Creating Community Circles For Change – SACAP
Applied Psychology

Creating community circles for change

Apr 17, 2019

Executive coach Brenton Nestler discusses the power of community circles in providing South Africans the space to have difficult conversations.

South African society has always been a deeply polarised one. It is little wonder that we struggle on to bring about the sustainable change that would improve lives in the country – we can’t get it together because we are not together. It’s arguable that what South Africans need more than anything else is plenty of safe spaces to have the difficult conversations that are needed to connect, heal and develop our country through active citizenship. This is the vision of executive coach Brenton Nestler, who has extensive experience in facilitating and successfully working in community circles, and will be a guest speaker at the upcoming SACAP Festival of Learning 2019. He’s seen first-hand the transformative impact of participating and actively learning in circles, on the individuals, but also the ripple effect in their day-to-day lives.

Brenton explains that the creation of caring, connected community is at the heart of the concept; though this is not ‘community’ in the sense of just being grouped together because of proximity. He says: “People come together, willingly and intentionally, to form discussion, development and support circles. Through the connection, sharing and co-created learning that such circles offer, they create and become part of a strong, authentic community as a result.”

As an Executive and Team Coach, and Facilitator, and previous Head of Learning in a corporate, Brenton has been actively involved in leading and facilitating circles; and teaching how to form, lead and participate in them both face to face, and virtually online, for around 10 years internationally. He’s facilitated circles in companies as part of corporate learning and development programmes. He’s convened circles in the executive coaching world, and in the men’s development movement through initiatives such as ‘The ManKind Project. There is no limit to how the methodology can be used; for instance community circles can be formed in schools and other educational institutions, providing an additional and highly effective means of active rather than passive learning.

What sets community circles apart from any other discussion group or organised meeting of people is the underlying principles and values. “The most important values that must be honoured by all who participate in circle work, is the active co-creation of explicit safety, a commitment to showing up authentically and taking the risk to be vulnerable, and a willingness to actively participate by listening deeply, sharing openly, and learning from others and self,” says Brenton. Given our tendencies towards posturing, and mainly unproductive, conversations full of bluster and power-play, where what we get to say is more important than what we learn about ourselves or others, community circles provide us with a different, and far more meaningful and rewarding way of interacting with each other.

In essence, participation in a community circle is a life-changing experience where the skills of being an authentic, self-reflective, empathetic human are learnt and practised. The impacts of this individual transformation are wide and lasting. Brenton points out the possibilities of applying the community circle model in workplaces: “In corporates, so much time and energy is wasted through non-productive meetings, the disconnect between management and staff, and the general games of politics and power that play out daily. Circle work and the principles of forming good circles can dramatically enhance the creation of a sense of community between colleagues, improve the quality of engagement and of both input and output in general discussions and meetings. I also believe that any learning or change process can only be truly successful if circle work is used to drive the integration of the learning and changes into practical application and implementation.”

Circle work, particularly comes to the fore in providing a safe means to have difficult conversations. “Some of the most exciting circle work I enjoy being part of is where significant diversity is present,” says Brenton, “For example, one of the men’s circles I sit in includes multiple races, sexual orientations, age groups, and different political and socio-economic conditions. In another of these groups that is convened online, we had additional diversity of men from six different countries around the world participating. Yet another co-gender circle has women and men exploring together. The richness and depth of discussion; the vulnerability, authenticity and sharing in these groups is very impactful, and so opens up tremendous learning and social cohesion through deepening understanding and connection across the various “isms” lines. Over time, the growth in these participants ripples out into their respective worlds and networks.”

Human communication is an exchange of information that is supposed to achieve mutual understanding. It is supposed to advance connection and promote cohesion. Yet, many of the platforms we are using today don’t support this, and in fact, make ongoing polarisation far too easy. If we want to bring about positive change in our country, it makes sense that we look broadly at the use of methodologies such as community circles to not just shift to more productive conversations, but fundamentally change how we speak and listen to each other.

The 2019 Festival of Learning hosted by SACAP:

Cape Town, 23-24 May
Venue: SACAP Campus, Claremont
Times: 23 May from 17h30 to 20h30 and 24 May from 09h00 to 17h00
Human Library: 24 May from 11h00 to 15h00

Johannesburg, 30-31 May
Venue: SACAP Campus, Rosebank
Times: 30 May from 17h30 to 20h30 and 31 May from 09h00 to 17h00
Human Library: 30 May from 11h00 to 15h00

Tickets for the 2019 Festival of Learning are available through Webtickets. Tickets are R250-00 for the full-day programme, and R200-00 for the short-talk evening programme. There is a special offer for students and alumni at R80-00 per ticket.
For further information please visit:

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