Learning How to Start a Successful Ecovillage
By Diana Leafe Christian
I began teaching workshops and courses on how to start successful new ecovillages almost by accident. I was editor of Communities magazine in North America for many years, and visited many communities in the US. This led to presenting workshops on how to start new communities, including ecovillages; writing two books on ecovillages; and now publishing this newsletter about ecovillages internationally. Then becoming an instructor in an Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) course as well as an instructor in a month-long course on ecovillages at a small college in the Midwest.
Over the years in this work I’ve become passionate about what experiences really help people become informed and empowered enough to create successful new ecovillages. What learning methods work best?
In this article I’d like to share effective ways I’ve found to help people who take my courses and workshops learn how to start ecovillages, including wonderful online resources you can see right now.
• Crystal Waters Ecovillage, Australia
• Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland
• Sieben Linden, Germany - German-language trailer for a documentary, Menschen Träume Taten (“People Dreams Actions”)
• Rodnoye Ecovillage, Russia
• Cloughjourdan Ecovillage, Ireland
Creating a Life Together, for example, I interviewed founders of successful as well as failed projects in the US in the 1990s. Like a permaculture designer observing the landscape, I saw obvious patterns about what seemed to work well. Permaculture designers incorporate the way nature actually functions in their landscapes (instead going against it!). Thus they get higher yields with less time and effort. Similarly, I learned that successful community founders designed communities that incorporated the way human nature actually works (instead of going against it!). These founders too, got “higher yields” — successful, thriving communities. But this design was incorporated with only 10 percent of those I interviewed! The other 90 percent didn’t do this, and their communities failed.
2. Show the rewards of ecovillage life. I want course participants to know why we create ecovillages: that it’s not only good for the Earth but feels good too! The following short video of La’akea Ecovillage, Hawaii, expresses these social and cultural benefits of ecovillage life.
A decade later Russell Austerberry asked the same kinds of questions, interviewing 35 community founders in 18 ecovillages up and down Australia's East Coast. Even though it was a different country, and in a different century, the same kinds of patterns were revealed. See his article, Rules of Thumb for Starting an Ecovillage” in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of this newsletter.
I also like to share GEN co-founder Robert Gilman’s insights on “multiple centers of initiative,” a phrase he added in 1998 to his famous ecovillage definition. Please see article: “Robert Gilman on Multiple Centers of Initiative,” in the September 2008 issue of this newsletter.
4. Give ‘em a taste — of ecovillage design. The best way to learn something, I believe, is to apply what you’ve learned soon after learning it by teaching it to others. So I ask course participants to meet periodically in small groups to design an ecovillage they envision, and present it to the rest of the group at the end of the course. It could be a real project one of them is working on, or an imagined project they make up for this exercise. I ask them to include many of the above elements, and encourage them to make it seem as real as possible — through verbal description and visual aids such as power point presentations, realistic-looking site plans, and so on.“Ecovillage Economics: Dancing Rabbit’s ELMs System,” this issue.
I also like to introduce the idea of micro-loans. Here’s a wonderful short video “Senegal Ecovillage Microfinance Fund” about how micro-loans help villagers in the Senegalese Ecovillage Network (SEN).
6. And a taste — of communication and group process skills. Participants in an ecovillage course want to experience the “spirit of community” with each other too. What works well for inducing this sense in the temporary community of a residential course can include getting to know each other better through check-ins, sharing circles and/or talking-stick circles, and learning conflict resolution processes, just for practice — as well as for actually use if conflict arises in the group!
As part of this process I like to share these online articles about various aspects of the consensus decision-making process:
The following websites offer free downloadable information about consensus from professional consensus trainers in the US and Mexico:
• Website of consensus trainer Tree Bresson.
• Website of consensus trainer Beatrice Briggs and the International Institute for Facilitation and Change (IIFAC).
• Free downloadable booklet, “On Conflict and Consensus,” by CT Butler:EDE course offered in the Philippines (in Cabiao, south of Manila, August 28-September 25, 2010). It’s the first time that we know of that these methods will be used in this particular combination in an EDE course. We’re quite excited about it.
An ecovillage course can be empowering, inspiring, and filled with practical information. It can help grow more ecovillages and ecovillage-like projects in the world. It’s an honor to be an instructor in these courses . . . and watch the global ecovillage movement grow!
For more information on the Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) course Diana will co-teach in the Philippines, see the Happy Earth website.
Portions of this article first appeared in the May, 2010 issue of the “Ecovillage Roots” column on the GEN website (Global Ecovillage Network) home page.