This video is from a series of four sessions on Interconnected Leadership that I led for the US NGO Commission on the Status of Women in March 2020. This presentation is on Creating a Culture of Care and Wellbeing. You can see my presentation on Presence and Connection here, The 4 Skills of Deep Listening here, and Generative Conflict here.

I want to take a deeper dive into creating a culture of care and wellbeing. As the old systems collapse around us, this is an opportunity for us to step into dreaming a new world together.

The word “care” as you know has had long history and meaning, especially in feminist movements. We have had to address the question of care in a multiplicity of ways: gender norms around who provides care; structural and economic systems around how care is valued, compensated and paid for; how care is supported or not supported or undermined; how many parts of our global community are simply not cared for; and, how we think about our relationship of care with the earth itself.

Rather than getting into a discussion about the politics of care and how it has existed, particularly in feminist circles, I invite you into a current conversation.  Let us bring our understanding about care into this moment of the pandemic and what it is teaching us about how we can create a different notion of care.

Often, when we talk about a culture of care and wellbeing, we think about massage and contemplative practices.  Or we immediately start thinking about care economies, where women do a lot of the caretaking or do it within familial structures, which is not even recognized by the economic systems. This pandemic is showing us the critical nature of care, who is providing it, how it is being supported and even how we are not caring for certain populations, especially the caregivers.

Examples of this are seen with sheltering at home. In many countries housework, traditionally the responsibility of women, has expanded exponentially into a responsibility of care.  The COVID pandemic has also intersected with the domestic violence pandemic and exponentially increased the danger that women face at home.

We are now asking questions about healthcare workers and how they are taking care of so many with or without support from the public health system or the state.  We are asking questions about care and  how we treat the most vulnerable in our societies. We see the extraordinary cruelty of societies towards workers, especially migrant workers, and what is happening to workers who need to navigate safe passage to their homes.

The pandemic is allowing us to see care and wellbeing being played out at the level of self, family, community, organization, society in general, and our systems, our structures and our policies. We are understanding the role of care in our relationship to nature in our interconnectedness with all things. This is an incredible opportunity for us to ask how we build a culture of care from all that we have learned as leaders, as organizers, as activists, as shamans, as healers, as practitioners, as dreamers who believe that we can create a new world.

What does it mean to build a culture of care amidst this pandemic?

These are just some of the questions I have been asking.  How do we create from a generative place while also attending to the impact of this pandemic on the most vulnerable communities in our countries?

Are we able to live in the paradox of addressing and responding to what is needed right now while also holding a place for creative possibility as interconnected leaders, simultaneously looking at the possibilities that can help us to create the world that we have all been dreaming about for decades?

What are the values that we want to uphold? What are the new rules? What are the new beliefs? What are the principles of creating a culture of care? What are the actions that we need to take? How does this affect the policies and the systems we want to create? Are people already doing this?

We have seen the most extraordinary examples of people caring and stepping in for one another and with one another, and we have a long history of knowing how we have done this in the past. How can we draw on those stories, that wisdom, what we are already creating to uplift those stories, not just the stories of harm, but the stories of solutions and the stories of new possibilities? Lastly, what are the resources, conditions, enabling circumstances that we need to start putting into place to create this new paradigm that is at the level of self, community, and the planet?

For now, let’s focus on the culture of care at the level of self and at the level of organization. Many of us as leaders tend to not take care of ourselves. I have seen the consequences of this on our leadership in terms of burnout and our own health and wellbeing. People are getting sick or acting in ways with their communities and their organizations that are coming from a place of depletion and pain, where they themselves are not well resourced. One of the questions I want you to ask yourself is how are you taking care of yourself in this moment, in this time of pandemic?

We often think about care in a limited way. This is just a framework to help you expand the notion of what it means to create a culture of care for yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or contemplatively. If the word spiritual is not a word that is easy for you to connect with, think about it as how are you taking care of the multiple dimensions of your being, of yourself.

In terms of creating a culture of care at the organizational level, do you focus on relationships or are you more transactional? How does the question of wages get addressed in your organization? Where does sustainability have a role and how are you addressing issues of inclusion, diversity, and equity? How are you making sure that all the different parts of your organization are being taken care of?

Can you frame these conversations around this pandemic moment? What is happening with self-care and what is happening with organizational care at this moment that is giving you some glimmer into what it is that you want to create as ongoing culture and practice? What we are learning right now is a critical part of our ongoing work to create a culture of care and wellbeing for our planet.

Piaget, K (2020, September). Feminist Futures: Caring for people, caring for justice and rights. Oxfam Discussion Papers.