Itijah, a 4-day Theory U Lab on the future of water

Itijah! (meaning direction in Arabic)

“Itijah is a cross-sector leadership course, that is bringing together future leaders from cities across Europe and the Middle East such as Benghazi, Alexandria, Amsterdam and Istanbul to work together to tackle the challenge of water scarcity. This was recently recognised as the second most important risk facing the world at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Over 4 days in Amman, they will immerse themselves in the challenge by questioning water experts and stakeholders and visiting infrastructure sites, refugee camps and eco-projects. Using the broad diversity of experience, perspective and expertise in the group, they will work to develop innovative new solutions to this pressing challenge. 

Itijah is run by the UK-based leadership charity Common Purpose that runs a range of leadership courses in 46 cities that offer participants the inspiration, knowledge and connections to help them become more active and engaged in civil society.”

It’s the first time I worked with Common Purpose, who organises these ventures regularly, in the Middle-East, India & China. I love the concept of the ventures: it has many purposes that are equally important: leadership development (based on Theory U), cross-cultural awareness & -collaboration and tackling a societal challenge from sensing to implementation. Participants are intentionally invited and selected, based on their background (looking for diversity) and intentions around the challenge (resonance).

33 participants (by the way, 33 is number of transformation, yes, I’m superstitious) from Europe & The Middle-East gathered in Amman to work around the future of water.

On the first day, before lunch, Dr. Dureid Mahasneh, came to the venue, to “set the challenge”. Food for thought.

He started by asking:

“Is water a ressource or a commodity?”

“Is water a right?”

These questions were the start of a long sensing process around water: is it a gift from nature or God? can you own it? trade it?

Dureid also described how water is highly interconnected to energy & environment (W-E-E), but also to politics, the financial system, the different national laws, agriculture, technology, …

Jordan’s population, for example, is growing fast (hosting millions of Palestinian & Syrian refugees), but they have fewer and less water, because neighbouring countries are building dams or diverting rivers, to secure their own supply.

We need international agreements.

We need most of all,

leaders with a ‘across-borders’-conscience.


Next question:

What are the pro’s and con’s of privatisation?

Important but difficult dicussion, because of the huge diversity in perspectives on this issue.

Ranging from:

“water is a gift of God, you can’t sell that”


“rainwater is a ressource, tapwater isn’t”.


“we need social entrepreneurship around water, because water scarcity is severe and is limiting economic growth. The current industry is very conservative”


Dr. Mahasneh was the first of many speakers and learning journeys, that inspired and challenged the participants for the first 2,5 days. Overwhelming amounts of information, questions, dilemma’s and complexities. Very interesting!

In between speakers and visits, we introduced new concepts of leadership, practices in dialogue, attention practices for reflection,…

and moved towards idea generation and prototyping.

It was a joy to co-facilitate the Itijah with Martin Kalungu-Banda, a dear friend, a colleague, a mentor, a brother.

Great experience!

I love my work