“Rise”: Reflexive Retreat for Development Professionals/ Aid Workers/ Activists

“Rise”: Reflexive Retreat for Development Professionals/ Aid Workers/ Activists

  • Are you passionate about social equality, but need some new inspiration?
  • Are you open to exploring and allowing new insights about who and how to be as a social change agent?
  • Are you ready for 2017 to be a breakthrough year in understanding what is yours to offer within the international development world?

The “Rise” retreat gives development specialists the space to get quiet, get connected, and be inspired.

Join us for five days and four nights at Gymea Eco Retreat, surrounded by ancient Gondwana imag1803_1rainforest and nestled at the feet of powerful Wollumbin Mt Warning, in the Northern Rivers of NSW Australia. Enliven your passion, find like-mindeds, and share in mindfulness-based techniques and practices drawn from Buddhism, Yoga, and Deep Ecology. The retreat will incorporate silent periods, meditation, yoga, creative writing, facilitated group processes and creative simulations. These processes aim to support you in uncovering your own unique expression as a development specialist/social change agent, grounded in your own aspirations, experience, and vision.

Who this retreat is for

This retreat is for development specialists passionate about social change, who are looking for new inspiration at a time of transition both within the Australian aid sector, and within a rapidly shifting global political context.  At a time of chronic distraction – through media, the internet, and even in our own workplaces – finding space to allow new insight to come can feel impossible. This retreat is for reflective social change makers who are ready to explore new ways of being and doing in their own lives and in their work.

How it was created

The spirit of inquiry running through this retreat grew through a series of “making change happen” workshops, facilitated by Australian aid practitioners and academics in Melbourne from September 2016.  During the first workshop series, we sought to understand through study and discussion, how change happens in the world, with a view to making our efforts more effective.  The workshop crystallised for Marianne the critical need for reflexive practice among aid workers and development practitioners – something she has been interested in for almost a decade – and so the “Rise” retreat came into being. Almost immediately, and through a series of wonderful co-incidences, Marianne and Saskia met each other and forged a bond and common vision for this work.

The Programme

The programme has been carefully designed to blend mindfulness-based practices with facilitated inquiry for development practitioners/ social change makers.  Days begin with contemplative yoga and meditation, and end with guided meditation that is tailored to support each day’s unfolding. Guided personal journaling will allow participants to deepen their own inquiry, and assist them to bring their own insights and experiences more fully into the group. With practices from deep ecology as well as conflict-resolution, group work will support an unearthing of what is hidden, unsaid, or thwarted in our work. Creative co-facilitated processes will help participants to vision and embody their next steps, and offer tools for bringing insights into their work/or activism.

The retreat schedule encourages participants to use the sauna and spa (included in the retreat fee) to deepen their relaxation, release and insight. Massages and other healing treatments will also be available to help participants fully relax and arrive into the retreat process.

The Co-Facilitators:   co-facilitators

Marianne Jago-Bassingthwaighte is an international development practitioner, evaluation specialist, activist and storyteller. She is also a long-term practitioner of Buddhist meditation (Vipassana and Soto Zen).  Marianne completed postings with AusAID in Myanmar and Chile, and has held senior roles across the public and private aid sectors, including as co-founder of an impact investment start-up company, and at an INGO funded by a for-purpose business.  Marianne completed her first 10 day meditation retreat in 1995, and has spent extended periods of time in silent retreat in Australia, Nepal, Myanmar, France and the UK.  She is authorised to teach meditation both in the Soto Zen lineage (by Ehei Jiko Linda Ruth Cutts, Abbess of San Francisco Zen Centre), and in the Tibetan Sakya Calm Abiding tradition.  She is deeply interested in transformative shamanic practices, and in co-creating reflective spaces that allow insight to arise.

Saskia Kouwenberg has worked for over 30 years as an international human rights activist, facilitator, trainer and mediator. Her campaigning has included Indigenous People’s land rights, independence movements and anti-(nuclear) war efforts. Although not affiliated to one specific group, she has worked alongside Amnesty International, the UN, Moluccan, East Timorese and various other NGO’s as well as the military. Saskia has used a range of methods and tools to contribute to a more peaceful and just world: she worked as a free-lance journalist, coordinated XminY (a Dutch development funding agency), trespassed on military bases, co-organised demonstrations and designed and facilitated workshops for military about civilian-military relations in (post) conflict areas.  In November 1991, at risk to her own life, she smuggled out the film footage of the Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor, in which hundreds were murdered. In 2005 Saskia was one of the 1000 women from 135 countries nominated as group for the Nobel Peace Prize.  She has a longstanding interest in bringing together human rights activism and spiritual practice. Today she says: “I think that it was easier 30 years ago to be a changemaker. The vision and the strategy seemed clearer. I strongly feel we need new strategies, to refocus and come up with new answers. For me it is about exploring and combining our personal, spiritual and social/political growth”.

Yoga and Meditation Instructor 

Ronny Hickel has studied, practised and taught in various traditions of Yoga and Buddhist Dharma ronnyfor the last 25 years. He is a Yoga and Tai Chi instructor, a qualified outdoor recreation guide, and has also trained in Hakomi Psychotherapy. Originally from Austria, Ronny moved to Australia in 2000 after living in India and South East Asia for many years. He has a deep passion for wilderness, mountaineering and spiritual traditions of various cultures.  He now resides with his family on a rural property in the Tweed Caldera where he works in personal development and outdoor recreation, facilitating meditation, yoga and tai-chi classes, nature reconnection retreats, and MenAware gatherings. Ronny is the founder and President of Yatra Australia, which facilitates pilgrimages in nature.

The Venue:

Gymea retreat centre has 20 accommodation rooms all equipped with 5-Star eco beds. They can begymea-pool configured with 2 singles or a king bed, allowing for single or twin share occupancy of up to 40 guests.  All room furnishings are organic or biodynamic and each of the rooms – although modest in size – has individual art, storage, shower, basin and toilets. Other retreat facilities include a large octagonal shaped yoga / meditation space, commercial kitchen / dining spaces, a Day Spa and large expansive grounds (113 acres) with walking tracks and beautiful views of Mt Warning.

Cuisine will be organic, vegetarian and ethically sourced.  Savour World Cuisine specialise in retreat catering in the local area and are highly recommended. Here is their website – your mouth will water!


The owners of Gymea have offered us some special pricing that is different to that on their website.ring  We are committed to offering this retreat as inexpensively as possible.  In partnership with Gymea Eco Retreat, and our four-option retreat structure (below) includes gourmet vegetarian cuisine, beautiful rooms and facilities, and the retreat content itself.  Prices include use of the day spa. Massages and other healing treatments are extra – see Gymea’s Healing Spa Menu http://www.gymearetreat.com.au/healing-spa-menu/ for the range available. We are also aiming to provide some financial support for participants who need it in order to attend (please ask!). Please also ask about discounts for groups.

Early Bird Prices (pay by 24 Dec) – nb not available for organisations: 

Twin Share                            =  $1260
King Single                            =  $1476

Full Prices (pay after 15 Dec).

Twin Share:                          = $1490
King Single:                          = $1706

Reserve Your Place by going to the retreat website here

Alternatively, retreat fees can be sent by direct transfer to (with your last name and Retreat as a reference):
Marianne Jago-Bassingthwaighte
BSB 034241 / Account 356126

e: mariannejago@yahoo.com.au,
t: 02 66795771 or 0409971157,
skype: marianne.jago

We look forward to seeing you on the retreat 🙂 

Some suggested resources and readings:


  • Beginners’ Mind, Suzuki Roshi (1970)