Aug 28, 2012/11:00 AM

The Beginning of Thrive WashU: An Experiment in Collaborative Social Change

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Imagine a space for transformative conversations on WashU’s campus, where people feel welcomed and supported while sharing their visions for a better world. Imagine all of the student groups focused on social change gathering regularly, not just to promote their own projects, but to build something together. Imagine students, faculty, staff, administrators sitting down together as equals, sharing their deepest passions and dreams, and exploring how to move WashU from competing to be the best university in the world to a place that strives to be the best university for the world. Now, imagine that we actually have the power to turn this vision into a reality. What would this space look like? What would the conversations feel like? And how would these conversations move us from inspiring ideas to committed and sustained action?

This school year, I have the great privilege to try to answer these questions and to turn this vision into a reality. I will be facilitating an initiative called “Thrive WashU,” an experimental process to bring together the WashU community to help bring forth a thriving, just, and sustainable world. Thrive WashU will host large group conversations, create designated spaces for developing campus and neighborhood projects, and connect changemakers with the community of support they need to make a unique and substantial contribution. While I don’t yet know what will emerge from Thrive WashU, I am incredibly excited to create the possibility for WashU’s changemakers to come together in a novel and meaningful way.

Thrive WashU is an initiative supported by Generation Waking Up, a national organization committed to “igniting a generation to bring forth a thriving, just, and sustainable world.”  Generation Waking Up, or GenUp for short, recently launched an initiative called “Thrive Hubs,” an organizing model that creates space for diverse changemakers to build communities and connections, to learn and grow together, and to take collaborative action. This fall, GenUp is launching Thrive Hubs on college campuses and in communities across the US.  I recently joined the GenUp team as its Thrive Hub Innovator and will help to refine the design for the Thrive Hub organizing model based on our experiences here at WashU.

Thrive WashU will officially launch on Sunday September 9, when several friends and I will host the first Thrive WashU “Village Square.” The Village Square concept comes from the idea of old villages having a central gathering space, where the entire community could gather and discuss important proposals for the village’s well-being.  At the Village Square event, we will use the World Cafe dialogue process to explore the potential for collaborations across different perspectives. We will then take the ideas generated through the World Cafe into an action planning process using open space technology, where self-organizing groups will meet to plan new collaborative initiatives.

A “Village Square” event at recent a GenUp training. Thrive WashU will host similar conversations.

The Thrive WashU host team is working to make sure that our first Village Square event includes people from all of the social change perspectives on campus.  We are specifically targeting the most active changemakers on WashU’s campus, and have already talked with students from Connect 4, Green Action, CS40, the Trading Post, ABS, Learning to Live, Controversy and Coffee, the Catholic Student Center, Pride Alliance, Net Impact, the Social Justice Center, the WashU Coop, and  However, Thrive WashU is open to anyone. My dream is to have this event serve as the first of many spaces where a broad spectrum of the WashU community can gather to collectively explore the possibilities for our university to create positive social change.

While WashU already contributes greatly to the world, I believe there are many latent possibilities for a larger contribution just waiting to be activated. Thrive WashU will hopefully activate these possibilities and create novel collaborations that will add value to campus life and contribute to the betterment of the St. Louis community. Please mark your calendars for September 9, join the facebook event, and stay tuned for more details about the first Thrive WashU Village Square. If you want to join the leadership team for the fledgling Thrive WashU effort, please contact me at I hope to see you on September 9, where through conversation we will begin to help our WashU community to embody our shared dreams.

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