By Fernando Ausin-Gómez
FINDHORN, Scotland — It was a meeting of the minds that won’t soon be forgotten in permaculture and ecovillage circles. The Global Ecovillage Network 20th Anniversary Summit (GEN + 20) brought approximately 400 participants from 70 countries co-create a temporary weeklong global community, illustrating through its example the pillars of sustainability: to live together, work together, and celebrate our achievements.
“Celebrating Our Diversity,” held during the second week in July, took place in the legendary Scottish ecovillage of Findhorn with the aim of consolidating a successful network that bridges all continents, sharing lessons, experiences, challenges and achievements of the past 20 years, and co-creating strategic plans for a common future.
The vision, according to Kosha Joubert, President of GEN International since 2008, is to help “maintain a space for global solidarity, to provide support in confronting natural disasters, to help to green the schools and to carry out work towards sustainability that reaches all sectors of society. The Global Ecovillage Network serves to support us in times of need.” Undoubtedly this feeling of community— or common-unity—was one of the pillars of the Summit.
As Robert Gilman, one of the founders of GEN 20 years and the one who coined the term eco-village, wisely said: “We are the seeds of the future, interconnecting.” However, the question posed at the outset was: “How can we sustain ourselves, make our children be proud of us and our work, and also re-connect spiritually with this world?” Given the level of complexity that this personal, social and environmental work required, we took on the task for five days try to answer these questions.
From Latin America we were well represented by nine delegates: from Argentina (Sebastian Pibi), Brazil (Leticia Rigatti), Colombia (Beatriz Arjona and Margarita Zethelius), Mexico (Alberto Ruz and Fernando Ausin), Uruguay (Lucia Battegazzore) and eco-nomadism continental (Ryan Luckey). Joined together through CASA — the Council of Sustainable Settlements of the Americas — we are a combination of “artivists,” grandparents of the eco-village movement, international caravanistas, permaculture trainers, ecovillage designers, educators towards sustainability, promoters of productive projects, and revitalizers of the ancient cultures, among others.
We were born of a turn of the spiral of time in the ’60’s, when the advance of that generation of young protesters made a radical break with the status quo and that today, half a century later, we link intercontinentally with the new generations, with the primary mission of reconnecting to rescue the best traditional values of our territories and contribute to a planetary healing. As CASA, our main contribution is to inspire actions of personal, social and environmental reconciliation, using love, understanding and compassion as our main ammunition. During our last meeting, the ECCO (CASA meeting in Aldea Feliz, Colombia), conducted in the last week of June, we were able to organize according to a participatory, sociocratic methodology and very tangible achievements were obtained, which all participants of GEN + 20 applauded enthusiastically.
While our local actions are of great importance, why is it important to connect globally? We need to act locally and think globally, and these days at the Summit have helped us analyze our perspectives, find allies and recognize that we are not alone. Throughout the world there are thousands of proactive change agents, planters and pollinators of ideas, and regenerative land and companies like us. We understand more clearly that if we co-create a new paradigm, we need to strengthen and empower these alliances of mutual and collective support.
When starting the Summit, we had the opportunity to watch a video of the this network’s inception in 1995, and noticed that the activities, communication, intentions and goals 20 years ago are not only very similar, but exactly the same as ours nowadays. And with this realization that we are speaking the same speech then, we wonder logically: “So what has been achieved in 20 years of this movement?” Some answered that the network has managed to manifest dreams that seemed vaguely utopian, to become in a tangible and measurable reality.
Well, the results speak for themselves …
Starting with the fact that GEN has been a consultative member of the United Nations (UN) in its committees of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) from the year 2000, and thus has spent 15 years maneuvering strategically global policy advocacy. Additionally, 10 years ago the educational program towards sustainability called “Gaia Education” was formed at a GEN+10 Summit. Through the hard work of dozens of its permaculture and conscious educators, it has been able to obtain significant achievements in global educational paradigms.
The EDE (Ecovillage Design Education and Educational Design for Ecovillage) program has been conducted in over 34 countries, reaching more than 5,000 people to create a more sustainable society through hundreds of courses, workshops, conferences, events and presentations.
And thanks to the work of GEN and its permanent school, CLUNY, the site of the University Findhorn Foundation, sustainability practices today happen in schools and universities throughout different countries. Some are already in the process of incorporating the principles and values of Gaia Education to their school curricula. In countries like Senegal, Africa, the government collaborates with GEN through its National Ecovillage Agency to deploy 14,000 Ecovillages in traditional villages along its territory. Initiatives, groups, regional, national and intercontinental networks such as CASA are forming, which themselves speak of the achievements and integrity of this global movement.
We are at a very special moment in history, given that just days before the beginning of the GEN+20 meeting, Pope Francis issued his encyclical, “Laudato Sí,” consisting of the most eco-revolutionary global mandate that the Catholic Church has issued since its founding, calling for the care and regeneration of Mother Earth. This document, which was issued not only to followers of the Catholic faith but to all of humanity, points directly to the main causes of social, environmental and economic disaster and urges society to organize and stop them. The most expansive governments and multinationals are no longer finding ways to meet the unlimited needs of the market, and instead follow a logic of extraction and irrational consumption, are increasingly showing signs that they have to make very profound paradigm shifts.
And even in countries like the United States, the doors to diversity and openness of thought, gender and creed are beginning to open more every day. In general, as members of one human community, more and more we realized the need to re-connect with the natural cycles of life, and to make changes in our consumption, care and actions, making us more aware of our negative impact on our social and environmental surroundings. We are on track. One of the quotes mentioned in the Summit was: “The future is quieter than the present; we just have to tune in to that vibration to hear it.” The question we constantly asked ourselves during the Summit remains unanswered: “Are we doing it well and fast enough?”
Global ecovillage leaders, dialoguing with experts in business and professional consultancies, constantly repeated that our mission should be: “How to add value to society through our activities and, at the same time, be economically sustainable?” That is, how can we maximize our potential reach and effectiveness in the world and still be economically recognized for our work in a market that rewards not philanthropy or service but the biggest exploiters of natural and human resources?
The GEN vision in the face of current challenges and for the coming years is to continue expanding the network, to help implement new eco-villages in places like refugee camps worldwide, and to create more and more oases of life in many countries, crystallizing the promise of a global peace in a tangible reality.
The goals are clear: to help create 10,000 to 20,000 new sustainable settlements in more than 100 countries that serve as examples of regeneration and resilience towards a better world. And to accomplish that, we need to professionalize our organization, increase our portfolio of educational services to professional consulting services, and help foster business plans, strategic goals and plausible goals. Moreover, we need to reinvent our organization to achieve a more participatory, inclusive, and sociocratic model that is fair to all participants and members of the organization. At the same time, the times demand a constant interconnectivity through cutting-edge technological services, digital forums and spaces to share practices and solutions through the web. We must create joint conferences that inspire action, proposals to strengthen the financial and social base and to have greater impact in the political arena, among other things.
Various Latin American leaders are developing a strategy of national and global reach to achieve the implementation of the Rights of Mother Earth http://worldconsciouspact.org/es/declaracion-por-los-derechos-de-la-madre-tierra/ as a holistic law that revalues the ancient and sacred for application in the complex context of our world today. It may seem as a radical change from an anthropocentric legislative approach to a biocentric one, but it is a step that is fundamental for human survival on what we call a planet—that living entity which is our common home and mother, our Pachamama.
The principal donors to the Global Ecovillage Network, Ross and Hildur Jackson (through the “Gaia Trust” Foundation), upon seeing the results of the Network in these 20 years and the commitment of its participants, along with the long and arduous path that still remains to be done, decided at the beginning of the summit to significantly increase their financial support almost 300%. They also handed out the “Global Excellence Award” as a recognition and financial reward to three projects with global impact this year; the Común Tierra project of Leticia Rigatti and Ryan Luckey of CASA, an educational center and ecovillage in Cameroon, and an ecovillage incubator in Spain. The representatives who were elected to lead GEN for years to come and help us attune to these realities are Daniel Greenberg GEN-United States and our sister Beatriz Arjona from CASA Colombia, as vice-president. If as the founders of GEN said, we are “the pulse of the Earth vibrating through ourselves,” we are slowly deciphering the clues to make our daily decisions and to build a culture of peace with ourselves, with others and with Mother Earth. And we still have much work ahead to be done…
Latin America, united with the natural and social world, will forever be sustainable!
As an interesting anecdote … some of us went to the GEN + 20 after the CASA Continental Meeting in Colombia; others of us went up to visit the Mamos, the wise elders of the Kogi communities of the Sierra de Santa Marta in Colombia. Within the framework of the GEN + 20, the film “Aluna” was shown, recounting the prophecy and warning of the need for change that the Kogi elders emphasized for mankind today. Meanwhile, in Colombia, the Kogi Mamos told that according to their grandparents, there would come a time when people in beards and long hair would arrive in the mountains, and that would be the sign of brotherhood and equality among their communities and the foreign ones … since we have much work to do.
At the GEN+20 meeting we also shared the ways in which we are integrating new methodologies such as sociocracy as well as ancestral knowledge such as the Shewa of the Arhuaco brothers and sisters (a tribal group closely related to the Kogi people, also living in the Sierra Madre de Santa Marta). Undoubtedly, the indigenous and Western worlds are once again coming together since the times of equality and collaborative work has arrived, from the bridge of Scotland to Colombia and spreading to the whole world!
Fernando Ausín-Gómez is an educator, writer and nomadic healer based currently in Amatlán, Morelos, México. He is one of two Mexico representatives for CASA (Consejo de Asentimientos Sustentables de las Americas), the Latin American branch of the Global Ecovillage Network.
Alberto Ruz Buenfil, Leticia Rigatti and Ryan Luckey contributed to this report.
Photography by Fernando Ausin, Leticia Rigatti, Ryan Luckey, Alberto Ruz, Christopher Kindig y Ralf Krause
Translation: Tracy Barnett