Civil Society Integrates 4 Voices in Mexico

Encouraging the Heart of Leon

If you want to improve the carrying capacity of a city, then increase its caring capacity.

That was the experience of the city of Leon, Mexico when its Citizens’ Observatory set out to connect many stakeholders from across the city with the intention of learning how “WE” could work better together to improve economic, environmental and social conditions.

In the process of doing so, this Civil Society organization discovered a surprising inspiration right at the heart of the outer and inner heart of the city.

This story strongly underlines the importance of Civil Society in playing an integrator role in the Integral City. Faith-based and spiritual organizations (like churches, synagogues, mosques, temples) have a critical opportunity, at this time, to redefine themselves as this voice of integration for the Integral City. However, secular organizations, like Citizens’ Obervatories are also key players who can align and weave together a collective “heart wave” intelligence from the cacophony of separate voices of the city.

Citizen’s Observatory Makes a Difference

In Leon, the Citizens’ Observatory set out to make a difference that would create commitment and courage to withstand the growing threat of Mexico’s notorious drug cartels, support the shift of the city’s traditional economy (from leather manufacturing to more diversified industry) and give their youth opportunities and hope for future thriving.

The membership of the Citizen’s Observatory included city leaders with strategic business experience, who volunteered their time and expertise. They worked with the universities, student interns and many of Leon’s Civil Society organizations, to build bridges amongst the education, health, business and social services sectors. Through the leadership of Roberto Bonillo, Founder of Novarum (with his expertise and capacity for Integral Thinking), the Citizens’ Observatory started to undertake research about city values, stages of change, and publish the results to gather momentum for making change.

They learned from global experts like Spiral Dynamics Integral Founder, Dr. Don BeckIceland’s Values Cartographer, Dr. Bjarni Jonsson and Integral City Meshworker, Dr. Marilyn Hamilton (your humble author :-)).

The Citizens’ Observatory sponsored a 2 day discovery exploration of Leon’s potential, inviting Integral City to facilitate the tour through the lenses of Integral City.  We co-designed the main focus of this event to update new data on the city’s values prior to the event and report on it during the full day workshop on the 2nd Day.

The Observatory organized a tour of Leaon (with the inspired assistance of local historians, writers, journalists, tourism operators and artists). We boarded a small bus that followed an itinerary around the city. We travelled from the lofty views of the Monterrey Institute of Technology, to working class neighbourhoods with unpaved streets but strong pride, wending our way across unincorporated “housing squats”, and everywhere seeing in operation, Leon’s sophisticated, practical and well-used bicycle lanes (the longest network in Latin America) which allows city residents to have low-cost and accessible mobility.

To finish our tour we ended up by the railway tracks, where indigenous peoples from many traditional territories had set up camp. We quickly learned as soon as we got off the bus, was that this was a healthy, thriving village within the city. Peoples with many different indigenous languages had organized themselves to find teachers, build a school for their children, build a church, support each other’s indigenous artisan skills (especially basket weaving) and create colourful, imaginative dwellings from cast-off materials.Before we left their village they had inspired us to invite them to the next day’s workshop.

When the workshop small groups came to report out at the end of the day, this vibrant culture proved to be no shy wall flowers – but took the lead in setting goals for improving the future not only for themselves, but for the whole of Leon. They revealed the inner heart of caring in Leon and took it to the outer heart of caring, symbolized by the lion statue over the gate to the city.

So this short story of Leon, Mexico exemplifies the power of Civil Society not only to integrate the 4 Voices of the City (1), but to enable caring connections that make a difference. With the kind of initiative and wisdom shown in Leon, Civil Society can amplify the rhythm of the city’s heartbeat through cultural gatherings, caring and compassion.

Through experiences like Leon offers, we are rapidly learning through the science of complexity that cities who improve the caring capacity of human settlements also acquire the efficiencies of “carrying capacity” – because of the scaling of social interaction.

If you want to improve the health of a system, connect it to more of itself.

Thus we can see that Civil Society can play a powerful role in the wellbeing of the city. It has the potential to attract, amplify and integrate all 4 Voices of the City into a powerful WE, so collectively they can learn from one another, strengthen bridges between people connections and bring alive the Caring Heartbeat of the City.

Postscript: Since these activities in Leon, the Citizens’ Observatory has met obstacles to its intentions from changes in the political domain and other social sources (as the whole country of Mexico is undergoing economic shifts). But it should be noted, this is not unusual in the course of living systems – to experience a convergence of intention where progress is made, followed a divergence or distraction of energies. However, once the rhythm of Leon’s heartbeat has resonated as strongly as it did, the memory of that heart wave of caring compassion still lives in its system – ready to be tapped when the next wave of convergence can build on this resident level of caring capacity to generate even more vibrant levels of wellbeing. Sometimes it takes an outsider like me/WE to hold the hope long enough for that to happen. That is another role for Civil Society to perform for each other between cities.


(1)     4 Voices of the City: Citizens, Civil Society, Civic Managers, Business

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