Weeknotes 41

Special Edition: Transformative spaces and tackling inequalities

Hera Hussain
7 min readDec 1, 2022

The three-day Inequality Retreat(13 —16 September) was organised by Robert Bosch Stiftung(RBS) in a lovely and sleepy historic village of Paretz, Germany. There were 65 activists and partners of RBS from across the world. RBS funded the Orbits project of Chayn alongside End Cyber Abuse where we produced a global field guide to advance intersectional, survivor-centred, and trauma-informed interventions to technology-facilitated gender-based violence.

The aims were:

  • Knowledge exchange and networking with and among all grantees and selected network partners
  • Joint learning on systemic approaches to reducing inequalities
  • Gather energy for further work and return home strengthened

I went to Paretz with my fantastic colleague Francesca who now leads our Bloom service.

What I did


I attended a storytelling workshop which was so powerful that everyone in the room was moved to tears by the end of it. Here are my notes.

  • Telling stories about the future is the first step towards getting to the furure.
  • We were told to learn more about Marshall Ganz He is the Rita T. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He came up with thethe successful grassroots organizing model and training for Barack Obama’s winning 2008 presidential campaign. He has a
  • This speech by James Croft was given as a powerful example of how to tell stories and how to “bring a value into the room”. This phrase is something I’m going ponder on more.
  • Talk about scars but not about wounds. Scars show strength, wounds show vulnerabilities.
  • Organise your speech into: challenge — what we are going through together; choice — what we will do about it; outcome — what will that achieve.
  • To move people into action, they need to think there is a point in getting involved. “String their emotions” (not sure about the word string here).
  • I also realised through the exercise that I don’t focus on anger and urgency enough. I do focus on hope a lot so I fixed it when I wrote that into a draft:

The first time a man touched me without my consent was when I was 6 years old. I was walking down a street, holding my mother’s hands. Every day I speak to women who experience violence in the home, schools, universities, workplaces, places of worship, halls of power and the streets. You’ve probably experienced it yourself or heard about it from someone close to you. Gender-based violence stops women and other marganlised genders from living fulfilling lives. The problems is patriarchy and rape culture. Boys grow up with toxic masculinity and feeling liek they must always be tough and that their self-esteem and honur is depending on the women (or lack thereof) in their life. Broken hearts. Broken homes. Broken spirit. Broken society. But it does not need to be this way. We can change it now. Together. We can call in and out misogyny. We can teach children and model what respect, equalityand love in relationships can look like. We can hold adults and powerful people accountable when they abuse those with less power around them. Patriarchy does not need to be forever. We can end it. Together.

What I learned

The power of places

We’re obsessed with humble leaders in the East. I grew up with stories of humble leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, and prophets. I was told to value humility. I saw it around me in the traits of family members. My soul noticed when humility was replaced with hubris. It’s a concept I’ve found “knotty” as a brown woman in Europe. I took this sacred love for humility everywhere I went but then I noticed that it wasn’t being seen with the same eyes. If I don’t advocate for myself and present my achievements and skills on a cheese platter for the white gaze, I’m acknowledged as a piece of interesting-looking furniture. Yet, deep inside me, I’m uncomfortable with this practice that has been forced onto me. This isn’t to say if I wasn’t battling sexism and racism, I would be the picture of humility but I think I would be quite different to what I’m like now.

So why am I talking about this now? Because I met a humble leader and I was reminded of all of this. I saw a middle-aged man working on the farm and I had seen stables. So I asked him about the horses. We started talking, and he told me about the farm animals. He then shouted out to his daughter at the other end of the farm to call the horses. Some hours later, I saw the same man again helping with the logistics of the barn the conference was in.

So I just assumed he was the manager of the space. He offered a tour of the village of Paretz so I joined that alongside a couple of people. He started talking about the history of the village, the Prussian king and queen, and then his own life story. Turns out he was not only the owner of the Barn, the Farmhouse, a restaurant onsite and lodging but also the CEO of the BMW Foundation. I felt the muddy ground underneath my feet. It took me back to all the familiar feelings of admiring humility and how grounding it is to be around people like that. It’s like the antithesis of the toxic hustle culture. There’s a whole argument around the privilege of people in these positions who can afford to be humble. I’m not getting into that. I’m just sharing how energising it was to be in his presence.

He also talked about how this Storkencroft centre and his family business of inviting people for corporate and activist retreats started by accident. And it was a process of getting the whole village on board before they fully launched it. They saw when friends from cities came for spending weekends together at Paretz, it unlocked a different kind of bonding and learning. And now he travels around the world talking about the power of transformative places for bringing groups together. It was a real treat to spend time with him and learn from his career and life. His wife also sounded an extremely accomplished woman who accidentally started Germany’s most popular Christmas procession which started as a family affair and now attracts thousands of people. She wasn’t there but would have loved to meet her.

The power of why

I attended a session on decolonising. The space was held beautifully by that facilitator. I would like to share more about this but I’m waiting to get permission from them. So I’ll update a future weeknote linking back to here once I’ve received it.

Decolonisation is messy

The session above was fantastic! Outside of that, all conversations or lack thereof around decolonisation were bad. It’s becoming a buzzword where people think there is one fixed, the right way of doing it. And instead of inviting a conversation and understanding the path of decolonising (can there be an end?), most people are jumping into the “checklist” or “this is what I didn’t like” mode rather than analysing systems and powers at play.

Future scaping

We were asked to imagine the future in 5 years. Can you guess which team I was a part of?

Once a facilitator, always a facilitator

Having organised many sessions, events, conferences and communities — the role of facilitator is not something I can lock in a box and push to the back of the cupboard of my mind.

Beautiful 5 min friendships

There are so many! We might never meet up again or stay in touch. And that’s okay.

What not to do at a multi-cultural gathering

  • make people who don’t know each other that well sing together;
  • and hold hands!

“No one knows you”

I met a few funders and they told me that I need to find a better way of encapsulating what Chayn does in “Activist-speak” so those kind of funders can understand the impact. And that I need to be going to way more events than I am right now because no one knows me in the philanthopy space. Both comments were helpful and I am all over it. You’ll see I packed the rest of my year with events. I basically said Yes to every single opportunity that came my way except one (online event where timings clashed with something else).

I have so many thoughts bubbling in my head around decolinising that I’ve promised myself I’ll write a little zine about it as a Winter Wind Down task (we work 1/3 of the time in the last two weeks of December and first week of January).

Something else

There’s nothing like sitting by the fire at night and the the company of horses.



Hera Hussain

Building communities. Feminist. Pakistani. Founder @chaynHQ & CEO fighting gender-based violence with tech. Championing openness. Forbes & MIT Under 30/35.