Monday, September 16, 2013

Cooperation Among Cooperators

As someone who has immersed himself in the cooperation business, I'm always looking for ways to take things to the next level. (If a little bit of cooperation is good, isn't a large bit better?)

I took my first definitive step down the cooperative path in 1974 when three others and I joined together to start Sandhill Farm

After six years of living in an income-sharing community, I ratcheted that up when Sandhill joined the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (a network of income-sharing communities) and I became the community's delegate—a position I held for 21 years. 

Seven years after (in May 1987) that I was in the room at Stelle IL for the inaugural meeting of the revitalized Fellowship for Intentional Community, for which group I have been the main administrator for two decades. This widened my arena of focus from income-sharing groups to all forms of intentional communities.

Gradually realizing how few people were likely to ever live in intentional community (there are roughly 100,000 doing so in the US today) relative to how many people desire a greater sense of community in their life (by which they mean more sense of connection, civility, and belonging), FIC officially expanded its mission in 2005 to include Creating Community Where You Are. This meant expanding my sphere of cooperative focus yet again—this time beyond the boundary of intentional community.

This past weekend I get another chance to widen the cooperative circle. In this case, by exploring a significant potential collaboration among networks devoted to the promotion of community and sustainability.

Here's a summary of what happened at Whole Village in Caledon ON, when I participated in a meeting of the Ecovillage Network of Canada (ENC). 

• • •
The background is that the current FIC was launched in 1987, and that was followed eight years later by the founding of the Global Ecovillage Network. Where FIC focused on intentional communities in North America, GEN focused on promoting ecovillages (a subset of intentional communities) around the world.

GEN was organized into three major regions: 
o  GENOA covering Oceania and Asia
o  GEN Europe covering Europe and Africa
o  ENA (Ecovillage Network of the Americas) covering North and South America

Over the years, GEN softened its strict emphasis on ecovillages to include any community focused on creating sustainable culture, and FIC embraced the strong link between community and sustainability. However, even though the mission of the two networks gradually moved closer to alignment over the years, there hasn't been much collaboration.

Last year though, a new opportunity presented itself when CASA broke away from ENA so that Central and South American (the Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries) could be a separate network from the US and Canada. This year, GEN convened a Task Force charged with establishing a parallel North American network (tentatively styled GENNA) to complete the transition from the break up of ENA.

Taking into account the convergence of mission between GEN & FIC, coupled with how GENNA's geopgraphic focus exactly mapped onto the territory that has always been FIC's primary interest, the Fellowship was keenly interested in the conversation about what got created.

Here's a summary of what coalesced at Whole Village:

1. Our primary interest is exploring the possibility of FIC, ENA, and ENC merging to become a single organization focused on promoting sustainability, community, and cooperative culture in North America (which we currently define as the US and Canada). This conversation is timely because GEN would like to see a North American-focused network arise from the ashes of ENA. Last year CASA became the GEN-affiliated network for Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries in the American hemisphere, breaking away from ENA. That left the US and Canada unrepresented in the GEN family. The idea of a merger is attractive because: a) the US and Canada is FIC's primary focus; and b) there is energy within GEN and ENC to see a North American network established. Do we need two groups focusing on sustainable community in North America (FIC and a separate GENNA) or can one handle both portfolios?

2. We're agreed that progressive networks have chronic issues with too little money and too little human resources. Not only would a single network be better positioned to be efficient with limited resources (instead of operating two networks with substantially parallel missions), but it behooves groups committed to promoting cooperative culture to make a strong effort to demonstrate cooperation among networks. 

3. While it will be important to agree on the mission of the surviving network (such that the FIC Board and the Task Force empaneled to restart a GEN network in North America are both satisfied), we are optimistic that this can be achieved based on the way that FIC and GEN have conducted themselves to date.

4. In addition to our general good feeling about a potential merger, we discussed briefly the following questions:
a. FIC has focused mainly on social sustainability; GEN has placed more attention on environmental sustainability.
b. Some GEN reps have focused attention on government relations; FIC has not.
c. GEN has worked to get grants from governments and foundations; FIC's fundraising efforts have almost exclusively been focused on individual donors.
d. GEN has put energy into developing Next GEN as a way to groom people in the 18-35 age range fir leader leadership; FIC has no comparable program.
e. GEN serves ecovillages; FIC serves all intentional communities, of which ecovillages are a subset.
f. GEN is doing its web programming in Drupal; FIC is using Word Press.

Without going into details, we felt all of these questions can be resolved satisfactorily. Though that optimism does not guarantee success, it fueled our collective sense that we were on the right track and that aiming for a single surviving network is the right impulse. If further work reveals a stumbling block that we cannot resolve, we can always fall back on an approach where GENNA is created as a separate entity from FIC.

5. We propose to proceed in this order:
Step A. Secure the buy-in of our respective groups (Laird with FIC; Lee, Russ, and Nebesna with the Task Force; Lawrence with Valhalla) with the direction we defined Sept 14-15 at Whole Village.
Step B. Reform the Task Force to include representatives of FIC and Valhalla, and perhaps others.
Step C. Explore (at least in broad strokes) and resolve any questions or concerns about the mission of a merged network.
Step D. Based on the outcome of Step C, determine what constituencies we intend to serve, and assess whether all of them are adequately represented among the Task Force. If any are missing, make a priority effort to recruit representatives to join the Task Force.
Step E. Sketch out the programs that the new network will have.
Step F. Develop the organizational structure of the new network.
Step G. Determine the new network's name, the location of its office(s), how the Board will be selected, how the Board will make decisions, and perhaps the composition of its initial Board and/or who will be the Executive Director.
Step H. Determine a sequence by which FIC, ENA, and ENC will be laid down and authority fully transferred to the new network.

6. We are agreed that the Task Force (as constituted per Step B above) should determine what will best serve the needs of North America for a community and sustainability focused network, and then present the result to GEN to see if they are satisfied. This approach was supported by both Daniel and Lee, GEN Board members who conveyed the clear message that GEN was taking a largely hands off approach to how the Task Force did its work.

7. The formulation of a new network will mean a special opportunity for new blood to get involved, both in program development & implementation, and in network administration. We're hopeful that Next GEN and other young people will step forward and take advantage of this opportunity.

8. Finally, it's important to note that there was high resonance among us, and considerable excitement about the possibilities of creating a single network going forward.

• • •
It's both fun and energizing seeing just how wide we can make the reach of cooperate culture in my lifetime.

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