The Global Environments Network - in collaboration with Camille (The Collective Liberation Project) and Farzana (Healing Justice London) hosted a 6-day residential retreat, exploring how embodied grief practices can support environmental advocacy and transformative justice in the UK context. The retreat prioritised people with recent ancestral histories of migration or colonisation and was an opportunity to put into practice the Weaving Grief, the Body and Transformative Justice Toolkit research led by Camille, in collaboration with GEN Director, Nessie Reid.
The grief tools explored within the toolkit are predominantly inspired by the work of Malidoma and Sobonfu Some, Francis Wellner and Martin Prechtel. These authors have rich experience using ritual as a way to befriend grief. Art therapy interventions were also woven into the retreat experience, allowing participants to creatively unearth how grief work can be explored in their individual, as well as collective contexts.
Participants were taught embodied self-regulation practices throughout the retreat, based on a variety of somatic practices, such as butterfly taps, crossing-the-midline exercises, scream and moan therapy. Dance therapy, free writing and journaling, drawing, painting and peer counseling practices were used in order to integrate people's experiences.
The retreat provided a space for a majority people of colour (POC) group (20 people in total) to practice embodied techniques and rituals that explore how we can work with our grief to weave resilience, grow strong networks of community care and generate hope, in order to create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. We held a container which had a strong interfaith foundation, allowing for spirit to be part of the conversation in a way that is not dogmatic and allows for a myriad of beliefs to coexist. The retreat took place at The Quadrangle in Kent, UK - a stunning retreat centre.
In August this year, GEN will be publishing an open-source toolkit with tried and tested tools designed to weave grief, the body and transformative justice together. Watch this space.
2021 is a monumental year for us: it marks the tenth anniversary of the Global Environment Network: a project under the Global Diversity Foundation. In 2011, Gary Martin, GEN Founder and Advisor (and a dear friend of mine), posed a crucial question: where have all our environmental leaders gone? He wanted to know what support networks and mechanisms exist for those working on the frontlines of environmental conservation and social justice who often experience feelings of isolation and burn-out. To address this, Gary brought together a group of 20 young and emerging leaders to the first ever Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) in Bern, Switzerland.
A decade on, and almost 600 members strong, we feel now is an opportune time to revisit and reimagine GEN's wider mission and vision. As we begin to (once again) emerge from lockdown in some parts of the world, we are cautiously - but determinedly - planning in-person GEN events, such as our Weaving Grief, the Body and Transformative Justice Toolkit #1 retreat in June and GESA 2021 in August of this year. Thanks to a recent fundraising success, myself and the core GDF team will begin working with an external consultant to develop the Global Diversity Foundation's 5-Year Strategy, as well as our wider fundraising and communications strategies. We want to ensure that we are reaching our impact potential and in the context of GEN, serving our members in the best way we possibly can. To do this, we need to ensure our why, how and what is crystal clear. We are really excited to be embarking on the next chapter of GDF's story.
As part of this effort, a central focus of 2021 will be developing our GEN mentoring package. Until now, the GEN mentoring programme has been informal and based around in-person events. We feel it is time to use our wealth (and years) of experience to create something more structured and long-term for our members. Myself and my GDF colleagues - Pomme, Emily and Rachid - are currently taking part in the MAVA Foundation's Leaders for Nature Academy. Run in collaboration with Common Purpose and Mowgli Mentoring, this year-long academy has already proved to be deeply rewarding and informative in a way that we could not have predicted. The Academy is a leadership development programme which bringing together two generations of leaders – senior and young professionals with an aim to support us to raise our awareness of leading self and impact on others, develop greater inter-generational understanding and cooperation, enhance our ability to Lead Beyond Authority – increasing our ability to lead and collaborate across boundaries and experience the power and potential of mentoring which supports long term personal and professional growth.
Many of the skills and tools shared in the Academy will form part of GEN's revised mentoring programme, which will focus on specific areas of development, such as Women in Leadership and Solidarity Leadership. Watch this space for more details and how you can be a part of the GEN Mentoring programme.
Given the tumultuous political situation with the US Presidential elections, together with the many opposing views circling the globe about the COVID-19 pandemic, it felt important to dedicate November to communication at GEN. On the 3rd, we had the pleasure of hosting a GEN In Conversation event between social psychologist and climate communication specialist Irina (GESA 2018) and shiatsu practitioner, psychotherapist and cultural champion Sandhya on Communicating in Times of Polarity. Together, we explored the psychology behind polarisation, and the deep identity processes that lead us to take strong positions and defend them vehemently. Often when we polarise, we also dehumanise the person standing in front of us. This can lead to forgetting their unique story and who they are as a multidimensional person. How do we communicate in ways that forge connection and understanding, rather than build up walls of prejudice, divisiveness and ultimately isolation?
We are delighted to welcome both Irina and Sandhya back to lead interactive workshops, which will delve deeper into the ways that conflict and polarisation can be doorways into growth and connection (17th November), as well as offering tools for listening to polarities within the body (1st December). We invite you to read more about these workshops by following the links to the respective event pages on our website.
In other news, nine GEN members from Africa, Asia and South America have been awarded seed funding from GEN for five projects that strive to improve the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of their respective regions. The provision of this seed funding is part of GEN Project Packages, which include tailored mentoring, comms support and advice specific to each of the project needs. Read their project descriptions here and follow each link to find out more details.
Antonia, Julian and Constanza are supporting Taller Witral, a working and teaching space in Chile built by Patricia Ayelef, an expert weaver, knitter and natural dyer of wool. Also in South America, Daniel, Manuela and Abigail are offering live virtual and recorded sessions of eco-psychology and indigenous wisdom in the context of a global crisis and changes under COVID-19 and environmental, societal and economic risk drivers and issues. Across the Pacific Ocean, Aini is working to produce, promote and distribute a storybook on Malaysian primates aimed at engaging the attention of young people around the issue of wildlife conservation at an early stage of their lives. Azim, who hails from Bangladesh, is raising environmental awareness and reducing environmental footprints through eco-friendly bags and accessories, while Aina plans a two-day workshop in Madagascar for conservation NGOs to share expertise and learn from each other.
Margaret Mead, an American anthropologist, said ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ GEN is built upon this belief, and with your generous donations, we are able to continue to support our members from around the world to build themselves as leaders, striving for positive social and ecological change.
(above): Irina leads an embodied session on process work with Wangui during the Practical Retreat at the Global Environments Summer Academy 2018. (Photo by I.Tekguc/GEN)
Photos below are provided by the respective projects.
When I wrote my last GlobalGiving report - back in December - I could never have imagined what the following six months would bring. The global pandemic has totally changed not only my life and my family's, but also the Global Environment Network (GEN)'s way of working and our much-anticipated 2020 plans.
As the core GEN team, each week we needed to adapt and evolve to what felt like - and continues to be - a constantly shifting situation where plans for in-person events are hard to make. After much discussion, we came to the decision to postpone our Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) 2020, to the summer of 2021. Although this felt like a great loss at the time, and despite our reluctancy, multiple silver linings and new pathways of engaging with our member and our wider community have emerged. Since its founding in 2011, via in-person events, GEN has brought together hundreds of people dedicated to working for social and ecological justice and wellbeing. Then when Covid-19 came along, we needed to adapt; spreading our wings and taking our 2020 events online.
We decided to create a hybridised version of GESA, and thus the (online) GEN In Conversation Series was born. This four-month online programme of talks and interactive workshops, taking place from June to September (currently underway), includes some of the wonderful resource people we had programmed for GESA 2020. Since June, we have brought together activists, academics, community practitioners, artists, writers, dancers and researchers to share their insights and lived experiences, with each month dedicated to dissecting and exploring a specific theme. Going online has meant we have been able to reach a far more diverse audience, as well as including those who might not normally have the capacity or means to attend an in-person event.
Our June In Conversation event explored the theme Weaving land, life and justice within, through and beyond colonisation. In the first part of this series, Octaviana, Wangui and Camille shared their lived experiences of coloniality, whilst unpacking the current opportunity we are faced with: to re-consider the path we have been on as a global community and sow seeds to create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. Read more and listen to the audio recording here.
Our July In Conversation event delved into the theme What does food mean to me, you, us? Constanza, Mama D, Gary and Merelyn shared their journeys and the transformative experiences which sculpted and informed the approaches they now take with food issues they engage with. Through the lenses of biocultural heritage, critical food advocacy, Community Centred Knowledge, local product commercialisation and Farmer Field Schools, our speakers weaved stories and experiences which sit at the intersections of justice, power and resilience. Read more and listen to the audio recording here.
We are currently finalising our August and September programme, which will be released soon on our brand-new website.
Camille and Wangui also lead smaller, interactive workshops in June. Camille led Dance as pleasure activism: Visioning environmental regeneration through the body, which asked the questions; How do we build a world in which humans live harmoniously with all beings in the web of life? How do we take the steps necessary to transition from an economy based on extraction and fossil fuels to one based on care and regeneration? And then through group exercises and somatic self-regulation, the group transitioned into a free movement exercise based on following pleasure in the body, in order to feel into our visions for the future. Camille's work is inspired by the work of Afrofutusists, namely Adrienne Maree Brown and Octavia Butler.
Wangui then lead a workshop Is there justice in the world? An introduction to regenerative justice. Participants were invited to question what is justice? What does it look and feel like? In a world labouring to birth new worlds, on what grounds does our justice-making sprout? In this two-hour workshop, participants explored in an embodied way various forms of justice that we have (not) experienced to understand what underpins them, for moving together towards building an understanding of regenerative justice. The workshop explored ways for working with the body, feeling, envisioning, writing and conversation for considering how to apply regenerative justice as a practice, to what’s alive in our contexts and our work on various environmental issues.
As part of our Covid response, we also shared a weekly newsletter Springs of Change, which included stories of inspiration, tools for personal resilience and self-care, as well as practices for exploring loss, grief and transition. From March, through to the end of May, we held Zoom member support calls which afforded great opportunities for members to share resources and find professional research overlaps. These calls proved to be a space to stand in solidarity together to meet both the challenges, and opportunities, that the pandemic was presenting.
Very best wishes to you all in these important, challenging times where community solidarity and fighting for justice is more important than ever.
"Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing" - Dr. Abdhu Sharkawy, an Infectious Diseases Specialist
(Please note this author has permission to use all of the above names).
Social interactions are described as the very building blocks of society: through them, people design the way in which they seek to live. At GEN (Global Environments Network), we believe these interactions are often the driving force for action. Conversely, the lack of it breeds negative mind states—demotivation, indifference and apathy—in both our personal lives as well as in the workplace.
Over the years, participants of our Global Environments Summer Academies (GESA) have commended our programmatic approach which encourages meaningful interactions and builds positive, long-lasting relationships built of mutual support and respect. At our first Academy in 2011, we developed what we called the Research Cafe, a platform for participants to present their work. This opened up opportunities throughout GESA for practical feedback and the exchange of ideas by fellow participants as well as resource people, such as on alternative approaches adopted in other parts of the world. Over the years, our Research Cafes evolved to a TED-style format, when the delivery of inspiring presentations was enhanced through learning sessions on effective communications and filmmaking. As an example, watch Daniel's inspiring talk, in which he challenges us to reflect on our innate feelings and rekindle the wisdom, innocence and knowledge we had as children to bring the change the world needs.
Each year, as we shape the three-week GESA schedule, we repeatedly ask ourselves “How do we promote an atmosphere of collaboration, trust and respect?” This task is particularly challenging given the nature of the group: in selecting our participants, we always seek to convene individuals who bring with them a distinct set of knowledge and experiences. This means that at any one GESA gathering, participants are from a range of sectors and academic backgrounds, and hail from all corners of the world. Different, yet with the highest degree of commonality in their passion and commitment to improve local livelihoods, resolve conflicts and restore environments.
With this question in mind, we developed the five-day Nature Connection Opening Retreat. The transformative teachings from Joanna Macy’s ‘The Work That Reconnects’, the spiritual ecology practices based on the teachings of Sufi master and teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and the interactive, performance-based process of Theatre of Transformation led by Rama Mani held during the retreat created a safe container and laid the foundation for a mutually supportive, respectful and creative community for the rest of GESA 2018.
As GESA participants join the Global Environments Network—alongside alumni from our Regional Academies and Community Exchanges—we turn our focus to nurturing and maintaining the strong bonds and nascent collaborations that blossomed during the three-week Academy beyond its boundaries in time. We revamped our internal newsletter, renamed GEN in Action, turning it into a platform for members to share their calls for action. We reach out to members via one-on-one calls and establish online tools to support GEN members through engagement, information and networking. We understand that oftentime, our members work in isolation without an adequate support network beyond their discipline, location or practice. They feel the need to connect. Thanks to our generous GlobalGiving donors, we are able to support GEN members by offering tools and practices for regenerative and restorative ways of living and working in the world.
(Photos by Inanc Tekguc)
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