Cases and News

Transition in a corporate setting, in Brazil

Transition in a corporate setting, in Brazil

Change makers program - How to help your workers transition to a more resilient and happy life by connecting them to their own purpose.

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by Monica G. Picavea from Transition Brazil and Transition Sao Paulo.

Here in Sao Paulo in Brazil, our ChangeMakers Program, (I’d love to call it “Transition in Organisations”)  helps mainstream enterprises transition to a more resilient and more sustainable way of operating. Our small Brazilian business, Oficina da Sustentabilidade, developed this program inspired by Transition Towns Movement1, the Gaia Education Curriculum2, and Permacultural3 concepts.

We based this program on all these viral and amazing concepts because we believe that if you can spread the seed of transition inside the actual system, it can make the change from inside. This especially applies regarding the inner transition of the people who work within the company, who, given the right tools, make the transition by themselves.

Based in the concept of the “Theory of Change” of the Berkhana Institute4 that nobody can change anyone, we seem to have successfully created a gently-paced learning process, in which people feel compelled to make their own inner transition.

The method is based on providing to both the employees of the company and to the communities that constitute their areas of direct influence, a single set of learning tools and a programme of collaboration. These tools are a combination of approaches from:

and we use them to help people figure out how to create a life that a) has less impact on the environment; b) is more collaborative and resilient; and c) could represent the transition of these systems to a new and much needed way of life on the planet.

The next key element of our ChangeMakers program is a concept that is sometimes alien to the participants. It introduces the idea that the community of workers within the organisation and community of local people are actually a single community in their own right. And not only are they part of the same group, but that they can also work together.

This simple change of point of view can make a very powerful inner transition inside all the participants, because it breaks down the barriers of apartheid between enterprise, government and community, and instead, presents the truth that indeed that everybody is part of the community.

Typically, after this realisation, the previously disconnected groups will now want to do something together in a big collective activity, involving the organisations’ planning group actively seeking inputs from the people that live around the place and creating conditions that enable the local people to want to participate as well.

Changing words, change concepts and results

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When we’ve observed that this “everybody is part of the same community” idea has sunk in to the people we’re working with in the ChangeMakers programme, we develop this concept one step further. We show that all these people, who have been pigeon-holed within society as “consumer”, “goverment”, “community”, “NGOs”, “business”, are not just the same people trying to live together in community but that they also share key objectives:

  • to live in harmony with themselves and the environment
  • to be able to fulfil their dreams and life purposes that sometimes did not always seem congruent with their work, where they live or groups they relate to.

Next we introduce our own “Formula of Happiness” based on the work of Professor Martin Seligman, of Harvard University:

F = L + C + V   5

This equation proposes that our happiness (“F”) is made up in the following proportions:

  • (“L”) 50% is pre-established and limited by our genes
  • (“C”) 8% depends on – our circumstances in life (eg level of education, religion, civil status and income)
  • (“V”) 42% is influenced by factors that are under the control of the individual (eg: levels of engagement, positive emotions, social connections, meaning and purpose, achievements or milestones in their life)

When this concept is understood, the person changes his own concept of what is possible, and how he can influence his own happiness now.

When they combine this knowledge with collaborative activities using Transition tools, they can truly see their contact points with other groups and how their actions and interests intersect. And this, according to Berkhana Institute’s 4 studies on the origin of change, is where change really happens in humans – in their intersection points with others.

It’s when these intersections are brought clearly into view at the same time as the individual is exposed to different opinions, new realities, new ways of seeing existing realities and new ways to act and behave – that’s when inner change happens.

The next steps of the programme are very practical. First, this group identifies a distinct area of the business, identifies the contact points this area has with the various communities outside the business, looking at impacts and aspects of direct influence. Then, depending on their capabilities and interests, the group proposes a plan of action to create practical projects which typically include permacultural concepts and a respect for the local culture and way of living.

A practical case

This year, we have started working with a multinational goods company which operates in several markets and has a huge number of products. It has very clear and bold sustainability goals:

  • growing by reducing its environmental footprint by half
  • positively impact 1 billion people by improving their quality of life in some aspect
  • the source of 100% percent of their agricultural suplies, be based in sustainable materials

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To achieve these results the company did its best to create a meaningful sustainability plan. However, the employees felt that it would be always have limited impact without a) real engagement by people they were hoping to bring benefits to, and b) a real belief by these people that they were making valuable contributions to the program itself, doing actions themselves to “improve the life of a billion people”.

So, we started the process of Transition with them. First, we set up a pilot in one of their factories and presented to their group the methodology that we planned to use, the “12 ingredients” of Transition 6.

It was a stretch for many of them – one ingredient in particular made them fell a little uncomfortable. In a company world which tries to calculate and mitigate all risks, the notion of “Letting it go where it wants to go” felt like a loss of control and an invitation to bring in a whole set of unknown risks.

But “Letting it go…” is much more than just an ingredient, it’s a principle of participation and collective co-creation.

So, with this in mind, a group containing workers from the factory, people from the community, people from the health system and from the educational system assembled for a 5 day training course covering concepts of Transition, Gaia and Permaculture.

One of the first tasks they undertook was a diagnosis with the community, using the Appreciative Inquiry 7 approach.

They went into the community and connected with them to a) identify all the things about that community that they thought were wonderful and b) to find out who was behind them.

Even at this very early stage, this process has yielded some significant and fascinating results. Here are some quotes from the people involved:

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“We feel a big change on these groups, especially inside the factory, and particularly with their work groups. The concepts of collaboration and its tools are helping other sectors of the company and making them more engaged, increasing their involvement in the company, in their work and in their roles in society.” explains the HR manager.

“Since we started this process, more than doing something good, I started to believe that my purpose has a place inside my work, and I can do something else for my community and to the world” – M.L… manager of soap sector

“I’m from a jewish Family, and we use to help a lot of people, and for the first time I feel that in my work, and working here I can keep on helping in a very natural way. It makes something that is a conviction, stands with my everyday life.”.

“I performed some music to our changemakers group, because singing is my biggest passion. Knowing all the musical activities I already did here in the factory, our supply leader decided to record a cd, with all our production. I believe that this thing of changemakers are really a big change of life, that can let us help a lot of people to be happier as we are.” – C.F. – soap machine operator.

“I can say that we used to visit the community, but not with this way of looking, and it make all the difference to think about solutions, and more, I think that the dynamic of creating a vision of a positive future is a very powerfull tool to work with community. Even working as a social assistant I never thought this way.” S.F.M. – Social Assistant of the Government.

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These are some of our qualitative evaluations covering just these four months of work. Next year in early 2014 the company will make their Sustainability Report, and later that year they’ll be starting a two year research evaluation looking at key indicators regarding the people involved in the project. In both of those, particularly the latter, we expect to get a much fuller picture with more qualitative indicators and a quantitative analysis of all the work. We’re hoping that these metrics and analyses will enable us to make this programme even more effective and more replicable.

There will be much more of this story to tell sometime in the future – we’ll let you know how it goes…


  1. Rob Hopkins
    • Transition Hand Book – 2008
    • Transition Primer – 2007
    • Transition Companion – 2011
    • The Power of Just Doing Stuff – 2013
  2. Gaia Education Curriculum –
  3. Permaculture –
  4. Berkhana Institute –
  5. Martin Seligman – Authentic Happiness – PENN – UNIVERSITY
  6. Rob Hopkins – Ingredients of Transition – Transition Handbook
  7. Appreciative Inquiry – Cooperrider, Ph.D. – Case Werstern Reserve University, Weatherhead School of Management. 2009
Transition Network