The Case for Community-powered Transformation

Published in ATÖLYE Insights · 6 min read · April 25, 2023

Author: Luma Eldin @thinkdesignluma, ATÖLYE Community Member Co-authors: Mert Çetinkaya @mertcetinkaya, Director of ATÖLYE Academy; Leen Sadder, Head of Community at ATÖLYE Editors: Melissa Clissold @melissaclissold, Nikkole Mojica In-text Illustrations: Gökçe Kodan,

Europe's Resurgence is Relational

This is a telling time for Europe. The undercurrents of globalization are surfacing into an increasingly disruptive world. From the immediacy of the climate crisis and the rise of burnout to the imperative race of energy transition and the eminent takeover of AI, one thing is certain: present-day societal challenges are demanding new ways of living, working, and being (together).

Today, Europe's geopolitical position is revitalizing its influence as a connector, peacemaker, and pioneer for social, economic, and environmental agendas - but if Europe is to lead the way towards deep transformation, it requires collective action.

98% of world business leaders believe their business models will have to change dramatically within the next three years as they prepare for a new reality of ongoing disruption. While it is clear that most organizations understand the necessity of transformation for a more sustainable future, many change initiatives still fail because of old systems at work. Outdated systems and methods continue to prioritize short-sighted wins over long-term impact, and dedicated teams fare underprepared for what deep transformation really entails.

To mitigate this transition, organizations can no longer underestimate the value of relational processes. Rather than copying best practices, these efforts need to focus on empowering teams and audiences to co-create tailored and responsive ways of working together. Only then does the real work begin.

"We need to restructure our socio-economic systems around cooperation and trust." – Rutger Bregman, Humankind

Recently, there has been no louder reminder of the dangers of siloed action - and inversely the importance of coming together - than the pandemic. Paired with the effective and responsible leverage of technology, we learned that collaboration can be more inclusive and scalable, with the potential for greater impact.

"We are a social species and have learned over thousands of years that our survival depends on each other." – Fabian Pfortmuller

Community-powered Transformation

But what does collaboration look like in a globalized culture that celebrates individual achievement? How do we empower people to harness their relational potential?

Historically, communities served as the marketplace for local groups and cultures to come together to share, connect and cooperate. Ultimately, a community is any human ecosystem (team, audience, group, fanbase) that harnesses ideas and actions for a common practice or purpose. By clearly defining spaces of engagement, cultivating growth, and establishing trust, we nurture the key functions of successful communities, turning them into vehicles for actionable transformation. Addressing the needs of the collective together ATÖLYE call community-powered transformation.

Defining Spaces of Engagement

The old ways of engagement and connection are changing, and so are the digital and physical spaces in which we interact. Environments that do not enable meaningful experiences or interactions quickly deter into idleness. As we spend more time in the digital realm, our needs from the physical realm are evolving - forcing us to rethink the way we design spaces for relational capacity, and vice versa.

ATÖLYE was asked by The Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA) space to design a continuously active intersection for startups working with the government and private sector in the United Arab Emirates. As part of the innovation hub Area 2071, the DFA serves as a place for scenario-based experimentation, establishing the greater space as a leading innovation platform on a global scale. This scenario system enables different modes of working interactions based on a clear programmatic division between the tailored acts of Focus, Exchange, Co-produce, and Connect. The outcome: DFA became a one-of-a-kind space, offering a holistic spatial experience in a flexible, evolving, and future-proof environment.

Cultivating long-term growth

Leading change requires an ongoing discovery of potential and adapting to an ever-changing world. By upskilling individuals and enabling their relational capacities, teams are empowered to optimize together toward innovative futures. Tailored processes and custom programs hold space for key opportunities and talent to emerge. Cultivating a shared awareness helps reinforce purpose allowing individuals and teams to align with and capitalize on long-term visions.

Together with the BMW Foundation, ATÖLYE developed Dawn, a Responsible Leadership program that inspires leaders to explore and develop answers to the most pressing world challenges. This 4-month-long leadership training journey was designed to enable systemic change and interventions through the connection and collaboration of a cohort of leaders.

Establishing holistic systems of trust

Although our collective trust has been eroded by the extensive value attributed to individual achievement, we can still deviate and return to a purpose-driven approach to change that is powered by the communities that will in turn be directly impacted.

Commissioned by the UAE government, ATÖLYE is reimagining Dubai's food system with circular economy principles and community-powered design. The ambition is to cultivate a new ecosystem based on relational design principles to eliminate waste by reusing or repurposing products rather than disposing of them. The roadmap includes food recovery initiatives, dynamic pricing, and measuring food waste data across the value chain to identify hotspots that could guide community efforts further. The goal is that by 2040, 98% of the Dubai community will be participating in waste reduction programs.

This type of deep transformation requires a profound understanding of the power of cultivating spaces for engagement, long-term growth and holistic systems of trust. If Europe's resurgence is to be sustainable and abundant, it will require a shift to collective action based on two fundamental and rather basic principles: collaboration and community. Growing through resilient teams and communities is vital to the ATÖLYE ethos, and the efficacy of this approach to transformation is evident in the lasting impact that is already underway.

We leave you with a few big questions to consider:

  • Is your organization ready to withstand a new era of chronic shock disruptions and nimble enough to evolve responsively?
  • Are your teams empowered enough to come together and tackle challenges as opportunities for innovation and impact?
  • What are you missing to be the sum of all your parts in practice, performance, and results?

ATÖLYE is ready to bring community-powered design to Europe's impact-driven leaders and help them achieve their transformation agendas.

Curious about what this could mean for you as a leader? Reach out through this form to start a conversation!