The Story By Trudy Juriansz, former GENOA coordinator and GEN Networking Director,
and co-initiator of ReGEN-Nations learning program.
As I reflect back on my nine years with GENOA, I feel a sense of peace as I have come full circle with this beautiful network and organisation. I had no idea when I met the GENOA community in 2012 in Sri Lanka, that I would embark on a deep spiritual journey that would test all my boundaries of friendship, work and collaboration. I have unlearned and learned so immensely that I will never be the same person again, as I have grown and evolved to be more conscious and embracing. I have had the honour to have met, lived and worked with, and developed friendships with so many inspiring people, communities, organisations and projects from all over Asia and Oceania, and beyond. I pay my respects to all my teachers, elders and wisdom keepers, who have guided me in this journey.
My journey in GENOA evolved from learning and understanding networks and organisations, to building a solid foundation and core team – our virtual ecovillage, while integrating insights and learnings into my personal life and character building.
Building a Resilient Web
A key question that came up for GENOA during the period of 2015-2017 was how do we ensure the web of a network is strong, knowing that the network exists with or without you, that you as an organisation, is simply a node in the network; and our role is to help make that web visible so exchange and cross-pollination can happen with ease and so resilience in the web can become stronger.
To answer this question, one of the most significant learnings was understanding the difference between a network and an organisation. I was guided by Chris Gibbings (former GENOA Vice-president and IT Support) who helped me see that the network already exists, independent of GENOA. The network is not owned, or even created, by our organisation. Before GENOA or GEN existed, there were ecovillages and other regenerative organisations and projects and they were already connecting with each other or others in various ways. GENOA as an organisation (or community) engages in the network as a participant and helps to enable the network further. So we had to find out what our niche was within the ecosystem or network, so we could feel fulfilled in carrying out our mission. We discovered that our niche was to hold space and bring people together, to support and care for ecovillages and eco-projects on the ground, and to enable the dissemination of information, knowledge and skills as widely as possible. In the last four years, 2018-2021, GENOA as a network has grown steadily, gathering energy and support from individuals, communities, organisations, projects and other networks.
Another significant change we made in 2014 was to transition from a hierarchical structure to a network based system, moving away from the traditional president/vice president positions, to a more horizontal governance structure that enabled working circles and the workload to be spread out. We made this decision in 2014 and didn’t realise how hard it would be.
GENOA went through a period of panarchy for a period of about three years. Panarchy is a natural process in nature, and therefore part of the natural movement of any organisation as it goes through a significant period of reassessment and change. GENOA was in a place of confusion, conflict, reflection, learning, inner growth and restructuring. Since then, GENOA has become stronger and more resilient, and able to provide authentic support to the network in our region.
We also realised that the network’s energy or participation was low in 2015, so we focused on facilitating spaces for people to engage with each other and GENOA as the organisation. We found that as engagement increased, participation also increased and as people felt comfortable and secure, they were able to contribute more, in line with their passions and energy. We held Emergence Convergences, which were gatherings of hearts and minds from multiple disciplines, in various locations in Asia and the Pacific, between 2016 to 2018. One of the success factors with these convergences was that we held space for people to come together, supporting dialogue in order to be able to see what would emerge. Dialogue without an agenda or set outcomes, allowed for creativity to flow and authentic communication and sharing to happen, which in turn, led to multiple collaborative projects to emerge, across various nations.
GENOA learned the art of collaboration and how to become part of a meta-network supporting other like-minded networks, communities and organisations, that could lean on one another when times get tough or if there was stagnation. We learned that you could join in with other networks and organisations, and piggy back off each other until you felt strong again and could stand on your own. And most of all, learning that we didn’t have to start from scratch or to build something new all the time, but could build where others left off and that we could stand on the shoulders of those that came before us.
Our Virtual Ecovillage
When former President Michiyo Furuhashi stepped out of her role at the end of 2014, she asked me to take care of GENOA. I have never felt such a sense of duty. Being of Sri Lankan origin, this is a quality that comes from my culture and family, to be dutiful, responsible and accountable. I also felt honoured to work with amazing people and communities from our region, to share and to learn together. So realising that GENOA is an organisation whose role is to support the healthy growth of networking between ecovillages in Asia Oceania region, we embraced that we are also a virtual ecovillage whose community members are the people who step forward to do the work to make GENOA function. As such, community building processes amongst GENOA’s volunteers/staff are as important as the mission of GENOA. As they say, “It takes a community to support a network”. And as a GENOA contributor, Pi Villaraza, once said to me, we need to learn how to become a global village, a community of 7 billion people, who care and support each other.
The art of forming a virtual ecovillage takes time, patience and perseverance. It also requires a level of simplification and efficiency, so energy can be conserved and used in more appropriate ways. Since in GENOA we are spread apart geographically, we worked on developing efficient internal systems so we could work and collaborate across time zones and cultures. In all our organisation and network meetings, we always started with an attunement or mediation, to bring us all to the present moment of being together, appreciating our space and to allow for the work that was ahead of us. We always checked in at both personal and work levels, so we could support each other through times of stress and upheaval and also as a way to celebrate and appreciate the good times.
Another important part of becoming more efficient and accountable in GENOA, we became very conscious of our budget, choosing to limit spending funds on international travel just purely to attend conferences and gatherings. Instead, we stretched our budget between the period of 2015 to 2018, partnering with like-minded organisations and communities to co-host the Emergence Convergences and supporting a small team in the organisation to carry out the critical functions and the engagement of the network. We discovered that being mindful of how we use our funds, we could get maximum benefit with the most impact.
There are always challenges that arise from being a virtual community, so having a compass to guide us was invaluable. As a network in 2014, GENOA determined seven key values – Integrity, Diversity, Trust, Service, Participation, Evolving, Oneness – that would be our compass in the coming years. This helped me immensely, as I would always come back to my center when I felt off track, to these values and why I was doing this work. I also learned the value of stillness, to take a breather from all the events and outward presence of the organisation in order to reflect internally and clean our inner house, so we could process, identify gaps in our systems and community, and be ready for all the outer work and outreach later.
Another important aspect of being a virtual ecovillage is compassionate communication. We realised quickly during our period of panarchy, that working online with people from different cultures, time zones and languages, was not just challenging, but could bring tension and conflicts. So we developed a set of compassionate communication guidelines to support our team to work more effectively and harmoniously together.
Garden of Inner Resilience
Working with GENOA over the years has helped me become more resilient in the face of challenges, disturbances and chaos. I have learned to accept situations the way they are and to let go, and not be attached to an outcome. By being able to let go, I was able to dive deep into several projects and events for GENOA, not being afraid, but excited to experiment and see where the path would take us. I learned that standing strong in a sea of turbulence, bringing consistency and integrity to the center would eventually bring people back and together again.
I have learned not to take anything personally, even though it is still a hard practice, it is so valuable to know and understand that everyone has their own traumas and triggers and most of the time, when there is a tension, conflict or outburst, they are not intentionally out to hurt you. So it has helped me to hold space for others, keeping love and care in my heart, and not internalising their pain. My inner resilience has helped me to stay creative, flexible, collaborative and be adaptive in the face of a changing environment and the drastic shifts of ‘business as usual’.
I have learned to trust deeply in GENOA as a network and an organisation, and also in myself. GENOA is a space for people to come together, to participate and contribute at whatever level feels comfortable. It is a community of beautiful souls who work tirelessly to regenerate our human connections and our ecological systems, through education, events and storytelling. I have learned the strength of friendships and how they can be resilient in times of turmoil and the importance of reciprocity and having people who love and care for you, to work with everyday.
GENOA has been a garden of possibilities, and like all gardens, it takes patience, attention and consistency. When I left GENOA earlier this year, I felt I was walking away from an abundant garden that is producing delicious fruits for everyone to be able to savour and enjoy. I feel so much joy and gratitude in my heart to know that this garden is held with love and care. May GENOA continue to grow and flourish for many more years to come.
About the Author
Trudy Juriansz, Australia/Sri Lanka
Trudy is a key contributor in bridging together communities, organisations and individuals in Asia and Oceania. She is currently working with Permaculture for Refugees and an indigenous community in Queensland, Australia. She was GEN’s Networking Director, GENOA coordinator for several years and co-initiated the ReGEN-Nations learning program. Trudy is an accredited trainer of Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) and Analog Forestry (a design science for ecosystem restoration). In addition, she has studied, practiced and taught permaculture and deep ecology for many years. She has been the head of a democratic school in Thailand for migrants and refugees, managed a sustainability education centre in Sri Lanka, and facilitated a variety of workshops across Asia and Oceania, for communities, youth and women. Originally from Sri Lanka, Trudy has lived in several traditional villages and communities, and visited many ecovillages around the world.