After Torri Superiore (Italy), Los Portales (Spain), Park Istra (Slovenia) the fourth venue for the GEN national network meeting was Lebensbogen (Germany). 17 representatives from 8 countries (Germany, Sweden, Estonia, Netherlands, Slovenia, Italy, France, Spain) gathered to review and celebrate activities in 2016, and to develop plans for 2017. Some members joined through Skype (Hungary, Finland, Switzerland and Russia). For the second year in a row many representatives could attend the national networks meeting with travel expenses covered through the Erasmus+ funded partnership SCIPP.
The first day was dedicated to reporting and sharing news from all the twelve countries present on the meeting, and from GEN office. Many countries reported about increasing collaboration with familiar networks, particularly with Permaculture and Transition Town networks, as well as with other organisations, such as Facilitators Associations, universities and municipalities. There are signs that it would be plausible to build alliances on national level, resembling the European coalition embodied in ECOLISE.
NATIONAL NETWORKS, GENERAL OVERVIEW
Even within national networks diversity of members is immense, and when scaled up to European level (including Russia) the dimension of diversity is fascinating. It is a challenge for GEN to build unity in diversity. It is clear that the influence of GEN stretches far beyond its membership. Too narrow a definition of the term “ecovillage” doesn't resonate with the reality of the ecovillage movement – its vibrant lively character, stemming from unique people and unique environment that creates the identity of each particular ecovillage.
Now common themes in ecovillages are not only (self-)sustainability, agriculture, permaculture, green technology, ecology and education, but also youth work, reviving traditions, scientific research, influencing policy, social change etc. Some national networks are very successful in connecting with administration and policy-makers, some are having troubles in that field.
In the last years new models of ecovillages emerged. In the past, living in an ecovillage meant moving far away from the city, living of the land, being self-sufficient. Now it might be creating a business in the countryside with other people, managing AirBnB or retreat centre, starting an agricultural cooperative, starting an eco-community or co-housing near the city or in the city. Ecovillages are getting more organised, they have structured legal statutes, they are connecting with other ecovillages, creating businesses. Image of ecovillages is improving, visitors are impressed with facilities (rooms, halls, surroundings etc.) and how well connected ecovillagers are with the world.
Using internet for communication is wide spread in most ecovillages. Still, meeting in person is indispensable therefore all national networks organise meetings and events with various frequency. In most countries there are usually a big summer gathering, open to the public, and a few smaller meetings to focus on particular issues or even design meetings around topics such as: agriculture, education, youth work, running a professional kitchen etc. Meeting on national level is more difficult in larger countries, travelling is costly and takes time, while in smaller countries meeting in person is generally easy.
Ecovillages are realising how important it is to get well-versed in self-governance (Sociocracy 3.0) and models of alternative economy – to not just teach about these approaches but to deeply embody them. Strengthening the economy is essential on all levels: in individual ecovillages, in national networks and in GEN Europe.
Main challenges in ecovillages are: finding appropriate land, securing funding, developing good relations with the government, building trust among members, dealing with periods of crises (tensions, conflicts), providing desired schooling for children, attracting young people, taking up too many tasks, burnout etc.
GEN Europe as a part of ECOLISE is trying to move more in politic side, talking on bigger level. Economical situation in GEN Europe office is not very good right now, we are looking for fundraising opportunities and looking for projects to participate in. RefuGEN will continue. There are three Horizon 2020 projects on the go. We are looking for ways of GEN being more supportive to ecovillages; to do that we need support from GEN members. Soon there will be a job opening for a new communication officer.
2017 GEN CONFERENCE IN SWEDEN
The conference will take place in Ängsbacka from July 16 to 20 with the General Assembly on July 13 and 14. July 15 will be free day. Katie Kukolj is conference coordinator. National liaison conference officers will be helping with translation from English to different languages of press releases and graphics and distribute these out to target groups.
New council will be elected so we need to take care that the right people get to the General Assembly. All GEN members are invited to send a profile for voting and to hand it motions for the assembly (by March 2017!) so changes can be discussed and accepted on the Assembly.