“In chemical reactions, catalysts (from the Ancient Greek, katálusis meaning dissolution) are media that bring about a transformational (or state) change but do not themselves change in the process. In social contexts and as used here, the idea of the catalyst has a more metaphorical meaning as a person or an initiative that creates conditions for transformative change to happen or to accelerate, often in unpredictable and nonlinear ways.

Transformation catalysts (TCs) are promising organizing innovations specifically designed to address complexly wicked societal problems and opportunities and bring about purposeful system transformation… We focus upon TCs that are working for an equitable, sustainable world… TCs tackle the deep systemic challenges facing humanity today … using leverage points… They connect, cohere, and amplify efforts of other initiatives in an attempt to overcome the fragmentation and lack of impact… They help coalitions of actors emerge with shared visions, goals, aspirations, or other narratives that enable them to align their efforts, even while they pursue their individual agendas.” 

(quoted from Sandra Waddock & Steve Waddell, 2021. Transformation Catalysts: Weaving Transformational Change for a Flourishing World for All. Cadmus Journal, 4(4), 18, p. 168)

Community Catalysts are Transformation Catalysts focusing on local communities and bioregions. They need to be(come) deeply acquainted with and supportive of the unique local culture, conditions and potential to perform their role.

In this century, any place and community, rural or urban, has to cope with its unique local blend of the systemic global challenges: accelerating climate change and biodiversity loss leading to increasingly heavy droughts, fires and floods; resource shortages and geopolitical shifts including hybrid warfare and terrorism undermining security and globalised supply chains; demographic trends fuelling strong migration between countries and regions and between rural and urban areas, in turn fostering social exclusion and political populism; standard farming practices diminishing topsoil and pollinators; pandemics and chronic diseases from modern lifestyles overburdening immune and health systems; large-scale decarbonisation and digitalisation of our economy and of our lifes requestioning what’s desirable, feasible and fair. These and other mega-trends are heavily interwoven and often trigger and amplify each other.

In this century, any place and community, rural or urban, has to cope with its unique local blend of the systemic global challenges. Without a worldview centred on living systems, we are getting too much used to such trends that are causing suffering at massive scale. 

There is one certainty in the uncertainty that this hot mix is generating: the speed, scope and density of transformative change pressure is such that business-as-usual (aka local and regional development as usual) won’t do the job anymore, if it ever did. System transformation is going to occur anyway, either by degenerative disaster or by regenerative design. The new breed of Community Catalysts sets out for the latter, opening up dignified livelihoods in Transformative Economies, stimulating Community Resilience and coalescing action around ecosystem regeneration.

Which local community wouldn’t like to be secure, resilient, healthy, inclusive and thriving in our era of systemic global challenges? How many figured it out already? Well, that’s precisely why there is a calling for a million future Community Catalysts. A bunch of them is needed in each and every place! 

There are pioneers serving as Community Catalysts as their livelihood, including members of our partnership. However, this is not a recognized occupational field per se, yet. At this stage, it is challenging to find out what it takes to become a Community Catalyst. We reckon that this situation will change in the years to come as the demand for Community Catalysts can be expected to rise substantially. There are two key options at this point: adding, expanding and strengthening Catalyst roles and tasks as part of existing job profiles, or following the pioneers that created their own genuine Community Catalyst activity and livelihood independently.

We are eager to be part of those shaping this new field. We will provide learning pathways, tools and opportunities for exchange among practitioners. We will contribute whatever is in our capacity to clarify the identity, roles, practices and pathways of Community Catalysts. They will become clearer and easier to access the more people and initiatives engage with each other in this emerging field full of promise and potential.

  • You are a professional in touch with your local public, e.g. a community developer, public servant, social entrepreneur, social worker or NGO staff? You are excited by the prospect of serving your community even better by adopting systemic perspectives, participatory approaches and transformative practices? Please explore further, there is most likely something in here for you!
  • You are a capacity builder, e.g. a facilitator, educator, trainer, action researcher or network weaver? You are eager to find out how to support emerging Community Catalysts as part of your future practice? Then you belong to our peer group. We would be delighted seeing you pick up and share inspirations and practices for stimulating co-design and transformative learning in place-based initiatives.
  • You are an activist or campaigner fighting against the windmills of a destructive system? You feel increasingly desperate and exhausted? If working with community- and place-sourced potential is an option for re-energizing your engagement for the good and the better, feel heartfully invited to find out here how you can make this shift of perspective work!
  • You are a volunteer in a social or environmental initiative? You feel called to increase your level of engagement, leave your (unfulfilling?) job and become a Catalyst in a professional capacity? You might well find learning pathways and connections here to get ready for this essential shift!
  • You are a student aspiring to grow into a meaningful livelihood true to your dreams and values and which your career counsellor will never ever mention to you?  We bet there is a community out there that is waiting for you - get prepared by trying some of the practices out at small scale that you can find on our platform. 
  • You are an elder seeking to enhance your capacity to serve your local community through your experience and wisdom? Feel free to find out which practises proposed here complement your experience, and if you feel like it, share practises you have made good experiences with.
  • You are a funder, philanthropist, philanthropreneur, impact investor or grant programme coordinator? You would like to figure out how community catalysts could become a vector for realising your mission? We’d love having a conversation with you!
  • You don’t fall into any of the above categories? Please don’t worry - whichever the reason why you are excited about the emerging field of Community Catalysts, we appreciate your resonance as much as anybody else’s. Stick around - we are keen to learn who you are and what you are up to!
  • An emerging Community of Practice.
  • Background thinking and thinking tools compiled in theoretical guidelines.
  • An expandable toolkit of participatory practices.
  • A curriculum for self-paced or facilitated group learning with plenty of options to choose from.
  • Examples of contextual insights that place-based participatory action research can bring up.
  • Information on the European partnership and the EU-funded projects that laid the foundations for this Community Catalysts Portal.

We are a European partnership of activists, facilitators and researchers who co-created a series of funded projects. The outputs of these projects are made available on this portal step by step. Co-creation is our fundamental way of working together. It means activating collective intelligence in a way that honours, connects and combines the experiences, the knowledge and the perspectives of all contributors. It also means rendering and sharing the results in an accessible, structured way.

The resources like the set of practices assembled in the toolkit and in the curriculum are meant to be improved and complemented over time by additional input coming from other projects, places and practitioners. If you decide to get involved yourself, we are happy to welcome you as a co-creator! Feel free to connect or sign up.