A VIP guest
We started our class 30 minutes earlier today because a Chinese official from UNESCO International Research and Training Center for Rural Education (INRULED) visited us and wanted to spend some time in the class before going to catch his flight in Chengdu. The INRULED center we are using here is largely due to his support, to this class and to ecovillage education in general. The center is free to EDE organizers, though non-volunteer students still paid for their boarding. (I paid ~$615 for food and boarding for 28 days). So organizers, i.e. Chinese Ecovillage Network and Sunshine Ecovillage Network, can use the saving to cover other costs, such as teaching service from GEN, international travel expenses of GEN teachers, provisions for dorm rooms and kitchen, etc.
In a 10-minutes, rapid-fire informative speech, the official traced the history of sustainable movements to two influential books: Silent Spring (Wiki, 1962) and The Limits to Growth (Wiki,1972). The model of our industrial civilization is basically consuming the resources of our planet and leave us trash eventually. This is not sustainable. In March, 2018, Chinese government added in constitution “the building of an ecological civilization” to the duties and powers of the State Council (1). It’s a new form of human civilization based on sustainable principles (Wiki).
How can we realize ecological civilization? He firmly believes that education and training are critical building blocks. He went on that UNESCO has laid the theory groundwork by a few profoundly influential reports: Learning to Be (1972), Learning, the Treasures within (1996), and Rethinking Education (2015) For people in the class who may become future designers or developers of ecovillages, you will have a lot of work, as one of his few ending points.
Just as Kosha was about to continue the class according to original agenda, Haichao, head of the organizers suggested that students share their feedback to the class, so that this official can hear students’ thoughts first hand. Kosha thought it a good idea too. So 5 or 6 outspoken students grabbed the opportunity. I took longer time to organize my thoughts. Just when I finally felt ready to talk and stood up, the official had to leave for the airport. The teacher and a few organizers walked out of the class to see him off. The class naturally took a break as it happened.
Look beyond a village
Putting ecovillage movement in the grand background of ecological civilization, highlighting the role of education and training, all helped me greatly in understanding the possible impact of my role as an independent writer and journalist. And my horizon is suddenly broadened. Though I learn to think about ecological villages in 4 dimensions holistically (social, economy, ecology and culture), often I still think of it at the scale of a village concerning immediate stakeholders. But as an observer and thinker (in journalist’s hat), I need to watch the society more broadly.
It’s great that Chinese government formalized the goal of building ecological civilization in constitution. However, I don’t know if we are already more advanced than western countries in sustainable development, until I see reliable data evidence. I feel that we are still behind in terms of public awareness, voluntary adoption of sustainability practices and contribution to initiatives, such as classifying household trash, recycling resources, maintaining the cleanliness of public places, reducing package, using fewer plastic bags when shopping, raising fund to support community sustainability initiatives, etc. Such observation is from comparing my years of experience living and travelling in western countries, to my recent one year living and travelling in China.
The power of “the grassroot”
As some speakers brought up in the 2018 Dujiangyan International Forum, bottom-up approaches, i.e. grassroot communities, should eventually take greater ownership in sustainability projects. This is music to my ear as I think this is another key area where we are behind western countries. It takes the training from a civil society (wiki) for citizens to practice taking ownership and responsibility for social wellbeing, to learn how to organize events professionally, how to raise fund legally and gracefully, how to reach out to stakeholders of different interest and maintain relationships, and how to build domain competence and sustain their organizations for years if not decades.
Many of my classmates commented that they had learned a lot from our EDE class about the 4-dimension model on ecovillage, from our extraordinary teacher Kosha (CEO of Global Ecovillage Network), and from other classmates’ knowledge and experience. But what can we learn from the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) as a mature and influential organization? Do we know of any Chinese NGO or NPO that has been in existence for two decades and now has presence in 5 continents and has involved itself in about 10,000 communities and related projects? I am making a reference to the profile of GEN here (2). What kind of powerful vision and values that unite people around the globe? What kind of organizational skills, domain expertises, and far-flung connections does it take to make such a global impact? And more importantly, grow that impact over decades? What lessons has it learned? What struggles is it facing? GEN has generously authorized its Chinese partner to translate teaching materials. Organizations like Sunshine Ecovillage Network (Hangzhou, China) have started to offer similar but adapted classes in their region. I think what is very very hard to replicate is a mature organization and competent people.
On a 4 quadrant by two dimensions: influence (high-low), impact (positive-negative), we looked into each possible stakeholder of our own projects and assign the stakeholders to a quadrant, and position them against the X and Y axis according to perceived influence and impact.
Representatives from Sunshine Ecovillage Network and the still fledgling China Ecovillage Network (founded in Dec 2017) laid out their stakeholder cards on mat, so that the whole class can observe and analyze together. At the end, we found most cards in “positive impact” quadrants, either highly or low influential. Kosha asked a representative why a certain stakeholder was considered “highly influential and highly positive” while another is “highly influential but negative”. A few revelation from the exercise:
- Strengthen your support base: work to empower stakeholders in “low influential but positive” zone, so that they can move to “highly influential and positive” zone.
- Face your enemies head on: don’t avoid or ignore stakeholders in “highly influential but negative” zone. Your great enemies can become your best friends, just as the opposite can happen 😉 because human interaction is largely based on emotional connection. Build that connection.
- Distinguish your wish and reality: if we don’t see many stakeholders in “negative” zone, i.e. most in “positive” zone, is it because we tend not to think of them? Is it because we wish most stakeholders to be positive and overlook their negative tendency in reality?
In a group exercise, one team member presented the stakeholder map of her existing project (illustrated by photo below), an ecological apartment complex about one-hour driving distance from our training center. The project now has a farm, two residential buildings with 80 apartments, and one separate community center building for events. The biggest challenge right now is that they don’t really have regular residents. That’s a tricky situation to be in. We are going to visit and explore the place tomorrow (on Day #7).
People of the day
Wen, independent event planner. Wen is the nice roommate who gave me her lower bunk bed so that I can sneak out of the dorm easily at 4ish in the morning to work on my blogs. Her hair is barely a quarter inch long, a style inspired by her father, and confused me that I might have carelessly stepped in a male dorm when I met her the first time. In her early 30s, she is bright, jovial and eager to learn. When we did stakeholder mapping exercise in a group, I learned about her project in detail, and more about her, for the first time. (I know I will eventually profile all three of my lovely roommates, slowly getting there 🙂
She wants to revitalize the local community and protect the historical heritage of a small island in the Changjiang River near Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province. She planned to build a museum of oral history, using it as a community hub and special tie to connect with residents originated from the island. However, this effort is facing many challenges. Property developers have cast their covetous eyes on the island. It has been rumored that they want to build water entertainment facilities, though theoretically any new construction should be banned because the island is significant to flood management of the area.
Wen has been active in protecting local environment for recent years. She organized events to raise public awareness, as well as participated in many workshops to study new subjects and develop herself. Early this year, she criticized a local government leader on her blog, asking him to “get out” of the city. She refused authority’s request to take down that post and was detained in a temporary detention house for 9 days. Then she was transferred to a prison for another 30 days before she was freed on bail.
I didn’t sleep on Friday night. I was seriously behind my target to blog daily. By the end of Day #5, I had posted blogs only up to Day #2. So I decided to sacrify one night sleep to catch up. I had some fine green tea, dry fruits and nuts to boost energy. My mind was clear and excited due to thinking and writing, but definitely a bit slower than usual. Finally I posted 3 new blogs for Day #3-5. But throughout Day #6, I felt quite sleepy in the class, only got better in late afternoon.
In the evening, we had a celebration for the first week. I taught the class a few basic steps of Bachata dance. Apparently many have not formally learned social dance and this felt fresh and interesting to them. It was really joyful to see the class having a great time together. But I had to leave early to make up some sleep. (I felt rested on Day #7. )