Establishing a New GEN Office

The Joys and Challenges

With just a few weeks left until the GEN Europe General Assembly in Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland, it seems appropriate to Robert Hall, Managing Director of GEN-Europe, to reflect on the current situation with the GEN 'office transition'. Perhaps, however, we can start with a historical perspective.

GEN-Europe started off in 1996 in Germany at Lebensgarten, later moving to Torri Superiore in Italy. Then the office returned to ZEGG, in Germany, where our current German NGO was founded in 2003. From 2007, the legal seat and headquarters was transferred to Sieben Linden in Germany. It is now proposed to move our legal seat to ZEGG once again, where our administration has been for the past few years. Since 2003, we have always had more than one office: Findhorn, with Jonathan Dawson, functioned as an outreach office; which was actually my first personal contact with GEN in 2007. This started a tradition that has continued, with a minimal presence in Damanhur to complement the Sieben Linden main office. Findhorn evenually replaced Damanhur a few years ago and this second outreach office grew into GEN International's headquarters.

Last summer, in conjunction with the resignation of Ulrike Schimmel in Sieben Linden, it was time to consider new locations. For me, as Advisor and former Council Member, it was clear that we needed to create a presence outside the three countries that always hosted GEN-EUROPE: Germany, Italy and the UK. There had been voices for several years from France and Spain about the predominance of English as the spoken language. I contacted Alfonso Flaquer in the GEN Europe Council asking if he could identify a community in Southwestern Europe wishing to host the office after Sieben Linden. In short he proposed a new, but dynamic, community in Navarra region which fit the criteria. At the last GA, the most developed proposal was exactly this – that Robert Hall would take over from Ulrike Schimmel during autumn 2014 and move the office to the new community of Arterra, to which Council Member Alfonso also moved. My expressed intention was to see that the office was established in Arterra and that I would transfer the office functions including the Managing Director's job to the team that would evolve at the new location. Of course, I did not know how long this would take.

Since December 2014, I have lived in Arterra and worked to build up the office and organisation. There have been both many joys as well as many challenges. I arrived with Gabriela Andreevska, Membership Officer/Programme Assistant, on 1 December and by 2 December we were basically a full-functioning GEN office. In early February we could welcome Youth Leader Kalle Randau, the first of 6 GEN-related mobility grantees that would be coming to the office to work on an online training platform for youth leaders on transition to resilience. By the end of February we welcomed a French Intern, Johanna Pfab, who is both researching the impact of innovative ecovillages on their regions and helping mobilise towards a GEN France.

The office has also seen a number of volunteers from the Arterra community, encouraged through weekly GEN cafés organised by members of the community. Nonty Charity Sabic, know to many in NextGEN circles, is joining the staff as GEN Conference Coordinator 2016, a highly suitable member combining her education and experience in event management with the fact that the conference is planned to be held in her Arterra in 2016. Another new face in the office is Samuel Pendleton, who has regularly volunteered to help facilitate the emergence of a GEN UK. Another member of the community, Herman Cloate, became involved in the drafting of the Horizon 2020 GIVEN proposal on inter-community trading and exchange. He also volunteered to help in the recruitment of a new Membership Officer. On 23 April, Fanny van Hal of the Dutch community of Thedinghsweert was selected to take up this post 1 August after Gabriela Andreevska. In early May, Arterra began to renovate a more appropriate office space for the growing GEN office.

Not all has gone as smoothly as we hoped. The quick EVS accreditation of Arterra made in August 2014 was not processed until April, preventing a good source of financed internships. The registration of the office with the Spanish authorities did not get started until December, and six months later is still not finalised. This means that GEN Europe still cannot pay its employees in Spain or offer them work permits. One silver lining to this cloud has been the continuous support from Arterra's Mauge Cañada in this difficult bureaucratic process.

Arterra is a very young community, just one year old. I think that this has been more of an advantage than disadvantage as the atmosphere has been open and accepting, even if some basic community functions are still not yet fine-tuned. The suspense remains until 6 July to see what proposal Arterra and perhaps other communities may present at the General Assembly on the long-term location of the GEN Europe office. This is both exciting but challenging personally as I wish to have a long-term decision on the office in place which will allow me to plan my own return to my Suderbyn community in Sweden.