Samanyanga Ronnie Lessem : Buhera to Integral Kumusha

There is a saying that “elephants never forget”, as they have extraordinary and highly intelligent memories. They walk the earth’s meridians and tune into their vibrations through their sensitive feet. This sensitivity allows them to feel dense energy along the meridians and aid in clearing and opening these channels and pathways. They walk along the 31st meridian, Earth’s energetic spine. It’s not surprising that their ears are in the hope of the continent of Africa; they represent the ability to hear the very sensitive vibrations of the Earth below, which are tuned into support  the opening of the key lines, the flow of energy in the universe.

Carol Mattimore  and Linda Star Wolf: Sacred Messengers of Shamanic Africa

Local Grounding/Learning Community

UCRN : Europe Bereft of Africa

I can vividly remember, for a pregnant moment, when studying economics at the then UCRN – University College of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi) – based in Salisbury (now Harare), our lecturer in applied economics, Nigel Pearson fresh from Great Britain, alluding to the ground nuts grown in Nyasaland. That was the one and only time in three years that Principles of Economics we were studying for our undergraduate degree touched base with Africa! For the rest of the time, though physically we lived in Southern Africa, epistemologically we were lodged, fair and square, in Western Europe.

Kwajack : Home-and-Workstead

My parents in fact came from eastern (Lithuanian) and central (Austrian) Europe, and Rhodesia of course was then a Western European (English) colony.  That said, when my father, Abe Lessem, emigrated to Africa, at the age of 17, he lived in a small rural town in the centre of the country called Buhera. Together with his brother Jack, he gradually established their rural home-and-work stead there, a large house with a borehole alongside a warehouse, a retail store, a grinding mill, and a distribution outlet, altogether called African Trading, thereby marketing the African produce grown around them. They become part of the place, a trading and learning community so to speak. “Kwajack” in fact, as their home-and-workstead known today, some eight decades later, has become part of local folklore, and there hangs a tale.

Local-Global Emergence : Developmental Pilgrimium

African Trading/European Literature

Gradually the Lessem Family built up some 25 rural stores, one after another, under the guise of African Trading, until they had also established their wholesale, clothing business in Salisbury. At the same time Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga’s sophisticated European mother had enticed Abe to leave the African bush, to set up home in Salisbury – today Harare. In fact his mother felt as much an alien in Africa as his father felt at home. For in Lithuania, Abraham grew up as a Jew in a foreign land, where the locals despised him for who he was. My mother, on the other hand, felt Austrian through and through, until Hitler, a fellow Austrian, came to power. Thereafter she continued to feel, very much, a central European, an expatriate in Africa.

So, in the 1930’s,  Abe Lessem established the wholesaling business in Salisbury, while brother Jack stayed on in the bush, as the trader he was and always would be.  Jack never came to realize, though, that some of his fellow traders were Jews like him, though black rather than white.

Samanyanga’s African Soul and Ronnie’s European Mind

As an impressionable young man, and sensitive soul, he empathized with the very people who remained forbidden fruit. Deep inside him felt he was an African, and yet repeatedly, he was told by my mother that Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga was a European, and by his father that he was a Jew. The irony was, when he entered into his father’s life story, in his twilight years, it was not his Jewish brothers and sisters that brought tears to Abraham’s eyes, but the cattle, the “mombis”, as they were called in our local, shona African language. He grew to love the land of Rhodesia, including the two farms he had purchased, and cared for, and the cattle that roamed through them.

Psychology in the Backroom – Economy in the Front/Or Vice Versa?

As a seven year old then, little Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga can vividly remember walking down the factory floor – African Trading had now been turned into a Concorde Clothing, a factory now with a thousand African machinists – and none of them ever smiled.

Ten years afterwards, he can remember retrieving from a dusty school library shelf, a red London University prospectus. He turned to a previously untouched page, headed Industrial Psychology, and said to his parents, this is what he wanted to make of his life. Of course nobody in Zimbabwe, including himself, had heard much of such industrial psychology at the time.  So Ronnie’s parents consulted their trusted friend and then Rhodesian Minister of Finance.

The Minister pronounced emphatically “young Lessem, psychology is for back room boys”. Of course, Ronnie did not yet have the self awareness, of a Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga, to appreciate, explicitly, why such a course of study was for him, so he pursued, as an undergraduate, a degree in the Principles of Economics, instead. That was more to his parents’ liking.  Little did he know then how alienating, and yet auspicious, that choice would turn out to be. For indeed it would be the south-eastern “back room”, communally and spiritually that would ultimately serve to overturn these “front-room” epistemological and economic horizons.

Development From Within

Having then completed his economics honors degree, accredited of course by the University of London, and not really knowing where do go from there, it was probably due to his mother’s continuing pressure for Ronnie to get out of the “dark continent” of Africa (Ronnie was much closer to his mother in his youth than to his father), that he moved to London. There he studied, like an obedient son, would you believe, financial accounting (remember Finance Minister Hatty). In actual fact, his unfulfilled soul cause, at the time, was to work in economic development in Zambia, which had recently become independent.. But Ronnie was not strong willed enough at the time, in his early twenties, to follow his own chosen course, of Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga. Anyway he had only an intimation of what that would be.

Life as Double Entry

On landing on English shores, in the early sixties as a 23 year old,  Ronnie was quickly ushered by a family contact to the veritable Howard Howes and Co, a firm of chartered accountants in the City of London. His most abiding memory was of the black top hats they wore, and the very posh accents with which they spoke. He was thrown into the English class system, with a vengeance. Luckily enough his colonial, Rhodesian accent saved the day : he was classless in this rigidly divided (including between north and south) land.

He hated financial accounting, with a vengeance, and, from the outset, could not wait to extricate himself from his position as an “articled clerk”. However, Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga became fascinated by the principle of double entry, and felt sure that there was much more to such than was revealed by standard accounting. For every asset there is a liability; for every debit there is a credit; for every north there needs to be a south, for every west an east; and the other side of modernity is coloniality!  There were, it seemed to Ronnie, profound lessons for life in the offing.

LSE : Academy Bereft of Industry

Nevertheless, after six months Ronnie could not take one more auditing assignment in some remote corner of Southeast England, and he escaped to London School of Economics (LSE), to pursue, as it was called, a Masters degree in the Economics of Industry. In fact he found the LSE incredibly sterile, your typical “ivory tower”.

The so called economics of industry had nothing whatsoever to do with real business-and-life, at least the way he had experienced it in African Trading hitherto. Moreover, it was an isolated, total non-experience, of English individualism, in education, to an unhealthy extreme. He also remembered that the star student at LSE was a compatriot from Rhodesia, Stanley Fisher, who would ultimately become Deputy Director of the IMF, thirty years later, and was a great devotee of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys.  The ivory tower had served him well!

Taking stock at the point of completion of his LSE degree, and having given up his plans to become a development economist in Zambia, not least because of his continuing “blood” family influence, he decided to return to his still ambivalent Jewish roots, and pay a visit to Israel. Perhaps, he thought to himself, he could play an important part in helping the Israeli economy to develop, as closer to home, so his Jewish family persuaded him, than Africa’s Zambia. Well, he discovered after spending two months in the country, that the Israelis were interested in securing their own livelihoods, as well as defending their country from the Arabs, but nobody he met seemed interested in the economic develop-ment of the country.

So Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga gave that emergent vocation a miss, and, once again under parental influence, proceeded onto Harvard, no less, the pinnacle of business studies at the time, in the mid sixties?

HBS : American Academe Disconnected From African Enterprise

HBS was indeed a surprise. Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga had virtually nothing in common with most of the students there, who were intent on becoming future business moguls, but he did enjoy the intensity and community of the place. Students studied cases, day and night, in close-knit groups, indeed as small-scale learning communities. That touched his African soul. At the same time he found the American Business School to be as distant from his African “real world” as the LSE had been. Why should that be?

First the case studies were on American, if not also European, paper and print, not embodied in the Africa, or indeed the Asian, soil. It was easy enough for business school students to decide that the VP of Human Resources, based in Chicago a thousand miles away, needed to be fired, for example, but what if the person was actually sitting there beside him in Boston, if not Bulawayo? How would she or he handle it then? It all seemed pretty vacuous. So, after graduating with his Harvard MBA,  what then?

Clothestown : Prophet Not for Profit

At his father’s request – after all Abe had sponsored his son’s studies –  he decided to try his hand at running the family business. It did not take him long to realize he was an absolute fraud.

What did someone of 26, fresh from Harvard in America, know about running a business, in the rag trade,  in South Africa? Ronnie can remember to this day, the merchandising manager came into his office (he had been the so called MD for 18 months by then) and put a blue baby-grow on the table in front of me. “Feel the cloth, Mr Lessem”, she said.

Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga felt nothing. Nothing at all. He was not a rag trader. His mission in life was not to clothe people, as his father had done for some 25 years. It was rather, as he had come to realize, reinforced by the part-time teaching he had been doing in organizational development, to research, to educate, and to transform, to, pretentious as it might sound, to become a “prophet”, rather than “make profit” in his own land – “I think where I am”.

On a personal level, meanwhile, within the space of three electrifying days, he had met and married my wife Joey, and they are still happily together forty years later. As he was anyway unhappy in apartheid South Africa, and she had a background as a political activist, and was therefore pursued oftentimes by the security police, they decided it was time to go. Ronnie then, after his Clothestown experience,  wanted to pursue an academic career, so UK here we come, specifically settling for London’s City University Business School. It was there moreover that he would inadvertently pursue is PhD, thereby, via such research, linking enterprise and economy, learning and development. Indeed this would set an overall stage for the rest of his work and life.

PhD : Action Learning for Business Development

His mentor, as such, and subsequent PhD examiner, would be the redoubtable Reg Revans. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only”, Revans quoted from the St James bible. In fact Revans had been a physicist at Cambridge University (thinking), a deeply religious man (feeling), and an Olympic long jumper (doing). Drawing on all of such he turned to management development, cognitively, affectively and behaviorally so to speak, starting out in hospitals, with the development of nursing management, and in the coal mines, with the management of miners.

Ronnie then was lucky enough to be asked by Revans to write the introduction to his Biography of Action Learning, the latter’s magnus opus in the 1980’s. As such, Revans gave him all his previous articles and correspondence, as relevant background. What a treasure trove!   Revans was in fact at war with the management academic establishment. For Reg, as for Ronnie, mangement had become colonized by the analytically based “professional” American approach to business administration, as per the umpteen MBA programs that proliferated now around the world. As kindred spirits, at the time, Revans became Ronnie’s mentor. Another of Revans’s famous sayings was : “you learn more from comrades in adversity than you do from teachers on high”.

So because he had no need to position himself as such a teacher on high, in his planned entrepreneurship development program, Ronnie did not need to be an expert himself. Instead he became a facilitator, of “learning sets” or small groups, in action learning jargon, of budding entrepreneurs, who met on a fortnightly basis, at the same time was they were setting up their businesses. This became the basis for his PhD thesis on Action learning for Business Development. At the at time, same time, as co-founder of Urban and Economic Development (URBED) he undertook a major project within the inner cities on Centers of Knowledge : The College and the Community.

CUBS Management MBA : Self, Organizational & Communal Transformation

Meanwhile at City University Business School (CUBS) where he was still based, he newly shared an office with a an effervescent young woman, who had become involved in setting up a new project based, Management MBA, with an old colleague of Ronnie’s, now a Professor of Export Marketing at CUBS.

Moreover, it did not take long for Ronnie to realize that what they were engaging in, implicitly if not explicitly, with large companies such as Ford Motors, the London Stock Exchange, American Express, Virgin Money and Sainsbury’s supermarkets, was organizational, as well as managerial transformation. In fact, Anglian Water, having come to the same conclusion, decided to involve one of their own management developers, with Ronnie, in running a “Transformation Journey”, involving 3000 of their staff, ranging from their road diggers to the CEO, extended over an 18 month period. For Ronnie then, the transformation was less overtly that from public to private, about which he had significant misgivings, but instead from an engineering based utility to a knowledge creating company.

Meanwhile, the City University based Management MBA had been spreading its wings, teaming up with TEAM International, a major Arab consultancy, based in Cairo, to offer the Management MBA all across the Arab world, from Egypt and Lebanon to the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, where, that is in Amman, the program most prolifically took off. For Ronnie this was an opportunity to get close to the Arab world, again reaching across to “the other”, this time as a Jew, while also brushing up on his knowledge of Islam.  Sadly his university, CUBS, decided to pull the plug on this “unprofitable” program. So Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga decided to leave a university with which I had been associated for 28 years. Meanwhile something that was even more significant had been happening in the wings.

1.2.3. Newly Global Navigation : Trans4m Research Academy

Out of Africa : Body, Mind, Heart and Soul

In 1981, Rhodesia had gained its independence, having now become Zimbabwe, and Ronnie-to-become-Samanyanga had began to make it known to students coming to CUBS from that country that it was time for him to come “home”.

He then started to reading books about southern African philosophy and spirituality, initially that of Laurens van der Post. One passage from Van der Post’s (3) Dark Eye of Africa” stuck out in his mind :

European man walked into Africa by and large totally incapable of understanding it, let alone of appreciating the raw material of mind and spirit with which this granary of fate, this ancient treasure house of the lost original way of life, was so richly filled. He had, it is true, an insatiable appetite for the riches in the rocks, diamonds and gold .. but not for the precious metal ringing true in the deep toned laughter of the indigenous people around him”.

Those words rang in his ears as he prepared for his return, after 15 years, whereby Rhodesia-becoming-Zimbabwe now matched Ronnie-becoming-Samanyanga, and inspired the first of his own works, subsequently with his Trans4m partner Alexander Schieffer, on The Soul of Business (remember his own African soul)In a subsequent article for the academic journal Long Range Planning, entitled Managing in Four Worlds. He wrote some twenty years ago :

For the past 150 years, and most particularly during the course of this (twentieth) century, global politics and economics has been marked by two sets of politically and economically divisive, rather than culturally and psychologically integrative, forces – the “East/West” mutually antagonistic divide of communism/capitalism and the North/South chasm of wealth and poverty.

More specifically then, taking on from where Jung himself had left off, with his psychology of “individuation”, this is what he further wrote :

While the reality of “communist” East and “capitalist” West, if not also “rich” North and “poor” South, in political and ideological terms, have proved altogether divisive rather than  mutually supportive, their symbolical importance in cultural and psychological terms is what is key to the “four worlds”.

What was clearly apparent, then, is that Ronnie-becoming-Gatsheni had reconnected with the Rhodesian Minister of Finance’s pronouncement, that “psychology was for backroom boys”, and brought that back room into the front of business and economics.

MMBA to MTM to MSET : Masters in Transformation Management in Jordan

Meanwhile Ronnie moved on from City to Buckingham University because of the close connections he had with a longstanding colleague who had originally brought him out to India. In fact it was this colleague, who, having been active in the field of organizational transformation, was instrumental, when Ronnie moved the former Management MBA to the University of Buckingham (UB), in renaming it a Masters in Transformation Management. When the head of Team International in Jordan heard Ronnie-becoming-Abu al Tahawal (father of transformation in Arabic) had moved from City, she immediately contacted him, with a view to resurrecting the masters in Amman. One of the first to join this masters was Manar al Nimer, now Dr Manar, as a graduate of Trans4m, and Vice President  of Medlabs.

In drawing on the Transformation Masters, now based at UB, to enable Medlabs in Jordan to be transformed from a centralized and hierarchical to a “self-organizing”, decentralized group of medical laboratories, she would be paving the way for other to follow, at the interface, now in Jordan, between industry and academe.

MTM to MSET : Masters in Social & Economic Transformation in South Africa

In the new millennium Lovemore Mbigi cropped up again in Ronnie-becoming Samanyanga’s life, when they met on a workshop, in Amsterdam, on African management, and he suggested they might want to run together a new masters in social and economic transformation (MSET) in South Africa, accredited by Buckingham University where Ronnie was then based. This would be for a new kind of South African University with which he was closely associated. CIDA – Community and Individual Development Association.

Two Zimbabweans on the MSET program in particular were able to the transformative occasion, and attend, dramatically to their own individual, organizational and communal, ultimately serving to promote food security for some 3000 villages in and around Chinyika, some of whom had hitherto been starving. In fact such a development paved the way, as a further evolution of the masters,  for a subsequent PhD program with Trans4m (Geneva), which by now had been co-evolved by Ronnie Lessem and Alexander Schieffer, and the Da Vinci Institute in South Africa, originally co-founded by Nelson Mandela. Now we turn more fully to Trans4m.

PhD/PHD : Global – Local Effect : Trans4m Life/Communiversity

Trans4m Life : Home for Humanity

Trans4m then developed a new doctoral program, emerging out of the old transformational masters programs, now based on their newly constituted integral research and development focused on integral enterprise and integral economics. That altogether constituted, if you like, Trans4m Life, spanning education and development, organization and community, if not also each and every particular society as a whole. In Trans4m’s Home for Humanity, based in the French mountains near Geneva, each of these 4 R’s are embodied, spanning each of the above four fields.

Communiversity : Learning Community to Socioeconomic Laboratory

As Ronnie reviewed the course of his life and work so far, he was made aware, of one overarching theme, that of the interchange, or more often the lack of interchange, between university and community, that is, in the latter respect, both the social (as well as ecological) and the business communities. Such a disconnect has pervaded his life and work all over all over the worlds. Hence the need for the development of what we have termed a Communiversity, in my case journeying all the ay from Buhera to what we now term, in the indigenous shona language, an integral kumusha, bringing the university back home.

In fact it was in his work on Integral Dynamics : Cultural Dynamics, Political Economy and the Future of the University that we (10) first paid elaborate attention to such, thereby further enriched through their  work on Integral Development.  Now and for the first time, in The Idea of the Communiversityemerged whereby we shall devote a whole volume to the subject, drawing on our experiences in Africa (south – Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria) and Europe (north – UK, Slovenia), the Middle (Egypt, Jordan) and the Near East (Pakistan), and to a lesser extent on North America (west).  Co-authors Anselm Adodo in Nigeria, hereafter, and Tony Bradley, thereafter in the UK, take the story on from here, starting with Nature Power and, thence, reflecting on Four Worlds in One Life.