Impact 2023: International Fellows Navigate the Polycrisis


Susan Grelock Yusem, Commonweal Narrative Development Director

November 16, 2023

Nature and Ecology
Learning and Training
“The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.”
– Ben Okri, Nigerian poet and novelist

We have been called the storytelling species. Stories can be lifegiving. They teach our children, maintain cultural values, bring us joy, and give us solace. They can also help us imagine the future. But what if, more and more, we do not like the stories we are hearing? What if they feel harmful or fatalistic? How do we change them?

We are holding these questions with 21 Omega Resilience Awards fellows who are working across the Global South.

The Omega Resilience Awards (ORA) came to life in 2023, as the first program to be launched from our Omega program. Omega was initiated by Commonweal Co-Founder Michael Lerner to increase awareness of the global polycrisis and incubate projects to help us navigate these unpredictable times. Omega is dedicated to fostering resilience, resistance, and hope, and ORA is bringing that vision to life.

A Catalytic Grantmaking Program

ORA provides fellowships and research grants and hosts a learning community among the ORA fellows to crystallize collective insights. The small ORA team partners with anchor partners who direct the selection process and community-building in their regions: Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria, STARTUP! in India, and Colectivo de Acción por la Justicia Ecosocial in Argentina.

The first group of ORA Fellows started in May. They include emerging leaders from across fields, including public intellectuals, activists, artists and scientists. In common, they are biocentrist systems thinkers, bold visionaries, and determined activists. The ORA community also includes research grant recipients—organizations in the vanguard of field mapping and framing narratives, including KHOJ, Global Tapestry of Alternatives, Ethnic Media Services, and the Cascade Institute.

The New Generation of Healing

Our early work in cancer and environmental health taught us that programs that invite the richness of our human experience to emerge are true acts of reparation. And when storytelling accompanies the work of cultural repair, hand-in-hand, we can give voice to changing times. This is narrative repair and healing work, for ourselves and each other. This approach continues to guide us, and ORA is embodying the newest form.

ORA Fellows are working across disciplines in a vast range of creative activism. Biologist Nandini Velho in India is building an inclusive space for storytelling on conservation in India. Advocate Tatenda Jane Dzvarai is increasing understanding of reproductive justice for African women in the face of climate change. Journalist Damián Andrada leads a journalism training program for indigenous youth in Latin America. This is a small sampling of the extraordinary work of ORA Fellows. Collectively, they share a commitment to making the polycrisis comprehensible. They are also envisioning a future in which human and natural communities thrive together.

Stories of Resilience, Resistance, and Hope

You must hear these stories in the fellows’ own words. Because a critical piece of the ORA work is storytelling, the ORA team created a digital platform called The Space, where the ORA Fellows share field notes and stories from their work. The Space is a creative, collaborative storytelling lab, where the fellows can learn from and inspire each other, while also sharing new narratives of life in the polycrisis. These are stories for us all.

We invite you to come to The Space and read, watch, and listen to healing stories for these wild times.

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