The Unity Project is a resilience building learning system. We use service, the arts and sports to “mine the gems” of hidden potential in young people. Our unique Transformation Exercises then, “refine the gems” into practical resilient skills that are used to “share the gems” to build competence to work creatively and constructively in a diverse community. Just as the hidden and vast capacities of hydrogen and oxygen are released when they are united to create water, we believe strongly that our greatest potential is released in groups united in their diversity.
As we move more deeply into a national and global climate fraught with complex and nuanced problems, young people need to become masters of working with this complexity and diversity in cooperative and constructive ways. Our democracy and the happiness of our lives depend upon it. Young people need to know how to recognize bias, see the big picture and problem solve cooperatively and to resist the human tendency to allow fear and anger to pull us to simplistic and extremist solutions that only create division and conflict and end up worsening the problems we face.
The Unity Project develops essential core skills for personal, community and organizational transformation in order to prepare young people for a well-rounded, happy and productive life as members of a global community. These core skills are necessary to create a virtuous cycle of growth to overcome the vicious cycle of negative reinforcements in many young people’s lives.
Mastery of these core skills not only acts as a preventive innoculation against dysfunctional behavior, but also helps propel the young person toward their own vision of how they can contribute to a global community. Using this approach, Unity Project resilient skill building helps our partners better accomplish virtually any capacity building program they have. If we possess these core resilient skills, then any number of dysfunctional behaviors can not take root in a young person’s life.
The core services we provide are:
- Training for the staff of our partners on building core resilient strengths.
- A framework for our partners to create student-led service, arts and sports activities that “mine the gems” of their resilience.
- Our Transformation Exercises that can be used in any existing youth programming that “refine the gems” of resilience.
- Organizational support to help our partners adopt a common language and approach to their mission.
- A growing and dynamic international online learning community to share best practices and resource sharing.
Writing for practitioners rather than academics, this post is an overview of the theory and methods of the Unity Project. For background on our rich experience over decades, the sound theoretical underpinnings and world class vetting behind this work, please click on the links in this sentence.
So what does the Unity Project do? In our language, we mobilize the dignity of individuals, groups and institutions. By “dignity” we mean the sum total of the latent and expressed capacities and skills individuals, groups and institutions possess. Using the best that world-class research and decades of field experience have shown, we bring out the latent potential of the youth we serve through assisting them to develop the ability to make pro-social choices.
The question becomes how to release the unsuspected potential of human nature and direct it toward positive social ends? First, we have to create the conditions that will release this potential. That condition is called, “dynamic unity.”
There are some great examples from nature to illustrate this idea of “dynamic unity.” This condition allows for the creative actualization of latent potential. The example of water is helpful. When the conditions are right and hydrogen and oxygen are arranged in an appropriate order, water results with emergent properties that are entirely unsuspected and unpredictable from the properties of hydrogen and oxygen separately. These emergent properties occur as a result of the dynamic unity of diverse components to form an entity more complex with new capacities that are beyond the sum of the component parts.
Similarly, the untapped and unsuspected potential of human nature is released when the conditions of dynamic unity are present. The work of the Unity Project is to apply the best of what is known of the conditions of dynamic unity in order to release that potential for the development of the well-being of individuals, the cooperation, reciprocal nurturance and innovation of groups and the creative growth and administration of institutions.
Think of this potential as “gems” in the “mine” of human nature. The Unity Project uses action directed toward a pro-social goal, service, as the machinery that excavates those gems from the mine. We then refine these gems, these latent capacities, through a series of fun, active and experiential Transformation Exercises that create the experience of discrete cognitive, emotional, volitional, problem solving, group dynamic and action oriented skill sets. The experience of these skills is then given appropriate language and symbolization that can be used to assign value to these skills so that that motivation can be generated to use these skills toward pro-social goals. With personal value assigned to these skills and goals, they can inform ethical decision making and pro-social action (See the “Five Stages of the Bowl” for a more in depth explanation) that lead to innovation and growth.
Education for economic development does not happen in a vacuum. It occurs within the matrix of a social milieu that requires capacity for ethical reasoning, problem solving inclusively in groups and the just administration of organizations.
This can be restated as capacity for fair-mindedness in individuals, equity within and between groups and just administration of institutions. These three domains work in dynamic interplay supporting the expression of each other.
Ignoring any of these three domains undermines the sustainability of development initiatives. The more these three domains are integrated into methodologies for capacity building the more likely they are to succeed and be sustainable.
A sustainable development process must address the skill sets in these three domains through capacity building processes that are in dynamic interaction with the individuals most affected by the environment requiring change. Mere technical skill development alone is not enough.
For many reasons, not the least of which is the overcoming of the despair and the sapping of motivation that accompanies a catastrophe, creating the conditions of dynamic unity allows individuals to engage and express their best latent capacities and grow in motivation, vision and hope. Dynamic unity allows groups to harness unsuspected emergent skills in order to address problems that would otherwise be unsolvable. Dynamic unity is created, maintained and nurtured by just administration.
The Unity Project, then, uses service projects identified by local participants as the starting point. The issues these service projects address become the themes for the creation of Action Teams composed of participants who commit to addressing that issue. Groups of Action Teams in a community constitute a Unity Council. The Unity Council engages in the Unity Project’s skill building Transformation Exercises, it sets priorities and facilitates the process for action, it interacts with outside agencies and administers the flow of information and resources.
The Unity Council and the personal, group and institutional capacity it develops, acts as a “bowl” to receive aid from outside sources in times of response to a crisis. The same “bowl” can be used to engender personal, community and economic development when crisis has passed or has not occurred.
In New York City, this model was developed to engage young people in order to encourage school retention, matriculation to college, or for preparation for the workforce. The service was intended to not only help the young people learn skills, but to identify needs in the community that could become the focus for small business creation.
Now, with new skills from the service performed and first hand knowledge of a community need, there is an explicit personal reason to be motivated to complete an education or to acquire specialized skills. This model becomes the means for young people to move toward completion of their education and job skill preparation.
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