Friday, October 23, 2015

Why FIC Is Special

I am in the final weeks of serving as the Fellowship for Intentional Community's main administrator. After 28 years behind the wheel I'll be turning it over to my successor, Sky Blue of Twin Oaks in Virginia.

Among other things, this fall I've been conducting a series of evening soirees in which I'm banging the drum for FIC—providing an overview of what we've done since 1987 and making the case for why we are well poised to make a major contribution to calming the waters in the coming chaotic times. 

I've already done three of these—in Boulder CO, Sacramento CA, and Berkeley CA—and will do another next week in Kansas City. As there have only been 12-15 folks in the room for each of these presentations, I'm using today's blog entry to extend my message to a wider audience.

This is a presentation in four acts:

I. Original Mission
Here are the main elements of FIC's mission when we got started:

A. Serve as an ecumenical clearinghouse of up-to-date and comprehensive information about intentional communities—especially in the US and Canada
B. Offer technical assistance to communities in need
C. Support media relations and help researchers investigate community living
D. Be an organization that runs cooperatively; not just one that promotes cooperation
E. Articulate why intentional communities matter in the world

II. Overview of FIC History (highlights of what we've accomplished)
1987    incorporated
1990    published our first Communities Directory as a book (we've done this six times, with plans for a seventh edition now in the works, scheduled for release in the spring)
1992    took over as publisher of Communities magazine (it had been started in 1972, but was dead in the water when we took it over)
1993    held the Celebration of Community (a six-day event that drew 1000 participants in Olympia WA)
1994    launched
1997    pioneered Art of Community weekend events that featured both information about community living and a taste of it
1999    took over Community Bookstore, a bookselling business that features titles on cooperative living, right livelihood, sustainable economics, group process, and sustainable design
2002    launched our online Store (allowing books to be bought through the Web); published Visions of Utopia, vol I (Geoph Kozeny's magnum opus video providing an overview of intentional communities extant in North America)
2004    offered Communities Directory as a free online searchable database
2005    expanded our mission to include Creating Community Where You Are (it was now our business to assist neighborhoods, schools, churches, and businesses that wanted to employ the pioneering lessons of intentional communities to create a greater sense of community in place)
2007    established and (a compendium of stories about intentional communities in the media)
2009    published Visions of Utopia, vol II; developed a new logo and unified graphic design
2010    debuted on Facebook; we adjusted listings to comply with Fair Housing Laws
2011    obtained North American rights to sell A New We, a video that features 10 examples of sustainable communities in Europe
2013    opened dialog with the Ecovillage Network of Canada and the Ecovillage Network of the Americas to discuss joint development of GENNA (Global Ecovillage Network of North America)—demonstrating our commitment to cooperation among cooperators 
2014    created the role of Business Manager and hired Christopher Kindig to fill it; start offering digital downloads and streaming video; Best of Communities is published (compilations of articles from our magazine grouped around a theme—there are 15 booklets)
2015    bought Allium at Dancing Rabbit (Rutledge MO) and moved HQ there (Allium is a strawbale, earthen plaster facility powered by solar panels on the roof, replacing a drafty '70s era house trailer); selected Sky Blue to replace me as Executive Director

III. What We Are Poised to Do
o  Host a summit of organizations with a core commitment to supporting community, exploring ways that entities committed to collaboration can better walk our talk (this would expand on the role we've played in the development of GENNA to include more players and expand the scope of the work)
o  Turn over our leadership, modeling a sustainable transition
o  Overhaul our flagship product, Communities Directory:
    -separating Established from Forming groups
    -being stricter about verifying the currency of listings or dropping them (pruning dead wood)
    -providing user ratings for responsiveness to encourage listed communities to more promptly answer inquiries (or get a poor rating)
o  Reach out to the next ring of natural allies to see how the intentional community experience can help (examples include Transition Towns, university sustainability programs, worker cooperatives)   

IV. Why Your Support for FIC Today Will Make a Difference
We see sustainability as a three-legged stool. One component is ecological, one is social, and one is economic. While intentional communities work with all three, it is in the arena of social sustainability that intentional communities are at the cutting edge, where we are learning on a practical basis how to get along well with one another.

We anticipate that in the decades immediately ahead that we will be facing a far more chaotic time, where we’ll have to make do with fewer resources and less dependable incomes. While the number of people living in communities has been growing steadily on our watch, the numbers are still small (perhaps 100,000 living in some form of self-identified intentional community today) and we think our main societal impact will not be placing people in intentional communities. Instead, we think it will be exporting the hard-earned lessons of social sustainability to people increasingly hungry for alternatives to an alienating, dog-eat-dog competitive culture. 

In particular, intentional communities are able to provide workable models of two huge levers that offer hope for a future that can work for everyone, without hitting a brick wall or relying on government bailouts:

a) Defining quality of life in terms of access to resources instead of ownership.

b) Defining security in terms of relationships instead of savings or insurance policies.

If you make these changes, suddenly you need far less money than you thought you did to lead a high quality life, and that eases everything. However, making these transitions requires leading a life that is more intertwined with others than most of us are used to. That is where the intentional community experience comes into play: we know how to do this. And we think the demand for that knowledge is just about to explode.

Your dollars in support of FIC today means we have a better chance to stay ahead of the choppy waves to come, sharing our knowledge as broadly as possible while there is still time to effect a soft landing for the uncertain times ahead. If you're inspired to partner with FIC to get this done, please donate here.


Ed said...

With all due respect, there are some simple things that FIC could do to more effectively engage with those interested in community and fulfill its mission. Frankly, I'm unlikely to respond to any pleas for donations until the following are addressed:

One, FIC needs to update its website. Make it an interactive base of discussion for those interested in community, rather than a one-way rehash of printed resources. For example, focus on more user-created content like message boards, blogs, and discussions of articles. Frankly, FIC's online resources look and feel like nothing has changed with the internet in 20 years, when in fact everything has.

Two, FIC needs to "follow the free" and make its resources freely available to all. Buying the rights to a video about European communities, and then vainly spamming FIC member's inboxes beseeching us to buy for the video (delivered via snail mail) is an example of both a wasteful purchase by FIC and ineffective marketing of its message. Who buys videos anymore? Who wants to pay $20 plus shipping and wait a week for them to arrive? Put the video up on youtube for all to watch for free. Watch interest in FIC, and communities, grow.

Three, FIC needs to look at those communities that look different than a stereotypical 1960's hippie commune and see how they run. Marketing "community" as only appealing to hippies marginalizes the movement and focuses on a very small demographic. Guess what - some places have a great sense of community yet are socially or politically conservative, aren't radical environmentalists, or thrive on capitalism and making money. You might not agree with everything they do, but there's a lot to be learned about community from them, and a lot they could learn from FIC.

I like community, I laud the goal of developing community, and I hope FIC can ignite some changes in how it gets its message out and engages with those interested in growing community.

vera said...

I would suggest a book on the "how to" of income sharing. For folks who haven't done it, it's hard to imagine, and they lack the skill set. Meanwhile, put something on the web site that explains it at length.