If you’re wondering what important life lessons the Covid-19 pandemic may have taught us, Dr Robyn Whittaker has an insightful answer. She says: ‘It has given us an increasing awareness that we are disconnected from ourselves, and from each other.’
Whittaker, who had a 17-year career as a medical doctor, relinquished medicine to pursue her interest in education and community cohesion as the Stakeholder Engagement Lead for Symphonia for South Africa, a leadership development agency. She recently launched an organisation with a difference – Kaleidoscope Lights.
Kaleidoscope Lights seeks to develop an understanding of how deep collaboration between people can be fostered, and how functional-impact ecosystems come into being in order to enable dramatic shifts in society’s wellbeing.
Whittaker believes that humanity needs to learn how to really connect with each other. ‘We need to move into a space where we understand that we are deeply interconnected and linked, not only to other human beings, but also to the systems in which we operate,’ explains Whittaker.
But first, we need to learn to connect with ourselves. ‘Human beings are wired for connection at a spiritual, scientific, community, personal, economic, biological and a relational level, but we cannot effectively connect with each other unless we are fully connected with ourselves,’ she says.
Whittaker believes that the Covid-19 period has highlighted our need for connection, collaboration and co-creation. Lockdown has offered an opportunity to look deeper within ourselves, and to understand the importance of being in community, working co-operatively, and connecting with others.
‘We are increasingly moving from an old system, which celebrates autonomy, control and power, into a new system which enables connection and the ability to co-create together, where we recognise the deep individuality of every living being, and the value that each individual can bring to the whole,’ says Whittaker.
Not everyone yet embraces this new stage into which Whittaker believes society is heading. ‘As we feel pushed into the new, we are also experiencing pull back into the old. Some people and societal structures are retreating to the known – to fundamentalism, tribalism and self-protectionism, and are resistant to the growing swell of people and systems longing for connection and a co-created future,’ explains Whittaker.
The new system that Whittaker believes we are moving into has variously been called ‘System 4.0’, ‘the Wellbeing Economy’, ‘the Green Economy’ or ‘the ecosystem stage’, which operates from the premise that together we are more, and that the actions of one part of the system has ripple effects elsewhere. It is a gentler system than previous economic systems, which are about hierarchy and control.
‘Moving into this new system is not necessarily going to happen automatically,’ she says. ’It requires an active choice from us. We need to open our hearts to others. Our different perspectives need to become really important to one another, and instead of focusing on my opinion versus your opinion, we need to start creating a combined opinion, which is our opinion.
According to Whittaker, emergent groups globally and in South Africa are already calling for social systems that operate according to more inclusive, ecosystem-orientated principles. These include new financial models, social groupings, businesses that operate within models that value interconnectedness and reciprocity, academics arguing in favour of this type of system, and social change organisations that have moved away from the older charity (NPO) model to identify themselves as social enterprises.
‘My hope with Kaleidoscope Lights is to connect with, amplify and work together with as
many of these organisations as possible, as well as individuals within other organisations who share this type of approach.’