In Conversation With…

Sven Stegemann is an organisational consultant, lecturer, social entrepreneur and philosopher. As an all-round theorist he has been involved in numerous projects, including as Co-Founder of the Open State Collective and the Refugee Open Cities. Before founding Open State, he set up a DJ equipment company, worked as an economic analyst, a magician, a corporate social responsibility consultant and held various positions at the Federal Association of German Foundations and the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. Today he heads the academy and advises, coaches and researches in the field of transformation design. He has taught at various universities and has lived in China and Sweden. Our paths crossed here in Berlin, where he currently lives.

Whose shoulders do you stand on?

A million shoulders, I wouldn’t know where to start. I stand on the shoulders of my parents, family members, friends and teachers who brought me up and introduced me to such important reads like the books of Ken Wilber, for example. But also on those who challenged, hurt or opposed me. In the end I believe that we are the result of our life's circumstances. I really like the thought of Charles Eisenstein when he asks “how is it to be you?” to imply that we would be the same given the same conditions. So in the end I stand on the shoulders of my randomly chosen starting conditions in life.   

What do you wish you had learned in school?

I wish I had learned about the wisdom of the body. 

What have you learned recently that you want to share?

That we cannot get rid of competition in the third sector despite all willingness to cooperate, but have to creatively embrace this paradoxy and use it for the better of the whole.

Where do you find inspiration?

In silence.

When was the last time you changed your mind and what was it about?

I actually try to stay open and change my mind whenever new information is coming in. So it happens pretty constantly. It’s more like a floating experience of small corrections than big picture changes. At least I do not remember anything recently.    

A hard decision you had to make?

Actually, some of the decisions that looked the hardest were actually extremely easy. For example to quit a privileged job and to start on my own, but with people that I loved.

What should you apologise for?

At least I try to apologise as soon as I have to so it doesn’t pile up.

What should you never apologise for?

Making mistakes while you’re daring something when following the call of life.

Do you have a daily practice?

I wish I had the daily practice of getting up and meditating, then going for a run, then  consciously starting my work. But my daily practice is probably that I have lunch reading the news or watching a documentary… which I think is not really a good daily practice. 

When was the last time you laughed with a complete stranger?

I’m glad to say that this happens quite often. Actually, it was today, when I took the (antigen) test, because I couldn’t see anything, my glasses were full of fog and the woman in the test centre was joking that I couldn’t read the form and that I anyway wouldn’t care what was written in it.

Does music (or other art form) play a role in your life?

It doesn’t play a big role in my daily life but it comes at the right point and then makes a difference.

What should we do upside down? 

Before judging and blaming - finding the five percent of truth in the opposite position. 

A recent book you read that changed you?

"Sitting in the Fire - Large group transformation using conflict and diversity," by Arnold Mindell.

When are you most human?

When I’m vulnerable myself.

What would cities look like if the toolkit you wrote for Refugee Open Cities on how to organise complex social settings was adapted to urban planning?

An abstract answer would be very boring, like ‘think global, act local.’ Concretely it would be extremely interesting, of course, to really reorganise many things in smaller units and let neighbourhoods become cells or powerhouses of local solution finding. Also enabling people to get in touch with each other, in a meaningful way. But I don’t want to romanticise too much this ‘getting back to the roots’ of small local communities, since I also see value in individualisation and personal freedom, that we do not have to solely relate to the persons next door who might have a completely different mindset than us and be too narrow for the specific needs we might have. But there would be a more open and friendly atmosphere in the direct neighbourhood where people still can rely on each other, and at the same time make use of the opportunities of the whole wide world and everything that exists to grow in the specific ways that life has chosen for them. 

A question on your legacy: for whom would you like to open the path?

The first question would be: is it my path, or am I just on the path that belongs to everyone? I was lucky in my life to be introduced to general theories and ideas about how we can support our evolution as human beings and societies in a positive way. And I also had the opportunity to follow them in my profession. So today, through my work at the academy and other projects, I try to open up similar learning opportunities for people with whom these  ideas resonate and who might not yet have had the chance to get in touch with them so closely. 

Oct 21, 2022

The Role of the Artist

“Without the person of outspoken opinion, however, without the critic, without the visionary, without the nonconformist, any society of whatever degree of perfection must fall into decay. Its habits (let us say virtues) will inevitably become entrenched, tyrannical; its controls will become inaccessible to the ordinary citizen.” — Ben Shahn

Dec 1, 2023

Poetics of Peace

“I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness ... The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.” ― Nelson Mandela

Dec 3, 2021

It Starts with You (or Me)

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