The 19th conference of GEN Europe from June 9-14 in ZEGG, Bad Belzig (near Berlin), showed a record and a milestone: Never before have so many people interested in and members of ecovillages met. Also for the ZEGG (Center for societal design – one of the large German ecovillages), it was so far the largest event in its 23 years of history. 415 Participants from 37 Countries Gave New Impulses to the Ecovillage Movement. The decisions and topics of the general assembly clearly point towards growth and more impact on the society in the future.
With a full program of keynote talks in the morning, workshops in the afternoon and project presentations in the evening the conference offered knowledge exchange on the diverse topics of ecovillages: from food sovereignty to governance, from media work to child raising, from legal advice to love and partnership in ecovillages. Music, dance, silence and interactive elements have always belonged to the culture of GEN conferences.
GEN Europe acknowledged seven new members and consists now of 58 single projects and national networks. Among them are the newly founded GEN Germany and GEN Suisse. The GEN council was approved in its work and will continue for another year. Robert Hall from the ecovillage Suderbyn in Sweden was elected as new managing director. With his experience in fundraising and lobbywork on European level, he can open promising new perspectives. He is replacing Ulrike Schimmel from the Ecovillage Siebenlinden in Germany who after six years of successful work wants to leave her job. The second managing director of GEN Europe, Kosha Joubert from the Findhorn ecovillage in Scotland will continue her work at least for another year together with Robert Hall.
GEN Europe is the network of ecovillages, urban communities and traditional villages in transition to more social and ecological sustainability in Europe and Middle East. GEN Europe organises education and knowledge transfer, outreach, fundraising and internet tools. Many examples of ecovillages throughout Europe have started to show their potential to economically and socially revitalize dying regions and inspire them with ecological and cultural impulses. In many cases ecovillages have become living and learning centers of their municipalities.
This is also what the representative of the town of Bad Belzig referred to in his opening words: “ZEGG is not a community, it is part of our community, and a close friend. As a town with a public wellness bath we see it as our task to work towards more ecology and sustainability, and in this ZEGG is an important partner for us.”
Macaco Tamerice, president of GEN Europe from Damanhur in Italy: “Every region should have an ecovillage. In my vision, the Europe of the future consists of many autonomous regions and many very diverse communities and ecovillages which are strongly connected with each other.”
Robert Hall: “The time when ecovillages were places faraway in the woods is over: As active participants of society, they co-design our future. Many policy makers in Brussels see these signs, and the doors for cooperation with GEN and ecovillages are wide open. For this we cooperate with related movements like the permaculture network and the transition town initiatives.”
Additionally, the commitment of GEN Europe encompasses the world, in particular the global South. Some ecovillages like Tamera in Portugal, Damanhur in Italy, Findhorn in Scotland and Schloss Tempelhof in Germany maintain active partnerships with ecovillages in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
Kosha Joubert who is also president of GEN International: “Many people in ecovillages feel that we Europeans have to make up for a difficult past. The effects of colonialism and slavery are still a severe legacy. What ecovillages can do to help is not a one-way-street. When representatives of our partner organisations in the Global South come for education to Europe, they find people that aim to minimize their ecological footprint and to do the best for their communities. Seeing a different role-model in Europe to a capitalistic society of competition is as important as all the ecological techniques for food sovereignty, sewage water treatment or solar technology that they find in the ecovillages.”
In face of the current attacks in the Middle East the “Ecovillage Excellency Award” (doted with 1.500 Euros) of this year goes to Palestine: In her preparations to found GEN Palestine, Aida Shibli supports farmers, students and women groups of the Westbank that want to learn and exchange knowledge for sustainability. In Tulkarem, on a farm close to the wall, she installed a highly appreciated learning center with solar dryers, biogas systems and permaculture.
Aida Shibli: “The award is a great signal of hope for us Palestinians. I want to use the money to strengthen the network among the alternative farms and learning centers in Palestine.”
The second price went to Romania to the young community “Aurora” which has shown many aspects of sustainability and revitalization of a remote region in the two years of existence.
For its 20th anniversary in 2015, GEN Europe will go back to the place of its foundation, and therefore Findhorn will host the next GEN conference in July 2015.
Before that, from December 10-14, 2014, the international Ecovillage Summit will take place in Dakar, Senegal.