Ecolise. Nara Petrovic

The time when ecovillages were places faraway in the woods is over

What connects us, brings us joy and is good for all: for ourselves, for our communities and for the Earth?

Can civil society think and plan further into the future than those that currently direct global development – primarily politicians and economists? Can an umbrella alliance represent community-lead local development and thereby long-term interests of people and nature, thus radically changing global development goals in Europe or even in the world? These are the questions raised by ECOLISE organization, which hosted its first General Assembly in Freiburg, Germany on February 7 and 8.
At a time when in Slovenia there are fervent debates in favour and against privatization; expressions of dissatisfaction over the gap between political elites and citizens; in the middle of opinions clashing, which energy investments are appropriate; and with debates on the problem of alienation of Euro-bureaucrats from what is actually happening in the member states ... Freiburg hosted an assembly of civil movements that are practically engaged in the field of sustainable society, developing a strategy that is urgently needed if we are to reach crucial goals for our survival: raising social cohesion and local self-sufficiency, stabilizing the economy, rational use of natural resources, achieving zero carbon footprint … the strategy is based on diverse and extensive activities that are already taking place in local communities, regardless of politics and economy.
Representatives of national networks of Transition Town Network, Global Ecovillage Network, Permaculture Network, and other organisations that represent grass-roots interests of the society have consolidated the European meta-network, using participatory decision-making. A few observers from universities and institutes also attended the assembly. Some participants have been employed in, or are still somehow connected with, political offices in Brussels in individual countries or in United Nations.

Transition as joy not as urgency

Filipa Pimentel used to work in various offices in Brussels, then she got in touch with Transition Movement, left her job, and moved back to her home town to support local transition to sustainability. Knowing well both her home environment and the gut of Euro-machinery she quickly found a niche for her voluntary involvement. Her family and neighbours were astounded, of course: who would want to abandon the security of a well-paid job in Brussels and go work voluntarily in Portuguese misery?
The crisis in Portugal is harsh. Salaries are low, while the prices are comparable to those in UK. Due to economic situation people keep opening up to new ideas. Filipa was well acquainted with the state of global economy, so right from the beginning of her involvement in Transition movement in Portugal, she stood for decoupling money from Transition. Transition events are thus conducted on the basis of gift economy. This opens a question of how much are people actually willing to give for goods and services? This results in growing local exchange and rethinking the (useful and harmful) functions of the foundation of existing economy: money.
A big shift in the way they operate is that they changed the basic motivation from urgency, hurrying, and hard work, to contentment, connecting and sharing. When they choose the next activity from the endless list of everything that needs to be done, their first criterion is: what connects them and brings joy. When people do what they enjoy, what even doesn't feel as work, they are much more efficient. They accomplish more than if they worked out of necessity.
Who wouldn't want to accomplish more while having a positive attitude to "work"? How much more we could do, if we surrendered to work that love to do with joy and sense of belonging? For something like that sincere people like Filipa are ready to give up highly paid office position and direct their energy to solutions, which their home needs – their home on the level of their village and on the level of the planet.

Slobbying – influence without corruption

Filipa spoke of a new concept of influencing policy, she called slobbying, in which highly competent people are made available to those who need them. Rather than forcing and pressuring, they build influence on credibility, transparency, professionalism and unobtrusive dissemination of information. Slobbyists are interested in the subject matter on the table, not in their own ego. The face is not the value in and of itself, so slobbyists, depending on the situation, bring to the fore a variety of experts according to their competences, while helping silently from behind. They want the best possible outcome for all involved, and not only increasing their own recognition, accumulating economic benefits for themselves and power for their clients.
Slobbyists therefore can not be corrupt, they can't just represent narrow interests of influential individuals or groups, they must understand the bigger picture and be highly ethical – while simultaneously being no less skilful communicators. Slobbyists' value must be common good, good for all.
In the background of slobbying is the question: How to create new normal without resistance? In other words: How to newly define normal and make the society embrace it without resisting the innovations? Most importantly the new "normal" has to be, as far as possible, good for all; it has to carry in itself a mechanism of self-correction, resetting, for the event that it stops to serve the purposes for which it was established.

Research of innovation in local communities

So far European institutions have not taken organizations, representing local communities, as equals in formulating development strategies. However this year things began to change. This is reflected in the contents of the new cohesion policy for local development (CLLD) for the period 2014 to 2020; in the UN call to action for sustainable development, called The Road to Dignity by 2030; in the UN sustainable development goals; and in the EU programme Horizon 2020, where for the first time people's, that is non-institutional, scientific research is internalised.
In organizations that make up the ECOLISE there is a treasure-house of innovations from all areas: social sciences, agriculture, politics, economy, energy, urbanism, and many more. Neither scientific institutes nor decision-makers are acquainted with them well enough, so they can not adequately include them in development strategies. They have never been a topic of a comprehensive, large-scale survey. In Ecolise we would like to see such a survey on the European level and consecutively the results disseminated in all spheres of society.
We don't know how the survey will take place and with what means. What we know is that we want to involve institutes and universities working in the areas of sustainable economy, agriculture, energy, building, etc. If various institutes joined hands and focused their research on the common aim of this meta-study, that would allow it to be really comprehensive and useful on the scale of entire Europe or even the world. European funding mechanisms abound with funds for such research, and the results will be easily applied in a wide range of sectors.
For publicity and dissemination of innovative practices we are preparing Share the Vision Tour, starting on April 22, 2016 and moving through 25 European counties, building bridges between the present consumerist culture and the future sustainable culture. In some countries coordination teams are already being established. New people are welcome to join in!

Where will we be in 20 years?

Ecolise attempts to co-create European policies with a different attitude than usually, while at the same time using the language which the relevant institutions easily understand. Instead of creating leadership and propaganda mechanisms, it creates supportive and navigation mechanisms. In Europe, we do not lack the knowledge, tools, materials and labour, we lack meaning, vision, direction and good navigation. Therefore Ecolise develops elaborate maps and navigation tools on how to get through difficult waters and joyfully navigate on even after 20, 50 years, or more.
Andy Goldring from Permaculture Association in UK asked a question: Can we look twice as far in the future as others, who are currently planning development strategy – to 2030 or even 2050? Can we be a few steps ahead of the current decision-makers and manage to get them to follow us, and not vice versa? Can we design a long-term vision that would be embraced by both civil servant and businessman, environmentalist and an average citizen?
In this spirit, on the initiative of Robert Hall, we are going to create Ecolise 2035 Report, which will rely on participatory methods to answer many pressing questions about the future. These answers will stir the development goals towards sustainable strategy – this tool will support civil society in factually navigating strategic development at all levels of society, from local communities to EU and beyond.
Robert Hall, managing director of Global Ecovillage Network Europe (GEN Europe) and one of the major inspirations for the forming of Ecolise, states: “The time when ecovillages were places faraway in the woods is over: As active participants of society, they co-design our future. Many policy makers in Brussels see these signs, and the doors for cooperation with GEN and ecovillages are wide open. For this GEN cooperates with related movements like the permaculture network and the transition town initiatives.”
Another person, central in how Ecolise developed from beginning to now, is Eamon O'Hara from the European Association for Information on Local Development (AEIDL). In the future, the management of the organization will be in the hands of the newly elected council, consisting of 11 competent representatives of civil society from all parts of Europe. In the coming years Ecolise wishes to influence the development of local potentials and combine vast local diversity into glocal euro-mosaic (one that combines global and local).

Parallel society for faster transition

From Slovenia came the idea of Parallel Europe: a wisely structured and open set of social agreements. Agreements are based on common values, protecting natural and social capital. The agreements are there to give the society new rules of the game, which serve common good. Thus emerging parallel social structure doesn't fight against existing structures, it doesn't distance itself from them, it doesn't criticize them, instead it actively seeks dialogue and solutions, side by side with them.
It is not a coup, a revolution, but simply jumping out of the box of old paradigms, where responsibility is predominantly held by impersonal authority – and thus actually carried by nobody. Responsibility is nowadays lost in endless bureaucracy, which is often end in itself, unrealistic, ossified, unresponsive.
In the parallel social dimension responsibility is personal and direct. This is the foundation of norms and ethics which are, sustainability-wise, more precise and strict than those in the existing legal system; each individual is actively accountable for her or his actions in relation to the common survival basis. The survival basis is protected by a charter (or declaration, act) created by each community with a participatory process, and signed by each individual. With such a charter the community gains legal grounds to stand for preservation and protection of their survival base, if anyone comes to threaten it.
The principles of Parallel Europe are:
philosophy “good for all” (whatever we do, affects all of us – there are no “them”)
we are all responsible for ourselves, for our communities, for the planet (we call this love in action)
cooperation instead of competition (we are really active citizens)
luxurious simplicity (enoughness is the basis for happiness, not growth)
transparency, openness

Those principles were conceived within the Initiative for Parallel Slovenia. The idea has been developing for eight months, and is still maturing and growing. This is the first time we are presenting it to the wider society. We emphasize that parallel society is based on agreements, arising from mutual trust which is the elementary social glue. Agreements are the basis of organic social order, including ethics, norms in relationships, conflict resolution, organization of work, distribution of goods, etc. Laws arise when agreements don't function well or when one group resorts to repressive methods to subordinate other groups.
An important guideline for us is the famous quote of Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Looking at the complexities of the world I have to admit: we do not know what is exactly arising in the world, what really needs to be done. However, we are not shutting our eyes at strikingly obvious signs that literally cry for us to take action. Therefore we encourage people to ask themselves what they really want, and to write down a priority list that reflects common values. We wish the key criteria would include, what connects us, brings us joy, and is good for all: for ourselves, for our communities and for the Earth.
Nara Petrovic

Thematic article