The Fall 2018 edition of Communities, focused on “Networking Communities,” is now available by donation for digital download.
Flames flickering in the hearth only added to the warmth we each felt inside, with raw cacao and a hit of chile in our bellies. In the midst of laughter and storytelling by the fire, a slim stack of papers floated from person to person. The reason we had gathered was a document, barely more than five pages, yet the culmination of over five years of exploration, trial, healing, and deep community building. Each signature to grace the final page signaled welcome to a new era of collaboration amongst key networking organizations in the regenerative communities movement.
My involvement with GENNA Alliance began in Spring 2014 at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage1 in Missouri. I was invited as the North American representative of NextGEN2 (global network for ecovillage youth) to participate in an attempt to form a consortium together with the Foundation for Intentional Community3 (FIC) and both the US and Canadian networks of the Global Ecovillage Network4 (GEN). Although many of the same individuals sat in the room then as in our most recent meeting, the outcome four years ago was quite different. We had failed to formalize any partnership. The time for deeper collaboration was not yet ripe.
Barriers to collaboration within the regenerative communities movement are no different than those found the world over: ego, organizational baggage, scarcity mentality, attachment, lack of trust and transparency, bureaucracy, competition, etc. These are consequences of deep cultural wounds. Challenges like these do not simply go away. They must be recognized as they arise and handled with patience, remembering that it takes time to build bonds of lasting trust. The test of successful collaboration is when we are able to harness tension for its tremendous power and life-sustaining potential.
In the years that followed the Dancing Rabbit meeting, various configurations of FIC, GEN, and similar organizations met in attempts to bring greater cohesion and solidarity to the regenerative communities movement in North America. Though the location and constituents were different, the driver for each meeting remained the same: to take our collaboration to the next level for a thriving network. None of us wanted to build yet another organization, but rather harness what each organization already brings to the table for strategic partnerships, joint projects, shared staff, and more.
About GENNA Alliance
During our most recent meeting in May 2018, we sat by the fireplace in the cozy community room at La Cité Écologique5 of New Hampshire to initiate a formal partnership of six key networking organizations:
● Foundation for Intentional Community6: Supporting and promoting the development of intentional communities and the evolution of cooperative culture (through Communities Magazine, Directory of Communities, online resources, event co-sponsorship, and more).
● VillageLab7: Developing and offering customized whole systems designs in organizational architectures, new paradigm economic systems, and community cohesion creation for “communities of intent” of all types including businesses and intentional communities.
● NuMundo8: Facilitating the transformation of individuals and the world through an interconnected network of impact centers (ecovillages, intentional communities, permaculture farms, social projects, and retreat centers).
● NextGENNA9: Propelling young adults to energize ecovillages and intentional communities through events, education, and leadership opportunities.
● GEN-US10: A meeting place and incubator for leaders in the ecovillage movement from the United States.
● GEN-Canada (re-emerging network): Contact email@example.com for more information.
Although these partners have different missions, histories, and organizational cultures, they recognize that on a foundational level they share a similar vision for the future:
“We envision a world of interdependent cooperative communities stewarding the conditions of regeneration, justice, peace, and abundance, in order to realize the full potential of flourishing for all life, for all generations to come.”—GENNA Alliance
This is exciting news for community land projects throughout North America! GENNA Alliance is actively designing ways to better serve and make visible those doing community-building work on the ground. We believe that communities of practice, place, and purpose offer essential solutions to many of the world’s pressing social and ecological crises. Broadly, we term this phenomenon the regenerative communities movement, a subset of a wider regenerative movement, comprised of innumerable individuals and groups that share a common vision of humanity living in co-creative harmony with Earth’s biosphere and with each other.
Some of the key project areas we intend to focus on are:
● Bioregional Mapping: Create a bioregional communities map of North America to reflect real geographical, cultural, and population boundaries.
● GENNA Consultancy: Form an association of community consultants to reach more groups in need of service, design for better quality, share revenue, and stack staffing functions.
● Data Sharing: Pool information about thousands of regenerative land projects around the world into a central database for distributed sharing on the websites of each contributing organization.
● Events: Produce virtual and in-person gatherings for those who wish to plug into GENNA Alliance, gain skills to further their missions, and network for greater collaboration. In October 2018, we intend to partner with the Convergence at Arcosanti11, Arizona, to produce an incubator-style gathering for leaders in the regenerative communities movement.
● Cogeneration: Develop innovative ways to share resources, energy, enterprise, and knowledge amongst GENNA Alliance partners. We can strategize for mutual empowerment by mapping the needs and strengths of each contributor. For example, when funding is needed for a project, we can tap into the group’s resources to kickstart the endeavor and tithe back to the collective.
The two-part name, GENNA Alliance, reflects our two-fold nature.
GENNA stands for the North American Region of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). We focus on meeting the needs of community projects within “Turtle Island,” the name given to North America in the creation stories of some indigenous peoples. The image of a turtle in our logo is meant to honor the rich cultural heritage and ecology of Turtle Island, as we work to grow community networks towards a more beautiful, just, and regenerative world.
The word Alliance signifies that we are an independent “collaborative platform” designed to synergize our efforts as organizations. Collaborative platform is just one of many phrases being used to describe new ways of organizing human endeavor that are more responsive to the needs of our increasingly complex world. In a recent interview, Arthur Brock, of Holochain12, describes the situation succinctly: “We are using the organizational structures of industrial age machines, when we need to become information age organisms.”
At this time, over 20 individuals run and steward the development of GENNA Alliance.
Ants and bumble bees build miracles of nature with more grace than our organizations can often manifest getting an e-newsletter out. The nature of nature is collaborative. What secrets can we remember from the natural world? What happens when we aspire to the grandeur, efficiency, and productivity of ecosystems?
In GENNA Alliance, we use the notion of the “the commons” to help explain how our collaborative platform operates based on patterns found in the natural world. Jeff Clearwater, of VillageLab, explains, “Throughout our evolution we have had the notion of the commons. That which belongs to everybody yet nobody—our shared sets of resources that nobody can or should own—the very air we breathe, the water—the oceans, our languages and culture.” The shared resources of GENNA Alliance include social media reach, staff roles, community mapping data, consultancy clients, and more. As stewards of GENNA Alliance, our job is to co-design protocols and values to manage these shared resources.
Another pattern observed in the natural world is dynamic (chaordic) balance between chaos and order. While tech-pioneers of the modern age are designing protocols for the universal interoperability of computer systems (decentralized, open source, etc.), likewise, next generation organizations are noticing they function remarkably well when control is released and way is given for simple (lean) and flexible (agile) agreements to take root. Participation amongst members is vital for the thriving of any commons. GENNA Alliance has limited staff and bureaucracy by design. Much as the health of a forest is reflected in the vibrancy of exchange amongst its species, the health of GENNA Alliance depends on the active exchange of its members.
A Global Pattern
In my engagement with collaborative platforms around the world, I have noticed a spectrum of emerging models. While I’ll describe just three of these “networks of networks” as examples here, an extended list can be found on my website: www.cynthiatina.com.
● Permaculture CoLab13: Born at the 12th International Permaculture Convergence in London in 2015, the Permaculture Collaborative Laboratory (CoLab) is a space to collaborate and enhance the effectiveness of permaculture networks around the world. The CoLab is experimenting with sociocracy and constellation frameworks to foster the development of working groups, with thematic or geographical focuses. This potential chaos is organized with the help of “the secretariat” for stewardship and technical support. (Model: A project of the Permaculture Association, a UK nonprofit. Anyone can join the CoLab on a voluntary basis through the Colab dashboard, supported by the User Guide and Secretariat.)
● ECOLISE14: The European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability, ECOLISE is a growing coalition of over 40 member organization, including Transition Town, permaculture, ecovillage, and similar movements. On the spectrum of chaos and order, ECOLISE has a strong organizational structure which well positions them to interface with policy makers in the European Union, United Nations, and national governments. At the same time, ECOLISE seeks to become a platform for its members, with simple processes to enable anyone to propose projects, balancing individual agency and collective intelligence. (Model: Nonprofit including a general assembly, council, executive board, and secretariat. Running on annual membership fee and fundraising. Application to join.)
● Post Growth Alliance15: A platform with a singular and remarkably effective purpose: “a cooperative content creation and social media marketing service that leverages the collective reach of member organizations and supporters to increase exposure to #postgrowth ideas and activities.” The brilliance of this initiative is that it offers a simple way for organizations to get more of what they want—social media reach—without needing to formalize promotional exchanges with each organization individually. (Model: Nonprofit running on membership fee, $80/year. Application to join.)
It is an incredible journey to witness the emergence of collaborative initiatives around the world, and to contribute to the development of the GENNA Alliance in North America. I have experienced that the gestation phase of such endeavors (often years in the making) includes all the processes and conversations needed to get us to the place where we can finally write-up a formal agreement document. The sweet celebration of signing such an agreement is the moment when idea becomes creation. Now the real work begins to steward this creation towards its full potential.
Projects are not the people who birth them. Much like children, they have an identity and life path that is beyond anything we could fully plan. Our task is to nurture the heart-to-heart human connections that will sustain us as a network and community. More than any signed agreement or innovative structure, it is those moments of authentic connection, like the one we shared by the fireplace in New Hampshire, that solidify the bedrock from which we can build collaborative platforms to regenerate our world.
How to Engage
We welcome the support of all individuals and organizations in North America that share our values of cooperation, stewardship, and social justice. Individuals can join us as volunteers to develop their skills in project and administrative support. Organizations can apply for membership in GENNA Alliance and be added to our invitation list, from which we will onboard qualified members. We appreciate donations and investments from all who recognize the importance of our work. We’d be glad to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cynthia Tina is an originator of GENNA Alliance, a collaborative platform for individuals and organizations serving the regenerative communities movement within North America. She has visited over 100 intentional communities and ecovillages across four continents. Since 2015, she has served on the Boards of the Global Ecovillage Network (ecovillage.org) and the Foundation for Intentional Community (ic.org). She is a cofounder of NextGENNA (nextgenna.org), a nonprofit producing learning experiences for young changemakers. Cynthia is a freelance marketing consultant, facilitator, and educator. Her mission is to grow networks of people, projects, and communities working in collaboration to regenerate our planet. Connect with Cynthia at www.cynthiatina.com.
Excerpted from the Fall 2018 edition of Communities, “Networking Communities”—full issue available for download (by voluntary donation) here.