Transformation is a new section of www.opendemocracy.net designed to tell the stories of those who are exploring boundary-breaking solutions in politics, economics and social activism by bringing personal and social change together into one integrated process. The section launched on July 1st 2013 and is edited by Michael Edwards and Ray Filar.

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Despite remarkable progress over the last 40 years in reducing poverty and mortality in many parts of the world, most indicators of quality-of-life are not improving, natural resources continue to be depleted at unsustainable rates, and social progress seems to have stalled even in industrialized societies. Inequalities are at an all-time high, power is increasingly concentrated in a small number of hands, lifestyle health problems are increasing, politics are gridlocked, and no substantial progress has been made in tackling the huge environmental challenges of the future. Much-heralded “solutions” like social enterprise and web-based campaigning seem unlikely to address the depth of the crisis we face, nor tackle the hidden hierarchies of gender, race, sexuality and class that underpin them. Instead of “tinkering around the edges” of these deep-rooted problems, we need transformative solutions that can break through the limitations of our current economic paradigms, political systems and social order.

The essence of transformation, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, is that something qualitatively different and better, not simply something quantitatively bigger or more of the same, can emerge from old or existing structures when they are challenged, broken up and re-imagined around a different operating system. Elements of those existing systems remain of course (just like the essence of the butterfly already existed inside the chrysalis), but something fundamental changes in the process of transformation, some boundary constraint is crossed or some deep-seated blockage is removed that facilitates a permanent shift in direction – for example, towards economies that generate justice and wellbeing, or new forms of politics and activism that can bring people together and break the logjam of vested interests.

Ultimately, transformations of this nature mean changing the deep structures of self and society that underpin all human institutions, and re-fashioning relationships on a different grounding of community and sharing instead of individual self-interest alone. There is no other way of creating constituencies for ideas and institutions that achieve a better balance between our own welfare and the common good. Take climate change for example, which cannot be managed successfully unless “we the people” gradually lower our own consumption levels, or deepening democracy, which can only take place when we are willing to engage with those who disagree with us in more open ways, so there is no escape from personal change if we want the world around us to be transformed.

Personal change is not New Age narcissism – it means engaging in the daily struggle for dignity and justice in a different spirit that opens up more effective routes to action. In this sense “justice is the public face of love” as Cornel West puts it, but love flourishes more easily when new institutions are built on sharing and solidarity instead of the mindless pursuit of competition, growth and power. As social movements throughout history have discovered, bringing personal, institutional and societal change together into one coordinated effort is the key to transformation. Take the example of the civil rights movement, which secured new legal protections against discrimination but also changed public norms concerning racial equality on a much deeper level, and developed more effective methods of non-violent activism through which people came to a new sense of themselves and their relationships with others.

Finally, transformation cannot be imposed by one group on another. If it is not democratically directed it is not transformation, since it would simply reflect the views of existing power structures and elites. Transformation is the polar opposite of maintaining the status quo, but no one is excluded from responsibility since we are all part of the problem as well as the solution. There are no transformative models that can be handed down ready-made from above. Transformation is a process of collective visioning, invention and co-creation, and in this process people can be informed and inspired by stories of success and failure, and by new ideas that help them to think in different ways. They can be supported in their efforts by linking with each-other and sharing the lessons that they learn. And they can be strengthened in their thinking and practice by exposing their ideas to challenge and critique. This is what Transformation@openDemocracy aims to do.

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Guided by this philosophy, Transformation@openDemocracy will publish a dynamic mix of written and audio-visual content on a weekly basis designed to showcase boundary-breaking work in politics, economics and social activism from an integrated perspective. Each weekly edition will carry one in-depth article of 1,500-3,000 words, plus a variety of shorter contributions, links to other pieces and organizations elsewhere on the web, and other relevant material. Comment and debate between different positions and interpretations of transformation will be encouraged. The coverage of Transformation@opendemocracy is global. Resources are available on a modest level to pay contributors and to translate material into English from other languages.

In addition, we hope to highlight the work of frontline groups who are working on these issues from a transformative perspective by commissioning case studies of their experiences, along with critical commentary and overview pieces designed to explore the wider lessons learned; publish interviews with individuals who are working on transformational approaches to change in different parts of the world; bring together historical pieces from participants in past social movements and link them with perspectives from new experiences around common themes like transformational leadership; and provide a space for reflection for conferences and other processes to document and analyze their ideas about transformation in real time.

openDemocracy is a thriving, independent and non-partisan website that brings together high-quality writing on the key issues of our times. The site currently receives over six million page views each year from 2.5 million unique visitors in over 200 countries. For further information or to discuss potential contributions, please contact Michael Edwards at the following email address: edwarmi@hotmail.com

Transformation@openDemocracy receives operating support from the Hidden Leaf, Compton and Kalliopeia Foundations in the USA, and from Hivos in the Netherlands.

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