Over 280 participants filled the Findhorn Foundation for a week with dynamic enthusiasm and the will to create a sustainable human future during the GEN+20 summit, held from July 6 to 10. They came from every continent and represented a diverse array of ecovillages, spiritual communities and social projects. The summit was a homecoming for GEN, which Ross and Hildur Jackson established here in the Foundation 20 years ago. The Findhorn Foundation hosted the ecovillage conference that helped inspire GEN and was also one of its founding members.
Ross and Hildur Jackson
The summit also marked a number of important developmental milestones for the organisation. GAIA Trust, one of GEN’s major donors, increased its contribution, enabling GEN to pay its staff rather than rely on the heroic efforts of (frequently exhausted) volunteers. GEN also announced that it has formed new partnerships with a number of organisations that will considerably expand its scope of activities into education, disaster relief and refugee care. These developments, along with the election of a new president and vice president, mark a new phase of GEN’s evolution and it will be looking into business plans and ways to make itself sustainable.
GEN’s growth in complexity and scope parallels the success of the ecovillage movement. The number of ecovillages has been rising swiftly in the last decades and along with this, it has gained increasing mainstream acceptance. In addition to official UN endorsement of ecovillages, the government of Senegal now has a government department devoted to establishing and supporting them. GEN’s Leila Dregger noted that rural mayors in her native Germany have changed their attitudes since GEN’s founding 20 years ago. Whereas before they resisted the idea of having an ecovillage in their communities, now many German mayors see them as magnets for jobs, entrepreneurship and families, reversing a trend of migration to cities.
Delegates in conversation
The summit did not take place in a bubble isolated from the rest of the world, however, and old story problems showed up to interfere. The UK Border Agency denied several prospective GEN participants from the developing world permission to enter the country, including Fayez Karimeh, a Syrian refugee who had already gained legal asylum in Sweden and is working to establish an ecovillage that will teach fellow refugees sustainable livelihood skills. The Border Agency’s refusals meant that the African and Middle Eastern representations at the conference were smaller than the organisers had hoped for. Discussions about colonialist attitudes and the Israeli occupation of Gaza also heated up discussion groups.
But while the summit held space for participants to hold and express tensions safely, the overarching design and flow of the summit focused more of the energy into emergence. Summit organisers used an innovative ‘strand’ design to hold differently themed conversations in different venues at the same time, giving participants freedom to focus on what was calling them. The summit also used ideas of how new systems emerge from the ground up, from connections between likeminded individuals, rather than from hierarchical flows of information. GEN organisers used open space technology and encouraged a free flow of connection and exchange of ideas to fertilise emergence.
A packed Universal Hall
Seeing how well the Foundation’s experienced holding of space facilitated the flow of connection among the participants, it was easy to feel that the next stage in the emergence process, of systemic change, was not far behind. The Findhorn Foundation’s ability to bring large numbers of people together and inspire them seemed like the perfect complement to the dynamic, engaged energy of the participants. GEN and the Findhorn Foundation do not have identical missions in the world, but the summit’s positive energy made it easy to imagine that they serve the same greater impulse of global transformation.