u.school for transformation: democratizing access to the tools and methods for societal transformation

Oct 31, 2020

In the face of accelerating social and environmental breakdown, how can we build our collective capacities for transformation to bring about a just, inclusive, and regenerative society for all?

The u.school for transformation supports this profound shift by democratizing access to the tools and methods for societal transformation, building transformation literacy among an emerging movement of global changemakers. The u.school  offers capacity-building, methods and tools for awareness-based systems change based on state-of-the-art techniques of systems thinking, action learning, social arts, awareness-based practices and multi-sector collaboration. The Presencing Institute has prototyped these core components of societal transformation on a global scale over the past 15 years.


Over the next 10 years, the u.school for transformation aims to reach 1 million activists and changemakers who will be crucial in this effort. This new type of school, a school without borders will:

  • provide a direct academic and professional pathway for capacity-building in awareness-based systems change;
  • offer university students a complement to their core curriculum, linking learning with opportunities for real-world action and change;
  • offer universities pathways to reimagine and reshape education for the needs of this century;
  • activate a vibrant global ecosystem of changemakers who facilitate local and regional “hubs”; organize around issues such as climate change, regenerative agriculture, women’s rights, racial equality, and financial inclusion; and learn from each other to achieve greater impact and scale;
  • develop the body of data, experience, and knowledge necessary to advance the field of awareness-based systems change.


Building Blocks of the u.school for transformation

The following five building blocks lay the groundwork for the u.school:

  • Global Ecosystem of Changemakers: Our signature programs, GAIA and u.lab, offer free, online-and-offline action-learning environments to tens of thousands of changemakers each year to build the skills for awareness-based systems change and to activate a vibrant global ecosystem of changemakers that apply these tools to addressing the challenges faced by their communities. In addition to open enrollment, we will partner with universities to tailor these programs as an action-learning complement to their existing curricula. Our goal is to expand access to reach 1 million learners and changemakers in the next 10 years.
  • Innovation Labs and Hubs for Systems Change. The Presencing Institute’s network of action labs and hubs will support changemakers across sectors to launch and advance large-scale, systemic change initiatives such as: the Street Classroom for climate action by young people; the Ubuntu Lab for changemakers across Africa; the Finance Lab for small mission-driven banks; and the 4.0 Lab for innovators in regional regenerative agriculture. We will also facilitate multi-stakeholder initiatives and transformational leadership journeys with major global institutions — the OECD, the United Nations, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, trade unions, and others — that are seeking to refocus and re-energize their institutions around their core purpose.
  • Academy for Capacity-building. The U.Academy offers programs that build the skills of individuals, institutions, and networks in applying awareness-based methods to real-world challenges. Examples of existing programs: Tools for Awareness-Based Systems Change; Digital Leadership; Leading in Times of Disruption; Awareness Practices for Leadership; Presencing Foundation Program; Social Presencing Theater, and Visual Practice.
  • Knowledge, Methods, and Tools. The backbone of the school is the continuous creation and refinement of new methods and tools that draw on the disciplines of systems leadership, innovation, and social arts. These include methods for generative listening, deep dialogue, social presencing theater, generative scribing, and coaching circles. Each year we host a Research Summer School where researchers and practitioners share their results. In 2020 we launch the Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change (JABSC) to create greater visibility for and understanding of the deep structures of social fields and what makes them change.
  • Communications & Amplification: Through our website, transformative global events, blogs, and social media, PI will expand the reach of stories that spotlight living examples of system and societal transformation to make the narrative of profound societal renewal a dominant story of our times.

By strengthening and integrating these five building blocks, the u.school for transformation will seed, grow, and replicate a distributed infrastructure of awareness-based collective action. The u.school is grounded in a shared understanding of the dormant creative capacities that human beings possess and that, if activated, can generate the next wave of civilizational renewal and transformational change.

Partnership Model

The Presencing Institute is seeking partners that share a common intention, and that can bring a range of resources and capabilities to making the u.school a reality. Our collaboration will include the launch of an “Opportunity Fund” to raise $4.5 million over the next 4 years to build the infrastructure, curriculum, and partnerships that will allow the u.school for transformation to reach scale. Other partnership initiatives will include staff secondments, platform-sharing with university campuses, and the formation of national and regional labs that become expressions of the u.school in local contexts. Once taken to scale we believe the u.school will be able to generate revenue in the form of tuition, earned income, and community contributions that will make it largely self-funded in the years to come.


Stories of Transformation

Ubuntu Lab: Transforming Africa’s Future

The philosophy of “Ubuntu” — “I am because we are” — is the organizing principle for the Ubuntu Lab, whose goal is to shape Africa’s future through action-oriented movement-building. Ubuntu Lab’s unique format aspires to be an example of 21st-century education. Over 500 lab “graduates” from 15 African countries are working together in local hubs to address pressing challenges and prototype local solutions. Examples of prototypes that have emerged: a women-owned agriculture business; an action plan to reverse the growing number of teenage suicides; a program to teach financial literacy and entrepreneurship to young people. 

Banking for the Real Economy

The Global Alliance for Banking on Values explores innovations to support investments in the real economy. We have worked for 10 years with these banks and financial institutions that use finance as a tool to address social and environmental challenges. Different online and offline learning infrastructures help these innovators at the margins of the financial system learn from each other, share best practices, and develop a collective voice. The resulting financial innovations are connecting clients to the impact of their money and improving the quality of life in marginalized communities.

Street Classrooms for Climate Youth Activists

Students involved in climate strikes need access to learning environments that will help them develop deeper interpersonal skills, learn about awareness-based methods, and apply social technologies to cope with the challenges they face. “Street classrooms” provide students with safe places to learn, connect with their sources of creativity, and teach mindfulness methods to support their well-being and resilience as young leaders.

SDG Leadership Lab

Piloted in 2019 in Uganda and Cambodia, the SDG Leadership Lab brings together the leadership of UN agencies at the country level to develop the culture and practices for innovative and collaborative solutions to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG Leadership Lab is being extended to 10-20 additional countries in 2021. The u.school is also working with the leadership of UNDP to make the skills and mindsets of awareness-based collective action available to the entire system through an online, open enrollment program for UN staff.


Operating Model for the u.school for transformation

The u.school for transformation will build on the innovative organizational model that the Presencing Institute has developed over the years. This model is based on creating purpose-oriented action communities with a high degree of autonomy, connected through a minimal enabling infrastructure.

Formal infrastructure: The u.school for transformation will operate as a program of the Presencing Institute, a 501c3 organization registered in the United States and a non-profit registered in Germany.

Collective Leadership Team: The strategy and operations of the u.school are collectively held by a global team of 25 PI practitioners who oversee the whole and form action communities on specific projects and initiatives. These action communities work from a shared culture of setting intention, creativity, and rapid-cycle innovation and iteration.

Faculty: The vision, curriculum, and quality of the u.school’s offerings are jointly held by a core group of faculty who oversee the content and quality of the work. This group, currently made up of seven PI senior practitioners, will be expanded gradually in the coming years.

Board: PI benefits from the governance and strategic direction provided by its diverse Board of Directors. All board members contribute significantly with advice, as well as hands-on engagement in furthering PI’s work.


Support the u.school now

With your support, we can lay the groundwork for the u.school including the enabling infrastructures for GAIAu.lab, innovation labs, macro hubs, social arts, as well as the underlying research and development for advancing these methods and tools.


Our goal is to raise $1 million over the next six months through generous gifts from individual donors as the next step in our long-term development campaign. To join this crowdfunding community, click the link below.