Barbara Heinzen, PhD
Professional history
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Successful societies and organisations are able to learn. They are capable of understanding their present and future environments in order to adapt to them and to manage change. Since 1984, Dr Heinzen has worked as an analyst and consultant to facilitate this process of shared learning using long term scenarios to manage critical strategic issues. She has been self-employed since 1987 and now has extensive experience in the management and co-ordination of collaborative long term exercises. She combines strong analytical skills with an ability to draw out the knowledge and experience of mixed groups so that future actions are based on the group’s own knowledge and the best analytical work available. These skills have been used in work with major corporations in different parts of the world, with civil society groups developing public interest scenarios in East Africa and the USA, and with voluntary organisations in the United Kingdom.

Over the next few years, she will be using her experience to create experimental spaces where societies and organisations can learn to navigate a period of profound systemic change. She is especially interested in learning how to integrate ecological principles in everyday life.

The first experiment in this direction was created in partnership with East African colleagues. It is called the Barbets Duet and is testing new ways to support people who support the natural world.

Skills & experience 


Twenty-five years of broad experience in organisational strategy and scenario building with corporations, civil society organisations, and government departments working in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.
Experience in designing and leading complex learning processes involving hard strategic issues with people of different backgrounds and concerns.
Ability to identify long range strategic risks and opportunities in non-Western societies.
The ability to perform effectively as a long term strategist while still evaluating day to day operational situations.
Over 25 years of research into how societies shift from one social, economic and ecological system to another.



Professional assignments


2009 to present: Co-founder and coordinator, Barbets Duet

The Barbets Duet is an experiment in systemic invention where partners are using their own land and communities to learn how to include environmental goods and services in their own economies. There are currently six learning sites involved in this experiment. Four are in East Africa, one is in England, and the sixth is Barbara Heinzen’s own site on the Hudson River in upstate New York. The experiment is based on learning from both African and Western knowledge, modern and traditional while the name comes from barbets which are tropical birds that sing in duet. This work is currently unpaid, but is serving as a laboratory for Dr Heinzen’s larger learning practice.

1987 to present: independent professional practice in strategic scenario thinking & innovation

In 1987, Barbara Heinzen set up her own professional practice in scenario planning, research and strategy. She is now considered one of the leaders in her field and routinely calls on a wide network of fellow professionals to help with complex assignments. While much scenario work is limited to identifying systemic uncertainties, her practice has concentrated on the politics of organisational learning with a particular focus on understanding the strategic opportunities and dilemmas of societies in transition. Her clients have been in business, government and civil society, with most assignments concentrating on non-Western societies in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America. (See Clients since 1985.)

Corporate strategy & innovation 

Energy & petrochemicals, Latin America & Africa: Several assignments since 2000 have been with multinational energy companies working in Africa and Latin America, concerned about political risk and social change. Work in Latin America involved the regional chairmen and helped to prepare them for radical social changes they had not previously considered. Another assignment was directly commissioned by the chairman of all the company’s businesses in Southern Africa. The chairman wanted to clarify the impact of HIV/AIDS on the company’s regional markets.  This work became the basis for the company’s global policies on HIV/AIDS. A more innovative request for work came from the chemicals division and led to the design of a process to invent a new business in Latin America. As one of the managers described it, “I realised I did not just need to reinvent my business, I needed to reinvent the industry.”

New media, UK: In 2000 and again in 2009, Barbara Heinzen worked with the new media department of a major media company. Her work focused on understanding the revolutionary potential of new media technologies in the UK in order to develop innovative programmes across media platforms.

Air travel, accounting and consumer products in Southeast Asia & China: In the mid-late 1990s, a variety of corporate assignments took Barbara Heinzen to work in South East Asia and China. These assignments all involved the senior management or boards of the businesses and concentrated on anticipating changes in the Asian business environment, including the financial crisis which hit soon after this work ended. 

Corporate strategy & competing business cultures 

Japan, Russia & China: In the late 1980s, Barbara Heinzen began identifying the critical elements of local business systems in different cultures. The first assignment grew out of strategic work with a European petrochemical company in Japan. This identified stresses in the Japanese financial system as a critical uncertainty and anticipated the financial crisis that followed. This work also included work on the Japanese rules of technological invention, which differed from those used in Western societies. In the early 1990s, the same skills were employed by a German investment bank in order to imagine how the Russian banking system might evolve after the end of the Communist regime. In the late 1990s, another European company needed to know how competitive Chinese businesses might be as the Chinese business system responded to market reforms. In all three cases, the clients’ were better prepared to respond to the challenges of transition in each society.

Civil society & new collaborations

Greater Houston, Texas: Between January 2009 and earely 2011, Barbara Heinzen worked with the Center for Houston’s Future to design and facilitate a public interest scenarios project for Greater Houston. The Center is closely associated with the Greater Houston Partnership, an association of the area’s leading businesses. This work stimulated considerable dialogue and debate among a group of citizens who would not normally have worked together. “I am proud of the way we have learned to talk together,” said one participant from Galveston, Texas.

East Africa: The Houston project was modelled on Barbara Heinzen’s civil society work in East Africa from 1998 to 2008.  These public interest scenario projects were initiated by the Society for International Development (SID) who hired Dr. Heinzen to design and facilitate the process. She was the only outsider working with citizens in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the wider East African region. In each country, the group has developed national scenario stories which have then been used to stimulate broad public debate. In Kenya, this work was presented in 120 districts and is believed to have contributed to a peaceful transfer of power in 2002. In Tanzania, the scenarios were adopted in 2003 by a group of young Parliamentarians as the basis for their own political programme. The Ugandan work, launched in July 2004, has included a need to manage creatively the many legacies of civil violence and personal trauma. All three exercises have involved the development of innovative methods for creating a shared understanding of society’s history, culture and possible futures.

Water in the Jordan Valley: In 1999, Barbara Heinzen worked with Green Cross International on a conference of different stakeholders, including businesses, working on water in the Jordan Valley. The following year she co-chaired with Mikhail Gorbachev a panel discussion on water in the Jordan Valley, titled “Water for Peace”, held at the 2nd World Water Forum at the Hague. This work helped prepare her for a week-long assignment to help facilitate a tense meeting between Israeli Arabs and Jews in October 2000, a few weeks after the start of the Al Aksa intifada in September that year.

World Business Council for Sustainable Development: In 1996-97, Barbara Heinzen was part of the core team working with about fifty companies to develop 50-year scenarios of the future of global environmental sustainability.

Business & the arts, London: In the mid-1990s, Barbara Heinzen began advising the Business-Arts Forum of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT). Begun by Julia Rowntree, the Forum experiments with ways of using the theatre to bring business and government managers together with performing artists and students in order to understand shared hard issues in society today. This forum has been a leader in its field and is widely imitated in the world.

Business & infectious disease, London: Between 1992 and 2006, Barbara Heinzen led BEAD, the Business Exchange on AIDS and Infectious Diseases. This was the first international business association to respond to HIV/AIDS in Africa, and linked people from business, academia and non-government organisations.  

Government & intergovernmental agencies 

In the early 1990s, Barbara Heinzen worked with Scottish Enterprise to identify government scenario projects on the question of future of economic development. This led to an assignment with the Dutch Ministry of Home Affairs on understanding the use of scenarios in training government departments to respond to complex crises. Other agencies have commissioned Barbara Heinzen to facilitate scenario building workshops or to give talks on subjects, such as government and civil society. In recent years, she has also worked with both the UK Patent Office and the European Patent Office. 

Inventing ecological societies 

Since her professional life began, Barbara Heinzen has been convinced that societies everywhere must learn to include basic ecological principles in daily life. To do this requires the creation of new social, technological, economic and political institutions comparable to those created to support the industrial revolution. In order to understand how this might happen, she wrote Feeling for Stones, a book which draws on the lessons of 20th century development, social invention in early modern England, and the environmental customs of rural Africa.

Starting in 2006, in partnership with East African colleagues, Barbara Heinzen has been developing the Barbets Duet (see also the Barbets page on this site). This is an experiment is organised around learning sites, four in East Africa, one in UK and one in the USA. At each site, people are drawing on the knowledge of two cultures to create institutions that support new business models which can reward people who restore or maintain healthy habitats and high biodiversity.

In October 2008, courtesy of the Alberta Department of Environment in Canada, Barbara Heinzen gave a number of talks to business, government and the research community exploring the invention of ecological societies and management in a time of systemic change. She was invited back to Alberta in November 2009 and 2011.


1985-1986: Consultant, Group Planning Department, Shell International Petroleum Company, London 

During these two years, Barbara Heinzen worked full time with the scenario team in Group Planning’s social/political section, with responsibility for developing countries. Her first major assignment was a scenario study of China as part of Shell’s long term strategic response to Deng Xiao Ping’s reforms. This became the first Shell scenario study to include business managers in the learning process and proved to be an accurate guide to the Chinese business environment for the next ten years. She then led a similar exercise, looking at the business environment in Japan.  Both projects had unusually high profiles in the company. 

1981-1984: DPhil in Geography, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 

Barbara Heinzen’s DPhil thesis studied the role of a multinational company in agricultural development through a case study of the United Brands Company in Cameroon under British, French and independent rule, 1950 to 1982. Her research explored popular agricultural learning in the context of shifting relations between government and international business.




1982-1984:National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. 


Co-founder & Coordinator, Barbets Duet
Network member: Global Business Network, California
Research Associate: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Chairwoman, Phakama (cross-cultural youth arts & theatre) 2005-2011





Linnean Society of London
Royal African Society


Languages & degrees 


BA 1972 Occidental College, Los Angeles
PhD 1984 School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London



1967-1980 Personal history 

Barbara Heinzen graduated from Manhasset High School, New York, in 1967 and from Occidental College, Los Angeles, California, in 1972. After university, she worked in New York, first in publishing, then in Brooklyn Criminal Court. In 1976, she travelled in Western Europe and West Africa, before taking a research job with the United States Agency for International Development in Niger in 1979. The experience of working with international aid led her to London to study the role of multinational business in development. She has been living in central London since 1981. 

Other interests 

Gardening; reading & needlework; family and friends; working with young people.

? Barbara Heinzen, 2012. All rights reserved.