OURtopia! Co-Creating A World that Works for All
By Dr. Rama Mani
Rising Women Rising World, the new global women’s initiative co-founded by Dr. Scilla Elworthy, Professor Jean Houston and myself, has one central vision that inspires us, one goal that underpins the diverse programs we propose: to co-create a world that works for all.
My vocation as ‘a voice of witness and awakening’ is dedicated to the realization of this vision. Into the global chorus of prescient experts warning us that change is imperative, I inject the voices of women from all parts of the world who have faced and overcome unspeakable oppression. Into the emerging tapestry of a positive future that visionaries envisage, I weave the visions and wisdom of women and men who’ve transformed obstacles into breakthroughs for themselves and their societies. At this turning point in human history, I offer ‘theatres of transformation’, where people of all backgrounds and ages can allay their anxiety about the uncertain future, and become conscious co-creators of a positive future resonant with their dreams. But let me take a step back to share how this came about…
One humid night in June 2000, I lay, weary but wide awake, at 2 am under my mosquito net in Somaliland, East Africa. As regional advisor for conflict to a large humanitarian organization, I was then living in Ethiopia and crisscrossing the continent’s warzones: Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, DR Congo, and now Somalia. My single-minded pursuit then was to find an effective way to end the intractable wars that devastated countless human lives and ravaged the earth’s resources. Growing up in India, surrounded by injustice against women and the weak, and by violent animosity between castes and creeds, I’d been infected early with a passion for justice, and a desire to heal divisions and foster a compassionate, inclusive society. What plagued me was how?
Incongruously, that hot Somali night, I was seized by a vision: OURtopia! It was time for humanity to transform the man-made dystopia of oppression and exploitation that has brought our planet to breaking point, into an OURtopia of inclusion where all beings can flourish in harmony with the earth. In that moment, I realized the power of true art and creativity to effect transformation. For true art awakens mind, heart and soul at once, and leaves no human untouched. And our own latent creativity is a vital resource to imagine and co-create the world of wellbeing we all yearn for!
That night’s epiphany reshaped my life. These insights deepened with every country I worked in, every international organization I served, and through my own harrowing experience overcoming the trauma of war. Suffering can leave some people angry, apathetic or fearful. Yet my life experiences and encounters with survivors of war and tyranny taught me that suffering is also a crucible for personal and societal transformation. Everywhere, I encountered ‘ordinary’ people who transcended unimaginable anguish to become ‘extraordinary’ beacons of wisdom in their societies. This is what I call ‘the heART of transformation’: all of us have the capacity to transform our suffering into strength, our grief into grace, to liberate not just ourselves but our communities too.
In each war-ravaged country I visited, I uncovered the gamut of creative expressions that emerges phoenix-like from the ashes of devastation and shapes new societal realities, whether in Afghanistan or Peru, Kosovo or Rwanda. Again and again I saw that crisis is indeed opportunity, and that human creativity and courage can give rise to a new beginning even after humanitarian disaster.
When the time was ripe, all the people and events that had shaped me began to speak their stories through my words in the form of lyrical testimonies and evocative poems. They began to seek creative expression through me in what I call ‘theatres of transformation’. Each performance draws on different sources of inspiration, and gives new expression to the combination of my expertise as a scholar, my experience as a peacebuilder, and my passion for art and culture.
This I’ve discovered: at each performance, wherever it may be in the world, the alchemy of humanity is at play. Everywhere, without exception, the members of the audience feel profound empathy or ‘oneness’ with the strangers in distant lands that I embody. Regardless of their backgrounds or ages, they connect with the people they ‘meet’ on stage, whether from Peru or Palestine, Congo or Cambodia. For these diverse life stories point us towards universal truths. They take us from the diverse experiences we have as unique human beings in disparate parts of the world to the universal essence that connects us all.
This at-one-ness we experience through art, music, poetry and theatre with people we have never met in situations we may never experience opens us to altogether new horizons. It enables us to envision, imagine, articulate, design and shape futures we couldn’t have fathomed before. It uplifts us to imagine Ourtopia. The performances are literally theatres of transformation because they awaken the senses and emotions, and create a space for interactive and innovative dialogue, which I facilitate. Members of the audience feel impelled to become actively engaged in imagining and shaping together a new and more positive future, tapping into the collective compassion and wisdom ignited by the voices and visions shared in the performance. Literally, we tap into the collective power of humanity that binds us to each other, and enables us to co-create together what no single one of us could do alone. The audience leaves the performance metamorphosed by this unforgettable awakening to our capacity to eliminate suffering and shape a positive future.
About Our Theatres of Transformation:
Our ‘theatres of transformation’ serve several purposes. They awaken minds, hearts and souls. They facilitate innovative dialogue on critical global issues and yield new solutions. They establish bonds of empathy between the audience and suffering populations in distant lands. Finally, they raise solidarity funds to support Rising Women Rising World’s programs for women in need, and to finance peace missions to champion women in crisis countries.
Watch and share the videos online with friends and colleagues. Invite us to offer a ‘theatre of transformation’ in your city or at your next event. Join us in shaping the future! Support us in realizing our vision together of co-creating a world that works for all!
Do engage with us in Rising Women Rising World, our growing global movement!
Watch these videos of recent performances:
(Extract from the launch of Rising Women Rising World, in the British Parliament)
‘We are the Four Bahati sisters from the Democratic Republic of Congo,
We are 19, 20, 21 and 23 years old
We fled the violence in our country when we were girls
We lived in fear as refugees for 10 years in Uganda
We lost our education
But not our Voice
We sing for the 48 girls and women raped every day in the Congo
We sing for the 7 million people massacred by warlords in our land
We sing for people suffering in wars everywhere
We sing for violence to end
Because our vision for the world
Is 100 years of peace!’
About Rama Mani: Dr. Rama Mani, Co-Founder of Rising Women Rising World, was awarded the Peter Becker Prize in Germany in 2013 for the combined impact of her peace scholarship and activism. Poet-performer and internationally renowned expert on peacebuilding and global security, she is a Councilor of the World Future Council and Senior Research Associate of the University of Oxford’s Centre for International Studies.
Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.
This article appears in: 2015 Catalyst, Issue 2: Rising Women, Rising World