This year’s Global Ecovillage Network Summit at Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, marked the organisation’s tremendous growth and development since its emergence 20 years ago. Returning to the place where GEN was launched into the world in 1995, the founders Ross and Hildur Jackson were joined by other GEN legends, Declan Kennedy, Robert Gilman, Jan-Martin Bang and Helena Norberg-Hodge, in bearing witness to how their offspring has now developed contacts with communities on every inhabited continent on the planet.
GEN encompasses a highly diverse range of cultures and has diversified to include projects ranging from North-South reconciliation, reforestation, gender and generation dialogue to disaster relief.
Over 330 participants from 65 countries poured their energy, creativity and enthusiasm into the event, keeping the Community Centre and the Universal Hall throbbing until late at night.
Unfortunately the UK Border Agency did not share GEN’s vision of coming together as one humanity. It turned 16 conference participants away, most of whom are from Africa and the Middle East, including Fayez Karimeh, a refugee from Syria who had already gained asylum in Sweden and is working on establishing an ecovillage there to teach sustainable livelihood skills to fellow refugees.
The Border Agency’s refusal to allow some hopeful participants into the country, reflected the stark contrast between ecovillages in less privileged countries versus those of the privileged ‘first’ world.
While living in a European or American ecovillage can be a lifestyle choice, choosing to live in an ecovillage in financially poorer, or more unstable, countries can be a way of simply staying alive. Summit participant Gildardo Tuberquia from the peace community San José de Apartadó in Colombia, for example, shared that their farmers need to work on their fields in groups because, if they do not, either insurgents or government-affiliated paramilitaries might kill them. This is one more example of community as being a most vital and precious remedy for humanity.
The gathering witnessed some tense moments in its various encounter groups. As Palestinians and Israelis attempted to establish a GEN Middle East, they had to decide that the first step is to create a separate GEN Israel and GEN Palestine. Ecovillagers from the global South met ecovillagers from the global North and both groups noticed how the legacy of colonialism made communication more complex, even as both try to learn from each other’s wisdom. It is still quite a path to reconciliation and mutual understanding, and GEN is walking it bravely.
Another hot topic was the developments in Greece. The founders of the Greek ecovillage-to-be, Skala, shared the situation under the economic crisis. Without much hope in the austerity measures opposed by the EU, they developed a strategy for Greece during the summit: to establish learning centers for sustainability and ecovillage expertise to help more and more people become independent from the economical crisis.
Even before the summit, GEN had fundraised to allow many participants from developing countries to be able to attend. During the conference they also started fundraising for the Greek development.
What perhaps emerged most clearly in the summit was the magnetic and radiant power of the ecovillage movement. The GEN participants filled the Findhorn Park with a powerful atmosphere of celebration, enthusiasm, connection and the living out of ideals. That, plus the ecovillage movement’s extraordinary growth and evolution in the last two decades, suggests that it is manifesting not just a social form, but a new way of living on this Earth. In this way, it is a movement that remains close to the heart of the place where GEN emerged into the world: the Findhorn Foundation.
Results and Consequences
The GEN summit was accompanied by board and member meetings of Gaia Education, GEN Europe and GEN International with some surprising results.
Firstly, Kosha Joubert stepped down as President of GEN International, but will take up her new paid position as CEO of GEN, building bridges between GEN and the wider world, while also establishing a professional organisational structure. Generous new funding by Gaia Trust for the next 3-5 years makes this possible.
The new GEN Presidents are: Daniel Greenberg from the Sirius Ecovillage in the USA, and Beatriz Arjona, from Aldeia Feliz in Colombia.
Working groups such as the “emerGENcies protocols/ Blueprint” for offering consultation in areas of crisis; a GEN strategy group, a working group for the collaboration with the UN, and a group for GEN business strategies worked on direct plans and concepts for the future of GEN and its subgroups.
The Ecovillage Excellency Awards, each being worth 1500 Euros, were given to the Ecovillage’s Incubator Program (Spain), Bafut Ecovillage (Cameroon) and Communtierra (Latin America). This time the jury consisted of the founding generation’s Ross and Hildur Jackson, Declan Kennedy and Robert Gilman. Many participants were in favor of Skala Ecovillage in Greece, but the jury believed that they will receive their fundings in other ways, which seemed to be true: in a generous act, the Spanish Ecovillages’ Incubator team promised and shared a portion of the prize money to support the strategy for a sustainable Greece.
The General Assembly was remarkable, partly painful and, in the end, very successful. GEN Europe had to release its council and elect a new one. Macaco Tamerice resigned her role as President and left the council, Robert Hall and Kosha Joubert left their job as managing directors, but Robert agreed to remain in the council, and Momo-Jana Mohaupt, Alfonso Flaquer and Zoltan Radha Krishna will not be part of the incoming council. With huge appreciation and gifts we released them. Only Thomas Heuser from ZEGG agreed to stay in the council for another period to guarantee some continuity.
In an interesting election process using the method of sociocracy, the General Assembly found a new council. Everybody wrote the name of a person he or she would like to see in the council on a piece of paper and put it in the circle, having then the opportunity to say some words about why this person would be a good choice. In a second round, the circle could stay with their choice or change to a different person, regarding the other suggestions or the reaction of the chosen person. In this way, people accumulated the votes in a very transparent way.
The advantage of the process was that it brought in new ideas of people who we would love to see in the council, sometimes most surprising to the chosen people who might never have thought of themselves as representatives! With this acknowledgement some also received the courage to say yes to the new task.
The flaw of this election system might be that after a time-consuming election process it turns out that the person does not accept the election, and it has to be started over. But in general, we perceived it as a great tool for transparency and efficiency.
The new council consists of: Thomas Heuser (ZEGG, Germany), Robert Hall (Suderbyn, Sweden), Inci Gökmen (Günesköy, Turkey), Françoise … (Hameaux des Buis, France) and Rosalie Poskin (Los Portales, Spain). The GA was very happy about this diverse and enthusiastic team that started their work right away during the summit. Thomas pointed out that this year GEN Europe faces a severe lack of funding, which will be one of the main tasks of the council to work on. Any ideas and support is very welcome.
The General Assembly decided to have the GEN Europe office remain in the Arterra ecovillage in Spain. The new office and managing team consists of Alfonso Flaquer (Comunnications Officer), Genny Carraro (Managing director), Hermann Cloete (Office Manager and IT), Nonty Sabic (events manager), Fanny Van Hal (membership care) and introducing Mauge Cañada as capacity builder.
The next GEN Europe conference (our own european 20 years celebration!) will be hosted by the Arterra ecovillage, and the staff praised the many advantages of this place, such as the Spanish good weather, fair prices to allow people from southern and peripheral European countries to attend our first bilingual conference, an innovative, soft and celebrative program, and others. While it is still open as to where the conference will be in 2017 (surely in Sweden at Angkegartën settlement), the Estonian representatives invited the GEN family for their hosted Summer Conference 2018 to come to their country and thus co-celebrating its 100 years of independence.
By Thomas Miller and Leila Dregger
Please also read the report of some of the working groups:
Deep Exchange between Communities: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5846
Gender Dialogue: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5860
Science and Research: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5890