Otto co-creates pathways of transformation for individuals, institutions, and larger systems that he and his colleagues co-deliver through classes and programs at MIT, through Presencing Institute projects, and through his global MITx u.lab offerings.
In the face of accelerating social and environmental breakdowns, how can we build our collective capacities for transformation? How can we regenerate our outdated economic and social institutions from egosystem to ecosystem awareness? Creating deep learning infrastructures on a planetary scale has inspired Otto's work from the beginning. The u.school for Transformation is a project that stands this vision and intention on its feet. Its aim is to fully democratize access to the methods and tools for transformation literacy. The u.school is also the prototype for a new type of 21st-century university — a school without borders — that integrates science, arts, tech, and the evolution of consciousness with transforming society and self.
Together with his colleagues at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Otto has been co-hosting Dialogues on Transforming Systems in the Decade of Action (2020-2021). With his colleagues at the Presencing Institute he also co-delivered two action learning interventions in 2021. The first one, Action Learning Lab, took more than 400 change makers from half a dozen UN agencies on a virtual four-month transformational action learning journey. The second one, SDG Leadership Labs, helps United Nations Country Teams (UNCTs) accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in their respective countries. The SDG Leadership Labs are currently delivered in 14 countries across world regions.
This highly experiential course is based on Theory U. It introduces the variable of consciousness into management and social systems change. It proposes that the quality of the results that we create in any social system is a function of the quality of awareness that the participants in the system operate from. This approach to leading change is practiced by a growing movement of change makers and leaders in business, government, and civil society around the world (more than 200,000 registered users to date).
IDEAS is a one-year practice-based MIT Executive Education program designed to help cohorts of participants confront challenges in their countries more effectively. It does so by engaging leaders across sectors to jointly step forward and take on a country's complex challenges of conservation, education, and business/social enterprise by going through a profound learning process. Together, they identify the root causes and collectively develop a closer relationship, working together to implement the solutions that are created. The first six IDEAS programs have been focusing on Indonesia. The most recent program is expanding the regional focus to Asia-Pacific.
Born as a real-time response to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, GAIA is a place for radically reimagining and reshaping our path forward, both individually, and collectively. GAIA has been activating a global field of generative local, regional, and planetary connections that function as a precursor to the u.school for transformation and as a vehicle for bringing its vision to fruition.
The 4.0 Lab convenes pioneers of regenerative farming and food, holistic health, regenerative finance, economics, and learning. Together we are working to reinvent the future of these systems and their leadership methods. The focus of this Lab is regional. The first version of the Lab focuses on German-speaking regions in Europe.
In this initiative, Otto and his colleagues explore an evolutionary transformation of science that integrates first-, second-, and third-person knowledge and thus extends scientific research from the outer to the inner realms of human experience. This project aims at making visible the invisible dimension of deep systems change. We use the concept of the social field to explore that deeper territory. Social fields are social systems that are seen not only from the outside, but also from within.
Reliable scientific methods (such as mindfulness-based stress reduction) and disciplined research (such as MRI-based brain research) have helped move “mindfulness” from marginal to mainstream over the past couple of decades. Similarly, we believe that the methods of awareness-based systems change (which are now used in transformation initiatives across cultures) could also grow rapidly if they were complemented by corresponding research.
But today for social systems we do not have the functional equivalent of what MRI-based brain research does for the individual: making visible the tangible impact of awareness-based action. Creating a blended assessment tool that addresses this methodological gap by making deep systems change visible to the change makers in the field, is the goal of this project.
Otto is a Senior Lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management. He chairs the MIT IDEAS program for cross-sector innovation and is a co-founder of the MITx u.lab.
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