Finding the lightbeam

How we came to our new Value Proposition

collaboratio helvetica was founded on the experience that more conscious collaboration is needed in order to properly deal with systemic challenges such as the ones contained in the Agenda 2030, and a hunch that a different kind of working together with unlikely allies was key. After two years of experimenting, we can now look back and see just how spot on this inquiry was, and how many winding paths we had to take to find out what it really takes to effectively do this work. In this blog, I will take you on a little trip down memory lane, highlight some of our key learnings and introduce you to the newly clarified value proposition we have co-created as a result.

Back to early 2017. The initiative, then called Collaboration Helvétique, was framed as a platform building on the Social Labs(1) approach to create sustainable solutions. And, truth be told, it all sounded nice, yet no one knew how, exactly, this could be done. It is not surprising, given that this is cutting-edge work, the kind which only few people in Switzerland ever got in touch with. So, we were all taking a big jump into the unknown. When the project launched, we packed our many ideas, educated guesses and wild hopes into our backpacks, and set off. Needless to say, even though we were aware that the process was in itself an experiment and learning journey, it definitely exceeded our expectations in the both lows and highs. We held three assumptions, that were proven both correct and incorrect in surprising ways.

Iceberg model

Iceberg model

  • First, we had an assumption that this work needs a community. Indeed, we could not imagine how change would ever become truly lasting if it was nothing more than the sum of single interventions in different contexts, without anything larger bringing it together.

  • Second, it was clear to us from previous work and research that change happens from the inside out. Meaning in this context that someone from a system or a region needs to call for a Social Lab, as opposed to an external entity coming in to “fix” what they see as someone else’s “problem”.

  • Third, we felt that we need to hold the Social Labs as diverse teams with different backgrounds and expertise. We couldn’t set out as a little isolated team without collaborating nor become a consulting firm that can just be called upon to “deliver” Social Labs - we envisioned to activate a network.

Therefore, we concluded that out of the community would sprout Social Labs. Specifically, our strategy was to build a community amongst which would be a solid number of people who are willing to change the system they are part of by taking the lead on their own Social Lab. We would only need to inform, inspire and then support these people and their Labs with our expertise, for example in design, facilitation, fundraising or communication.

With this approach, we met a lot of open questions, obstacles and “dead ends”. We prototyped several processes, such as a call (in Q2 2017) followed by a retreat or a series of sponsored Social Lab Retreats (starting Q4 2018). After the call in 2017, we had two Social Labs in the pipeline: one on Textile and one on Gender. Eventually, the different people and organisations who had been selected ended up backing for a number of reasons, ranging from internal changes to burn-out. As there was such positive feedback to the call for participants, we did off a Social Lab on Gender Equality (SDG5) - the Gender Lab - in collaboration with Nicole Schwab. It was a success in that it resulted in personal transformation of the participants, impact on their environments, learning about the topic and the deployment of four prototypes. Yet we did see that its impact could have been larger were it, as per our second assumption, strongly embedded in the system we are attempting to change. In 2018, we also collaborated with the Sustainable Living Lab at Impact Hub Lausanne, the Living Lab at EPFL and SDSN Switzerland to run the Beyond Waste - Circular Resources Lab. Hence we did realise Social Labs in collaboration with other stakeholders and diverse cohorts from all sectors with beautiful results.  But we did not register enough Social Labs that were carried out in the respective

Yet, it took quite a lot of time to actually reach a point where we could reasonably pause and evaluate our work more thoroughly. Indeed, you can easily keep yourself busy with many things without ever noticing whether or not your doing is actually leading to the results you set out to do. That is also a systemic issue and part of our culture of funding and doing, but more about this in another upcoming blog as well. Finally in early 2019, on the occasion of the 2 year anniversary of collaboratio helvetica, we decided to go back to the drawing board. We got into it with the intention of reviewing what we had done, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and be willing to let die what must die: Letting go of things is one of the key elements of work that is truly impactful. We dove in, trusting that through this process we would find our light beam, the one red thread that would cut across all levels and bring everything together to a coherent whole.

Photo by  Scott Webb  on  Unsplash

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

So we did. We found that our assumptions were correct, yet inside of our community, we had several stops and starts with people interested in starting a Social Lab, for a number of different reasons. They can be summed up as follows:

  • Systemic innovation is, like described above, a newly emerging field. This means that only a few people from the get-go know about it, can conceptualise it and actually have the skills to pull it off - practically and content-wise.

  • A Social Lab in the way we understand it is a whole lot of work. It takes months if not years to prepare, the same to execute, and indefinite follow-up afterwards. One needs to be really - like, really - dedicated, and in it for the long run, with a committed team or circle. Such a timeline and amount of effort combined with the abstract and new nature of the work in itself seems to make it rather difficult for individuals to step forward and take it on.

  • Even though it was clear the team would support people who took on this challenge, it was difficult to pin down what exactly was the give and get with this emerging work. As we prototyped collaboration within a community as opposed to traditional employee/employer relationships, we had to learn a considerable amount about the future of work - but more about this in another blog.

Hence, we learned from our different experiments and trials and errors that our approach could be further refined. Through this process, we have identified major gaps that we otherwise would not have stumbled upon, and are now in position to attempt closing. We found that those people - let’s call them Catalysts - who are embedded in a system and have the drive and vision needed to transform it (say, with a Social Lab), often do not have access to systemic thinking or knowledge about what a Social Lab is. Therefore, as they grow increasingly frustrated in the career they chose to make a difference upon meeting all the barriers of their system, the pathway of attempting to change this system is not available to them. Further, they often lack the support and community to succeed in their endeavours.

This is why we will launch the Catalyst Lab, a 9 month in-depth learning process in service of committed individuals and their teams, who are eager and ready to contribute to the implementation of the Agenda 2030 in Switzerland by creating systemic change in their local or sectoral contexts. We will open a nation-wide call, after which 20 carefully selected Catalysts participate in the Catalyst Lab, receiving an experience-based training, cutting-edge knowledge and tools as well as support from peers and transformative change professionals. In short, the aim is to provide them with all they need to launch highly impactful Social Labs that make a contribution to the co-creation of the sustainable, human and collaborative Switzerland we want to live in.


But we offer the Catalysts even more:  Collaboration in a community that functions according to a different paradigm than the dominant linear, control and command systems. There, we together develop the required tools, skills, spaces and attitudes needed to ensure a regenerative community to which the Catalysts and anyone engaging with their Labs can always come back to, in order to share their insights and questions, get feedback and support and be part of a learning ecosystem. Within this community the people whose purpose it is to hold space for transformational processes such as Social Labs train together and ready themselves for the ambitious work ahead.

To summarise, this is what we came up with: collaboratio helvetica catalyses systemic change in Switzerland by supporting those who take the lead anchored and in relation with their respective ecosystem, by cultivating a collaborative community and ensuring a coherent and awareness-based practice throughout. We have confirmed the convictions that were the foundation of collaboratio, but have refined how we go about reaching our vision based on what we learned along the way. In a sense, we have aligned all we do to what creates the most impact, our lightbeam that centers and grounds everything. collaboratio helvetica envisions to hold space for a new mindset as captured by our principles to be lived, together. The future we want to see, practiced to the best of our abilities in the now. The last two years feel both very short and like an eternity, and there is a lot to celebrate and be proud of. With this fundament, a strong team and community collectively holding this lightbeam, we will now realise even grander things in the two years to come. We hope to meet you on the way!


(1) Social Labs bring together a diverse group of stakeholders not to create yet more five-year plans but to develop a portfolio of prototype solutions, test those solutions in the real world, use the data to further refine them, and test them again. Their orientation is systemic—they are designed to go beyond dealing with symptoms and parts to get at the root cause of why things are not working.

The GenderLab - listening as a premise of transformation

“Listening is probably the most underrated leadership capacity today, but listening is really at the source of all great leadership. When we see leadership failures, and today we have many opportunities to see that, very often, at the source of these failures is a lack of listening. A lack of connecting to what is really going on in reality right now.”

How to take effective decisions

Taking a decision is a difficult thing to do by oneself, taking it together in a group can seem impossible. Creating an alchemy of all perspectives into a common agreement is a mastery and ensuring that the individuals then stick to the agreement is wizardry. Yet, collective decision making it is at the heart of a fruitful collaboration and we are confronted by it on a day by day basis. So how do we deal with this challenge?

Wie schaffen Mythen Realitäten?

Heute feiern wir die Gründung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft! Wir alle kennen die sagenumwobene Geschichte des Rütlischwurs, wo die Uhrkantone ein Bündnis schlossen und somit den Gründungsakt der Eidgenossenschaft festlegten. Gründungsmythen haben eine starke kulturelle und verbindende Relevanz, die nicht unterschätzt werden darf. Zum heutigen Nationalfeiertag stellen wir uns zwei Fragen: Wie schaffen Mythen Realitäten und wie sieht die Schweiz aus in der wir leben wollen?

First Cross-Women-Communities gathering hosted by WeSpace and Collaboratio Helvetica

On June 12, WeSpace invited representatives of women communities in Zurich to the first cross-women-communities event. WeSpace aimed to provide a physical space for the teams to meet, interact and share. However, we understood the need of professional expertise to be able to meet this goal, therefore, Collaboratio Helvetica was the obvious co-host. WeSpace aims to act as the home-base for women communities where interactions and collaborations can continue in the future.

Epic formula to change the world

At collaboratio helvetica, one of our key methods and principles is dialogue. By ‘dialogue’ we mean the kinds of conversations that change something in us when we take part in them, and that shift something between the people who are involved in the conversation. We mean dialogues where we need  to “risk” being authentic and to co-create a space where others can do the same. We mean dialogues about challenging our habits of thought and conversation: listening with attention, speaking with intention and daring to turn the camera around to face ourselves and the roles we might have within the systems we are trying to change. 

Portraits of the mind - Why you should join the next Gender Lab

Eleven years ago, I made a conscious decision to wear my permanent Gender glasses.

Despite pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, Rhetoric and Public Discourse at the time, when my influential university professor, Shira Tarrant, introduced me to the field of gender justice, my entire worldview drastically changed.

What is the Call of Our Times?

I realized that my education has the power to influence me and change my values. In ways that goes beyond the knowledge I am taught, in ways that I am in fact blind to. As soon as I had this realization I could not deviate from it anymore. It was like a gate that had been opened, and as I continued to pay attention, it was not possible to close that gate again. In fact, it just became more open. I left the traditional education system, I went out into the world (and into the unknown) and decided on a path that I really wanted and felt I had truly chosen myself.

Sustainable Consumption - Awareness shouldn’t paralyze you and it shouldn’t frustrate you

How a Dialogue Evening on Sustainable Consumption helped leading change actors to let go of frustration and anger and become more positive towards their actions.

Why do many people who try to make a difference often feel frustrated or angered because the world isn’t changing fast enough for them or that some people do not share their awareness about an issue? In this story, leading activists for more sustainable human behaviour feel that they carry the weight of the consumption patterns of 8 billion people on their backs. But this negativity only hinders their contributions for a more sustainable future. In this blog article I share with you my insights from a Dialogue Evening on Sustainable Consumption, and how it offered us some solutions.


On the evening of April 5th 2018 a group of 9 people gathered in the Impact Hub Lausanne for a Dialogue Evening (see footer) on the topic of Sustainable Consumption, the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 12. It is a topic broadly debated in society. Can we consume sustainably? What does it mean to consume sustainably? How much can we consume now whilst sustaining our planet for future generations? During this Dialogue Evening we were asked to exchange views on our own relationship towards the consumption of food, relationships, money and more. We approached the topic from different angles: How our backgrounds and families shaped our consumption patterns, when in our lives we realized that our consumption comes with consequences or what actually keeps us from changing our behaviour.

What struck me during this evening were the negative emotions that some of the people in this group – myself included – expressed during the conversations. Anger, frustration and guilt are often connected to the topic of Sustainable Consumption. It is the feeling of guilt that comes with the consumption of certain goods and the feeling of anger or frustration that leading actors pushing for a change in this topic carry.

Negative feelings around Sustainable Consumption

Let us focus a bit more on the second group of emotions: Anger and Frustration. Many activists and leader for a change to a more sustainable society are people who bring all of themselves, all of their best intentions and loads of innovative ideas to guide the way forward for a better world. They put an enormous amount of energy into their convictions and want to share their awareness on the topic with the rest of society. However, observing the way that the world and its resources are currently still exploited by the world’s population, one participant commented that this role was challenging:

“Activists are translators of knowledge and hold the weight of the behaviour of 8 billion people.”

(Participant Dialogue Evening, Impact Hub Lausanne, 5th April 2018)

Consumption is first and foremost a personal matter. It is to some extend about consuming right or wrongly, and this is where our emotions towards the outside gets activated. Living with a permanent sense of frustration with the situation, and anger against those who are perceived not to be changing things despite clearly understood issues and solutions is exhausting and depressing for those trying to drive social change or be socially responsible. What can be done about this? Persistent negativity is not attractive, and activists run the risk of giving up, succumbing to depression or becoming passive.

Dialogue provides a way forwards

To a certain degree this Dialogue Evening was a first step for a change. While talking and connecting on a deeper level with each other, the group became aware of the anger and frustration in the room. The people present became aware of their emotions and started to question their attitude. Other persons offered support as they saw them struggle to let go of the negativity.

“Activists really struggle with anxiety. I want to contribute to make them feel better.”

(Participant Dialogue Evening, Impact Hub Lausanne, 5th April 2018)

Another participant said: “Awareness shouldn’t paralyze you and it shouldn’t frustrate you”. This sentence made quite an impression on me. I often catch myself in situations where I observe other people’s unsustainable behaviour which angers me. Or another moment where I eat something that my sustainable consciousness wouldn’t actually allow – which produces guilt. But these reactions don’t really change anything: It only frustrates me and if I show this feeling against the other person he or her might get upset.

What do we take away from the Dialogue Evening?

Everybody left this Dialogue Evening with a good feeling. There was no frustration, anger or guilt produced. We listened carefully to each other’s perspectives and experiences. All the people taking part had the chance to reflect on their own behaviour and the feelings coming with it. Everyone took something with her or him and left the evening either motivated, felt understood or maybe just a tiny bit more aware of themselves and their surroundings.

“I want to support the emergence of a more sustainable future but with a positive feeling and attitude!”

(Participant Dialogue Evening, Impact Hub Lausanne, 5th April 2018)

Where do we go from here?

We decided to make another Dialogue Evening on June 12th where everybody in the room agreed on taking someone with them that wouldn’t have come her-/himself. Either because they do not care much about the topic or are just not attracted by the format. We will see if and how different the conversations will be. But I am sure that if we approach the new people in the group with the same openness and positivity, a similar positive atmosphere like on this last evening in Lausanne will occur.


Intrigued? Join one of the #cohe Dialogue Evenings or contact Sidsel if you want to organise a Dialogue Evening around a specific topic in your community or municipality.


On Dialogue Evenings:

A Dialogue Evening is a format that allows a group to exchange on personal and local experiences of a societal challenge. It is all about the quality of listening and speaking. And therein lies the way we can change relationships between us when we dare to deeply listen to others perspectives, ideas and experiences.

The author:


Isabelle Ruckli is communication manager at collaboratio helvetica. She is highly interested in the nexus of human behaviour, sustainable development, democracy and governance. She wrote this blog article after visiting a Dialogue Evening in Lausanne on the topic of Sustainable Consumption. 

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In December 2017, collaboratio helvetica (cohe) began to recruit some new team members to join its core team. The process was unusual: Over one month, around 25 people were brought together in different spaces, from whom 2-3 were subsequently selected to join the team. Why would cohe do this? Cohe is an organisation dedicated to creating spaces for open dialogue, experimentation and collaboration to create the Switzerland we want to live in. It is an organisation that tries to lead by example: trying new methods and approaches, and learning as it does so. It is also a very small organisation, juggling many commitments, projects, contacts and trying to do big, complex things on a small budget. Therefore, the right team members are crucial.

Storytelling - Kollektives Lernen von Geschichten

Am 15. Februar 2018 kamen in Bern 250 Menschen zusammen, um das Sustainable Development Solutions Network Schweiz SDSN zu lancieren und um die Schweiz einige Schritte weiter in Richtung Agenda 2030 zu bewegen. Selten genug treffen so viele Menschen mit so viel Wissen und Erfahrungen zusammen. Diese Chance galt es zu nutzen. Aber wie? Das Hostingteam der Konferenz in Zusammenarbeit mit collaboratio helvetica hat sich für das Lernen von Geschichten entschieden. Methodisch fiel die Wahl auf das Collective Story Harvesting. Klingender Name – und was darf man sich konkret darunter vorstellen?

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There are many different perspectives on this topic, and different ways to look at an ideal future. Language is important, and we need to be aware of our own blind spots when falling into the binary man/woman. It’s a topic that’s inherently systemic but never not personal. The four clusters that were formed so far: inclusive language, power dynamics, entry points/dialogue and parenting/education

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Every now and again we bump up against a personal learning threshold, be it more or less consciously, sometimes for what feels like the gazillionth time. At times we’re hungry to find and face the next one to level up self-awareness, other times it can leave us feeling vulnerable to share what can touch upon deep confusion, self doubt, frustration or alike.