What do empathy and courage have to do with system change?

There is no system change without inner transformation. When we aim to change things on a grand scale, we are required to change on a small scale too; the stories we tell ourselves, the way we organise ourselves, the tools we use, the ideas we rely on.

The Festival of Fearlessness is a course funded by the Active Communities programme to guide civic and community leaders in courageous and empathetic system leadership. The participatory learning journey was  designed to create a safe and trusting space,  where people can feel heard, share ideas and test out new ways of thinking and being for a changing world. 

Systems change

The Festival of Fearlessness invites participants to step out of their everyday, to see system change from a bird’s eye view.  In doing so, participants reflect on their role within complex systems and experiment with how they can can behave the way they want the system to.


One way the Festival of Fearlessness supports systems transformation is to share useful practices. A practice can be described as a repeated activity. Social practices can set the intention for how partners relate to one another. Practices included meditating, finding the ‘no’ through deep democracy, listening deeply with Time to Think tools, letting go through ritual.

Community of practice

Navigating the obstacles and challenges of changing systems is hard. Reflecting together can help practitioners weather this change. Learning in small groups enables participants to  practice using the tools we learnt from deep listening, to imagination, to grounding in nature.  The relationships and trust people developed in these groups enables them to experiment safely and without judgement, whilst laying foundations for future collaboration.

Embracing all weathers, rain, rainbow or shine!
Setting our learning intentions

Reflections on our journey with the Festival of Fearlessness

111 people have been on their own learning journey with the Festival of Fearlessness. Participants come from across the UK and many different fields. Here are our stories about what we will carry with us

"Sometimes life feels like clearing up a hurricane with a dustpan and brush, but actually I've realized I've got more tools to clean up myself"

The Active Wellbeing Society, Health & Wellbeing programme manager
The Active Wellbeing Society, Stories

 This course encouraged me to consider the influence I already have in my team, organisation and community; drawing upon my strengths and connections with peers.  The holistic approach- helped me get out of my own head and give different practices a go. 

Birmingham City Council, Operations manager

I really enjoyed learning about decision-making using your head, heart and gut brain. This session made me reflect on my own thoughts, behaviours and action.

The quote “ if you want the world to be different, you need to be different in it” resonated with me.

Birmingham City Council, Wellbeing Centre manager

I found the experience a really positive and memorable one. I met some incredible people from different backgrounds and job roles working in different sectors and at the end of the course we had all come together for a common purpose and had a good bond. The course pushed me out of my comfort zone on more than one occasion but made me think about new techniques that I can use in the future. It helped to build confidence in myself and gave me lots to think about. The residential was a highlight even though I was nervous, it turned out to be the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

Birmingham City Council
“Sometimes life feels like clearing up a hurricane with a dustpan and brush, but actually I’ve realized I’ve got more tools to clean up myself”

Find out more about the Festival of Fearlessness

Bryony Lawless
Author: Bryony Lawless