About This Newsletter What is an Ecovillage? Ecovillage Resources Diana Leafe Christian, Editor

Learning How to Start a Successful Ecovillage

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By Diana Leafe Christian

What learning methods work best? Jeff Clearwater, an early ENA activist, at 9th North American Bioregional Congress, Earthaven Ecovillage, US, 2005. (Photo: Alejandra Cardoña)
(July/August 2010)

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.

Experienced instructors ( ideally ecovillagers) help inspire course participants. Australian Max Lindegger, permaculture designer and Crystal Waters cofounder, has taught many ecovillage courses. (Photo: Albert Bates)
1. “Visit” ecovillages through well-produced media. I advise anyone who wants to start an ecovillage to visit successful ecovillages to find out what they look like and feel like. What is daily life like? How does the ecovillage function — ecologically and economically? How do ecovillage members govern themselves and create the unique social, cultural, and spiritual life of the place? However, another way to learn about ecovillages is to watch ecovillage videos. I like to share the following short videos (two to nine minutes) with course and workshop participants.

• Crystal Waters Ecovillage, Australia

• Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland

• Sieben Linden, Germany - German-language trailer for a documentary, Menschen Träume Taten (“People Dreams Actions”)

• Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, US

• Rodnoye Ecovillage, Russia

• Cloughjourdan Ecovillage, Ireland

• EcoVillage at Ithaca, US

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.

Skits and role-plays are a fun way to learn. Just ask these course participants from Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage, Maine, US.
3. Draw from real-life stories of people who created successful ecovillages. Course participants need to know what ecovillage founders actually do to get their projects up and running. To write 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.

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.

Ecovillage course participants need time to connect with each other too. (Left to right) Aileen, from the Philippines; Claudia, from Colombia; and Min, from Malaysia attended the 2009 EDE course in the Philippines.
I want ecovillage course participants to have access to the valuable set of principles and best practices that Russell and I each found. This includes “how we did it” stories and the roughly 15 different steps and stages ecovillage founders take, from identifying and articulating a shared Mission & Purpose — the first thing a group should do — to creating a village-scale economy! Like Newton, these course participants get to “stand on the shoulders of giants.”

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.

Economic sustainability in ecovillages is crucial too. In this meeting in a traditional Senegalese village, people are considering new income-generating activities such as ecotourism. (Photo: Jonathan Dawson)
5. Give ‘em a taste — of small-scale ecovillage economics. Another exercise is for participants to study alternative currency systems used in various ecovillages (like Findhorn’s EKOS or Dancing Rabbit’s ELMS, for example) and then design and create an alternative currency scrip out of construction paper to exchange among themselves for small goods and services. And to periodically adjust their currency system when needed, as is done in real ecovillages that use alternative currencies. (See “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!

Ecovillage self-governance needs a fair, participatory decision-making method. Here Eugene Manaluz practices consensus facilitation at the 2009 EDE in the Philippines.
7. And a taste — of ecovillage decision-making. Future ecovillage founders will need good decision-making skills, so I like to include workshop sessions about the consensus decision-making process, followed by participants learning to make proposals about various minor aspects of the course, creating practice agendas for meetings, and practicing facilitation.

As part of this process I like to share these online articles about various aspects of the consensus decision-making process:

“N-Street Cohousing’s Solution-Oriented Consensus Method”

“Sieben Linden’s Four-Choice Consensus Method”

“Trust and Consensus”

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:

Author Diana Leafe Christian (right), with Penelope Reyes, President of GENOA, at the 2009 EDE in the Philippines.
This September, my friends Penelope Reyes and John Vermuellen and I will put these learning methods together in an 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!

Diana Leafe Christian, editor of this newsletter, lives at Earthaven Ecovillge in North Carolina, US.

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.

Also in this issue:
Personal tools

Newsletter Staff

  • Diana Leafe Christian,
  • Jan Steinman,
    Website Designer, Mailing List Administrator
  • Marie Marcella,

Mission & Purpose

To encourage and inspire new and existing ecovillage projects with news about ecovillages and related projects worldwide.

Advisory Board

  • Lois Arkin,
    CRSP; ENA; Urban Ecovillage Network; Los Angeles Eco-Village, US
  • Peter Bane,
    Permaculture designer; publisher, Permaculture Activist, US
  • Albert Bates,
    Co-founder, GEN; Post-Petroleum Survival Guide; Director, Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm, US
  • Tree Bressen,
    Consensus & Facilitation Trainer; Cofounder, Walnut St. Co-op, US
  • Ernest Callenbach,
    Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging; US
  • Giovanni Ciarlo,
    GEN; ENA; Huehyecoyotl Ecovillage, Mexico
  • Raines Cohen,
    Cohousing Association of the US; Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC); Berkeley Cohousing, US
  • Leila Dregger,
    Peace journalist & writer, Peace Research Center & Ecovillage, Tamera, Portugal
  • Chuck Durrett,
    Cohousing; Senior Cohousing; Architect, The Cohousing Company; Nevada City Cohousing, US
  • Jonathan Dawson,
    Ecovillages; Findhorn Foundation, Scotland
  • Robert Gilman,
    Co-founder, GEN; Ecovillages & Sustainable Communities; City Council Member, Langley, Washington, US
  • Michael Hale,
    Yarrow Ecovillage, Canada
  • Jeff Grossberg,
    Guidestone Consulting Group, US
  • Martha Harris,
    Earthaven Ecovillage, US
  • Scott Horton,
    Editor, Permaculture Activist, US
  • Hildur Jackson,
    Co-founder, Gaia Trust; cofounder, GEN; Ecovillage Living, Denmark
  • Kosha Joubert,
    Editor, Beyond You and Me, GEN's EDE Program; Ecovillage Sieben Linden, Germany
  • Elana Kann & Bill Flemming,
    Co-developers, Westwood Cohousing, US
  • Joseph F. Kennedy,
    Designer/educator; The Art of Natural Building, US
  • Fred & Nancy Lanphear,
    Northwest Intentional Communities Association (NICA); Songaia Cohousing, US
  • Mark Lakeman,
    Founder, Portland City Repair & Village Building Convergence, US
  • Max Lindegger,
    Cofounder, GEN; Director, GEN-Oceania/Asia; Crystal Waters Ecovillage, Australia
  • Chris Mare,
    GEN's EDE Program; Village Design Institute, US
  • Ronaye Matthew,
    Canadian Cohousing Network; Cranberry Commons Cohousing, Canada
  • Kathryn McCamant,
    Architect/Developer, Cohousing Partners, Inc.; Co-author, Cohousing; Nevada City Cohousing, US
  • Dr. Bill Metcalf,
    Findhorn Book of Community Living; Professor, Environmental Sociology, Griffith University, Australia
  • Ina Meyer-Stoll,
    Co-director, GEN-Europe; ZEGG, Germany
  • Tim Miller,
    The 60s Communes; Professor of Religion, University of Kansas, US
  • Hank Obermayer,
    Mariposa Grove Cohousing, US
  • Toshio Ogata,
    Professor of Economics, Chuo University; GEPA (Global Environment Project in Asia), Japan
  • Craig Ragland,
    Executive Director, Cohousing Association of the US; Songaia Cohousing; New Earth Song Cohousing, US
  • Penelope Reyes,
    President, GEN-Oceania/Asia; Tuwâ - The Laughing Fish, Cabiao, Philippines
  • Michael Rios,
    Network for a New Culture Summer Camp East; Chrysalis, Washington DC, US
  • Jim Shenck,
    Enright Ridge Ecovillage, US
  • Nicola Shirley,
    The Source Farm Ecovillage, Jamaica
  • Tony Sirna,
    Communities Directory; Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, US
  • Jan Steinman,
    EcoReality Co-op, Canada
  • Liz Walker,
    GEN's EDE Program; Ecovillage at Ithaca; EcoVillage at Ithaca, US