Last night, Eco Villages Australia held an event at Turnstyle Community Hub in Brisbane that sparked some great conversations around contribution, shared goals and the incorporation of a small scale economy that relies far less on the mainstream financial system. The event started with talks by Joy Foley from Peace Valley Australian Bush Retreat and Andrew McLean from Eco Villages Australia. This was followed by an interactive part of the night involving small group conversations in the 'World Cafe' style of facilitation.
Issues surrounding contribution can be highly contentious. Thoughts and feelings around contribution naturally bring out peoples' desire for equity. Many people are concerned that others won't contribute and instead take advantage of the hard-working individuals in the community. Other people feel that certain work is of more value and should be recognised as such through higher payment. Some may even be concerned about their own ability to contribute due to health issues, energy levels, confidence, etc. How we value ourselves and how we value others touches the deepest parts of our spirit so there is, of course, no easy answer to the issue of contribution. Honest discussion about the needs of each person and the needs of the community can help to navigate this difficult topic.
One suggestion is to have two 'streams' that people can choose between. The first 'stream' would be working for the eco village for an agreed number of hours and having living expenses (housing, food, internet, electricity, etc) provided. This work could include growing food, educating children, planning events and activities or generating income for the eco village. With a diversity of skills, interests and resources, this option could be an exciting opportunity for people who yearn to give their gifts to the world. The second 'stream' would be a standard weekly rental payment and an agreed weekly contribution to cover food which is a well-understood model for modern people. Having a choice between the two options allows autonomy. People can freely choose a path of eco village life that suits their situation.
How would people be chosen? How would people be accountable? How could the eco village balance the range of skills to sustainably generate income? All these questions and more emerged - the room was buzzing with conversation and curiosity. One comment was that this system would need to have enough diversity in skills and expertise to function properly - villages need certain skill areas such as a mechanic, a doctor etc. While we are living in the modern world we still have access to all the opportunities that the modern economy brings. The eco village won't be an isolated island away from society. This is the opposite of what we are trying to do! The main aims of this experiment must be to assist people to undertake the work they really want to do and rely less on the mainstream economic system. It is well understood that localism is key to thriving communities. We can keep the skills, resources and creativity circulating in the eco village rather than going out of the community and being funnelled to 'the one percent', which is the reality of our extractivist, capitalist economy.
Many people agreed that such a model would require a strong commitment to the underlying philosophy, a deeply shared vision. Elements of this philosophy may include that all people are equal and their time is of equal value - a person who is cleaning bathrooms for an hour is equal to a person who is writing this blog for the same hour. This is a radical shift for many who would struggle to say that a doctor's time is worth the same a mother's, for example. There is precedence in our society that the work traditionally undertaken by men (engineering, building, leadership roles) is of greater value than work traditionally undertaken by women (care work, cleaning, the arts etc). By taking up a philosophy that every person's time is equal, the eco village can be a leader in valuing all forms of contribution. When people are doing the work that makes their heart sing, the world is richer for it.
Another thing that emerged was that people may feel exploited if they are getting paid less to work in the eco village than in a standard job. Recognising financial capital while overlooking social, cultural, intellectual, spiritual, experiential and other forms of capital leaves us poor and hollow as a society. As Charles Eisenstein says in his book 'Sacred Economics', how can we put a price on our time? That is our life and to sell it for a dollar figure is to sell our life. What would we turn our hearts, minds and hands to if we had freedom over our time, confidence to act and the support of others? To many, this may seem a distant and impossible dream but could now be the time to take a leap? Creative experiments like this are a great way to build resilience into an increasingly uncertain world. The only real secure investment is community. The social, intellectual, material and spiritual riches are available to all who collaborate and create real trust.