By Flor Avelino, Impact Hub Asmsterdam

The grand societal challenges of our time – in housing, welfare, energy, food, education, mobility, security and numerous other domains – call for fundamental shift in the way we think, organise and behave. I full-heartedly agree with the growing community of researchers who argue for “sustainability transitions”: processes of fundamental transformation towards more sustainable societies (see Grin, Schot and Rotmans 2010 or Sustainability Transitions Research Network).

I believe that we are also in desperate need of more transformative approaches to learning, in order to understand and influence sustainability transitions. It was for this reason that I founded the Transition Academy, together with my colleagues at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT). Our aim is to create learning environments that empower people to think and act for radical change towards a more resilient and just world. Although it is impossible to direct transitions in a command and control manner, it is possible to influence transitions by smartly playing into seeds of change that already exist in society, including social and institutional entrepreneurship, political activism and grassroots activism.

I strongly reject the false dichotomy between thinking and doing, and am convinced that action and reflection imply and reinforce one another. In the Transition Academy we strive to combine deep critical reflection with applied action learning. Therein, academic lecturers have a lot to learn from grounded practitioners, and vice versa. The best learning experiences, in my opinion, are those that balance intellectual challenge and practical wisdom.

The Transition Academy allows myself and others to escape the confinements of mainstream University education, so as to experiment with learning experiences in more entrepreneurial settings. It was with this spirit that we embarked on a collaboration with the Impact Hub Amsterdam to develop an international Masterclass on Societal Transitions, which took place a few weeks ago in October.

We were thrilled to attract a fascinating mix of researchers, entrepreneurs, government officials and other professionals. The participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds and gathered around a wide range of topics on sustainability and social innovation. They were nourished by a group of expert lecturers, both academics and practitioners. Insights varied from sustainability transitions and social entrepreneurship, to circular economy, climate change and urban governance.

All ingredients led to a cocktail of vivid and inspiring conversations between lecturers and participants. We aimed to challenge participants to rethink their own beliefs and to apply transition concepts in their own contexts. Rather than convincing participants of one particular perspective or approach to societal transitions, we provided a diversity of perspectives to enable participants to discover what resonates best with them and to build their own ‘narratives of change’. These narratives of change will be presented and discussed during the Comeback Day on December 11, which also includes anopen lecture by professor Jan Rotmans on the role of change-makers in societal transitions.

I am excited to continue this learning journey over the coming years, with the Impact Hub and many other partners who want to co-create learning environments to think and act for radical change.

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