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"We are ecosystems, universes, a cauldron of many things..."

Zayaan Khan shares reflections on her experiences as part of Be The Earth's Giving Circle programme. She shares insights on the process of collaboration in an emergent methodology, how this building of trust was essential to this work, and the causes she felt moved to support.

At the end of 2021 while managing the intensive dry heat of Cape Town in the last months of pregnancy, Renata reached out to ask if I'd be a part of a community of women thinking through emergent ways of philanthropy, specifically through community and as a collective. I declined because I needed a moment to reconstruct my career, about to be a mom of two young boys while maintaining a health mental state. But Renata reminded me that this was also work and it could be a generative part of this new journey, that also being a new mom should not separate me too much from society. Renata in all her wisdom was right because after some time I saw that this space was exactly the safe space to figure out how to balance motherhood and working life, the safe space I needed to reach my new shoots out of the safety of the fertile soils and the deep knowing that there were places that welcomed motherhood and not this work it took to separate that part of myself from this new embedded identity of myself.

Being part of the process that was figuring out what we were as the Giving Circle, to give space to allowing a methodology to build as we go, to stay with the discomfort of the unknown but working from a space of individual trust while still meeting all these new people and building trust together. This means to carry the fear, to carry the uncertainty and potential for failure but to build as we build means that there aren't really any wrong answers, just a continual method of refining. Luckily, everyone felt similarly and was able to collectively move together.

By the time it came to start building nominations it was interesting to see how we committed to our Wisdom Keeper nomination process, everyone had their private ways of choosing, not quite public but there was little disagreement in the nomination, indeed the trust we had built was carrying through! I had decided to work within the themes that were important in my community but instead of going for people who were more well known in these endeavours, I knew I had to work with individuals who were just left of centre, who don't have the capacity to be applying for grants and who need the support. I was also moved to support people who identified as women, queer, indigenous, creole and whose ethic was embedded in hyperlocal land and sea. The funds were a profound addition to their work and in reflection I realise that as someone who has pushed my activism sometimes even before my mental health, the sense of relief and the ability to "take a breather" with seed funds like this, is profound. It is a joy to be a part of this community, to be trusted and to be engaged in this sense of gentle activism brings freedom and an understanding that our lives are not singular and not just work. We are ecosystems, universes, a cauldron of many things and this is what brings our success.


Zayaan Khan works as an artist using local urban and ecological relationship/s to understand the elements that build ecosystems. Through curiosity, research, experimentation and engagement, her work finds a resting place through food as a means of understanding the world, particularly seed, land and our collective heritage.

Influenced by tradition, both inherited and the creation of new ones, reclaiming culture and reviving tradition through progressive interpretation in order to enact a listening of the future and a steady present survivalism. She is currently completing her PhD entitled, ‘From seed-as-object to seed-as-relation’ through the Environmental Humanities South at the University of Cape Town.


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