On January 26, 2018, Natalie Mj Orozco (former team leader and current student coach for KP SUI) met with Rowan Francis Simonsen, a KaosPilot alumnus who graduated from the Denmark school in 2008 (team 7). He currently lives in Bogota, Colombia as a peace process consultant and educator, with his wife, another KaosPilot graduate (team 12).
by Natalie MJ Orozco
We met at a coffeeshop in Bogota, but chose to drink fresh pressed juices served in long carafe’s instead of Colombia’s classic “tinto” or cup of coffee, because it had been a relatively warm day. We sat down to discuss the KaosPilot education, life after graduation, living and working in Latin America, and his advice for current students and alumni. Read below to see his insights on the KP’s controversial education.
“Advice to students: Don’t take yourself too fucking seriously. We get very often lodged in “me”, being right, and the rest of the world needs to be living up to my expectations. The other thing is take what it is that you like and nurture that and give that attention. You may only see results after several years.”
N: What are you working on today?
R: I am working with education at different universities. I work in consultancy trainings and work with programs around peace and how to contribute to the peace process from a participant orient method and from a perspective on sustainable development, innovation, and creativity.
N: How long have you lived in Colombia? And what made you move here?
R: Seven years. My wife, whose also a KaosPilot from Team 12, is a native Colombian and we lived together 3 years in Denmark, 2 years in the UK, then came to live here.
N: What’s the difference between working in Europe and here in Colombia?
R: There’s much more to do here. Much more need, much more possibility to engage in really meaningful and impactful work. And it’s not as overpopulated with consultants as you’ll find in some places in Europe.
N: What has been one of the most significant projects you’ve worked on here? And what was the outcome?
R: During the second outpost here for the KaosPilots. One of the projects that we asked the KaosPilots to do, was to create urban interventions; six urban interventions which turned into what is now called “Cien en un via” or “100 in a Day”, which is creating urban interventions inviting the citizens to create the city and the culture that they dream of for the city. That has now spread to more than 40 cities and 16 countries.
N: How many people were involved in that?
R: That was the second outpost here in Colombia and there were about thirty-five people and a small group of KaosPilots working on it, together with the local team, that I think, really had a lot of the credit for that; spreading and replicating [the program]. They’ve been sticking to it and moving it forward; it’s still happening and just a few months ago we had, in Colombia, the biggest event of that happening in more than 10 cities all at the same time, inviting citizens to take active citizenship, initiative, and responsibility for their cities and engage.
N: So that project has continued on?
R: The project has continued now for more than 6 years.
N: Wow, its lived on beyond the time the kaospilots were here.
N: So, KP Switzerland is still pretty new. Our school started five years ago, our first three teams are now alumni, and a lot of our current students and even some alumni are still figuring out what does it look like to live life outside of school as a KaosPilot? Do you remember what your first year was like when you graduated? What kind of work did you start getting into?
R: So I had a relatively atypical first year after KP as my final project was having a baby. (Laughs) So we moved away from Denmark to the UK and I was actually at home looking after the baby while at the same time organizing projects and trainings.
N: Projects and trainings for what?
R: Basically anything I could get my hands on, which were maybe three areas: leadership development in nature or nature retreats in the Swedish mountains working with some of the pioneers within Theory U. I was working with graphic recording and consultation, and starting the first trainings of that in Europe outside of Denmark. Connecting some of the best graphic recorders in Europe and organizing the trainings for them. The last training was working with the Discipline of Peace [A medicine wheel from the Delicate Lodge Teachings, the KP Switzerland’s current inner pilot partner] to develop a new guide training for it, taking what my institute and Rainbow Hawk and WindEagle saw how we could translate that to a younger type of group.
N: So I noticed the things you were training around are themes we still teach at KaosPilots Switzerland today- leadership, development, medicine wheels (the Discipline of Peace is a medicine wheel from the Delicate Lodge Teachings) and graphic recording. Were those skills you learned while you were at KP Denmark that you were able to market and sell yourself?
R: No. Many of the seeds were planted at KaosPilots but never deepened. The connections were made at KaosPilots, but I think between the hundreds of seeds that were planted, I picked a few I liked and nurtured them and deepened them.
N: What does it look like to nurture them and deepen them [the seeds]?
R: I think it’s choosing a few areas of work. Then, for me, it’s seeing what are the things I really want to commit to over time and develop in myself, and also [share] to the world. I’ve been seeing that these three threads and a few others around participatory leadership have kind of marked my journey. I think I can track back a few key decision points. [I ask myself], what are the things I really want to focus on and really deepen and engage with? I think that engagement and commitment is now leading to more work, more projects and to much more impact. I started with a lot of hard work volunteer engagement and getting to know the system, getting to know the communities, the networks, and seeing what I could offer them; creating a bit of recognition and people feeling there was a commitment [from me]. They saw there was somebody serious about what they were doing. So then being able to develop that and turn that into some kind of profit over time, as well.
N: It sounds like it was very organic.
R: Yeah, it was very organic, but it was also a clear recognition of what were the important topics for me.
N: How long did it take to get that recognition?
R: I think that recognition was pretty much there instantly, but I kept getting to a point where I wanted to see more harvest from those seeds. Because creating that ground for more things to grow—that happened immediately. Actually seeing the results of the harvest took several years to see.
N: So, I’m curios, what was your first paid job after graduating with a KP Certificate? Who first paid you and how much?
R: For a long time I was doing open courses and so I think maybe the first open course I did was a training at the Impact Hub in Berlin for like 50 people, that I organized and led. And that connection to the Impact Hub has also been something that has been helpful ever since. For that to happen, I used a lot of the network that I had gained at the KaosPilots. Whatever I was paid for that, it was not enough. (Laughs)
N: My plan is to show this interview to current students and alumni who may be frustrated, who may want to make a lot of money now, who don’t know what it takes to cultivate yourself before you really shine as an entrepreneur; also to anyone in our community who is undercharging and expecting a lot of themselves. What was your third year- life design project and does it still live today?
R: It was a business model or a business plan for my consultancy that I have been using as my business platform for the last 10 years.
N: So it still lives!
R: It still lives! I have closed the official registration in Denmark a few years ago but I am still invoicing to that. I’m rethinking and redeveloping it now. But it has served me as a good platform for what I did. It wasn’t as ambitious as it could have, I think in the light of have becoming a guide and organizing logistics, family, and a future, I think priorities shifted a little bit. But it has been very good and practical.
N: What advice would you give to current KaosPilot students or recent alumni who find themselves in that love-hate tug-of-war with KaosPilots?
R: Don’t take yourself too fucking seriously. We get very often lodged in “me”, being right, and the rest of the world needs to be living up to my expectations. The other thing is take what it is that you like and nurture that and give that attention. Know that there will always be things that frustrate you and that are useless. You may only see results after several years. And in the end it’s really up to you what you make of this. I think the greatest value is really the connections and the people that you connect with while you are at KP.