Day 15 @EDE class: A System Design Problem, Getting out of Chaos

Sep 10, 2018

We have a new Teacher for this week, Anna Kovasna, Education Director of Global Ecovillage Network. Anna grew up in the beautiful Stockholm, Sweden. She studied economic and anthropology and got her PhD degree. She spent many years living in ecovillages around the globe,including 5 years in Findhorn,Scotland. At GEN, she has been working on developing tools and trainings, bringing the real world experience from ecovillages in five continents into education resources. (Anna’s complete profile on GEN website)

Anna was showing us her beautiful hometown, Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by the author)

A system design problem

Many would consider ourselves as mindful members of human society. Then what do you think are the biggest challenges human society faces today? And what are the causes? This was where we started to look at the economy element of ecovillage, from the global scale and from the fundamentals.

I don’t know if you would share my feeling. I know these questions are very important, but I still felt a drag of mood. For one thing, fatigue of familiarity. Climate changes, industrialization and urbanization, inequality … and I have heard about those things too much and everywhere. Another thing, the questions seem so complicated. Is it ever possible to boil down the answer to single sentence?

The answer from Global Ecovillage Network agrees with that of  “the Story of Stuff” (Youtube, 21 min), our material economy system “is a linear system and we live in a finite planet.” Such a system extracts natural resources, converts them into goods and services, distributes the output, and has us consumers buy them. Before too long we leave mother Earth only trash. This is not sustainable! When the perceive problem is different, the goal and solution will be different. It’s a paradigm shift! Instead of a “have more” world, our goal is to achieve a “better” world.

The new economy goal. (from Anna’s lecture slide. Photo by the author)

And how to make changes? Buying organic food, reusing your shopping bag, classifying your household trash, these are all good, but not enough. Because it’s not enough just you, but WE, need to work together. We need to fit our unique talent into finding the solution. (Software engineers, we need you too 🙂 (“The story of changes”, youtube, 6 min)

We are one element in the ECO system. (from Anna’s lecture slide. Photo by the author)
It’s an innovative framework to measure the “safe and just space for humanity” by looking into where we overshot ecological boundary and where we have shortfalls in our social foundation. (the Doughnut Economics, by Kate Raworth. (from Anna’s lecture slide. Photo by the author)


A “sleepy” class

It’s a bit scaring to say that the class was sleepy, especially when we were looking at slides of serious researches on global economy system, unequal wealth distribution, accelerated ecological degradation. Some cannot read or understand English. As the slides don’t have Chinese subtitles, they struggled between capturing the messages in the slides and following the translator. However, based on my interaction with the people and knowledge of their background, it probably has to do with learning new tools associated with analytical thinking.

  1. Some said they care more about what they as individual should do and can do in 1 or 2 years. They know it’s good to be informed on what’s happening in the global level but they just couldn’t derive from that knowledge a personal direction. Hence they were feeling lost. It’s fair feeling. It takes some patience, and a pair of huge clear glasses, to peel the onion 🙂
  2. We need to develop data literacy. Too much data can seem overwhelming. But if the data tells story of the real world, it’s live; and we can learn to FEEL the reality through data and use data to enhance our communication.


Unequal distribution of wealth. (from Anna’s lecture slide. Photo by the author)

Evolving community

Today a class member dropped out and left, the first person since the class started, partly due to disappointment by the community. However, it is on the same day this young community started to see new order.

We had a meeting in the evening to discuss tasks that need help from non-volunteer students. In first week, we divided people into groups and rotated groups to different tasks each day. This failed quickly. In second week, some complained that the task for their group that day took up too much time, while they were short of hands. More often, group members forgot to check what their group was supposed to do for a specific day, because the assignment changed daily. Then we saw delayed meal time, and the classroom was not tidied up after being used. In this meeting, we had a less contentious, but more productive and collaborative discussion. We decided how many people will be needed for a task, say cleaning the kitchen after each meal, cleaning the classroom at the end of the day, based on what we learned from the first week. We let people choose which task they can take up for the next two weeks, according to their own schedule. Then they know what to help out everyday.

Besides, those regular volunteers who help in the kitchen also have a clearer work division. They now have A-C three smaller groups responsible for preparing different things. It’s written on the wall. You can’t miss it 🙂

A,B, C three small groups, each responsible for something in breakfast (早),  lunch (中) and dinner (晚).  (photo by the author)

People of the day

Shuhui. I met Shuhui at dinner. She sit together with another much younger female student. I noticed that they two resemble each other a lot. Carefully I asked if they are related. They are! Shehui is the mother of the younger one. Then I remember having heard about Shuhui’s background as a founder of a non-profit organization that has branches in multiple cities in China.

What’s more unusual is that Shuhui came not from Mainland China, but Taiwan. She started her career as a professional social worker back in the 1980s Taiwan, when the entire society felt the pressure under rapid industrialization. She helped stressed individuals through cultural events and counseling. In 1998, she started an organization in Taipei to teach children and coach their parents classic texts of traditional Chinese philosophy. That program successfully continued to this day. The first generation students have grown up and become volunteer teachers.

In 2003, she moved to mainland China, when it’s undergoing similar but much more massive industrialization. As a Taiwanese, she didn’t have access to registering an NPO. But that didn’t block her from helping locals in their organizations and projects. She believed that the society here will experience similar development pattern and path as Taiwan has seen, and so there will be a greater need of NPOs and professional social workers. She was right. She finally registered (partnering with local co-founders) her first NPO mainland China in 2010. Since then she has expanded it to branches in 6 cities. Municipal governments purcure social services from all her organizations, which provides a major financial source for their operation.

I asked Shuhui how she looks at the two seemingly opposite policies: tightly control the registration of NPOs and NGOs, and purcure social services from NPOs and NGOs. She believed that it’s a progressive development. “It’s very difficult to manage such a vast country like China.” She sees that government raises the bar for registration and enforces stricter annual inspection on registered organizations. On the other hand, new policies already came out a few years ago to certify social workers and required a organization must have certain number of certified social workers in leadership team, in order to register legally. These new policies incentivise talents to the profession and weed out illy formed organizations.


Facebook, take this photo as thumbnail photo for the link.

A world better in what. (from Anna’s lecture slide. Photo by the author)

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