Community Movements Join Forces in Europe

Community Movements Join Forces in Europe


“Something ripe was bubbling out of all the movements,” is how the president of ECOLISE, Robert Hall, describes the time of ECOLISE’s formation in 2014. Leaders in ecovillage, Transition, permaculture, and similar movements across Europe were ready to join forces as a Europe-wide “network of networks.” Their unified purpose was to forward community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability.

ECOLISE is a testament to the desire amongst disparate local groups and their regional, national, and international networks, to nature their collective energy in order to increase their visibility, improve learning and exchange, and influence policy making as European and national levels.

The central political question ECOLISE poses is what kind of transition to a post-carbon future does Europe want: community-led or corporate-led? Community-led initiatives are bottom-up or citizen-driven. All share common characteristics, including being “explicitly ethically-grounded, holistically-oriented, place-based, self-organizing and rooted in cyclic and open-ended processes of collective learning.” Currently, 43 member organizations (more joining every year) bring together international and national networks, local initiatives (energy cooperatives, repair cafes, shared gardens, etc.), as well as specialist organizations – such as research and education bodies. While the focus is on European action, ECOLISE member organizations have a global network, with an estimated reach incorporating:

  • Twelve hundred Transition initiatives in 48 countries
  • Fifteen thousand ecovillage communities on six continents
  • Three million permaculture practitioners in 140 countries

There is a growing, vibrant movement… people throughout Europe and the world are taking action in all facets of their lives. They are inspired by regenerative design principles, by participatory decision-making and by a desire to create solutions to the greatest challenges of our time – climate change, social inequality, and environmental degradation.

2018 ECOLISE General Assembly

The ECOLISE General Assembly (GA) is an annual gathering of member organizations, Council, and staff hosted by a different organization each year at locations throughout Europe. The 2018 GA was hosted at an ancient castle now transformed into an environmental education center in Hollenfells, Luxembourg. Representatives from the 43 member organizations and 18 European countries met for three days. The gathering was a so-called “blended meeting” – with participants present both physically and online via Zoom. ECOLISE considers itself to be a “remote-first” organization and network, so makes a priority for meetings to be “remote-ready” to include participants who can’t or choose not to travel to in-person gatherings. I attended the meeting as representative from the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) in North America (GENNA), seeking to learn about ECOLISE, discover patterns, and make connections to support collaboration amongst the regenerative community initiatives in the US and Canada. I also attended as a representative of GEN, a member organization of ECOLISE as an international network of ecovillages. The GA was facilitated by a small team of 3-4 persons, along with a dedicated Zoom facilitator and camera person for the virtual participants. A colorful graphic recording of our sessions unfolded on a giant board in the main meeting room. The first meeting day centered on group introductions, a mapping exercise with the two-loops model of change adapted from the Berkana Institute, formal acceptance and welcome of new ECOLISE members, and a fishbowl-style conversation of ECOLISE – it’s past, present situation, and future developments.  After power-point presentations and reports from each of four the ECOLISE staff persons, the majority of the gathering revolved around the “Design for Wiser Action” process. We broke into teams based on the three strategy pillars of ECOLISE: 1. Knowledge & Learning, 2. Communications, and 3. Policy, as well as three additional areas ECOLISE would like to continue exploring and expanding: 1. Platform Design, 2. Membership & Outreach and 3. Resource Mobilization. The “Design for Wiser Action” process was used to develop all these areas in small groups during our meeting days.


…and patterns for GENNA

>>> Patience

A number of persons I spoke with at the gathering stressed the time it takes to build large-scale collaborative initiatives such as ECOLISE. The original co-creators were in dialogue for five or more years before the idea of ECOLISE was ready to become an International Association in May 2014. There was a huge initial challenge for resources and funding, especially as a new organization with no track record to show proven success to potential donors. Council members gave considerable voluntary service to move the project forward. It was only in 2017 that ECOLISE was able to secure sizable funding and hire staff to test the strategy of the organization. When I asking for advice from founding members regarding creating an ECOLISE-type effort in North America the main message I received was tohave patience. During the gathering, I had fruitful conversations with Tina Clarke, from the US, who has been active in the Transition Town movement and was brought on as a consultant to ECOLISE since 2017. She spoke of conflicts within the US Transition Town movement and struggles to bring together competing personalities, opinions, egos, etc. From her stories I was reminded of similar challenges we have faced within our own intentional community and ecovillage-focused networks in North America. Although I could be mistaken, I have also heard stories of these types of challenges amongst the permaculture networks in the US. The road towards collaboration is not always easy. My reflection is that we need more time in North America to “get our own camps in order,” so to speak, before and/or as we look to cross-movement collaboration in the style of ECOLISE. We need strong leaders and stable networks in our North American intentional community/ecovillage, Transition Town, and permaculture movements. GENNA will serve to strengthen the regenerative communities network, while similar initiatives can operate to unite, strengthen, and clarify other movements within the broader regenerative movement. I spoke with leaders in ECOLISE who are willing to support through sharing patterns, tools, and resources in global partnership with our initiatives in North America.

>>> Platform

The breakout group I spent the most time in conversation with was the Platform Design team. The nature of ECOLISE is at once that of an organization pushing a cohesive policy agenda for community-led transition and simultaneously that of a platform for broad-base collaboration amongst diverse member organizations. This dual focus expressed itself as a subtle point of tension during the meeting. To be a legitimate voice in policy, ECOLISE must interface with the mainstream by conforming to it’s conventional or “square” structures – in a way, serving as “hospice care” for a dying system. Yet, to also be a truly innovative platform, ECOLISE must focus inwards to generate a commons of resources, communication, and support for its members – as one participant framed it, “putting the squares in service to organic shapes.” The need for focus on the later half of this two-sided mission is what was highlighted during the ECOLISE GA. What are the benefits for members joining ECOLISE? How to create a space of mutual empowerment? Within GENNA we have also experienced this subtle tension…SQUARE SHAPE

GEN seeks to bring cohesion amongst the Regions –  co-designing shared targets, protocols and organizational structures for all Regions to implement. GENNA will need a developed organization to meet the needs of GEN and also harvest the opportunities of being a Region – channeling funds, resources, information, and publicity to and from our Region, GEN, and the wider world. Having an organizational structure is also conducive to meeting the mainstream – for grant writing, public relations, and efficient administrative work. In the past year, GENNA has fulfilled these functions with a Council and two 20 hour/ month staff positions. There is need for more robust organizational structure. One approach is to look within our Region to which organization already closely matches our organizational needs and may be willing to adapt their direction and evolve into GENNA. I see a number of possibilities within the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC). Since the ECOLISE meeting I have been sharing my reflections and exploring these possibilities with leaders in FIC.  ORGANIC SHAPE

Then, we look at the differing needs of the GENNA Alliance (placeholder name), the project GENNA has directed the majority of its energy and funding towards during the past year. Already the Alliance has brought together several organizations and networks within the regenerative communities movement for joint projects (consultancy and events being early areas of initiative) with so much room to grow! Within the Alliance the need is for a robust platform, transcending typical organizational structures to become a truly innovative Participatory Commons – people unified by a shared vision and actively collaborating within an ecosystem of mutual empowerment. The health of a natural ecosystem is measured by the number and quality of exchange amongst its species. Our “organic shape” of an Alliance will prove itself through active and joyful exchange amongst its members.

>>> GEN as a Network

Before and after the ECOLISE meeting I had the opportunity to visit several ecovillage projects in Europe. While I have visited many communities in Europe in the past, especially for GEN Europe conferences, this time I was particularly struck by the vibrancy of GEN as a network in Europe. Members of the ecovillages I visited excitedly described the collaborative projects they are engaged in within their national networks and with other communities around Europe. Each national network has its own leaders and often an organization to direct funding and carry out initiatives. People spoke proudly of being members of GEN. There was a sense that, for them, GEN is something they all took part in creating and are responsible for growing. This inspired me greatly. Although we have many organizations that support intentional communities, and even small local networks of such communities in our GEN Region, we are missing a truly grassroots network of communities with vibrant exchange taking place across North America. Of course, there are key differences between Europe and North America as regions. For one, the identity of Europe as a region is much stronger, both politically (European Union) and culturally, than North America is for residents of the US and Canada. Europe is composed of smaller countries that, for the most part, reflect real cultural and linguistic differences (unlike the States of the US). Additionally there is a larger amount of government funding available for community initiatives (ex. Erasmus+).

I’m inspired by the Bioregional Mapping project we have proposed to work on within the Alliance. Re-drawing the map of our region based on ecological and cultural distinctions, as well as the hot-spots of current community projects, is an innovative solution for how to organize our network. And GEN Europe is just one model for what it means to be a region of GEN. CASA has pursued a different model; as I understand it, including permaculture and other movements into the fold of GEN in Latin America. They chose a unique name for their region, CASA, meaning in English the Council of Sustainable Settlements of Latin America. GENNA is also empowered to choose a unique name its our own, if we so choose.Much gratitude goes to GENNA for the funding support to allow me to attend this meeting. I hope that the outcomes, including this report, serve the evolution of GENNA, the Alliance, and our shared vision for a more regenerative, resilient, and healthy future. Please contact me with any further questions about GENNA or ECOLISE. 

Article written by Cynthia Tina (GENNA International Coordinator) for GENNA Alliance.

ECOLISE General Assembly | March 26-28, 2018 | LuxembourgIf you’d like to learn more and get involved in our work with GENNA Alliance, please visit my Consultation Page. I’d love to weave you into the web!  

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Cynthia Tina

Hi, I’m Cynthia.

I’m the community matchmaker, here to help you find an intentional community to call home. I’ve visited hundreds of communities around the world — ecovillages, cohousings, agrihoods, housing coops…

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