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Careoperative: Creating leadership collectives for sustainability transformations

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Careoperative Figure

Last week, the Careoperative had their third annual meeting since their founding. The Careoperative is an experiment in collective leadership, co-founded by ZALF researcher Dr. Maria Kernecker, ZALF alumni Dr. Harry Hoffmann, and eighteen other mid-career scientists around the globe in 2019. The Careoperative understands collective leadership as a group of individuals from multiple organizations and sectors who lead transformational social change together through critical reflection, inclusivity and care.

From their experience with a living experiment for collective leadership, the Careoperative, believes that leadership collectives can support shifts in academia from metrics to merits, from a focus on career to care, and from disciplinarily-bounded to inter- and trans-disciplinary research. In a paper published this year in Sustainability Science, “Creating leadership collectives for sustainability transformations”, and the Careoperative advocates for leadership collectives as both a mechanism and outcome for achieving the structural changes needed for more effective leadership for sustainability transformations. 

The paper is written under a shared first-author pseudonym Dr. O. Care, which reflects the group’s commitment to acknowledging the collective effort of learning, reflecting and writing that have resulted in the paper, whilst challenging lead author status as an indication of status. 

The group call for academic organizations to reorient their training programs, work ethics and reward systems to encourage collective excellence and to allow space for future leaders to develop and enact a radically reimagined vision of how to lead as a collective with care for people and the planet. 

Drawing upon their experience of working together as the Careoperative, the authors highlight three ways leadership collectives can be fostered. 

  1. Taking root – cultivating nourishing conditions based upon egalitarian ways of working, shared responsibility and an ethics of care. 
  2. Pollinating – creating inclusive and trusting spaces for the open pollination of ideas, tools and experiences. 
  3. Seeding change – engaging with active, critical and collaborative reflection that encourages new ideas and approaches to emerge.

Based on the ideas published in this paper, the Careoperative has been engaged in a dialogue with other scientists, academic leaders, and funders at several events: a meeting with colleagues at the Dutch Research Institute for Societal Transitions (DRIFT) last week (25.11.2021), the Social-Ecological Systems Institute (SESI ) at Leuphana University seminar series (18.11.2021), the International Transdisciplinarity Conference (14.09. 2021), where the Careoperative hosted a round table discussion with leaders from throughout academia on how to transform science, and Transformations 2021 (09.06.2021), and Transformations 2021 (14.06.2021). In the near future the Careoperative will have an online presence with a website and will write a blogpost with leaders from throughout academia on practicing transformation in collective research processes. Stay tuned! ​


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Careoperative Figure | Source: © Dr. Care, et al.
Careoperative Figure |​​ Source: © Dr. Care, et al.


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