International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry


AI: Positive Change in Unexpected Places – Whitney Fry

Over a decade of working in emergency relief in nine countries left me discouraged, hopeless and cynical. I had seen the effects of war, managed crises and experienced abuses of power. I struggled to see the impact of my work, to the point of noticing the detriment and potential harms of aid. Situations were bleak, and all I could see and feel was sorrow. I was on the verge of burnout.

My world turned around one day when a colleague introduced me to AI, and I subsequently began reading online posts and articles about Appreciative Inquiry, specifically applications of AI in the international aid and development context.

While explaining my doctoral dissertation ideas to a colleague in the early days of its formation, our conversation turned to AI. My dissertation focused on promoting positive  male-gender  socialisation  among  male  refugees  living  in East Africa, as a means of preventing gender-based violence. Male-gender socialisation,  the  development  of  one’s  gender  identity,  is  a  relational  construct that refers to social expectations and ideals about how men are meant to behave.1 In this initial AI conversation with my colleague, she encouraged me to explore AI as a possible approach to uncovering this best-case scenario amid complex environments. My research was initially an attempt to challenge my inner cynic to grasp one last chance of a tangible hope; the outcome, with AI as my method, greatly exceeded these expectations.

AI was the reset button to my ‘hope meter’

AI complemented my world view as a follower of Jesus, and provided a practical application of gratitude: seeing positive change in unexpected places. AI, in many ways, was the reset button to my “hope  meter”, and  my vision suddenly opened  from a myopic perspective of deficit details to the bigger picture of possibilities.

Today I apply AI to global health consulting efforts in East Africa and the Middle East, challenging the status quo of needs-based programming and community problem  solving  to  promote  creative,  generative  thinking  that  links what works to achieving the dream. I love seeing people’s faces light up when asked what they appreciate about their community or organisation, as well as the transformation that takes place when one tells a story and realises that the answer lies within themselves or their community. Furthermore, with each AI experience, I also learn something new: from the art of the right question to the power of storytelling to the transformative potential of dreaming.

While dreaming was a foreign concept to me before being introduced to AI,   today dreaming is a way of thinking; a way of life. I recognise through AI that transformation is not only accessible for the people with whom I work, but I also have begun to thrive and flourish in all aspects of life. I have embraced the joy of working amid complexity, for possibilities for positive change are amplified by the generative power in such environments. Indeed, transformation among individuals and communities embracing the AI mindset is often palpable in these settings, restoring my own hope in the potential for positive change in complex environments.


Dunkle KL, Decker MR. Gender-bBsed Violence and HIV: Reviewing the evidence for links and causal pathways in the general population and high-risk groups. American Journal of Reproductive Immunology. 2013; 69:20–26.

doi:  10.1111/aji.12039.



  1. Susan Wood says:

    Whitney – so glad to see your story on AIP. Your perseverance and courage are paying off. Eager to see details of your effort and results in future AIP issues.

  2. Whitney, what a great article – thank you for sharing your story.

    I just called Jane Magruder Watkins and Ralph Kelly (North Carolina) and read aloud your story. Jane worked in Africa for many years and appreciated the chance to learn about all about the great work you are doing. Jane did mention that you might want to connect with Anastasia Bukashe who is in South Africa.

    Here is a 5 min video of Anastasia filmed by Jeop If you want to learn more about her work – I would recommend her presentation at Case Western

    If you need some help to connect with her, just let me know –

    Wick, congratulations on getting the website up and running. I really like the Voices from the Field …

    Mo McKenna, Toronto

    • Thank you, Maureen, for your warm comment. And thank you, Whitney for a wonderful story.

    • Keith Storace says:

      Thank you Maureen, as I echo Wick’s sentiments! Your comments and support of Whitney’s contribution to AI Practitioner – and indeed to those she works with and for – are a wonderful embrace of the meaning-filled life she is living! And, of course, FANTASTIC work Whitney! Keith Storace | Melbourne, Australia.

    • Whitney Fry says:

      Thank you, Mo! I look forward to getting in touch with Anastasia! And thanks to Wick and Keith for the opportunity to share my story in the AI Practitioner.

  3. Patrick Goh says:

    Hi Whitney
    I was most excited to read your article this morning, as I too am a Christian who works for a global aid agency, and doing a systemic doctoral research!
    I’m posting to encourage you in your work and research – both really needed.
    If you would like to be in touch my email is

    Shalom 🙂


    • Whitney Fry says:

      Thank you, Patrick! Congratulations on your doctoral research, and I look forward to staying in touch over email.

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