• Fyodor Ovchinnikov

Group Reflections on the Work and Teachings of Mansi Kakkar: a Collective Narrative

Produced by Fyodor Ovchinnikov

On Wednesday, May 26, 2021 a group of participants from Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Kenya, South Africa, and the United States gathered for the sixth virtual peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Mansi Kakkar.


Mansi is a regenerative designer, ecosystem catalyst, and community weaver who synthesized her deep inquiry around regenerative systems, emergence, and systems change into Regenerative Innovation (RI): How to design in uncertainty with human, ecological and economic equity. She designed courses and processes for Stanford University, Berrett-Koehler Foundation, and many other organizations. She is also a member of the Evolutionary Leadership Community and she served as a judge at the Evolutionary Future Challenge 2018.


Mansi was among 11 guest teachers confirmed based on the preferences and financial contributions of 40 registered participants of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program. Participants had one week to study Mansi's materials on their own before gathering for a peer learning session. The peer learning session provided an opportunity to share individual reflections, identify emerging patterns, and craft a collective message to Mansi to help her prepare for a live session with the group. The recording of the live session based on this narrative will be published soon.

Participants’ reflections were recorded and used to produce a collective narrative according to the Collective Narrative Methodology. Christiana Gardikioti, Drew Hornbein, Gabrielle Cook Jonker, Joshua Baker, Juan Sebastian Cardenas Salas, Ken Homer, Kennan Salinero, Klaus Mager, Maria Talero, Naveen Vasudevan, Perpetua Muthoni Ng'ang'a, Rafael Calcada, Tarek Soliman, Tatiana Vekovishcheva, and Zen Benefiel participated in the session and contributed to this narrative.


We would like to express thankfulness to Mansi for her work and for creating some really powerful and wonderful conversations. We want her to know how much we enjoyed reviewing and studying her work that gave us a lot of good information that sparked a lot of good conversations.

We saw the Indian roots and that she found herself a new home. We saw her self growth and development as well as that she uses reflection and writing as part of it, as a way to move forward. It is refreshing to see the unconquerable wild feminine! We see Mansi and acknowledge her as ‘Warrior Goddess’.

It takes courage to say that we need to slow down and to take radical form in poetry and imagination. We appreciate her invitation, an allowance of imagination, the invitation of playfulness. Some of us noticed the way that people really want to changethey want to danceand it sometimes often requires someone to show them that it is OK to do so, to invite that playfulness out.

It was interesting that some of us started to reflect on the lenses that we use to view Mansi’s work: we used nonviolent communication, science (chemistry), rock climbing, embodied theory, yoga, as well as cultural and organizational development. We would like to thank Mansi for articulating what many of us have felt or are in the process of working out, but have not quite found the language or the frameworks to be able to express as well as she has. That intersection between her writing and her work is something that resonated with a lot of us.

Going Beyond Sustainability to Flourishing through Regenerative Innovation

We would like to especially thank her for the term ‘regenerative innovation’ as these two concepts are not often put hand in hand. For some of us it was a breath of fresh air that one does not have to be at the expense of the other. She describes innovation and regeneration very well through a simple understanding of connection and she gives us hope to move past the view of the Anthropocene.

One of the things that was very powerful in Mansi’s work that we saw was the idea that the planet does not need saving, it is about saving human beings: we have to save our own lives here. Some of us would like to know how that shift is working for Mansi. How are people responding to that? It seems like a really important element, along with the idea that sustainability is insufficient for getting us to where we need to go in order to be living in a flourishing civilization.

Exploring the ‘Five Shapes’ and the Smallest Element

Some of us also wanted to ask about the ‘shapes’ and their meanings. We really like Mansi’s ‘five shapes’ and we had a lot of questions about how that came about, how she matched the different shapes. There was some disagreement about whether they are correct or not, but let Mansi decide on that, so if she wants to expand on that just a little, we would love to know how she matches the shapes to the edges.

We liked it that some of our conversations went from whole to the granular to the level of relationships and the diad. We explored Mansi’s idea that the smallest element in the network is two lines and a dot. Some of us talked a lot about that, reflecting on whether the smallest unit, the smallest element in the network is a diad or the monad, the dot, the individual, because all change starts there. In that case one of the edges could be the body. At the same time, others said that there has to be at least three people in order to make a network, so maybe Mansi could speak to that and give us a little more clarity on her thoughts.

Exploring the Role of Trust in Social Change and How to Scale It

One of the main beliefs that Mansi speaks about, especially in her blog, is that essence to essence connection and that place of relationship being the basis of the organization. What that came down to was this idea of generating trust. We discussed the place of trust in building change, trust-building at a granular level.

What is the source of trust? Where does it come from? What does it mean to make relationships regenerative, especially in the context of social change, work, and innovation? How do we scale trust? Can we actually come up with a formula or a way of working together that instigates trust in people, that builds it, and then scales it up so that when we are working at really large scales, we can ensure that trust is there. Some things like relational trust seem to not be able to scale but there is this narrative that we need these things to happen at a very large scale, so how do we ensure that we are able to navigate these two worlds or perspectives?

We noticed a loop of perception, trust, and narrative and a tension between the two individuals that create the relationship, the basic block of the network, between the whole network and its shared narrative. As one of us framed it, thunder striking the earth is felt by the earth, but is also matched by the earth. We wonder what Mansi thinks of that tension.

Exploring the Paradoxes of Narratives and Mindsets

In her blog Mansi says that she explores the story in the future. We wonder what story she has so far as an outcome, not just a process. We have to move fast. We also have to move slow. We saw in Mansi’s work the question of how we innovate without being stuck in our mindsets, how we create a shared narrative that is not degenerative but regenerative.

What is the narrative that is going to inspire us to use the trust that we have built in order to collaborate in large groups? What is Mansi seeing that are the high aspirations, the big dreams that can carry us across the chasms of division right now to really creating a world that is going to work for everybody?

We wonder how Mansi would answer her own questions. What does care look like from a ‘warrior goddess’? Do we need to unify all the different people to build a central grand narrative? What other thing could be built in its place? How do we unify many disparate and contradictory things? Some of us see a paradox in what you describe. In a world that is dominated by conquering extractive fear-based mindsets, how does one find the courage to embody radical forms of vulnerability that invite trust and playful imagination? There is this balance of trying to navigate some of the abstract concepts that most of us are working with on a day to day basis with the practical perspective of how to actually make sure that this is happening.

What can help us embody a regenerative mindset? Does Mansi have certain practices that she uses or recommends? We would also like to ask about education and how Mansi sees the role of education in helping us move forward into a higher level of consciousness or break away from our colonized way of seeing the world. As we discussed that, we saw reflections of Bayo Akomolafe’s work on decolonization.

What is it that will move us from where we are to where we are going without feeling like we are a total failure or feeling that sense of overwhelm and despair in the process of change? One of the suggestions was to sit with this pain, and we discuss that the acknowledgment of pain is articulated in your poem “The Umbilical Cord”. How are we able to do this and also ensure we are cultivating trust? It is important for people to be able to acknowledge individual and collective pain without diminishing joy and we also need to have a sense of trust. How do we bring people together? As one of us framed it, how do we collectively become midwives for what needs to be born, but also give hospice for what needs to die? We would appreciate any insights to guide us in this.

Breaking Away from Perpetuating Extractive Patterns When Making Change

Talking about the contrast between extractive mindsets and regenerative mindsets that Mansi mentioned, some of us said that we need to really look hard at why we keep reproducing extractive mindsets when we are attempting to create regenerative mindsets. Given that sometimes what we do can perpetuate the same systems that we are trying to change, how do we change? How do we navigate that element of having mindsets that might influence the innovations that we come up with while trying to push for systems change, to ensure that the systems do change.

We hear that she is saying that we are tending to reproduce some of the same problems that we are trying to address when we put on our handyman hats and try to fix everything. Some of us are very inspired by this and want Mansi to clarify and strengthen her message to be able to reach a bigger audience.

We also reflected on the idea that using words to define things gives us clarity, but, paradoxically, it also sometimes becomes very rigid and does not evolve with our culture. Some of us shared that we hear Mansi saying that regeneration is one of those. Since it could be a plug and play solution or model like sustainability, how do we keep our models alive?

We wonder if Mansi has any insight into that, if she has got some tales to tell about where she has seen people be able to make the correction of recognizing that they were trying to get to something regenerative where they were creating something extractive and identifying what they needed to do in order to shift so they could actually get regenerative mindsets coming out of this.

Addressing the Tension between Community-Level Innovation and Planetary Context

Some of the innovations that we see are happening at a community level but some of the issues that we are facing are happening at a very large scale if we look at natural systems. There is a tension and a sense of desperation at how we are exponentially destroying our ecosystems, at the pace of how things are being degraded while some of the solutions by their nature are coming to place at a community level, so we wonder if Mansi could kindly speak to that. Some of us shared that we liked the phrase she mentioned in one of her blog posts about our issues being so urgent that we cannot afford to move fast. We feel that for most of us it makes so much sense and it is exactly what we are trying to communicate, to bring it together as a concept, and to see how this actually works.

We would also like Mansi to speak about Nature or natural systems. Some of us would say that they are amoral, that they do not have ethics while others see that in Nature as a whole there are ecosystems, there is nestedness, some kind of harmony in that they are intimate. It would be great if Mansi could speak to that.

Mansi’s Edge

We are also curious about what questions are most alive for Mansi and her work right now. Some of us are assuming that she started out with some questions and has been working on this for a while so we wonder what is at the edge of her work. What has really worked on her?

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