The Warriors Without Weapons GSA 2011

Posted on April 14, 2011


Wondering why I have been so quiet? Well here is one reason: I was absent for 8 weeks: preparing for, attending and recovering from a revolutionary community leadership development training in Brasil. This is why…

PS the links in this article are very useful.

Community is essential. It is the only thing that can save us in this demanding world.

I have recently returned from an intensive training in community upliftment in the dynamic port city of Santos, Brasil, that took place in January 2011. This entirely demanding, exhausting and liberating journey was the ultimate learning experience in my work as an active facilitator of social change. This 5-week participatory process changed the way I see social development and taught me what it means to build community, and to believe in the power of community.

This course is known as the school for Warriors Without Weapons (WWW), Guerreiros Sem Armas (GSA) in Portugues, the national language of Brasil. It is a comprehensive training program developed by Instituto Elos, a leading collective of change agents based in and around Santos in Sao Paulo state. This collective, originally a group of architects interested in using their skills to transform social space, has been enthusiastically involved in creating holistic and intrinsic methodologies for engaging in social processes that have catapulted the notion of community development in Brasil into a thriving and celebrated concept. And now their work, which has spanned the last decade and expanded exponentially to hundreds of thousands of people, is seeping out of the Brasilian borders and beginning to make tremors on all continents. I am proudly involved in developing this work in Africa.

Their central method is known affectionately as the Oasis Game. This is an inherently simple – yet inevitably complex – 7-step methodology that makes the most of our human needs and attributes, focusing on qualities such as abundance, enthusiasm and communion. The process is entirely participatory, meaning non-hierarchical, and effectively prepared with strong standards of inclusivity and open consultation with the public, on clear and ethical terms.

The 7 Steps that represent the core methodology, which you can see more fully described here.

  1. Appreciative seeing
  2. Affection
  3. The Dream
  4. Care
  5. The Miracle
  6. Celebration
  7. Re-evolution

I experienced an advanced application of this process taking place in a favela (informal settlement) known as Vila Pantanal and home to approximately 4,000 inhabitants, where I was posted during my training with a group of 22 young changemakers from around the world. We were part of a larger group of 70 participants, as the work was taking place in 3 Santos favelas simultaneously.

Pantanal (view slideshow here) is a jumbled concoction of houses and shanties built by a people that have been abandoned by their government and outcast by the class-heavy social system in Brasil. I experienced a miracle of transformation within 3 weeks of our work there, in which an apathetic and ill-affected community made a group decision to turn around their situation and realize the possibility of doing things for themselves – no longer relying on the powers-that-be and becoming a united group of conscious and actively involved citizens. I was amazed at how the veil of a collective sadness and reliance on undelivered services went through a metamorphosis towards resilient co-operation and a brave reclamation of positive engagement. The heart of the community was inflamed in my heart, and at this moment I decided to always trust in this power, in this method of social change, the Oasis Game – the Art of Inflaming.

Beyond the movement in the community, we co-created physical rewards through a large-scale hands-on action, Mao No Massa. The results were miraculous and all completed within an actual physical work period of 5 days, after about 16 days of deep consultation with the community. A massive junk heap at the entrance to the community was transformed into an elegant and vibrant playground and community garden; a decrepit old building alongside this was rehabilitated into a community centre for the association; rugged old grey walls were lit up with bright, passionate murals; a number of producing social enterprises were launched for sustainable business and economic empowerment; a public stage; and in other favelas, tourist routes; a bakery – the list goes on! Furthermore the change was visible in all the 3 sectors of our social development strategy: environmental, economic and cultural. But most of all the children, parents and grandparents were out in full force every day, interacting and engaging with each other on a level they had never quite experienced before.

The entire process is underlined by a bespoke Philosophy of Transformation that answers to the needs of any community. It speaks of principles such as belief in Utopia – that the world can be the best world and not just a better world; participatory leadership – that everyone plays a role and no joy is real unless shared; collective design – diversity is key and everyone has a say; learning through practice – there is no classroom that can replace real life situations.

Throughout the training participants are taken into deeper learning circles with a nature-based ethos of personal development. Part of this is an immersion in a series of indigenous learning hosted by Pataxó tribe leaders in the form of co-operative games that are based on the human qualities of the four elements – earth, water, fire & air. These provided a format for constant reflection and personal empowerment whilst we were battling daily to allow for the flow of courage and passion needed to sustain a program of this immensity. For more info see Instituto Arapoty (use google-translate).

Atop the personal development were dozens of specific tools and methods taught by esteemed practitioners, such as Open Space, World Café, Appreciative Inquiry, Nonviolent Communication, etc. There were lectures by thought-leaders and social entrepreneurs, workshops to develop projects together and networking processes that fuelled the collective power of the group. I was fortunate to host a number of these processes for this global community of 70 young leaders, who are rooted and inter-connected through their love and passion for social change, and ability to see beyond their own needs – to join hands for others.

The participants were selected from around the world by application. We did not necessarily know what we were getting into, and we all answered a call. The call has since been heard by hundreds more as these 70 young warriors without weapons are back home inviting this form of conscious development in their respective communities. We are an active and connected international group of changemakers that are committed to carrying out this work and empowering communities to lead themselves to abundance and co-operation on a level that liberates the outflow of our positive intentions and begins to answer our most human needs

– and the answer lies in community.

I will be speaking about this at the TEDxCapeTown event this Saturday – an enlivening and passionate international forum for presentations on innovation, focussing at this event on awareness, community building and engagement. To attend this exciting gathering along with hundreds of other interested and interesting members, please register here. If you are not in Cape Town please keep posted for videos of these talks at a later date.

For more info contact


Posted in: Learning, Travel, WWW, YOUTH