Founded in 2019 by the Provincial of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the Loyola Centre for Ecology & Justice, located in the city of Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, is developing programs and projects to curve the effects of the environmental crisis in the District of Trincomalee. The environmental crisis is not neutral as it creates a situation of injustice where low-income families are getting poorer and are deeply affected, physically, psychologically and socially by the effect of pollution and the degradation of the environment.
Located at the heart of a region that has been deeply affected by traumatic events such as the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lanka Government Armed Forces, displacement of population, economic decline, the devastating tsunami of 2004, and more recently the effects of COVID-19, the Loyola Centre for Ecology & Justice has opted to team up with low-income families to initiate life-changing projects and reduce the consumption of plastic. Trusting that real changes are slow transformations facilitated by trust, coaching and teamwork, the Loyola Centre for Ecology & Justice develops long-term activities.
Until 2025, the Loyola Centre for Ecology & Justice will focus on reducing the consumption of plastic, reducing toxic waste and promoting zero waste zones as a mean to improve the health of low-income families. By creating networks of low-income families, by coaching those families and supporting them in their creative ways to find solutions, the Loyola Centre for Ecology & Justice is convinced that a true solution to the environmental crisis requires the participation of those the society usually neglects.
While the programmes initiated by the Loyola Centre for Ecology & Justice require funding, projects require only seed money to begin and should be sustainable after two years of activity. If those projects are successful, the Loyola Centre For Ecology & Justice will use its know-how to develop similar projects in other districts in Sri Lanka and also in other parts of Asia.
The Loyola Centre for Ecology & Justice (LCEJ) has been created to deal with problems related to the contemporary ecological crisis. In order to develop effective solutions to a global crisis, the second Director of LCEJ favoured an option which might appear, at first sight, counter-productive. His contribution is to invite LCEJ staff to work “with” low-income families (not “for”). Such orientation requires a particular pedagogy, a distinct form of hospitality and a critical approach to the role of science in problem solving. The choice of ‘coaching’ as the favoured form of pedagogy, the usage of LCEJ buildings and gardens as means to question common sense understanding of hospitality, and the creation of a research unit aiming at supporting low income-families in their search for solutions, are the basic expressions of LCEJ pillar responsibilities. The following paragraphs are an attempt to clarify what is understood by coaching in the context of LCEJ activities.
LCEJ Managers’ basic hypothesis is that if the contemporary decline in biodiversity and ecosystem is not a natural phenomenon but a human-made reality, then the solution must be found in analysing the mental processes that create the socio-ecosystemic problems. This is why LCEJ Managers and staff put a heavy emphasis on the study of emotional intelligence. This led to a critical study of contemporary modes of problem solving. Such critical approach was not adopted to develop a form of cynicism but more simply to constructively highlight the characteristics of LCEJ mode of functioning.
For now more than fifty years, the international community has responded to crisis by creating intergovernmental bodies aiming at bridging science and public policy. Religious leaders have also underlined the connection of environmental, social and economic problems, and documents such as the encyclical Laudato-si of Pope Francis have shown that ecosystemic deterioration and climatic change increase disparity between people, cause migrations, and are the main causes of poverty and social conflicts. However, the socio-ecosystemic crisis does not show improvement despite the genuine efforts of international agencies and religious organizations. The ineffectiveness might be generated by by the emphasis on “bridging” and “centring”. LCEJ critical reflection led to a counter movement of “unlinking” and “scattering” as a foundational step to generate effective solutions.
Without a critical reflection on how science is done, on the mode of functioning of governmental institutions, or on the agenda of religious organizations, the very costly effort of “bridging” will invariably result in aggravating the crisis. In other words, what matters is not “science” or “government” or “religion” as such (abstract entities), but scientists, politicians, and religious leaders . “Unlinking” was seen as a necessary effort to develop an awareness of the anthropogenic features of the environmental crisis. Scientists, politicians, religious leaders, and also low-income families are sources of anthropogenic effects, processes, objects or material. They need to become aware of their anthropogenic potential. The emphasis on “scattering” was meant to overcome the elitist character of problem solving, especially to engage in the deconstruction of the concept of “leadership.”
This preparative phase in LCEJ research has led to the study of coaching and a search for a non-elitist application of coaching pedagogy to problem solving. If the focus on low-income families, the patient selection of experts who are ready to engage in a radical critique of their values, beliefs and assumptions, and the playful emphasis on improvisation as the preferred collaborative mode, might appear to some as counter-productive, LCEJ is confident that this is the way to go to create long-term solutions. Studies on coaching have increased since the beginning of the twenty-first century, and many prestigious universities have integrated coaching in their curriculi. The business world, too, has given in the recent past a great deal of importance to coaching. Most of those approaches to coaching are quite elitist, though graduate programmes such as the prestigious Stanford Graduate School of Business is developing “seed coaching programs” to end global poverty. From LCEJ's perspective, the limit of those programmes is that they rely on a notion of leadership that is seen as an obstacle to effective solutions.
Collaborative Consulting Model
By searching to develop a partnership with low-income families, LCEJ is not only dealing with the portion of the local population that is most affected by the effects of the ecological crisis, it is also dealing with a group that is more susceptible to power, moral and sexual harassment. Models based on leadership legitimize the power some have in the group to influence or manipulate others. As LCEJ is not a business, does not sell products or give salaries to employees, the possibility for its managers to develop alternative options to the trendy models based on leadership or empowerment is understood as a must. Reducing the potential for all forms of harassment is a priority for LCEJ. This is why LCEJ favours a collaborative consulting model. LCEJ has developed a know-how that is reflected in a consulting process that is adopted for developing LCEJ activities.
As far as LCEJ activities are concerned, Associates working at the Eco-Sewings Centres, those participating in LCEJ programmes, and the recipients of LCEJ projects, experience confusion, dilemmas, mess, puzzle and impasse. When they ask for help, LCEJ responds by coaching rather than mentoring or counselling. While mentoring implies sharing knowledge and counselling comprises a search for clinical knowledge, coaching focuses on self-development and transformation (not healing or change).
The coaching process is basically cyclical and starts with questions from those associated with LCEJ's activities. The first step is an effort to facilitate the articulation of what is seen as a problem. This is followed by reflection and critical thinking. This phase leads to new perspectives and potential solutions. Finally, those solutions are integrated or transferred in later experience and daily activities. Thus, the role of coaches is to facilitate factual descriptions of experience, to strengthen the ability to describe and name emotions, to identify themes and structures within experience, to refrain from assessment or evaluation, to encourage metaphors that describe experiences and capture complex thought process.
Coaches are helpful on the condition to be well aware of their own prejudices, to bracket values and beliefs about what should be the experience of someone in a particular situation. Coaches must also be aware of their positioning in the society or local community. Coaches promote a unique type of dialogue, not between the coaches and those who experience a problem, but a dialogue within the self. The coaches are thus experts in listening, a listening that is reflexive and open. Coaches provide opportunities to order and re-order thoughts so that those who have a problem can decide what might help.
Reflected and Reflecting Self
The coaching process also creates a distance between the reflected self and the reflecting self. Suspension of judgement and reduction of emotional involvement offer a possibility to discover new perspectives. Exposing values, beliefs and assumptions has a liberating effect from restrictive thought patterns and leads to eventual transformation. In the final phase the coach facilitates the transferring of learning and integration in daily activities. And this new situation will generate new questions and new cycles of coaching.