intergenerational learning communities for more innovations, collaborations, and co-creations to emerge. At YouthxYouth, we have the Weavership, a 10-month fellowship, to help young people practice how they can make their cities, communities, schools, and virtual and physical spaces conducive for intergenerational collaboration to thrive. And our Weavers are learning those skills of weaving by inviting adults into youth-held and youth-facilitated spaces and not the other way around.

YxY Community (Global Action Circles 2022)

Eva: Could you share some best practice examples or resources of weavership and intergenerational community-led innovation and change?

Not to be self-aggrandizing, but our Global Action Circles (GACs) are a great example of that. These are intergenerational groups of learners that come together around a common theme in education transformation, such as youth mental health, supporting youth educators, climate and nature education, or funding and fundraising in education. Every year, we have a global Learning Festival, where we conduct three-day experiments around a common learning question where we invite many people to be exposed to intergenerational learning and collaboration. It invites people to provide input on what those common themes and priorities for the year are in the space of education transformation and to develop our Global Action Circles themes. There’s a five-month learning journey that begins in September and ends with the next Learning Festival, which is their final showcase. Those circles are about 10-12 people each, facilitated by two to three youth hosts that are a part of our Weavership. This is their 5-month weaving practice within their 10-month Weavership learning journey.

I see Global Action Circles as a best practice because it takes the principles of how we learn best, which is peer-to-peer learning and intergenerational knowledge exchange within a community of belonging. Everyone in the circle comes with a learning question regardless of whether they’re a host or participant, a youth or an adult. Although they might have some prior knowledge of the topic, they’re coming to learn. They start with a learning question and develop a project by the end, which can be a portfolio of progress, research, original art, a curriculum, or an initiative within a new or existing organization. Hosted entirely online, GACs also allow people across different contexts and generations to come together. You can have a young person living in a refugee camp in Uganda learning with someone living in a skyscraper in New York. Learning within diversity is an essential practice for our weaving of healthy ecosystems and intergenerational communities of change. Finally, there is something effective in setting creative constraints for intergenerational processes like our GACs, and its cyclical nature. Participants can expect: If we’re going to do this, we can do it within five months. Every year, you can do it again. It’s not a content-based curriculum, it’s process-oriented. The cyclical time-bound nature allows you to start the process as a young person participant, then become a youth host, and then you can do that process again as an adult ally to continuously evolve the theme, grow and learn. It becomes your community of practice.

There are a lot of great models of peer-learning communities and communities of practice that have developed in the education transformation space, which are important to look at when it comes to weaving more intergenerational collaboration. For example, family systems especially in indigenous communities center intergenerational knowledge sharing and wisdom, coming together around food, storytelling, art, or play. These are the most fundamental human best practices that we have, which are embedded within more modernized ways that we’re practicing at YouthxYouth. We need to start with breaking bread, playing, creating art, or telling stories together to reshape and create a new story together. There’s a whole set of best practices that we could learn a lot of wisdom, especially from communities that are very connected and intergenerational, by design and nature.

Eva: For some, power shifting can trigger some fear of having less power. In terms of allyship, what’s the case for people who currently hold power and do not yet include other generations in their work? 

It’s hard to let go of what we know, what we hold, and how we’ve been doing things. I empathize with those who have lived a full life and developed much expertise in what they’ve done. To them, it might seem that we’re saying, ‘You have no voice, you should give it all to young people and retire early’. But that’s not what it is in reality. In most cases, the real ask is: how are you building a future that is enabling future generations to take up ownership and leadership in the ways that you have in your field, and be able to practice and develop those capacities?

As you have had the opportunity and privilege to do so, this is a matter of uplifting present and future younger generations to do the same. It is the same positionality, power, and privileges that you’ve been afforded to the best of your abilities. Much like in a forest, if the trees didn’t have gaps in their branches, there wouldn’t be sunlight for the new sprouts to emerge, the mindset ‘I take up this space, therefore I own this space’ or ‘I’m entitled to this space because I have been there for longer’ doesn’t allow for open-mindedness and uplifting. We need not to take up all the sky space; let that light through, use the oxygen, that power and privilege, to make a nourishing environment for young people to thrive, step into their power, and become mighty trees. There’s more urgency than ever around issues of climate, mental health, and our well-being and we have an incredible amount of work to do that will not happen overnight. So why not shift that leadership, ownership, and decision-making power to those who will be around long enough to see it through and will be able to continue the legacy because of your uplifting? With the long view, we should ask ourselves what truly matters when we leave this world behind – is it what I have done today, or is it the investment in the youth and what they do, even when I’m not around?

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