Guest post by Anna Cowen, Meshfield co-founder, architect, urbanist, facilitator, and Vibrancy South Africa steward and John Ziniades, Meshfield co-founder, internet entrepreneur, engineer, facilitator, and Vibrancy South Africa steward
What is the light touch needed to awaken a place into its’ full expression of “grounded possibility”? How can we foster the kind of growing conditions that will support human beings’ capacity to thrive in the face of mounting inequality and poverty, devastating climate change, peak energy and water, widespread resource depletion and eco-system destruction?
These are the key guiding questions that inspire the FLOW project, a new initiative with deep, old roots that is currently unfolding in two South African locales simultaneously.
A sense of “what is possible”: imagine interconnected networks of self-governing, self-regulating, agile communities that are intimately connected to and protective of their locales, each living within the carrying capacity of their place. Communities that know the contours of their landscapes, in their physicality, and communities that are peopled with individuals who know and are known through their relationships with one another. Places where the idea of “work” is fundamentally reframed into something that is enjoyed, not endured, where “work” is expressing the fullness of being human, in all our abundant creativity, in service of both our selves and our communities. Communities that are rooted in the local, yet connected globally, part of planetary networks of iterative learning and rapid feedback, where knowledge is a common good and the enclosure of the knowledge commons a distant memory. Places where everyone has enough – where most basic needs are met through hyper-localized production of food, energy, water, shelter and clothing supported by systems of globally networked, distributed manufacturing using open methods of production. And where trade and learning between bioregions and countries and continents ensure access to the goods and services that can’t be made locally. These are communities where the elderly are honored as the keepers of wisdom, are included and taken care of, and where preventative health care and life long education are knitted into the very fabric of daily life.
The FLOW Project proposes that the ‘growing conditions’ needed to both ground this imagining and to support the kind of innovation, creativity and adaptive capacity that will ensure that sentient life can still thrive on earth require three interpenetrating, foundational dimensions. Each dimension is expressed in both individuals as well as in communities as a whole. The first is a thorough and embodied awareness, understanding and knowledge of the systems that support life, both the natural and human made systems. The second is a grounded sense of self-worth, autonomy and agency. The third – robust community bonds and strong social ties – a sense of communion and belonging. FLOW suggests that if these three cornerstones are strong, and are nourished and replenished on an ongoing basis, then a thick and fecund mesh of ‘grounded possibility’ will develop, enabling the kind of bold new thinking, doing and being that is needed if life is going to flourish on earth again.
The FLOW project goes about building and enhancing these three cornerstones in any given community through three interconnected activities. The first is through developing the leadership skills and capacities of groups of local youth – the FLOW Ambassadors. The second is through making visible, by mapping and storytelling using appreciative enquiry lenses resource flows, natural and human made systems, skills, goods and services, local heroes and heroines. The third is through bolstering localized economic exchange through the introduction of a local currency, a mutual credit system entirely backed by the goods and services of local businesses.
The intention is to create, within FLOW’s first year in any given community:
- A cohort of trained, empowered local youth in each locale – the FLOW Ambassadors – that will play an awareness raising role in their local communities around the use of the local currencies, general environmental and social awareness and the identification and catalysing of new green and social entrepreneurial opportunities.
- A first iteration of a functional, context responsive, locally appropriate community currency in place in each town, backed by the goods and services of the FLOW Business Network in each place respectively.
- A series of FLOW Ambassador generated and community-owned maps (both digital and physical) that include representation of the economic activity in each locale, the resource flows, the unique assets and dependencies of each place, and locally appropriate social and green entrepreneurial opportunities.
- A series of short movies made on mobile phones by the FLOW Ambassadors that include 30-second “marketing” videos promoting the FLOW Business Network members (also linked to the digital map), a series of 2-minute movies called “Loving Local” that showcase local heroes and assets, 2-minute documentary movies that describe the local resource flows and dependencies, as well as the “Seeds of Transition” movie series – local “positive deviants” that are already demonstrating green and social entrepreneurial activity that can both inspire others, and be enhanced and amplified in their own right.
FLOW has been on the ground since October 2014. See www.flowafrica.org for ongoing updates and more information.