Marking a Milestone

Lina Srivastava
6 min readSep 29, 2023

The Second Anniversary of the Center for Transformational Change

“We’re in this Together,” by artist Tavares Strachan. Taken at The Bass, Miami FL

On September 29, 2021, I publicly launched the Center for Transformational Change. The Center fosters ecosystems of creative and collective change addressing what we currently call the polycrisis — our intersecting global problems stemming from issues such as climate change, displacement, and inequality. We exist to build visions of new futures and reimagine our worlds grounded in love, joy, community, collective action, and cultural exchange.

The Center’s current mission statement.

The mission of the Center is the direct expression of things I’ve learned through twenty years of work at the nexus of storytelling, innovation, community engagement, and advocacy:

On Narrative: Narrative change, the exercise of narrative power, and distributing a wider array of stories are essential to progress. Working towards shifting whose stories are heard and whose change models inform societal decisions is key to building new social systems.

On Community: Creating spaces for communities to engage with one another and moving an ecosystem of stakeholders toward collaborative action multiplies our collective impact. Facilitating engagement in collaborative cultural and narrative shifts is crucial to enable creators and advocates — particularly those in resource-scarce regions and those with lived experience — to advocate for community-driven change processes.

On Leadership: Leadership exists everywhere if we know where to look. Elevating leadership as a collective and collaborative process, and supporting community-based leaders and elevating their methodologies and narratives opens up multiple avenues to catalyze positive change, and sustains, deepens, and amplifies their impact on their communities.

I started planning the Center in 2018, at the 10th anniversary of CIEL, my first social enterprise. That same year, I had launched “Building a Just Future: Leadership for Transformational Change in a Rapidly Shifting World,” which added the lens of reframing concepts of leadership to the work of innovations in ethical and effective narrative I had done with CIEL.

As I’ve written before (and will likely write about again), at the time I was deciding whether to expand CIEL, shut it down, or start something entirely new. With a group of advisors, we looked at the fraught political environment around us, the quickening pace of societal and political flux, and the landscape of organizations and enterprises dedicated to social change. We saw little of what we needed in the landscape, the type of organization that would elevate the use of narrative power and narrative leadership globally as drivers of social transformation of intersecting rights, justice, and equity issues. So I decided to start one.

Our logo. The inspiration behind our logo will be another story I tell, at another time.

The two years since launch have been a beautiful adventure of collaborative creative projects, community building, and storytelling. We’ve centered our core design questions around narratives and ethical technologies that effectively seed social transformation — and who gets to tell, own, distribute, or lead with their stories. Some of the work over this period has included working with The New Humanitarian to convene dialogue around decolonizing the aid sector; behind the scenes with the International Committee of the Red Cross and with The Opportunity Agenda on their transformational change and narrative leadership in their respective fields; with ESPWA-Haiti Community Development Fund on uplifting local Haitian leaders and their visions for a transformed Haiti; with Changeist on restating a value system for our evolving web systems; and on continued work on reimagining migration and liberated movement with the incredible arts collective of XMap:In Plain Sight. In between, there have been dialogues with colleagues through working groups and on online platforms, convenings, talks, and workshops.

From a workshop on Narrative Power, Leadership, and Community Mobilization at the Zain Innovation Center in Amman, Jordan, August 2023, organized by AFS and the U.S. Embassy in Jordan.

It’s been such a rich time. I am grateful for this, even or especially in the face of the crumbling architecture of our global systems — and in the face of personal and collective mourning. I lost my mother last year, which as anyone who has suffered similarly knows, is a loss so primal as to shake the foundations of self and belief. It is a loss that so many people have been suffering through the pandemic, through the vagaries of climate change and climate displacement, and through escalating conflicts. So many of us are in personal grief — and collective grief should be folded into the work we do as artists and advocates. As I recently said in an interview on The Deep Dive podcast, it has changed the way I think about this work. It has started to teach me how to move through this work at a different pace, and with different expectations — expectations for outcomes of justice that are no less urgent, but that are perhaps less demanding and more open to different paths and ways. (I’ll likely return to this theme again and again in my thinking and writing.)

My Mom, in her stylish 1970s glory

There is another resonance today: September 29 is my mother’s birthday. I launched the Center on what was her last birthday, though we didn’t know it then. For a while after her passing — especially last year on the Center’s first anniversary, and on the marking of Mom’s birthday for the first time without her — this date stopped me in my tracks. It’s so full of her spirit. We didn’t celebrate the first anniversary last year as I was in mourning. But my Mom had a way of carving joy out of thin air. She wove experiences of depth and continuity out of lightness and laughter. And the reason I had launched the Center on September 29th itself was for Mom’s blessing, to embed her joy and her way of nurturing at the core of its culture. As I approached today’s anniversary, I realized that hasn’t changed. So today, I celebrate. This anniversary, even if bittersweet and marked quietly, is beautiful and joyful.

And as I mark this milestone, I’m excited about the future of the Center and this work of trying to build a more just, joyful, and welcoming world. To get there, we are planning on broadening our work to build a hybrid think tank, innovation studio, and production house to support global narrative change, invest in collective action through creativity and cultural expression, and reframe our understanding of community leadership.

I’ll be saying more about this, and more about lessons learned along the way and future hopes, in essays, in a newsletter, and in talks. In gratitude and solidarity, inviting you to watch these spaces.

(We didn’t do a Center launch event, or any gatherings for anniversaries or other milestones. Maybe we’ll do one for the 5th anniversary. And one of these days I’ll write a book with a full acknowledgements section.

For the moment, though, I’m feeling deep gratitude for all the support and love I’ve gotten along this 5 year journey. So taking this chance to send out thanks to some of the friends and colleagues who’ve come along the way: Karmen Ross, Linda Raftree, Lisa Goldman, Phil McKenzie, Aarathi Krishnan, Scott Smith, Susan Cox-Smith, Susan Welber, Sarah Manning, Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, Heba Aly, Aaron Bady, Elmira Bayrasli, Louis Bickford, Sara Bonyadi, Dennis Peter Bours, Matisse Bustos, Cassils, Ashoke Chatterjee, Nina Chanpreet Kaur, Allan Chochinov, Alexa Clay, Alexis Cuadrado, Marta Cunningham, JD D’Cruz, Ashvin Dayal, Michael Dila, Sandi Dubowski, Kristin Ellington, rafa esparza, Julia Fisherman, Josh Fox, Lara Galinsky, Gina Glantz, Nelson Gonzalez, Heather Grady, Melissa Green, Ruchira Gupta, Honor Harger, Robin Hemley, Samantha Hinds, Tania Inowlocki, Kippy Joseph, Alicia Kershaw, Samia Khan, Ingrid Kopp, Andrew Lowenthal, Rebecca Lichtenfeld, Heather Lord, Adam Luna, Dumeetha Luthra, Jennifer Macarthur, Nancy MacPherson, Sarah Masiyiwa, Christine Mendonça, Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, Tom Murphy, Antonella Napolitano, Eric Nehrlich, Jorge Peréz-Jaramillo, Michele Perras, Siane Monreal Oakley, Rashida Petersen, Noah Radford, PJ Raval, Richard Raymer, Sarnata Reynolds, Betsy Richards, Julie Sandler, Nancy Schwartzman, Karen Shaw Lorenzo, Micah Sifry, Marc Silver, Tara Skurtu, Ishita Srivastava, Suman Sureshbabu, Sarah Szalavitz, Louise Taylor, Paola Ureni, Damian Wampler, Egbert Wits, Nicky Wilkinson, Britt Yamamoto, Soushiant Zaganehpur, Farihah Zaman. AFS, the Accountables, Bard College BGIA, The Bellagio Center, Bitchitra Collective, Emmies, NFG, Overlap, the RSA, SVA DSI and PoD. My sisters, nieces, and my family. And most of all, Mom and Dad.)

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Lina Srivastava

Founder of Center for Transformational Change https://transformationalchange.co. Using narrative to cultivate community power towards just futures.