Let’s dive deep


Kurt Peleman and Josiane Smith


So there we were, walking along the Bosphorus, talking about the past, exploring the present, and figuring out what to whisper into the future – grateful for the beauty and energy of Istanbul, and deeply impressed by the Turkish people we met, and the stories they told.

We had met just two days before at the PEXforum, where Europe’s philanthropy infrastructure came together around three key themes: (eco)systems change, collaboration and philanthropy as a catalyst for change.

I, Kurt, came to PEXforum because, for over 30 years, collaboration has been the core of what we do with Synergos and our Global Philanthropist Circle, and I was interested to create new connections and be inspired by the collaborative experiences of peers.

And I, Josiane, came to PEXforum because I was curious to learn from others seeking not to support, but to challenge, philanthropy to be better. In terms of my interest in collaboration, I work for an organisation that believes in the transformative potential of people working together so I came to see more of this in practice.

We are both fascinated and excited by collaborations because they force you to extend yourself intellectually and relationally. They may be frustrating and difficult to get right, but collaboration is where growth is. Exchange based on mutual value and reciprocity is the missing link in tackling the world’s problems.

So with this shared interest, we decided to write a blog together – combining our personal take-aways with an offer for more people to join the exploration with us. Collaboration in action, in a way. Here we go:

Collaboration is the only pathway

Systems change, collaboration and philanthropy as a catalyst for change’ – these were the themes of the forum. But they are not of the same order – collaboration will be the key to the other two. Indeed, our potential to be catalysts for deep, systemic change in philanthropy will depend on our capacity to collaborate in ways that go beyond the surface.

PEXforum was a good place to start discussing challenges to meaningful collaboration like:

  • Bringing in diverse perspectives in productive ways
  • Creating spaces for people to leave the ego and the logo behind
  • The lack of funding for the whole spectrum of collaboration

But collaborations are still too much focused on brain-matters – on strategies, operational objectives, organisational structure – whereas the success of a collaboration requires much more: to be open to other non-verbal, non-rational dimensions of knowledge, trusting and working with  the wisdom of our intuition and the intelligence of our bodies.

Speaking is silver, listening is gold

One exercise at PEXforum was during presentations offered by PEX members, on wide ranging and deeply sensitive topics from Syrian refugees to youth issues in Turkey, the climate crisis and war in Ukraine. Different members of the audience were given ‘listening lenses’ and asked to listen out for specific information around resources, pain, opportunities, breakthrough moments, and more.

It was an eye-opening exercise, which helped us to see the importance of soft skills in collaboration – to listen, to accept difference, to be vulnerable.

Let’s embrace diversity in its fullest

Collaboration is often seen as siloed parts coming together to create something new, bigger and better, than any individual could get to alone. Not only is this sense of separateness damaging to meaningful exchange, but it assumes a baseline of equality that in reality doesn’t always exist.

Collaboration is so much more powerful if it embraces true diversity, but voices of difference often get a hard time in collaborative spaces. How do we create comfort, trust and appreciation for the different role that people play, the wisdoms they bring, and even styles of communication and thinking? How do we give a place to the person who does not speak easily, or who looks for the gaps, challenges blaring assumptions, shares radically different lived experiences, delays the smooth processes in the name of deeper thinking, suggests alternatives that need longer consideration…? We still have a long way to go here…

What we propose

We need to invest in the soft skills of collaboration – the underlying attitudes that foster a deeper, collaborative energy and make it successful. What we also need is an appreciation for interconnectedness, mystery and emergence. Collaboration is about cultivating the deep and abiding sense of who and where we are always in relation to ‘the other’, and it requires us to rethink the unique value of what each one brings to the shared spaces we are in. We need to create different collaborative DNA.

And so we want to use this article as an invitation to PEX members and beyond to jointly interrogate and cultivate the DNA of our collaborative practices and approaches. Let’s make of the X of PEX about the exploration of the undefinable X-factor needed to collaborate!

If you are interesting in joining us, send us a mail.

Kurt Peleman is Director Europe of Synergos’ Global Philanthropy Circle

Josiane Smith is the Key Programmes Lead – Philanthropy at the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX)

Tagged in: PEXForum 2022

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *