Engineers without Borders meets Art of Hosting

Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) invited the Montreal Art of Hosting community to collaborate at their annual conference, a significant event uniting 750 people for 3 days, 200 of whom participated in a pre-conference leadership day. The collaboration was natural given both communities work on complex issues and questions in service of the common good; EWB’s mandate is to “create systemic change, wherever it’s needed to accelerate Africa’s development and unlock the potential of its people.”

The EWB community had sharp clarity on the themes of this year’s conference, entitled Unite to Unlock: connect, co-create and act. On our end, the Art of Hosting team came to the collaboration with these learning intentions:

1. What is a light but high-impact way of bringing Art of Hosting practice into a more conventionally organized large-scale gathering?

2. How can we host at a huge event with the same lightness and playfulness as at a smaller event?

For the high impact presence of Art of Hosting, we agreed to implement a daily check-in and check-out practice for the four days. This means each day we would offer a short activity at the beginning and end of the day, to amplify the individual learning and collective experience. Leadership day began with a co-created check-in which included reflections on leadership, some conscious walking around the room and a good ol’ collective scream and closed on a completely different note, with a silent sharing of our learning edges.


Since, the conference opened with some powerful storytelling, the check-in naturally focused on “How does my story connect to the stories that have been told?”. In the space that opened up “droplets of humanity” filled the room (as one participant described the experience).

Each check-in and check-out was carefully designed and matched to the beat and rhythm of the conference. At one point, the room burst into a one minute “crazy dance”, a release of energy and an expression of joy that did a world of good. Another day began by by sharing our calling with another person, three times over, a series of exchanges that were both meaningful and helped participants to hone in on what they wished to get from the event. After that particular check-in, the keynote speaker, Dr. Sulley Gariba, shared his surprise and delight with his check-in experience,  in one he encountered an old friend from 30 years ago he hadn’t expected to meet and another  a young engineer.


On the Saturday evening of the conference, we hosted a home-cooked dinner for delegates who wished to discover more about the Art of Hosting community. Engineering students and recent graduates joined some local Art of Hosting practitioners in mutual discovery (including a bit of dancing). When the engineers understood that the Art of Hosting community exists across the country, they were excited about furthering collaborations at their local level.


At the conference, participants and organizers, seeing us on our own learning edges, stepped up, trembling, into their learning edges and wowed themselves and the crowd with their acts of courage and leadership. The conference co-chair took the microphone and, with tears running down her cheek, spoke with heart and clarity on the intention of the gathering. Pushing boundaries requires trusting and trying, and that is what we were all doing, each day, more and more.

The final check-out was a huge improvisation in trust and trying, where an ecosystem of groups/teams organized and ran their own check-out (open space style), allowing a collective, powerful whole to unfold.


What was the impact and learning? The conference organizers say:

“I keep receiving comments about how positive people felt the entire time, and it’s clear that the moments you spent helping people arrive and leave the space each day played an important role in that. ”

“We had an incredibly ambitious vision about how to unite all of these people in an inclusive way and your collective art helped create something even better than we could have imagined.”

“One sponsor said said the check-ins and outs of this conference were some of his favorite moments. A highlight in fact!”

On our end, we held the intention of lightness well. One member of our team sums it up when with these words

“That was so easy. You don’t even notice there are 750 people in the room”.

And as for the connection between EWB and AOH? As usual, I find that we tend to go in with this idea of “bringing” our practice and in the end it’s us who are “getting” a huge gift and learning ourselves. I bow to the powerful, sharp and heart felt system work of the EWB community. My world has widened to include the shifts of the engineering profession and the caring and challenges of their work, and the courageous leadership afoot, here and in Africa. When communities come together in collaboration and inquiry, their collective strength grows.


Montreal Art of Hosting community who partook in the collaboration: Samantha Slade, Jonathan Jubinville, Juan Carlos Londono, Cedric Jamet, Ezra Bridgman, Paul Messer, Lisa Gravel and Hélène Brown.


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