by Farrah Nazir & Shomari Lewis-Wilson
New Fables is a collective of dreamers, deep thinkers and change-makers, coming together within a reflective, restorative and regenerative space to explore our collective experiences, energies and intuition as racially-minoritised people. Through this, we hope to channel our experiences to envision new ways of being that can be passed onto future generations.
You can find out more on our About Us page about why we exist and what we hope to achieve. In this article, we hope to illuminate the steps we took to determine what value might result from creating a new space, and share some reflections from our journey so far.
Like many, in July 2020, Farrah Nazir, Shomari Lewis-Wilson & Salma Begum were reeling from the duel-effects of lockdown and the murder of George Floyd in the US. As three, early to mid-career professionals, we reflected on the lack of spaces that speak to our narratives and lived experiences as people of colour. We also wondered what might be possible if a space existed for imagining and driving equitable futures that started from an anti-racist lens.
We were keen to explore further, but we knew we couldn’t do this alone. We reached out to our network to connect with those we know care deeply about social change, individuals who could bring perspectives and expertise from a wide range of sectors, to help us unpick this together.
After confirming interest, we held our first virtual meeting in October 2020 to share our early thinking. We created a slide deck which included our first draft theory of change, outlining what we felt were the challenges we could address by coming together (we say first draft as there were several iterations over the following 9 months). After everyone shared their feedback, an interesting discussion emerged around the tensions we wanted to hold in our minds over this period of exploration. These tensions formed the beginning of our values and principles.
Aware that many within the group didn’t know each other, we arranged randomised 121 coffee-trials over the following months to help connect attendees for more open, informal conversations. Even if nothing came of this, we at least wanted everyone to feel they made some new connections.
Over the next six months, we continued to meet as a group where we presented further iterations of the theory of change, along with different operating models for the network. Hearing feedback on our spectrum of prototypes helped us to understand what was realistic. We were able to gauge appetite and interest for participating further, and we surfaced what conditions were needed for any of these models to thrive.
Collectively, we agreed that taking a staggered approach was best for us. Option 1 on it’s own wasn’t filling enough of a need, although we recognised that deeper connection was foundational to building trust and psychological safety necessary for exploring narratives. Option 3 felt impossible without more time together to surface our collective mission or call to action, especially as we would be doing this alongside our day jobs.
By May 2021, we had a finalised theory of change and our terms of reference. We then shifted our meetings towards collective sense-making, hosting discursive sessions on a topic or emerging theme voted for by the group and facilitated by Farrah, Shomari and Salma. In tandem, we worked with Storythings who supported us to consider different meeting formats and outputs to share, and provided advice on how to build an external audience for our work. We launched New Fables as an official collective in September 2021.
Our learning so far
We have learnt so much in realising New Fables. Here are some further reflections which we hope you’ll find useful if you too decide to create something new:
Ensuring the space we host is nourishing is key, as is our commitment to collective wellbeing. Our members agree that this is a critical factor for attending. This has become our guiding star and continues to be our non-negotiable for how we iterate our activities.
Recognising the need for external facilitation. As co-founders, we balance operations alongside being active members of the collective. This can be tricky and creates power imbalances. We intend to involve external facilitators in the future, so that everyone can take part and get more out of our time together.
Collating and sharing our collective insights is a challenge… Some of our discussions have been so beautifully organic, we’ve found it near impossible to share our exploration without losing context. We hope to experiment with illustration as a mode for capturing conversations in the future.
…As is understanding our external audience. We are keen to stay rooted in our collective sensing, rather than what we think an external audience might want us to explore. We are, however, experimenting with producing content we think might be of interest more widely, such as our reading list that helped see us through 2021.
We have removed single authorship for content on our website. We are conscious of accreditation going to the extractor, synthesizer, and producer of insights, rather than those whom the insights are based on. We all contribute to New Fables, and this is represented in our model for authorship.
Naming New Fables was a lot harder than we thought it would be. It took us most of the year to land on New Fables. We didn’t want a name that is too abstract from what our activities are but we also didn’t want a name that would ‘flatten’ what the collective provides.
We are financially independent. New Fables has not involved much financial contribution to date, but this will change as we bring in external facilitation and meeting illustrators. For now we plan to pool donations from across the membership, rather than apply for funding. We are conscious of the pull to shift in line with the interest of funders at any given time.
Over 2022, we will continue to come together and reflect as we go. We will endeavour to share anything that feels right to share externally. If you would like to find out more, if you are interested in facilitating a workshop for us, or if you are an illustrator and interested in illustrating a meeting for us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Farrah Nazir is the Insights and Learning Lead for the Culture, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (CEDI) team at the Wellcome Trust and the Co-Founder of New Fables. Her work oversees data insights, evidence and impact, thought leadership on practice, and horizon scanning for best practice and learning to inform Wellcome’s work. Farrah’s experience spans almost 15 years in designing, delivering and funding initiatives that connect the public to science and society.
Shomari Lewis-Wilson has a background in Clinical Neurology and strong interests in the area of systems change as the Senior Manager of Wellcome’s Research Culture and Communities team. He has interests in strategic planning, design and is passionate about seeing Black people everywhere reach their full potential. A self-proclaimed child of the ‘Afrofuture’, Shomari is interested in any discussions that reimagine what is possible and is also a Co-Founder of New Fables.
New Fables was originally published in Reset Narratives on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.