The Trek Episode 12 on Belonging: Civics Unplugged discuss the sense of belonging and how it affects the larger community – in collaboration with Humanity 2.0

Contributed by: Show Editorial Team

Gary Sheng, Madison Adams, Noor Myran, Julia Terpak, Ashley Lin, Abigail Burbridge and Chabu Kapumba, with special guest Mohammed Naeem where they discuss belonging on this week’s episode of The Trek


  • Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community on feeling a sense of belonging in a certain group or community
  • Prominent Gen Z figures discuss where they feel the most secure and safe in a space where they can be the most themselves
  • Future leaders of America discuss how we can change the system through learning on an individual level rather than a systemic level



Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 – a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).

Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of the 2020 CU Fellowship, Julia Terpak, Founder of Gen Z Connect, Ashley Lin, Founder/CEO of Project Exchange, Abigail Burbrudge, Builder at Civics Unplugged, and Chabu Kapumba, Senior Fellow at Civics Unplugged with special guest Mohammed Naeem, Senior Manager at the Center for Inclusion and Belonging

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:01

All right. Hello, everyone and welcome to groupthink. Groupthink is our dialogue series at CU, where we pick a topic and talk about whatever feels meaningful. My name is Madison and I’m a high school senior from Verdigris Oklahoma, and I’m joined by some amazing community members and for the first time ever a special guest. So I’m going to give everyone a moment to introduce themselves. Do you want to start off?

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:00:27

Yes, absolutely. Hi everyone. Thank you. My name is Mohammad. Thank you for having me as the first guest as part of groupthink I feel like I’m on the tonight show or Steven Colbert it’s kind of cool. Currently I am a senior manager focusing on strategy and partnerships where the American immigration council, but specifically for a newly started or newly formed center for inclusion and belonging. Previously I was at more in common, which is a sort of a global research organization that focuses on trying to understand why societies or Western democracies are so polarized and socially divided. My background’s a little eclectic in that, I come to this work by way of a human, somewhat of a human rights background, but also a healthcare background. And so I gleaned a lot of my experience from sort of both those sources. But I’ve also been a part of quite a few large political mobilizations and organizing efforts. And so I bring all of that mixture of all that experience into my current role in my work. So it’s nice to be here with you all. So are we doing popcorn style? Should I just pass it to someone?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:58

Usually people just like start a muting, whatever. So whoever wants to go next can go ahead.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:02:07

Hey my name is Ashley. I am a high school senior from Vancouver, Washington. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:02:18

Hello. My name is Chabu I am 19 years old. I’m a first year at UFT and currently based out of Toronto. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:02:27

Hi, I’m Julia I’m 23 years old. I run a platform called Gen Z Connect and I am from Pennsylvania. 

Abigail Burbridge – Builder, Civics Unplugged: 00:02:39

I’m Abigail and I’m 17 and I’m a senior from Harrisburg, Missouri.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:03:00

Yes. Okay. Well I’m my name is Gary. I’m one of the co-founders of CU and I’m calling in from New York city and Mohammed is awesome.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:03:23

Wow. So we’ll screen share and kind of like take notes throughout the conversation Mohammed. So now we can start the word association. Whenever you all are ready, you just shout out your words.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:03:45

I can get us started for the word belonging, my word association is safety net. I think that if you have a space that you belong to you have almost the comfort of knowing that there are people in your corner and that gives you the additional freedom to go do things that are a bit more bold, a bit more courageous. So that’s my word. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 4:05

I’ll go next. I’m going to say value, purpose and enjoyment, because I feel like you feel these three things in a positive sense when you feel like you belong to something.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:04:34

I guess I think about community and identity just as like places and where I often find belonging. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:04:47

For me, I would say love and people just because when I feel like I belong somewhere, I feel like I’m loved. And most of the time that is like Ashley said in community with people.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:05:14

I’m going to put peace and dignity. I feel like people turn to extremism when they don’t feel like they have inner peace slash, which is basically to me, this very similar to not feeling like they have a sense of belonging anywhere. 

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:05:42

Right. I would add compassion to that. My one word is compassion. I think another is a verb. Is that okay? So, listening is important. I think those are the two that sort of come top of mind.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:06:14

And why do those come to mind?

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:06:17

Yeah, you know, I’ve been a believer cross at least my career, but also my life generally that if you can organize communities around their pain points, what it is that they’re struggling with, then that cuts across some of their identities. It cuts across their political orientations. It cuts across all sorts of visible traits in some way or another. Then you’re able to have a conversation more, you know, through motion in a way that’s quite meaningful and quite powerful. Listening, because I think there’s a real and Gary and I have actually discussed this is that there’s a real art to listening. And at least across our political dialogues, we listen to combat or to counter. And I think in order for us to achieve true belonging in this country we have to develop a better ear so that you can then have a conversation around you know, compassionately and empathetically and so forth. So those are really the two, I think, two of the few pillars, I think that are necessary for us to be able to build powerful, thriving powerful thriving communities, whether that’s at your place of work, where you live at your school or, or sort of like whatever the form is. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:07:44

Hmm. I love that. Especially the listening. And you’re making me realize that we should do a group think about conversations or just listening in general. I think that’d be really good. Abigail, do you want to share your word association? 

Abigail Burbridge – Builder, Civics Unplugged: 00:08:04

I guess just security. That was what I could come up with that hasn’t already been, I don’t know. I’m kind of bad at this. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:08:14

So now we can go ahead and get started with the conversation. Great. So I guess I would just pose first what makes you feel like you belong and whether that be at a place with a certain person or community?

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:08:49

I think a characteristic of something that makes me feel like I belong is if it’s like a space and a person or even an activity where I can experience the full range of human emotion. So, there’s certain people where they’re great to celebrate with, but then there’s certain people where I’m going through something or you’re in a tough situation or you’re navigating something that’s a bit more nuanced and conflict prone. That’s not the space that you want to be in. So I think that especially, you feel like you can experience a wide range of emotion on both the good and the bad is the characteristic of feeling like you belong there. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:09:26

I would say something that makes me feel super curious, like curious to engage in it more, whether that’s a conversation with someone just like super curious about learning more about them or just continuing the conversation or an activity just wanting to go, like I said, learn more.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:09:54

Yeah. I think from spaces where I feel like I can bring my full self and I don’t need to create a different version of myself. I don’t need to hide different parts of myself. I am able to be accepted for who I authentically am.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:10:20

To double back on what Ashley said. That reminds me of just the importance of belonging in spaces where you can figure things out so you can be wrong or you can be uncertain. And do that openly. I think that that makes it gives a sense of belonging too, because it’s accepting that your full self in a way, 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:10:53

I feel like that’s something we do really good at CU because we all kind of adopt the mindset of like, we’re all constantly evolving systems and just the idea of learning and public one small example would be with my spelling situations and groupthink, especially towards the beginning. And at first, I definitely felt embarrassed, but I felt more comfortable over time because I know that this is a space where I do feel that sense of belonging and I don’t feel as embarrassed for learning in public anymore. 

Abigail Burbridge – Builder, Civics Unplugged:00:11:12

I think for me, just like places and people where I feel like safe and valued.

Mohammed Naeem –  Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:11:37

Can I ask , I’m new to this structure so I’m trying to sort of I’m just going to ask if this is okay. Can I ask a question in light of the answers that have been mentioned?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:11:54

It’s very free flowing, so yeah.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:12:19

I just don’t want to mess up your kind of your rhythm here. So we’ve, unfortunately because of quite a few factors because of how we’ve all sort of geographically sorted ourselves. We’ve sorted ourselves using not only, you know, not only by via geography, but also across the social media platforms we use, the news stations we watch you know, and schools, whether they’re college educated or not, right. There’s a lot of different variables in play here. You know, as I’m looking at the answers, there’s elements of, you know, there’s sort of pieces around security, there’s pieces around bringing your full self. So not necessarily assimilating into an existing sort of community, but really wanting to add to that space. You know, there’s a lot of that here. Do you guys think that you can create a similar kind of feeling of belonging? Do you feel that we can actually create belonging in a country as diverse as the United States or in a diverse community? And I’m not generally talking just across race and ethnicity, although that’s extremely important. But also across political orientation. And then even, maybe from a different perspective of life generationally, right. I feel like you know, at least the millennial generation and then sort of the generations prior, I think we have a lot of difficulty around creating spaces of belonging for those who are either generationally different of a political orientation or those who are just represents a different way of life. Do we think we can actually create those kinds of spaces that we’re speaking about here?

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:13:59

This is such a fun question. But, my answer is yes, I think that it’s something that we can achieve, but it requires redefining what it takes to have belonging. And from my understanding in the past, it’s very much rooted in things that we have in common. And that’s the foundation of having a sense of belonging. And if there’s a way to, if the requirements isn’t about what do you have in common and more about the fact that we’re all here sharing this space and that’s enough. It’s more than achievable, but again, it requires outgrowing and redefining the boundaries that we’ve placed around what it takes to feel like, yes, this is a place where I belong. 

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:14:52

That’s a great Answer. That’s just fantastic. I’m interested to hear more from other folks here.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:15:01

You know, I think talking about, I like what you said about places really interesting, because I feel like so much of belonging is about having a place where you feel comfortable and where it almost feels like a second home. And I think we’re living in a time where it’s a lot easier to create places online with people who you might not be co-located with. And I think that creates a lot more room for a longing to not, I guess, for their requirements of belonging, for things not to be defined for you, but things that you are able to create and generate by yourself. Yeah, so you’re just no longer locked into like, Oh, you know, I was born in this geographic area, so this is where I belong. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:16:10

Yeah. I also think that it comes down to smaller communities within those larger communities. So I think for CU, I know that I really feel a strong sense of belonging and one of our Junto groups, which is cool cats group, and our Juntos are groups of eight to 10 people who meet weekly and we’re accountability partners, and we just have discussions. And so, cause I feel a really close sense of belonging in that smaller one. I feel like I belong within the wider community of CU and it connects me to so many other people as well. So I think that, you know, the same can be said with the country, if you feel a really close sense of longing with people in your city, or maybe even your state, it can help you feel closer to the bigger community as well.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:17:02

I don’t want to pose this question too early because I want to hear everyone else’s thoughts, but I’d like to bookmark the thought of, is there a connection between our sense of belonging in smaller spaces, like within our family or school, does that impact our sense of belonging in wider spaces? Like our nation or state?

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:17:25

That’s a great question. Can you expand on that? It seems like you might be speaking from a particular set of experiences or whatnot.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:17:37

No, not necessarily. I think I was inspired by Madison’s comment on just the feeling of being connected to, or Junto or small groups that we have, which is eight to 10 people. Well, that makes me feel connected to a group of 200 people who I may not come across every day. I still feel connected to. And so just applying that context to other spaces. So I feel connected to my family, friends and my school is that the foundation for feeling connected to my nation and the country that I live in and all of these other spaces of belonging.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:18:17

That’s interesting. I mean, as I’m reading the question again, I’m starting to think of learned behavior, right? I mean, you know, in a lot of ways, my work professionally is to be able to influence attitudes and behaviors. And we do that through a number of, you know, sort of some sophisticated, but other, in other ways are quite unsophisticated, but really it’s to move people across, not a dimension sort of politically, but certainly wanting to influence and change and or influence behavior and attitudes. And I think, you know, we learned a lot of our behaviors and we glean so much from those sorts of small circles that we have. And I think sort of society unfortunately, is continuing to operate in a way that is very sort of quite closed minded and we’re sorted into particular smaller camps. It doesn’t provide enough opportunities for us to be able to build sort of muscle that or any sort of communications muscle that can help us sort of bridge across differences. That point around having more in common where you can have a conversation around what that might look like if you’re not in those sorts of spaces. And so I think in one way, you know, we’re learning or we’re operating from set of behaviors that we’re continuing to build on in spaces that we’re quite sorted into. And so, as I’m thinking about it, I think that’s a huge sort of particular societal and systemic lever that we need to be able to kind of rethink and reimagine, redesign. And so, that’s the at least that’s what the research sort of bears out.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:20:11

I think that goes back to what Chabu said about redefining, what it takes to feel like you belong somewhere, not just things in common, but just on virtue, the vibe of the shared human experience. I feel like that’s a lot about why we’re connected at CU and what makes the sense of belonging so strong, right? 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:20:59

Yeah. Back to Chabu’s comment from earlier the question before, I think people get so caught up in the complexities of their own realities and how different they are from others that it pushes that divide between people instead of starting conversations or going into things, thinking everyone else is saying we have that shared human experience and that we are all humans and have those similarities just by nature.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:21:19

Okay. So I have a question may not be super coherent because it’s based on all these questions. So if we’re talking about redefining, what makes people feel like they belong? And we’re really getting like Julia was saying and what Chabu was saying earlier, like the human experience, how do we show people just how interconnected we are just by virtue of the fact of our shared human experience. Is there a way to do that?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:21:56

How do we make invisible or our common threads of our human experience? I will just say one consideration to make is the tech platforms that we use in particular, the social media platforms we use say Twitter and, well, why don’t we just look at Twitter? Twitter is really good for signaling. It’s really good for status games. But that’s the opposite of what actually connects people together, which is being really vulnerable. And talking about your struggles and a kind of deeper reflection that Chabu and Madison really spearheaded recently. So, Mohammad Chabu and Madison launched, I think it was time flies, but it’s been at least a month since we launched the platform, which is internal to our community. It’s you know, anyone can write a piece, tends to be very vulnerable that you wouldn’t share on Twitter or medium or anything. And there’s something really special about that because and this is top of mind for me because I was having a one-on-one with one of our community members who said that reading other people’s vulnerable posts gave her the confidence to write her own post and helped her realize that she wasn’t alone in having lots of insecurities about things. And it made her feel a lot closer to Civics Unplugged.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:24:00

And this is in direct connection to what Gary just said. I think that actually in order to see our visible common threads for me, I find the common threads are way more profound and way more powerful when I have a deep founded respect for our distinctions and differences. So if I’m engaging with someone and they’re from a completely different culture, completely different, lived experience have a completely different context or lens on looking at life. When we find something that we have in common, that is much more powerful or that much more moving. And so I think that to make your comment threads, I think that we have an understanding that, Oh, these are two to three things that we may have in common, but for that to really resonate enough to be something that connects and bonds you, I think you also have to have deep dotted respect for the distinctions and variances that there are between you and that person.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:25:05

On that note Chabu. I don’t think it didn’t sink into me even until, I like to think even just this year is when it really sink in just how important differences are. Like a team cannot have just clones of one type of person. It doesn’t work like that. You need all sorts of types of people. You need people that love accounting. You actually need people to love accounting. You need people that love meeting people all the time. Right. And get really energized by that. You need people that love making white papers you know. I think we are actually engineered to think about how we are the way we think about our differences and similarities is engineered from an early age in a very pathological way. I think, because we are taught that we can be ranked from one to whatever from a very early age. And so we’re always comparing each other our differences, but not in beautiful ways. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:26:25

I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but I always see, for me, at least recently, I think that when I see distinctions and variances and different preferences and people it’s the best thing ever, because it also keeps me in the mindset of just like, I know nothing almost, you know what I mean? Everything’s new, everything’s like, there’s ways that people go about things that I’ve never even considered. And that always blows my mind when I see it. And that’s exciting. And it also keeps you in the mindset of constantly learning, which is way more productive than the mindset of being like, Oh, I understand how a person would operate in this situation always.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:27:03

Yeah. I would continue to push for I would really push you all. And I push myself all the time and Gary knows this is I try to see differences as a real motivator and see differences, a real opportunity to engage deeply and thoughtfully and meaningfully, right. If we’re constantly looking for sameness and that’s exactly what you’re going to get. And it’s been shown through a number of different whether white papers or research or whether it’s social, psychological research, or even some of the biggest decisions that have been made in our country’s history that when in a room, when you’ve had lots of sameness, really bad decisions have been made, I mean really bad. A real, an example of that. And I mean, I don’t want to bring sort of politics into this, but nonetheless, I think it’s a really powerful example is that back in ‘04, when the Bush administration was thinking about going into Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction there was a lot of sameness in that room. Everyone thought that there were weapons, you know, like WOMDs. And in fact, you know, many years later, really three to four years later, we ultimately found out that there was none. And in fact, the ulterior motive was that there had been always a 15 to 16 year vendetta and wanting to go into Iraq. And so, but there was a lot of sort of political sameness in that room that, you know, effectively made a catastrophic decision and cost the lives of thousands upon thousands of Americans, either their life or their living in a real way. I mean, there’s a number of political examples. There are also a lot of financial management examples. I mean, if you think of, for instance, the economic recession of ’08, ’09, ’10 in the same way, there was a lot of sameness in across the financial industry. And because of that, they all committed. They all effectively made the same decisions and every single bank did the same thing. And so in one sector you had the same kind of mindset and that costs millions of Americans, their homes and their livelihoods. And we’re still reeling from that. Right. I mean sector after sector. So there’s a lot of credence to the fact that if you, if you operate in environments with sameness, generally the decisions that are made, won’t be really good ones. But if you operate in environments where there’s diversity of opinion and thought and context and experiences, I mean, that is so powerful because it can not only help you grow. It can also help you become a better manager, a better leader, a better community member, more respectful of people’s differences. And I think that’s so sorely needed in a country like ours, especially at a moment this. And so yeah, I just wanted to sort of point that out. 

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:30:37

Yeah. And then the point around bridging, right. So you might be questioning well, if you have all these different kinds of folks, how do you then bridge, you know, different convictions and opinions and thought processes? Well there’s an interesting point around finding common identities that we can organize around, right? We might be Democrats or Republicans. We might be Muslims or, you know Jews or Christians or Catholics or whatever. But really what are the sort of the secondary and tertiary and sort of identities that we can organize ourselves around? You know, are we mothers, are we brothers? Are we sisters, are we people from the same state? Do we like the same football team? You’d be surprised as to how powerful those secondary and tertiary identities are because it creates some bit of an opening that you can then build on. And I think we operate through an environment where our political orientation and some of our other orientations just define the context of our conversations and those who we dialogue with. If you are from this city or this state, or you are this political orientation, or you have this sort of conviction, I’m not talking to you when in fact that’s just a loss for you yourself as a human being, but it’s also a loss for the country.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:31:56

And in fact, when we really sink our teeth into the numbers, the things that we are suffering from in this country it costs all of us in a real way, either financially through our tax dollars or through the sort of the destruction of our communities and so forth. So, there’s real consequences to not being able to bridge across difference, both financial, political, social, psychological, and so forth. And so either you can go after sameness and we’ll continue to make bad decisions as people, and as a country, or we can really seek diversity as an opportunity to be transformational in our society. And so, you know, we all get to make that choice and that decision every single day. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:33:08

Anyone have anything to add to that?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:33:13

Abigail, I’m curious on this note how well, I know you grew up in a really small town, and I’m curious how your experience in CU in terms of meeting a bunch of different people has affected your outlook on the world. 

Abigail Burbridge – Builder, Civics Unplugged: 00:33:40

Yeah. I mean, I don’t know, CU has been the first place where I really feel like I belong, and I didn’t even realize that I’d never felt like I belonged anywhere until CU. So, yeah. I don’t know, just kind of expanded my world view and also brought me to people whose interests and passions are similar to mine. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:35:02

I can pose a question. Mohammed, you’ve talked about how there’s a real cost and the fact that we choose not to recognize our common threads. So I guess my question is to understand why in spite of those costs, do we continue to adhere to this practice, even though it’s proven to be really unhelpful at a micro and macro level? 

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:35:33

It depends on exactly like, let me back up here, so let’s take the example of a company, right. A company that hires to take Gary’s point, if your product as a company is to sell jackets and all you hire are accountants, you’re not going to sell jackets. Right. And so what tends to happen in a lot of spaces is that you know placing ourselves in spaces of difference is really challenging. It’s psychologically challenging because you have to actually have some kind of orientation around compromise, right? And sometimes I’m just sorry to say this, is that people don’t want to compromise. They feel that the platforms that they’ve envisioned that the ideas that they have are so powerful and so game-changing and worldly that there’s no way there can be something better than what it is that that individual is sort of thinking around. So certainly there is an intelligence bias. So I think one element here is an intelligence bias. Another element is that, you know, we have set specific sets of barriers in who we, and who we allow into our spaces and who we neglect to allow. Right. So one is an intelligence buys. Another is say, you know, in a lot of industries and then a lot of spaces in order for you to feel really valued and included, you have to have a college degree, right. That leaves a whole assortment of people and a whole set of life experiences out of that process. And so really I think so, so, I mean, I don’t know how to sort of classify that factor, but certainly it’s something that is absolutely warranting of conversation and sort of like dissection.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:38:06

And then the third I think would be is that human beings tend to learn from their mistakes, right. But societies don’t, and in a weird way, it takes societies really long time. It takes societies an incredibly long time to learn from their mistakes and our political in particular. I mean, they are so behind the curve they’re so behind the curve that they’re generally about 10 years behind the curve, just look at the issues with Facebook and Google and Apple. We knew they were monopolies 10 years ago, but only now is our entire judicial system across the country saying, Oh, these companies have a lot of power and eventually they’re going to have more power than us. And so it’s really those three things. It’s an intelligence bias. It’s a sort of sorting bias. Right. And then lastly, I think it’s this sort of inefficiency around us, learning from our behaviors as a society, not as individuals, those are the three that pop out to me in my head right now. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:39:35

So I think I’ve said this to a few people who are on this call right now, but last week I learned something. And one of my courses about the fact that we assume that institutions can learn the way human brains do, which isn’t possible, because when you say an institution or a country or an organization is learning, you have to treat it like a metaphor and an institution doesn’t have a brain. They cannot remember or recall an event. So people or individuals may learn that doesn’t mean an organization can. But with that being said the way to almost apply that metaphor continuously is to innovate and change and be responsive in your processes and procedures as an organization to implement your learning through that. And then you can retain a long-term understanding of learning from your past mistakes. But no, those are all really incredible points. Thank you for pointing that out.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:40:29

Yeah. You’re absolutely right. And you’d be surprised, and this is why I absolutely have loved the work that CU has done. You know, I’ve been a part of it through a number of different avenues as an advisor and in other ways as well. And you’d be surprised. I mean, seriously guys, you’d be surprised at how bad institutions are in setting up the right kinds of protocols and processes in place for them to be able to be transformative and deal with, you know, up and coming sort of challenges and even institutions that entire, you know, only hire from Ivy league schools and, you know, the best colleges in the world and the best companies in the world, you’d be surprised at how bad they are in setting up the proper procedures and protocols. And that’s one of the things that did actually surprise me quite a bit which makes the case even more for why diversity is so crucially important because these, you know, these flock of folks are operating along the same dimensions that they’ve been operating for 30 years, and they’ve seen no problem with that. And then this is also a question I think, you know, for us all to evaluate is a question around value, right? There is obviously financial value in operating in a particular way, right? A financial company can say, well, our bottom line has been, you know it’s has been sort of creating multiple on your investment or so forth. But what we’re learning now is that there’s really different sort of dimensions of value there’s financial value. There is societal value, there’s psychological value, there’s all these different ends of value.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:42:20

And I think we have to incorporate that in our analysis of where we’re moving as a society. And so it’s not just that we are becoming richer, but really what does that ultimately producing an example of that is the issue with Oxycontin or, you know, opioids that company kept pushing opioids out into the United States on one dimension of value. They were making enormous amounts of money. It was great for the pharmaceutical industry. I mean it was fantastic, but what was the societal value? It was nothing we destroyed people’s lives. And so really again, when you operate with the level of sameness and only across one dimension of value, as you measure that, then you’re generally going to make bad decisions that are completely the antithesis of where we should be headed as a society. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:43:31

Hard to follow that. One of the things with this question and the answer so far have contrary for me is the recognition that the history that I missed her class classes that I took in school were so not helpful in guiding my civic actions. What did I learn about civil rights a little bit, besides that, almost like individually, it was almost like individuals had everything to do, like five people had everything to do with changing the world versus the millions of people that played their own civic superhero role in different roles, right? Different types of people playing different roles, complimentary roles over many decades, if not hundreds years to make progress. And I do know is that I had a bad education. What I don’t know is the answers to all the different types of people that were contributing to it. And I’m starting to learn more, but it’s embarrassing how little I know.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:44:54

I think the idea of differences not only being present, but being complimentary is really interesting, because at least in school, in group projects, you know, it gets people with a different skill set. But if, either people don’t know what that skill set is or what other people would be working on with their skillset, it’s not that it’s useless, but it’s counterintuitive to have a variety of different people there, if they aren’t actually complimentary to what the overall goal is or how the dynamic of a team or just the community as in general.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:45:34

Yeah. I think Mohammad put really beautifully the why, the why of the differences and the why of avoiding just pure sameness.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:45:52

This is very much a reflection of what Mohammed said earlier, but I think that there’s something empowering about the falsehoods that are involved in the things that we believe in too, that we associate with belonging. So if my foundational understanding of something allows me to do certain things, they gave me projects or empowers me in the way that I operate now to question them would also be questioning everything else that I’m engaged in that may be that almost like questioning the positive externalities of like what I’m engaging with, if that makes sense. So I think that it’s hard to reconcile that it may be wrong because then you have to call in so many other things into question as well.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:46:52

Unless anyone has anything to add to that. I think we move on to the reflection section. Madison, as you type that out, I’ll explain the section. So let me actually copy and paste this in so you can kind of scan on your own, but to everyone in Mohammed we kind of just look throughout the doc and identify patterns or just reactions that you have to the conversation and about the process of groupthink whatever comes to mind. So we’ll give it like 30 seconds. So before we start that, or whoever has a reflection so far can shout it out now. Anyone have a reflection?

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:48:24

I just like how we shifted the conversation from finding comfort in similarities to more so power and differences.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:48:49

Yeah. I’d say this conversation, put words to why it’s fun. It’s fun to open Slack every day because we get to learn more about the different, amazing people in the community that are very, in many ways, very different them than us, but appreciate those differences a lot. Yeah.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:49:18

I think I saw a lot of us discussing this in multiple contexts. So in the context of CU in the context of politics and wider global issues. And I think that it was really cool to see almost the application of our theories in different ways and it really enriched the conversation. So that was cool to be a part of.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:49:46

Just reading back on the dock. I think Abigail’s point of shifting from a smaller town to a community like CU it just kind of reminds me of the fact that you don’t really, it’s kind of like with friendships too, you don’t really realize the possibilities of a good friendship until you’ve had a good friendship. And so in the same way, community means so much more when you’re in one that makes you feel that sense of belonging. So it’s cool to be part of one to realize how empowering that is and how they can be or how more people can plug into that.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:50:52

Just want to add one piece. I mean, just to follow up on that I’ve been part of the spaces where I have felt a deep sense of belonging. I have found across at least earlier part of my career so far, but it is extremely hard to replicate. You know, sometimes we think we can just take kind of the structure of an initiative or an enterprise or of a community and we can just sort of replicate it in a new domain or a new setting. And I think, you know, you often then run into quite a few challenges because, you know, maybe that space is not filled with the same kind of folks and they might come from different orientations or different identities and so forth. And so sort of less from a perspective of replication, but more from a perspective of process, right? If you can really dial down the sort of the process that it took for CU to become the community that it has, then that is something that you cannot entirely replicate the at least, you know, sort of the, kind of the ins and outs, right. The nuts and the bolts of it. Like you’ve got the nuts and bolts now, and you can just sort of, you know, you might be using a different piece of wood, but it’s wood nonetheless. Right. And so, I think, you know, that I have learned through failure that replication is not the answer. And neither is duplication, but rather understanding that you can really export the process and then try to at least install it in a way that sits well with sort of that new space. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:52:36

Wow. That makes so much sense. And I had to learn that the hard way, because, you know, I said something about Juntos earlier, but I tried to do something similar with my family and it did not go well. And I think it’s, like you said, you can’t replicate the exact same structure. And I think a lot about what I need to come to understand is that, what I’m taking from CU is the tools. And I’ve seen that play out in person in my life, because of the conversation that I’ve had, I’ve been a better listener and a better question asker and different parts. But I mean, what you’re saying now about the replication makes a lot of sense.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 00:53:35

Madison, it kind of reminds me of summer camp and the sense that, we almost tried to directly replicate the fellowship. And I think we noticed kind of halfway through that wasn’t working as well as I think we intended it to. So yeah, for sure that resonates.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:54:02

Something maybe for a future exploration is the role of leaders in creating, I guess, the soil upon belonging upon which people can feel like they belong.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:54:23

And to kind of add to the conversation of looking for and belonging in other spaces. I completely agree with the fact that it’s severely rare, unfortunately, but I think that having a space that you belong to makes it easier to exist in other spaces where they, that may not be true, but you can still hold those values and that culture, even in the absence of it. So, it was learning through this experience makes it easier to operate without it in other spaces.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:54:54

So I have a couple, a few targeted questions as we go. Abigail, how was this a group think for you? This is your first one, right?

Abigail Burbridge – Builder, Civics Unplugged: 00:55:20

It was good. I don’t know. I thought it was interesting. Everyone’s really cool.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:55:26

Mohammed how about this for you? This is an experiment, but I think we’re glad we did it.

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:55:46

Yeah. I thought it was good. You know, you can sort of probe question after question that was really helpful. I liked structuring it in the ways that you all have. Right. So the point around the word association leading into a broader conversation, which leads into a sort of wrapping reflection, I didn’t come with the, you know, the examples that I mentioned, I didn’t come armed with those pre conversation just sort of came top of mind, but I do think that an element around application it’s probably quite helpful and quite useful, especially in helping you all sort of build the tools that are necessary as you move on into your whether you’re in school or after school, or sort of whatever the case may be, really. So I think some sort of applied sort of systems thinking might be quite helpful.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:56:52

How did other people like bringing on a guest slash Mohammed in particular?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:57:07

I thought it was really helpful. I mean, just on the topic of diversity, obviously, we’re having all these conversations, but we’re all either high school seniors or Chabu is a college freshmen. And so we are lacking diversity in that sense as well. And so I think it was a perfect conversation to bring you into at, as far as your point on the application. I think that we can turn the reflection section into reflection and applications, because with reflection we’re kind of already doing that. We just need to maybe like take some thoughts, a step further on application.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:57:54

I think it was an amazing, I think it was a really cool group think in the sense that you were present inside and could recall really specific examples in the world that I think all of a sudden, provoked me to tap into that understanding that I might have a little bit more than I normally would. So I think that it was cool having a guest and you should definitely try and do this again.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:58:24

So Mohammad we’ve been iterating every time, I mean, small, but last time we added bold and this color and things. Yeah. We didn’t have word association a few times ago. It’s good. Yeah, this is like you were at you’re helping pilot the latest iteration and then the next one will probably have next steps. Well, sorry, on the other note, do you have any next steps on how, your plans before a group think may have changed at all or thinking or anything?

Mohammed Naeem – Senior Manager, Center for Inclusion and Belonging: 00:59:09

Yeah. You know, as you’re speaking and sort of scrolling up, I started thinking about sort of what I do a lot initially, what I’m starting a larger, I specialized, I guess, instead of national, large multifaceted, multi integrated sort of campaigns and what we do often you do a landscape analysis and in this way, what you all are doing in the conversation is a landscape analysis. Your word map is effectively a sort of a broad landscaping. You’re sort of the question series is, is trying to sort of probe that map. And then your reflections finding all sort of the connective threads in between that. I think that’s an incredibly helpful process, both in conversation, but also across any specific organization. And again, you’d be surprised at how many organizations, no matter how well funded they are or who they have working for them, don’t follow sort of such a constructive roadmap around engagement. So just thinking of it that way, although I knew that sort of, that was a generally the structure, but sort of helping myself to communicate it in that kind of visual format is something that I’m going to take away from this conversation.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:00:36

All right. Any final thoughts before we close? Well, thank you all for coming. Thank you Mohammed for taking the time out of your night, we really enjoyed having you and I will see you all next week. Have a happy holidays. Happy holidays. Thanks everyone.

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