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Meet René Molenkamp of Group Relations International in Ocean Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to René Molenkamp.

René, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Like many stories of organizations, it does not have a clear beginning. For many years now I have been part of an organization that studies group behavior. Through this involvement, I learned much about groups and people in groups, including myself. As a former Jesuit priest and retreat director, I sought the connection between group behavior and spirituality. The way I think about this is that people in the group have unspoken and unexplored connections with each other, or that every group has a certain kind of energy.

In paying attention to that energy and working with it, it frequently reveals something about the group-as-a-whole rather than individuals in particular. Sometimes that energy can be harnessed for the good of the world.

Interestingly enough, this energetic dynamic took hold of us one day in the Netherlands where we were living at the time. My husband and a couple of close friends whom we had met in this world of group relations had an impromptu all-day meeting and something new was born: Group Relations International (GRI). Frankly, about 10 years later, we are still defining ourselves. We want to make the world a better place, and we do to this by using this particular methodology of understanding groups to empower people who work almost every day with groups to recognize what is going on beyond the content of the conversations people are having in groups.

Over the years GRI has grown to be the holder of possibilities. We are the home for Coaches4Causes, a project that provides one year of free executive coaching services for leaders of good causes; for the Diversity and Spirituality Network, an organization that works promotes radical inclusion; Youth Empowerment Services, a San Diego based project that helps recently incarcerated youth make the transition back into the community; and N O U R I S H, a San Diego based intentional spiritual community that meets once a month.

Has it been a smooth road?
Over the years we worked with the five of us and whoever had more energy would take the lead to organize an event, often working in pairs. Through our programs and offerings, we have expanded our circle considerably and GRI is becoming a community of co-creators. The challenge is always to pay attention to our own energy as a group of volunteers who all have a full-time job elsewhere.

Sometimes we thrill with energy and other times the organization seems to go through a lull. Like most non-profit organizations we could use more resources to expand and streamline our activities. We are a small global organization and it is not always easy to hold the glue between all of us, who all have lived in different parts of the world.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
GRI is the holder of possibilities to make the world a better place. The way I would describe the organization right now is that we are a vessel for dynamic projects that help to create a better the world. Three components are very important to us: the group relations methodology (it is a way of understanding groups) as a tool of empowerment for people who work with groups, spirituality (the notion that there is more than there is, more than we can see, it leaves room for the mystery of life) and social justice (diversity, equity and inclusion). We have a couple of recurring events. Group Relations Conferences and training events (often in the Boston or San Diego area) provide an opportunity for participants to learn about themselves (their own agency and voice, when it is most activated or in what circumstances it retreats most) and about how groups behave.

People often leave with significant insight into how their organizations work. We also offer Silent Retreats, the one in Europe is a working retreat, that is people take to commit to focusing on a piece of work, like writing an article, an art piece, etc. At the end of the day, they come together to talk about their work often inspiring each other’s work. The Silent Retreat in California is in total silence. It is an opportunity to reflect and often return to the core of oneself. Over the years GRI has offered community gatherings, self-development programs, workshops, trainings, online events. It all depends on the energy at the moment.

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