Meet the Founders of Integral Economics

tony balcony.225x225Interview with Professors Ronnie Lessem and Alexander Schieffer, Trans4M, the founders of Integral Economics

The scene is a beautiful detached mansion, museum and gallery on the edge of Lake Geneva. This is the home of the Heim Gallery, dedicated to the work of Regine Heim, Jewish sculptress, artist, poet and philosopher of liberation and spirituality.

The Villa Greta, in Chambesy, facing Lake Geneva and the spectacular Mont Blanc Mountains also houses the main offices for Trans4M. It was the setting for an inteview with Ronnie & Alexander, on the theme of women and men entrepreneurs, conducted by Tony Bradley, Director of The SEED Centre, at Liverpool Hope University.

Tony: What has your workshop been about?

Alexander: We are engaging in a process of evolution and some revolutionary education and research, towards local transformation. Our main purpose has been to bring together individuals from a range of contexts across the world, to make contact and address their burning issues together. They are co-creating new knowledge and applying it to their practice in various parts of Africa and Europe.

Ronnie: Really, its about releasing the distinctive economic genius of each situation. But, we begin from who we are as people. We come from enterprises, universities, banks and a herbal centre, in Africa. It is about linking all our societal experience together to make a unique contribution to the world.

Tony: In one of your workshop sessions, you divided up the men and women with some interesting results. Can you tell us about what happened?

: We found that the women went about their task by initially embracing a collaborative perspective. This opened-up a space that required them to take much more time and care to complete their work. By contrast, the men felt the need to articulate their individual voices without building bridges between themselves.

Ronnie: Yes, but, in a subsequent session, which involved much more conceptual complexity, it was as if the feminine instinct to collaborate broke down under the force of the conceptual barriers. Then, each of the women felt the need to entrench their own perspectives. They lost the collective power for enriched co-operation. They seemed more inhibited than the men, who worked closely together on conceptual co-operation, which was very enriching.

Alexander: It was as if the men followed much more a pattern of cultural conditioning, with the women being freer to experiment together, at least at first.

Tony: Do you see this difference between men and women happening regularly?

Ronnie: Not really, but this could be explained by the particular context of these workshops. For so many years would-be women entrepreneurs were held back. But, as more share their biographies they are finding their own niches. In the past, the framing of what it meant to be an entrepreneur, a word I don’t really like, militated against women taking a lead in transformative business.

Alexander: I’d like to answer this in a developmental sense, looking back over 10 years, or so. Purposefully, there has been an emergence of feminine qualities that has catalyzed co-creative processes, so that these are dramatically on the increase, today. This has led to an important change in the way that education is experienced, so that Masters and PhDs have been able to be worked-on in very different, more collaborative ways, instead of simply focusing on the qualities of individual students.

Tony: Could you say more about what you mean by‚ evolving ‘feminine qualities?’

Alexander: I mean the developing capacity to step into uncharted waters; to allow vulnerability and uncertainty to come to the fore.

Ronnie: We are seeing transformative entrepreneurs getting far more in touch with their feminine side, both women and men. It seems to be increasingly easy for business people to be vulnerable and step inside the unknown, to look a fool. I see a reducing need to control in situations, accepting imagination and surprise as important qualities for enterprise; stepping into the unfolding story rather than directing how things happen all the time.

Alexander: This is often about creating a space in a relational manner, which acknowledges how educational practices can unfold, and are not just pre-conceptualised.

Ronnie: Masculine and feminine divisions, between the cognitive and the emotional, are still around. Entrepreneurs can sometimes be quite masculine, articulating firmness and challenge; whilst, at an emotional level, more feminine characteristics of empathy and attachment can be shown. The point is that these alternative approaches are more often in dialectical relationship, in the same people, not just about being men or women.

Tony: Can you say something about your experience of women being involved in co-creating new economic and enterprise worlds?

Ronnie: In general, we find that women are much more driven by what they are passionate about. They engage in products and services that release their passion. They can be very progressively involved to improve things. I saw this years ago, when I helped to evolve Living Magazine, with Dena Vane. She wanted to help women to see their role in business and to imagine new possibilities. Of course, that style of the magazine was closed down by men, who saw it as being not so profitable, compared to articles on cooking, home and gardening.

Alexander: We are currently working with a woman CEO-led bank, who is inspiring her team to see the bank as an engine for human flourishing: her term. They are asking the question of whether we need another bank on the UK high street. But, in aspiring to turn it into a catalyst for social change, there is a clear need, that she can see.

: Then there is the case of the rural community of Chinyika, in Zimbabwe, my home country. Some women have seen bright lights ahead despite the tough times. Instead of getting handouts from all the NGOs, the son of one of the chiefs decided to complete his Masters in South Africa, on how to inspire a new sense of Africanness in his people. He wanted the ordinary people to do something about their situation, to re-connect the country’s origins to its indigenous co-operation. He saw this as operating at both material and spiritual levels. On the surface this whole process has led to two hundred thousand people having food security, led by the chief. But, to achieve this it has been the digging beneath the surface, by the women who lead the Community Council, that has really spear-headed the transformation. It has altered, in subtle ways, the context of that very male-dominated society.

Tony: How has this been enabled?

Alexander: Feminine and masculine have been released together. That has reduced Chidara‘s (Muchineripi) sense of his masculine origins and has led to his developing his own inner relationship to his true African identity. It is still his initial drive. But, he has become the enabler for releasing the women-driven entrepreneurship in Chinyika.

Ronnie: Implicitly, even if not explicitly, Shona culture is being changed by the women.

Tony: What do you see next for women entrepreneurs?

Ronnie: First, change the name! The position of women means that this frame-of-reference isn’t the right term. The term‚ ‘animateur’, from the French, is more suitable from a women’s perspective. It speaks to a wider world. Why do we need to adopt a European-centric normative notion and not one that can be owned throughout all the worlds.

Alexander: I consider that we need a reinterpretation of the existing understanding of entrepreneurship. I think this can be a beautiful term, because‚ ‘entre’ means the intermediate grounding of the more normal. But, secondly, the future is showing, as I believe it to be, that we are moving into a new understanding of entrepreneurship, where emotional and spiritual domains are much more acceptable and natural.

Ronnie: This is building. The old glorification of entrepreneurs, as heroic individuals, is diminishing. In its place there is a growing and evolving understanding of how business can help in releasing, rather than diminishing, people. And it is the women leaders who are most to the fore in this movement for transformation.

Tony: We look to hearing much more about Trans4M’s role, working to release economic genius, through women business leaders, in the future. Thank you both.

3 Comments on Meet the Founders of Integral Economics

  1. Anne Casey // July 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm // Reply

    Fantastic to hear of what has happened in Chinyika, where the women have been instrumental in making change happen but encouraged to do so by a powerful male leader. Also great to hear that the chief is proud of his heritage and wants to stay to help his people.

    I think that it is interesting too, to hear what Ronnie says about ‘entrepreneurs, as heroic individuals’. It is not helpful. We need to make ordinary people believe that they too can be entrepreneurs, especially those who want to improve their own lives and those of others around them. Inspiring stuff. Look forward to hearing more.

  2. A super and intriguing read Tony. The development of the “feminine” role in business inspired both my concept for this magazine and, ultimately, Ethiconomics. The “hero entrepreneur” is still a potentially negative stereotype as it smacks of Greek heros and individual prowess; masculine. What we have tried to encourage here is a real alternative. Collaborative enterprise in real terms.
    I watched the documentary by Prof Alice Roberts on what makes us human and it seems that communication and cultural feedback is essential to human growth and development. A movement towards genuine collaboration, irrespective of who actually acts as figurehead, is our way forward as a species. Enlightened business leaders can make this happen and whether women lead the way or act as power behind the throne, so to speak, the essential elements are that of genuine collaboration, sharing of risk and reward and societal impact.
    I believe that we intrinsically “know” this to be true but are reluctant to create enterprise models to deliver it. The entrepreneurial courage is, I believe, gender-less, but the existing models (and funding to some degree) still favour the norm.
    I would very much like to discuss this further if and when you are free and meeting with Alexander and Ronnie would also be a privelage.
    Thanks again.

  3. karen birch // July 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm // Reply

    “The old glorification of entrepreneurs, as heroic individuals, is diminishing.”

    I do hope that you are right. I said as much to Tony when I gave a lecture on Women Entrepreneurs to the Common Business School at Hope University earlier in the year.

    Indeed I am working with a group of like-minded women here in Scotland to look at different ways of creating enterprise and creating networks that work for women rather than simply apeing the existing male models.

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