How on Earth do we create a better world?

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The Post Growth Institute is raising money to create a book, and (at the time of writing) they’re less than three days away and at 87% of their goal.

Donnie Maclurcan from the Post Growth Institute is a personal friend, and a friend to Appropedia. He’s also an engaging and provocative communicator, and I’m happy to see this book going ahead. He and Jen Hinton write:

Imagine waking up in a world where you feel good about going to work, no matter the nature of your job. You feel positive and motivated, knowing that your work provides you with a livelihood that also contributes to the wellbeing of others in a way that respects the ecological limits of the planet.

Welcome to a not-for-profit world, where businesses can still make profits, but any profits are always reinvested for social or organizational benefit, rather than being accumulated privately by individuals. This world emerged because, around 2013, a large number of people came to the realization that any economic system that centralizes wealth and power is, ultimately, socially and ecologically unsustainable.

People were fed up with excessive executive salaries, a financial sector divorced from the real world, corporations with more say than people, endless spin from politicians and entrepreneurs about the latest technological ‘solution’, and the trappings of mindless consumption.

As the mainstream attention on the Occupy movement faded, protesters even started to question whether being fed up was worthwhile.

Then a real alternative emerged. The people already had a business structure that wasn’t centered on creating private profit and concentrating wealth and power; all they had to do was grow the not-for-profit sector, shifting power away from the for-profits.

A not-for-profit economy changed the game by decentralizing wealth and power, while maintaining incentives for innovation and increasing people’s desire for meaningful work.

Before 2013, when for-profit enterprise was the main business model, it was contributing to financial inequity and vested interests. This had led to an increase of status anxiety due to drastic differences in material wealth. The majority of people often felt that because they didn’t have as many material possessions as the wealthy classes, among whom the money had been concentrated, they couldn’t be as happy.

For some people in the lowest income brackets, this inequality not only meant status anxiety and shame, but even a lack of consumption choices, affecting diet and health. For many, the solution was to consume more of whatever they could afford.

On the global level, this overconsumption went hand-in-hand with production practices that exploited workers in sweatshops to make cheap and plentiful products, while decimating key natural resources. This was clearly unsustainable. As more and more people realized that all forms of capitalism and socialism – grounded in a growth mentality – centralize wealth and power and are therefore unsustainable, they also began to see how a not-for-profit economy offered a way to decentralize power, whilst maintaining innovation.

When a critical mass of people reached this realization and accelerated the shift to the not-for-profit business model, everything started to change for the better.

How on Earth could that be possible?

This scenario of a not-for-profit world is closer to the present reality than you might think. Across numerous countries, the economic contribution of the not-for-profit sector has been on the rise since the late 1990s. In Canada, for example, not-for-profit institutions now contribute 8% of the country’s gross domestic product.

This is possible because not-for-profit does not mean ‘no-profit’ or ‘can’t make a profit’. Not-for-profit actually means not for private profit or not for the primary purpose of making a profit. Across most countries and jurisdictions, not-for-profits can make as much or as little money as they want, they just cannot provide payouts to private individuals from any surplus.

The pioneering work of not-for-profit businesses, from sectors as diverse as construction, manufacturing, banking, hospitality and healthcare, suggest that innovative, sustainable economies, with high levels of employment, can exist without the private profit motive.

Many not-for-profits also understand that generating their own income allows them to fund the good work they do (as opposed to the traditional approach that depends on grants and philanthropy). Take, for example, BRAC, the world’s biggest not-for-profit organization.

Since 1972, BRAC has supported over 100 million people through its social development services, but almost 80% of its revenue comes from its own commercial enterprises, including a large-scale dairy and a retail chain of handicraft stores, all of which are run according to a holistic vision of sustainable business.

More importantly, not-for-profit enterprises could regularly out-compete equivalent ‘for-profit’ businesses in the near future, based on a combination of factors, such as:

• not-for-profit enterprises better utilizing the benefits of the communications revolution on reduced organizational costs;
• an increasing awareness of the tax concessions and free support available solely to not-for-profits;
• the trend in consumer markets toward supporting ethical businesses and products;
• the ability of not-for-profit enterprises to survive and even thrive during years of downturn, given their sustainability does not rely on making profits and that profit margins will continue to get smaller as resource constraints impact business costs.

How on Earth can you help?

Here at the Post Growth Institute, we are writing a book: How on Earth? Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050. This will be the world’s first book to explore the prospect of not-for-profit enterprise becoming the central model of local, national and international business, by 2050. It will also outline practical steps that you, as a member of the public, can take to fast-track this evolution to a sustainable economy.

We have created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in order to gather the financial support needed to finish researching and writing the book, as well as the funds to publish, print, market and distribute it. You can help by contributing money to the crowdfunding campaign here and spreading the word about this project and crowdfunding campaign as far and wide as possible.

For an outline of the book’s main ideas, see this 2012 talk by the book’s lead author, Dr Donnie Maclurcan, at the Environmental Professionals Forum.

Why “rich” and sustainable?

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One of our readers sent us an email and asked why this is Appropedia’s vision.

Sharing knowledge to build rich, sustainable lives.

In developing countries, we’ve sometimes found a perception that sustainability is being foisted upon them to block them from having wealth like that of wealthy nations.

That’s not the sustainability we want. Appropedia stands for fair and just sustainability. Moreover, we know that with the appropriate choices in technology and design, with access to medical care, water, sanitation, and transport, richer lives are possible. A small, well-designed passive solar house is a pleasure to live in – superior to a poorly designed mansion. Healthy soils yield fresh, abundant, delicious food. This is the prosperity we’re talking about.

These are the riches we envision for the world.

What’s your Appropedia story?

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What brought you to Appropedia? What did you find, and what difference did it make for you?

We’d love to hear your stories, short or long, about how you used Appropedia. Please take a moment to add a comment at the end of this post to tell us about your experience. Whether you learned something, or were inspired, or found what you needed for your project, or contribute your knowledge about making the world better in one particular way – let us know what Appropedia means to you. Even a single line is valuable feedback and appreciated.

You can share your story as a comment below or add it to our Appropedia:Stories page on Appropedia itself – and you can read other stories there, as well. You can also share on this Appropedia Facebook post.

We hope to re-share these stories to inspire others, so comments left here are accepted under the same Attribution ShareAlike license used by Appropedia. Many thanks – and we look forward to hearing your story!

Searching the green dev wikisphere

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There is an ecosystem of wiki websites on sustainability, design and development issues.

Appropedia is a large and broad site; others include small but active communities and NGOs doing good, focused work (e.g. Greenlivingpedia and Akvopedia), wikis run by multilateral organizations (e.g. the UNDP’s WaterWiki and the OECD’s Wikiprogress and Wikigender), and (sadly) wikis where nothing has happened for years, and the community appears to have scattered.The ecosystem isn’t exactly thriving – even when we’re friendly (and we usually are) we don’t talk and we don’t share as much as we’d like.

As communities we want to collaborate and encourage each other, but as individuals we’re busy – and I’m as guilty as anyone. What can help is just being aware of what is on other wiki sites – knowing of good wiki pages out there in the green wikisphere, to learn from, borrow from and link from our own pages. That can even lead to the odd bit of drive-by editing on another wiki – all the better.

To that end, here’s a tool I’ve made: a search engine for green and development wikis.

It’s a Google custom search of over 40 wiki sites. Apologies to the good wikis I haven’t named in this blog post, but I hope you’ll check that your site shows up in the search results.

If you want to who’s writing about something on which wiki, this can help. The results are a little quirky, so allow a few seconds to scan the list to find what you want, and maybe try different search terms. Give it a try, and let me know.

May it add a little more unity to our wiki ecosystem.

Communications and social media internship

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Wherever you are in the world: if you’re studying Communications or wanting to break into the field, and you’re passionate about solutions for positive change in the world, then this could be the opportunity for you. Appropedia is always looking for interns to help us communicate and engage with people interested in this project and share with and strengthen our existing community.

The work in this internship will involve a mixture of interviewing, contacting, and/or writing publicity materials. You can work part-time, and you’ll have a lot of flexibility in how you work, but you’ll always have guidance available.

There is a lot to learn and to make a difference. We sometimes say, only half-jokingly, that Appropedia was built by engineers and scientists, so we’re much better at doing stuff than at talking about what we do. But we’ve talked and got better at it and become active in social media, as we’ve taken our message out there. We’re happy to share what we’ve learned with you, but we’re also happy to learn from you and with you.

You’ll need to take the initiative, experiment, and report on what’s working and what isn’t. We have high respect for failure with enthusiasm, which is often the basis for future success and precious learning.

This is a virtual internship – you’ll be working with people who might be on the other side of the world, but with email and chat, that’s not such a challenge these days. You can work from anywhere in the world with internet access. That requires you to manage your time, organize yourself and get things done – an online internship isn’t for everyone.

If you have any questions or want to apply, please get in touch with us.

The San Isidro, Costa Rica area… a grassroots epicenter!

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I am writing from Finca Amrta, a small nature reserve, and farm in the foothills of the Talamaca mountains in Costa Rica’s southern zone. Finca Amrta has, among other things, served as a base for me to explore the area around San Isidro, Costa Rica. This area has so much to offer and is truly the epicenter of an ecological, grassroots, back to the earth movement here in Costa Rica! I have barely been able to scratch the surface of what this area has to offer in my 10 days here. Within a 30km range of where I sit there are, according to my locally verified list, 14 established Appropriate Technology/permaculture farm/school/intentional community type places…Incredible!

Each Thursday there is a farmer’s market and most of the organizations, farms, and groups in the area meet here to sell their overflow and to connect and build community. At the last market, I was able to make quite a few contacts and was invited to visit several projects in the area. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to make a choice, bounce around like a butterfly, briefly introducing people to Appropedia and getting a glimpse of what their project is about, or… try to cover just a few projects in depth.

My decision was to visit just a few places and attempt more in-depth documentation of their projects. So I am working on pages about some of the elegant “low-tech” projects at Finca Amrta and New Dawn. Both farms have been a presence in the area for over 20 years and have some simple solutions figured out for this particular climate in regards to farming, bamboo building, composting systems, etc. My hosts and the stewards of Finca Amrta, Susanna and Miguel, have been dedicated to living and demonstrating ecological land use and earth-based principles since they bought this land in 1989. My time here has been deeply grounding and enriching. Simply following Susanna and Miguel to watching them work and live has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

As an added bonus, renowned medicinal plant expert Ed Bernhardt, N.D., and his wife Jessica live just next door. Ed has been working with tropical medicinal plants & gardens in Costa Rica for 20+ years and he and his wife now run the New Dawn school where they teach natural health care and permaculture classes on their land where students can eat from the garden and live in their bamboo- waddle and daub cabin (Appropedia page coming soon!)

Despite my decision to stay put, I couldn’t resist the invitation to make one quick stop to visit Finca Fruicion, mostly because I felt a connection with Alana, Jason, and their amazing new arrival (baby boy) Cedar. On the bus ride over to, I asked the woman next to me if she knew which stop to get off for Finca Fruicion. As it turns out, this woman was Desiree Wells, who is now living and offering permaculture courses on the farm. Alana and Jason just bought the farm in 2008, are raising 2 young boys, and just had a 3rd in May. Given the circumstances, I assumed I would be visiting a site with still very much in its infancy. I am happy to admit I was completely incorrect in my assumptions and am blown away with their accomplishments which include (among other things): tilapia aquaculture ponds, a chicken coop, a goat pen, a thatched roof rancho, biodiesel run school bus cabins, a greenhouse, composting toilets, solar-heated showers, the sturdy beginnings of permaculture gardens, and over 150 young fruit trees! . Needless to say I could not document these projects during my one-day stay. Looks like we need another Appropedia Travel Intern to follow up on this gem of a project (as well as numerous others in the area and, actually, in the world)!

This area is also a hot-spot for anyone interested in learning about bamboo construction. I will soon be posting pages documenting some of the bamboo-building methods my good friend Arya has learned while working at the local bamboo shop. Also, Arya and I paid a visit to another larger bamboo factory in the area called Bambu Tico. We were quite inspired by their operation and the myriad of bamboo products they have to offer.

I have to say that my favorite tidbit about bamboo construction came from Ed over at New Dawn; his simple bamboo-curing method. Simply cut the pieces of bamboo you would like to use and leave them standing in the bamboo stand for about 2 months resting on a rock (so they don’t act as straws). The bamboo stand acts as a natural pest and mold repellent for the curing bamboo. After a few months in the stand remove the bamboo and let the pieces bake in the sun for about 2 weeks. .. and that is that! It has worked for Ed and his building for years!

My fantastic voyage is approaching its last stop, one of my favorite places in the world: Rancho Mastatal!!! They have some amazing natural buildings, composting toilets, permaculture gardens, a bio-digester, solar electric and water, rainwater catch, and more! I was lucky enough to visit Rancho Mastatal 4 years ago; the spirit of the land and the community made a lasting impression and I am excited to return and to have a chance to share what is happening there with the Appropedia community!

That’s all for now. Thanks for checking in!

Travel Intern in Panama

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I am writing from Bocas del Toro, Panama after a 3-week whirlwind of travel.

 

I began my travels at The Rainbow Hostel, a forming community whose intention is to serve as a school for social sustainability. My time there was extremely grounding. Jananda, one of the residents had a lot of useful information about communities and projects to visit in Costa Rica. I left with a pocket full of contacts and confidence.

 

Before diving into the Costa Rica scene, my friend Jemma and I decided to take a side trip to Panama, which has taken us through the resplendent Panama City and the quaint mountain towns of Santa Fe and Boquette.

In Santa Fe, we toured an organic coffee cooperative called Cafe el Tute. This cooperative formed in 1937 when the Cafe Tute coffee plant began buying beans from local organic growers for a fair price. When they began, all of the machines were run manually with hand cranks and mules, today many of the machines are run on solar electric energy and processed with rainwater.  Basically, this small co-op caught on to the organic, shade-grown, fair-trade coffee buzz before it was trendy!

In the breezy mountain town of Boquette we visited the natural Caldera hot springs. A collection of 12 hot pools and streams on a piece of land that was completely undeveloped. The family who lives on the land has resisted the many offers to build hotels on their land, and even to pave the roads. They have chosen to live a simple life and in their words “protect this gift from God rather than profit from it.” After explaining this in a matter of fact way, the man of the farm shouted at the treetops ”Niño! Niño!” I thought perhaps he was calling his son but from far in the forest, a monkey came bounding down from the canopy and jumped into his arms. “This isn’t my pet,” he said, ” He is completely free.” And as the monkey kissed his cheek he laughed, “This is my friend!” I also got to hold the monkey, but he wanted to nibble on my hand…

So we left the tranquil mountain towns and headed for the rowdy Isla Colon, the main island in an archipelago off the coast of Northeastern Panama called  Bocas del Toro. On our first day there, I had the pleasure of meeting with Allie from the Bocas Sustainable Tourism Alliance. BSTA’s aim is to preserve the geographic character of Bocas del Toro. They have set environmental impact standards for hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. They also have programs to educate visitors on the local culture.  Many businesses are catching on that being a part of BSTA has huge benefits as tourists become more educated and the demand for eco-tourism rises.

The islands of Bocas del Toro have an issue with clean drinking water. Because of this, there is a government program that provides free rainwater catchment storage tanks to homes and businesses who are willing to build the rest of the system. Unfortunately, this program does not reach the more remote islands that still have large Indigenous communities. Fortunately, the organization Operation Safe Drinking Water is attempting to remedy this problem by providing rainwater catchment systems to indigenous schools and villages.  This is an excellent program that needs support. Check out the link above for more information.

 

On our last day in Bocas del Toro, we went on a day trip to the island of Bastimentos to visit a small shop and permaculture project called Up in the Hill.  Janette and Javier, the couple who run the joint, bought what was once an abandoned banana plantation with poor soil and have transformed it into a permaculture garden with numerous native, medicinal, and food plants.  Janette makes homemade chocolate and body products from materials

grown on-site. Javier is also a local surf instructor. He has built a rapport with the community, especially the youth, in this way and says that now many of them are coming to him for lessons in gardening and for plant starts from his native plant nursery. This is truly an inspiring project and family that I am honored to know about!

 

I am now headed back to Costa Rica to visit the San Isidro area.  There are several intentional communities and farming projects in this high elevation region that I am excited to explore. I will be hosted by Finca AMRTA, a small nature reserve, and organic farm. I will be both participating in their program and using the farm as a base from which to explore the area.  I will most likely be out of internet contact during the next week or so, but will surely have much to say in my next blog.

Till then, thanks for checking in…

Isabell (Liz), Appropedia Travel Intern

Day in the life of a Travel Intern

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On our journey from the rainforest to Lima, we decided to stopped for a few days in the cultural mecca of Cusco, Peru. But a funny thing happened on the way to Cusco…

After an entire night of bus travel on the winding mountain roads I woke up out of my half slumber to find that we were in complete standstill traffic about 30 minutes (by bus) outside of Cusco. The road was blocked and we would be waiting until nightfall. After inquiring with the driver and some of the locals, we were assured that our best and safest option was to walk 4 hours to Cusco down the road. I had naively assumed the block had been caused by a rock slide, as the steep terrain seemed to threaten collapse around every turn of the highway.

I had to  laugh when we came to the first block… it was simply a few logs that blocked the way and a collection of  about 20 people. I approached the group of elderly women sitting atop the logs and asked about the situation. In broken Spanish they more or less said, “We do not have water to grow plants or to live. We do not have access to the lake from which we have always gotten our water. The lake is also becoming very polluted. We want enough clean water to live and we will wait here until our message is heard.”

The sights long the the 30km of road were nothing less than surreal. For over 30 Kilometers, the road was blocked by rocks, boulders, logs, small fires, chunks of metal, glittering broken glass and hundreds of people young and old. This was a major, multi-pueblo, direct-action protest aimed at getting the attention of the Peruvian government.

The walk was very long and difficult, about 30km ( 20miles) on pavement in the mid-day sun. Though I had to fight to keep my spirits up, there was an undeniable beauty in being able to walk this long stretch of highway without a single car passing. There were only mountains splattered with pinkish mud and sagebrush, similarly pink adobe houses, and the faces of countless smiling,relentless people.

As we neared Cusco we saw that the Peruvian Army had arrived in drones to clear the streets. It has been difficult for me to find this story covered in the media, but as far as I can tell from talking with the people, the issue is water privatization. The people get their water from one lake. Someone owns or has recently bought the lake and this private or new owner raised the price of water so that the people could no longer afford enough water to grow crops. This is a simplified version of the story, but it is the only information that was consistent among all the people I questioned.

I am by no means an educated authority on these issues, but I know that these situations are not black and white. If someone owns the water, there is the danger that the people will not have access to what they need, however, there can also be problems when no one feels responsible for a resource.
I am aware that this is an age old debate and as I said, I know only enough to know that I know nothing about this, but I do think it is an issue worth thinking about. I know alternatives exist and I look forward to comments and peoples opinion on these issues. Please enlighten me.

Well, there is much more to say but that all for today. Be sure to check out my next blog (coming very soon) in which I hope to talk a bit about my process as I figure out what it means to be an Appropedia Travel Intern.

Thanks for cheking in!
Isabell

Isabell Kimbrough: First Travel Intern, First Blog

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Hola! Isabell Kimbrough here! I have begun my journey and stint as Appropedia’s first travel intern.  (Follow the links for more info.)

In a nutshell, I just graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Botany and a passion for conservation and sustainable living. I saved my pennies for quite some time in order to do some traveling in South and Central America; and while I commend those who are able to travel free as a breeze, I come from a world of structure and need to feel that I am on some sort of mission as I wander. This is where Appropedia fits in. Members of the board of Appropedia had already birthed the idea of the “travel intern”, someone who would, during their travels, visit and report on successful projects for Appropedia. My internship is the trial run of this idea. I am excited and honored to have this opportunity.

I have begun my adventures and am writing from the rainforest town of Puerto Maldanado, Peru. My dearest friend Kat Fountain has been working on a conservation project in the state of Madre de Dios Peru, deep in the Amazon. It just so happened that she needed a field assistant and I just so happened to be a qualified biologist. What luck! So I joined her at the Sachavacayoc field station, a center for research, education, and ecotourism. For a week we rose before the sun and spent the day exploring and experiencing the incredible Amazon rainforest.

This Amazonian hardwood tree named “La Purma” is 500 years old!

I have learned a lot in a week, not only about the local flora and fauna but also about the situation of the people. Those working to protect and conserve this incredibly rich and biodiverse region of Peru face many threats and obstacles to conservation including (but not limited to): mining and subsequent mineral contamination in the water, logging for hardwoods, cattle farming, drilling for Petroleum, and slash and burn agriculture. The situation is, of course, very complicated and when taken as a whole, has the potential to be a little overwhelming. However, many of the conservationists and scientists I have spoken with here have a great deal of hope.

I personally find a sparkle of hope in this: There are many people and organizations whose sole (and soul) purpose is to protect this precious piece of the world. One of the biggest problems conservationists faced is the lack of communication between groups and organizations that share the same goals. Call me idealistic, but it is my belief that as infrastructure for communication improves and these groups continue to collaborate and organize, the looming problems I mentioned before are well within our power to change. As we all know, even the biggest changes happen poco a poco.

This is why I am grateful to be a part of the Appropedia community. Every page, and each connection made, is a step towards change. Perhaps some of you have heard the expression “the revolution will not be televised!” I agree. I think it is being documented in Appropedia.org!

Till next time… Isabell

Appropedia takes the Initiative!

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Appropedia has grown rapidly in multiple dimensions since our early days, especially in several months.  Both the volume and range of activity at Appropedia.org is up significantly.  We have content translation activity, content porting activity, partnership activity, and site technology development activity, all expanding in parallel. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn communities have grown dramatically as well.

In addition to all the active participants, we have many eager supporters that haven’t yet identified the best way to engage. We get notes like, “I love what you’re doing!  What can I do to help?”  And for every explicit offer, we know there are much more unspoken.  To better use all this pent up energy and goodwill, we are beginning a new program for engaging volunteers, both new and veteran.

Appropedia Initiatives

And so, without further ado, allow us to introduce Appropedia Initiatives! The Appropedia Initiatives program is an open-ended series of specific activities that will benefit from community engagement. Each Initiative will be designed to attract a critical mass of contributions and enthusiasm, to build momentum on a particular topic or practice.

We know that our community of supportive people has a great variety of skills, and we envision a wide variety of Initiatives to engage as many people as we can.  Some Initiatives will be focused on the Appropedia.org site (either content or technology), and others will be more community-oriented.

Essentially, Initiatives are ordinary Appropedia activities that are likely to have some broad interest. Like most things at Appropedia, users’ input and ideas will define the Initiatives program’s path.

Each new Initiative will be highlighted on the Appropedia main page, and we will do community outreach in the form of social media posts to make sure that everyone gets a chance to see it.  Naturally, we welcome your help in passing the word and identifying people, partners, and resources appropriate for each Initiative.

The goal is for each Appropedia Initiative to take on a life of its own and to continue for months beyond its initial moment in the spotlight.  To make sure that fledgling Initiatives have a good chance, we’re asking that each initiative have some semi-committed support in the form of an “Initiative steward” who will shepherd the activity for at least 3 months.

Check out the provisional guidelines for Appropedia Initiatives and see whether your favorite topic or project might be the right candidate for an Initiative.  If so, create a launch page and add your Initiative to the list!

Thank you all in advance for your help and support!