What motivated Uffe Elbæk to start the Kaospilots & about its role in reshaping democracy

Hi Uffe, tell me a little bit about yourself and why you 30 years ago started the Kaospilots?
Well, you could somewhat say that I am a serial entrepreneur, as I have started several initiatives in collaboration with others like the Frontrunners (a community of youth culture creators), and the Kaospilots in 1991 (school and multi-sided education in creative leadership and meaningful entrepreneurship). Then I held the position of Minister of Culture in Denmark for a couple of years, before starting a new political party, The Alternative, (“a generous, action-oriented international party with a special focus on serious sustainable transition, a new political culture and the entrepreneurial creative power of society and individuals. A party which has the courage to imagine a radically different future”.)
Currently, I am still in parliament, published an autobiography, and am soon on my own, a free man you could say! I have been doing all these things in different contexts to try and show that it is possible to do things in a different way.

Uffe visiting the Kaospilots in June 2022 (Photo by Karla Laursen)

If we look at education: what does it need to be transformative for the individual and impactful for the world? And can you tell us more about why you started the Kaospilots in the first place?
As I see it, education should be a place of meaning-making and I believe for it to be transformative it has to make space for learning and being with our heads, hands, and heart. By that, I mean that we access different forms of knowing, using our thinking, our making and doing, and our emotionality, feeling, and sensing.

Back when we started the Kaospilots, we wanted to create an education that reflected what was going on in the world: the Berlin Wall had just fallen, there were really large societal changes and transformations and we wanted to learn how to respond to what was moving in the world around us.
Personally, I also wanted to create an education that speaks to me. A place where one would learn about business, project, and process design.

“We created a pedagogical compass that would allow learners to balance between the individual and collective sphere, apply local and global focus & perspectives to events and happenings, move between theory and practice, work as much with the format as with content, and explore all this embedded in group and project work.

In a transformative educational setting students can fail, can get lost, and indeed, hopefully, they will fail and learn from this experience. What this means for you as educators is that though you are still growing in the journey too, you have to keep an overview. With Kaospilot I wanted to design something that was a place for me too, to learn, as a principal. Or for you, in that same role of starting up a new programme, you want to stay curious learners yourselves.”

At Kaospilot, one learns creatively with head, hands, and heart! (Photo by Adonis Kekidakis)

Why do you think activism is relevant these days?
I think with that question comes the one about what forms of activism we are talking about, and what definition of activism we speak from. Yes, I myself am an activist. Currently, I worry about how democracy is pressured, how many countries regress, and only very few move towards being more democratic. Are our institutions the right ones? If not, we need to change them. It’s a long time ago that activist movements became stable institutions and initiatives such as Greenpeace or Amnesty. I wonder how to create new platforms, such as #Planet A (by The Alternative Global) or other media platforms. Look at for instant Emil Vincentz communication platform Acter, that “seeks to enable initiatives and solutions to scale and change the world”. What are the new formats to move and practice democracy collectively?

And what is your activistic practice?
I focus a lot on what is going on in China, in Hong Kong, where the struggle around democracy actually plays out right in front of our eyes. I have an arrest order, and cannot travel outside the EU and Northern US. So I also think talking about activism we need to be aware of the consequences of our actions and that some forms of activism are really dangerous. So one also needs to deal with that: what are the consequences of my activism? How do we work with conflicts?

So, what do you reckon we need to collectively learn in these times, as leaders and activists?
I think we need to learn to criticize and re-invent at the same time: they are two legs, hope, and critique! I really think that we should explore hope as a practice as well as learn how to create lasting movements.

And what would you encourage us to do?
Bring political analysis and understanding of power and its uses, its consequences into the learning formats that you create! And, keep in mind that everything is political. As said earlier, we should explore a space of political innovation, the 1990’s when the decade of innovation, then followed a focus on social innovation and now I believe political innovation is what is essential.

We need to renew how we practice politics!

Also, explore what the learning environment you create should feel like, and what is the role of culture in it. When we started Kaospilots I imagined how the classroom should look, what kind of music should play, and basically, what is the vibe of the place! And I guess, you as educators, entrepreneurs and activists need to find a good balance for yourselves, starting something up is a lot of work, and it means a lot, too.

Can we learn to get lost and then find confidence in our new ways? (Photo by Adonis Kekidakis)

Now one of my favorite questions to you Uffe: what gives you hope?
What gives me hope is looking out into the garden, and seeing the beauty of nature unfold. Also, it is so good to read what you are doing in Berlin! The Programme you create gives me hope — to see the next generation take over and find ways to be with what is going on.

Berlin for me is a city that has meant a lot to me over the years, and it is quite attractive to move to Berlin for a year and learn. Well, and, lastly, I believe it is important that we keep hoping, celebrating, and making space for what is magic about being alive!

Thank you so much for this conversation Uffe and your continuous genuine support!

This conversation was held over zoom between Uffe Elbæk and Edda Kruse Rosset in July 2022.

Applications for the Kaospilot+ Berlin Leadership in Systemic Activism Programme are still open until July 31st.

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