Between 8th and 18th March, I was invited to facilitate and engage with the top national leaders of Ghana on the subject of Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management.  “Martin, you have to bear in mind that these are the senior most leaders of our country,” Winfred Nelson, the Co-ordinator of the African Adaptation Programme kept on saying to me on phone before I flew to Accra. “The four workshops you are going to run have attracted the interest of our Vice-President and the Council of State, elder statesmen and women who are advisers to our President. Others who will get involved in the workshops include Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament and senior government technocrats.” Cautious not to reveal how intimidated I was feeling, I responded, “I hear you, Winfred. I am doing all I can to prepare for this important task.”

Supported by the United Nations Development Programme in Ghana, the African Adaptation Programme contracted me as the consultant to engage Ghana’s national leaders into a conversation on how they could create a step change to their already appreciable work on climate change. Within the Ghanaian Government there was the feeling that Ghana could be a role model of what it takes to turn international agreements and protocols on climate change into domestic policy and legal frameworks that inspire practical actions on the ground.

The day of the first workshop came. The workshop was for the distinguished members of the Council of State. The Council of State comprises men and women who are chosen from among the Ghanaians with exceptional achievements in their lives and professions. Some of them are professors emeritus in their fields; local and international public service experts; respected traditional leaders; and successful business and community leaders, among others. As if the titles of the participants were not unnerving enough, Winfred whispered to me just before the official opening of the workshop, “I know you have creative ways of engaging participants; but please take into account my director’s request that you carefully choose processes and techniques that befit the audience. These are honourable men and women who deserve utmost respect. Whatever interventions you use, take into account the status of our participants.” I simply nodded to acknowledge Winfred’s admonition.  I knew Winfred trusted my ways of working because we had worked together on a related project at the University of Oxford when more than 170 experts and policy makers from all over the world came together to think about and develop practical actions to climate change. However, I also knew that I had to take into account the responsibility he shouldered with regard to striking a fine balance between engaging in a creative process and ensuring that the participants were not frustrated by working in ways they would find unacceptable.

The Process

Working with intuition

When all the formalities that go with such august gatherings came to a close, my co-facilitator – Seth Osafo, a distinguished international public servant who had served the United Nations for many years and one of Africa’s leading experts on climate change negotiations – asked me to introduce myself. In an instant, I decided to introduce myself in the following way, “My name is Martin Kalungu-Banda. I come from the country you may not want to talk about now.” I paused to wait for the participants’ reaction. I could hear murmurs of “What country is that?” “Just tell us.” “What is this now?” I continued, “Please forgive me that I come from the country that is the current Africa Champion of football and responsible for eliminating Ghana from the tournament.” You should have seen the impromptu responses from the elder statesmen and women. Like ordinary mortals, the elder statesmen and women started screaming at me, “Watch what you say young man because we are in the same group for the world cup qualifying matches.” Some questioned Zambia’s victory, “What could we have done when our 11 players were competing against 22 Zambian players on the pitch?” Others warned, “If you want to have lunch, you should stop making reference to football. That chapter for now is closed for discussion.” One of the senior chiefs in the room said, “To be honest, we are very proud of what the Chipolopolo boys have achieved. As you celebrate your being champions for the first time ever, remember that Ghana are the four time champions of African.” There was laughter in the room.

With those reactions and responses from the distinguished participants, the ice had been broken. From then onwards, there developed a close joking but respectful “cousinship” between the leaders and myself as one of their facilitators. I knew that on that footballing note, I had earned their permission to work with them in ways they would not ordinarily allow.

My task during the event was to enable the leaders in the room see the issues of climate change and their role from different perspectives. The plot was to help the leaders to go through the following levels of experience.

Establishing personal connection with climate change

The first thing that shocked the leaders as they walked into the room was the sitting arrangement. They were asked to sit in clusters of 5 to 6 as if they were in a café instead of the traditional conference style. Seth, my co-facilitator dared even to ask those who were sitting with close friends to stand up and join tables with less familiar participants. I then asked the leaders to spend 30 minutes sharing in their tables in response to the following question:  “What does climate change mean to you personally? Share a moment when you have experienced or witnessed the real impact of climate change”.

Without hesitation, the leaders immediately engaged in very deep conversations. When it was time to share their stories in plenary, the leaders shared how people they knew or closely related to had lost their houses due to floods or the rising sea levels. Others nostalgically talked about how much they missed the butterflies, birds and natural flowers that in their childhood came with the change in seasons. Some participants shared about their pain of organising and providing relief food to their communities who ordinarily had the capacity to look after themselves if it had not been for the unpredictable and severe weather patterns.

What I was seeking to achieve in this process was to weave the issue of climate change from an intellectual topic to personal life experiences.  I wanted them to locate their personal connections to a subject that would otherwise be seen as ‘a global issue that does not immediately affect me’ or ‘an issue that is being pushed on us by western countries whose activities are largely responsible for climate change’. This is the reason why the event (workshop) did not begin with power point presentations from subject matter experts. The intention was to immediately tap into the knowledge and experiences of the people in the room. Early enough in the process, we sent the clear message that we would seek to find solutions through collective thinking and wisdom. Experts as we know them are simply one of the important and yet very small component of what it takes to solve complex challenges.

Deepening leaders’ appreciation of the challenge at hand

To enable the participants deepen their appreciation of the challenge of climate change Seth and I designed four interventions. The first one was in form of a thirty minute presentation of the impact of climate change on Ghana by a drama group from the University of Ghana School of Arts. The drama group led participants on a roller-coaster of anger, laughter, and shock. The young dramatists presented the often hard-to-understand information on climate change in an engaging and lucid manner. The leaders beamed, mumbled, chuckled, groaned, and laughed as they watched the young talent at work. The messages were sinking in.

The second intervention was a ten minute presentation by Seth on the historical perspective of climate change. Seth, being an expert who has been involved in negotiations and capacity building on climate change for many years, helped participants to see and trace what has led the world to where we are today. In a very accessible way, Seth explained the science and politics of climate change, tying his arguments neatly with observable phenomena that the participants identified with.

Soon after Seth’s presentation came the third intervention. This was a carefully cut 12 minute video which depicted the impact of climate change on Ghana. The video showed how communities have been affected by droughts and floods; the depleted forests of the country; the manifest economic and health consequences of climate change; and actions so far taken by the government and different players. The video ended with a call for leaders to be creative and more committed to thinking through and taking action on issues of adaptation and disaster risk management as urgently as they could.

The fourth intervention was an invitation to leaders to reflect and engage in conversation in small groups of 5 to 6. The question that guided the conversation was, “What do the realities painted by the drama group, presentation from a climate change expert, and the video show mean to you as a person and as a leader?” Leaders immediately engaged one another into serious dialogue. It was amazing to observe the mood in the room change. The atmosphere was sombre and deeply reflective. There was a lot of listening and sharing.  Thereafter, participants widened the conversation into plenary.

Sculpting the future

The next part of the process was about tapping into the leaders’ creativity. I opened the conversation with a few slides showing some of the latest findings from neural science and how we can tap into the natural workings of the human brain and the rest of our bodies in order to be more innovative and creative. We then had a conversation on how artists find it natural to tap into the creative side of themselves. A lively conversation, small groups and then in plenary, followed my presentation. I then asked participants if they were ready to explore their creativity through play. They responded in affirmation. At that point we displayed on their tables all the kindergarten materials we had prepared for the exercise. We had play-dough, lego, and miniatures of plants, animals, vehicles as well as other creative materials.  The following was the task: “‘Playing’ with the materials provided, co-create the sculpture that represents the future you would like to see if you took appropriate actions NOW on climate change Adaptation and Disaster Risk management.”

I was deeply humbled by the openness and willingness of the distinguished leaders of Ghana to engage in play. With the same innocence that children engage one another when playing, the statesmen and women grabbed the ‘tools’ before them. They appeared to be having immense fun as they worked with the different materials at their disposal. The leaders genuinely discussed and argued amongst themselves how best to represent in 3D what their minds were creating or accessing. After 45 minutes of intense creativity, there were six beautiful and creative sculptures in the room. It was time to get introduced to each of these wonderful works of art. Each group, in turn, introduced their sculpture to the rest of the participants, explaining what their ‘game changing ideas were’.

Reflecting on the process of sculpturing the futures they saw, the leaders said that they were surprised at how creative they had been within a short period of time. They wondered how it would work out if they used similar creative processes when dealing with other equally vexing societal challenges.

Committing to taking action

The final session was about the young dramatists coming back on stage to “coax out” individual commitments from the leaders. The young people wanted each of the leaders to sign a pledge to do everything in their powers and use the clout of their offices to make practical and large-scale innovations to tackle climate change. Each of the leaders present made a solemn commitment as ‘demanded’ by the artists. The dramatists promised to send a copy of the commitment to each of the leaders and ‘warned’ the leaders that they would conduct the first “assessment” of the leaders’ commitment to action three months after the event.


What do I think made the work with the leaders a success? I see six things that account for the success:

1. Smooth transition from ‘officialdom’ to the creative moments. The Minister of Environment, the Secretary to Cabinet who represented the then Acting President and the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who spoke at the official opening ceremony of the event introduced the day in a way that made the leaders (participants) open up to the ‘unusual process’. The three officials sought permission, on behalf of the facilitators, from the elders that new ways of working be tried with the leaders’ blessing.

The lesson is that when permission to try out ‘untraditional’ ways of working is sought by the right authority and level of seniority, leaders are often willing to venture into the unknown and make new discoveries. This role was effectively played by the Minister of Environment, the Secretary to Cabinet and the Director of EPA.

2. Preparations prior to the event. Winfred, who was at the centre of coordinating all the work leading to the workshop ensured that the communication to the participants clearly stated that the process of the event would include trying out new ways of thinking and doing things.

The lesson here is that to manage the sense of surprise and possible rejection of ‘the new’, participants must be adequately informed about the intention of the event. Such communication psychologically prepares participants to experiment with new ways of thinking and increases their readiness for adventure.

3. The intuition to tap into the Chipolopolo magic. The early football conversation between the leaders (participants) and I created a very deep connection. I felt accepted by the participants and, together, we created a common reference point beyond what was going on in the workshop. At the end of the process the leaders genuinely invited me to return to Ghana to support them in further work on climate change and other similar issues.

The lesson here is that it is the duty of the facilitator to find a way of establishing deep connection with the participants. Good humour often does the magic. Otherwise, follow your intuition. It is this connection that the facilitator can harness to push the boundaries beyond what participants would ordinarily work with.

4. The variety in interventions. The process for the event was carefully orchestrated to allow participants to see, understand and experience the subject matter at hand from many perspectives and through a variety of mediums. The process was designed to communicate with the participants from the mind (intellectual understanding), through the heart (emotional connection with issues) and will power (the guts to move into action).

The lesson here is that when the intention of the process is to help people eventually take action, it is not enough to access participants’ intellects. The facilitator needs to have the skills to enable participants access their three faculties of open mind, open heart and open will. When the three faculties are impacted and ‘enlisted’ the chances of participants moving into practical actions are much greater than otherwise.

5. Departing from downloading expert knowledge. Leaders are often short-changed by being subjected to lengthy presentations from so-called experts during conferences or workshops. Even when we know that an individual’s information retention capacity does not go as long as these presentations do, people are still subjected to sitting in meetings where long speeches are delivered by the few that are presumed to know. The event on climate change with the leaders of Ghana focused more on creating room for them to have the deep conversations they ought to have on the subject. The wealth of knowledge they generated by themselves was phenomenal, valuable and indicative of the potential solutions that would come from participants. When there was need for expert input, this was very short (less than 15 minutes), focusing only on the essentials.

The lesson here is that assuming that there is a singular source of answers or solutions to complex issues we confront as humanity is not only a waste of time, but also a failure to understand the power of collective intelligence. The facilitator has to create a process that leads to diverse thinking, multiple possibilities and answers.

6. Creating moments for reflection and dialogue. The process for the event was deliberately created with moments of reflection at personal and small group levels. This is the space where insights come from.

The lesson here is that deep and complex challenges require moments of deep reflection to be resolves. As people move between individual reflections and dialogue and ‘working with our hands’, a new level of consciousness and awareness springs up. These new levels of consciousness and awareness are the sources of innovation, creativity, new thinking and new solutions.