Programs & Events

Learning Journeys

Women’s Learning Journey to South Africa

South Africa, November 1-12, 2011

Meg Wheatley, co-author of Walk Out Walk On, and Marianne Knuth of Kufunda Learning Village hosted a journey to South Africa to explore the role that women are playing in recreating community, government, and themselves. This journey was a provocative, inspiring and transformative personal experience encountering the promise and paradox of the New South Africa as it strives to become a truly “Rainbow Nation.”

South Africa, more than any other place at this time, reveals the human experience in all its complexity—our capacity for hope in the face of oppression, for forgiveness that transcends dehumanization, for compassion that triumphs over aggression. These paradoxes and choices are clearly seen in personal stories, in government decisions and policies, and in community practices. Getting to know South Africa is an exploration of the human spirit; their story reveals our story.

Women are playing the pivotal role in creating change (as is true worldwide now). The South African Parliament is 45 percent women (the U.S. Congress is 17 percent). And in community after community, women as informal leaders have stepped forward to solve local problems without waiting for formal authority or resources. They have walked out of limiting beliefs about themselves and their communities and walked on to create sustainable solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems. Women of all ages have used their ingenuity and caring to figure out how to work with what they have to create what they need.


We began by immersing ourselves fully in the contrasts and paradoxes that are South Africa. We met with women in high government and corporate positions, women in poor townships who have developed solutions to community issues, and young women in Pioneers of Change. We heard stories and myths of old Africa performed by a young storyteller and poet.  We engaged with top-level women leaders and aspiring young leaders in a formal seminar that explores our different experiences as women leaders and what we can learn from one another. We spent time in Joubert Park, an alliance of social service agencies creating a rebirth of possibilities in the heart of Johannesburg. We visited the inspiring Constitutional Court that embodies the spirit of the new South Africa in its design, and the old Women’s Jail on this site that’s been transformed into space for women’s rights organizations.


We reflected on our experiences of Johannesburg in the South African bush. In the presence of Africa’s rich and abundant diversity of life, we interspersed game drives with rest and reflection.


Cape Town provided us with opportunities to be with women leaders of all types, as well as with artists and authors. We visited a diversity of communities, from townships where racial inequality is still rampant, to the affluent downtown areas of this city that rival San Francisco.

Off the coast of Cape Town is Robben Island, the prison island where Nelson Mandela and other future leaders of South Africa were imprisoned for more than twenty years. All tours are conducted by former prisoners; they describe how political prisoners converted this brutal prison to a place of study and preparation for South Africa’s future leaders by their unwavering practice of non-violence.

On the beautiful coast east of Cape Town, we spent a day with the South African Fisherwomen’s Association (with whom Berkana partners).  These remarkable women had to fight for their constitutional right to become commercial fisherwomen.  They worked their way out of dire poverty and abuse to create health and well-being for their families and communities.  In addition to commercial fishing, they’ve created other projects for women to earn income and develop themselves. (Worldwide, women reinvest 70 percent of their earnings back to the community; men contribute only 30 percent.)

We spent the last two days of the journey reflecting and integrating what we have experienced and making plans for our own personal journeys going forward. We considered how we are constrained or inhibited from offering our leadership; we reflected on the women’s leadership we have just observed in South Africa; we explored the questions that could support us stepping forward with more courage and clarity. And we closed with an African ritual that affirms our intentions going forward.


Meg Wheatley is co-author of Walk Out Walk On and co-Founder of The Berkana Institute. Meg has worked with people all over the world to develop new practices and ideas for organizing that really work. She knows that change always happens from the grass roots, from small beginnings that blossom into profound shifts. And that it is up to us to create the changes we want to see in our world. She is an internationally acclaimed speaker and author of five other books, including Leadership and the New Science and Perseverance.

Marianne Knuth is the founder of Kufunda Learning Village. Raised in Denmark and Zimbabwe, Marianne began her role as a leader of change in 1999, when she co-created Pioneers of Change, a global learning community of young change agents now numbering more than 1,000 pioneers in 70 countries. In 2001, she returned to Zimbabwe to establish Kufunda. Today, she is a partner with Reos Partners.