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Awakening the Power and Wisdom of a Community



Four hundred years ago the village of Maliwada, India, was a thriving agricultural center, producing fruits, vegetables, and wines. In 1975, it had little water, no sanitation, few crops. Over 2,000 villagers barely eked out a subsistence living. Muslims and Hindus of many different castes lived with centuries of mutual distrust. The villagers knew about their prosperous past, but it seemed long gone and hopeless to recreate.

The discussions began based on two questions: "What would it take to have prosperity exist again in this village? What can you do to make that happen?" Gradually, as ideas began to pour fourth, perspectives changed. Hindus and Muslims talked together excitedly about how to clean out the ancient well. Brahmins and Untouchables discovered in a joint meeting that all despaired at the lack of medical care for their sick children. They all wanted to create a health clinic in the village. Hope began to creep into their voices and eyes. What had seemed totally impossible suddenly became doable. People organized and tapped resources they had forgotten they had.

They acquired loans from a bank and received government grants. They built a dam, a brick factory, and the clinic. The shared vision of what they wanted for themselves and their community allowed them to go beyond their personal and cultural differences and continued to motivate them. Each success made them stronger, more confident, more self-assured. Today, Maliwada is a prospering village.

When transformation like this takes place, the news travels. Nearby villagers wanted to know how they could do this....

Quoted from Patricia R. Tuecke, "Rural International Development," in
Discovering Common Ground by Marvin R. Weisbord, et. al.
(Berrett-Koehler, 1992), p. 307.


The process used above in rural India was developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) in the 1960's in a collaborative effort with citizens of an urban ghetto on Chicago's Westside, so it was born out of co-intelligence. It has now been used in over 30 countries to help communities self-organize for "self-sustenance, self-reliance, and self-confidence." A notable feature of ICA's approach is its transcultural applicability. ICA demonstrates that simple, co-intelligent techniques for evoking the previously untapped knowledge, vision and collaborative capacities in a community can have universal application. ICA's respectful, catalytic approach helped each community design programs "that met local needs and reflected authentic cultural style" (a positive use of diversity) and that give them an opportunity to "shape their own destiny instead of being victims of their situation" (co-intelligent co-creativity). I'm particularly struck by the way their process distributes leadership: Who is leading -- the facilitators who catalyze the question-asking sessions and offer support, or the people of the community who together create and operate the programs? This shared, multi-dimensional form of leadership -- in sharp contrast to hierarchical control-based leadership -- is a hallmark of co-intelligence. -- Tom Atlee