Most of us think in terms of “getting a job” as the primary way to earn a living – which means, that we’re accepting a livelihood created by someone else and will be working on projects that meet the goals of other people’s agendas, not necessarily our own. Too much of a gap between your own goals and the goals of an employer creates deep and abiding tension.
One of the great wastes of human energy and creativity arises from this axis of power as millions of people do uninspiring (and possible harmful and boring) work for the benefit of others.
In Gaia University we prefer to think of ourselves as potential livelihood creators: first of all for ourselves, then maybe for other people, too. This way of thinking, once grounded, is a major transition towards resilience and independence.
Now is the perfect time to be thinking and acting in this way because there is a) a collapsing conventional economy and b) a new, green/ecosocial economy that is emerging, and who better than you/us to define it by co-creation?
Generating viable ecosocial livelihoods is a powerful contribution to our communities and the overall global ecosocial project. Gaia University sees the learning and unlearning trade as a great place to open up a new livelihood economy for people who already have some experience.
We imagine ourselves on a transitionary edge where it is essential for the people who already know something about how to transition to a life focussed on ecosocial regeneration to guide and teach the millions of people who are coming on-stream. We have at least 50 years of intensive learning/unlearning activity ahead of us as we transition our culture.
Local, resilient cultures
An individual, family or community that a) has modest requirements for imported resources and b) can make viable livelihoods based on a raft of small, diverse and socially responsive enterprises, has an increased quality of resilience and flexibility over folks living a high-input lifestyle dependent on the continued survival of large-scale employers.
A localized mutli-enterprise culture also holds far more people with business, organizational, and financial management skills than a mono-enterprise based culture which has only room for a few on the whole enterprise viewing platform.
A multiple micro and small enterprise culture also gives a community significant social capital. Such a community has a good capacity for organizing for transition and change and can take up new opportunities with vigor. Meanwhile, income and profits generated are much more likely to stay within the community and provide working capital for new ventures.
All these advantages require ecologically and socially aware entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs (an intrapreneur is one who actively uses the resources of an organization or community to provide the basis for business). Working at the local scale, these people seek out and bring to fruition enterprise opportunities that benefit the local community.
Entrepreneurial thinking and skill-flexes are, however, hard to come by unless a person is brought up in a family that makes its living this way. Other routes that can be helpful are learning by experience, trying (and likely failing) to start a viable business, apprenticing to a person who already has business skills and learning about business at college, although this last alternative relies on your college tutors being experienced and successful entrepreneurs themselves.
You are encouraged to explore gaining en/intrapreneurial skills while in a program with Gaia University and will find many of your advisors and mentors well developed in this area. A good deal of the program structure brings you into the realm of project management, which can include the development of simple business plans, just as would be required in a small business.
Working to learn the attitudes and abilities necessary to generating an independent livelihood brings you lifelong advantages.
This is as much a political pragmatism as anything else. We have learned from our long experience as ecosocial designers that if we rely on raising funds from wealthy donors, foundations, corporations or governments, we are likely to experience a particular constraint on what we’re able to do and/or spend the bulk of our time working up fund-raising applications.
Sometimes, as we become especially effective in ways that challenge the status quo (the class system for example), we might find our funding dries up, causing promising projects to fail. The important book, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, provides historical evidence of the constraints non-profits face because of their dependence on foundation funding.
At Gaia University we might look for and enjoy gifts of money from family, friends and other sponsors who can rise to the challenge of giving money without strings attached, but as a general rule, we do our best to avoid dependence on fund-raising strategies. We’d much rather work from the point of view of fund-earning.
As individuals taking a fund-earning approach, we may work any number or manner of casual jobs to keep a roof over our heads while we reorient our lives in the direction we want to go. We expect to personally invest in creating our own livelihoods and our own learning. We don’t presume it is someone else’s responsibility to educate us.
Now, this may have some consequences – for example, it might mean that at certain points we’re short of cash.
This relates to the seasons and cycles we find in the natural world. For example, look at the way animals live in the natural environment: in most climates, there’s usually some sort of ‘hungry gap’, or lean time that occurs at certain points in the season. At the end of the dry season in Mexico, the animals are very skinny and short of resources. When the rains come, they are eager and hungry and grow in a compensatory way as they enjoy the emergent lush growth. It is good for living organisms to have this kind of rhythm, although from a conventional farmers point of view this might look counterproductive as fast, continuous weight gain has become the goal. In the natural world, however, these patterns of feast and famine, within reason, work very well.
When we experience periods of time during which we have skinny resources, we have the opportunity to learn to live frugally yet well (Buen Vivir), and meanwhile, deal with the feelings which come up as working lean often brings up strong feelings and emotions.
We might then dare to become part of an income-sharing group which makes an arrangement to support each other when we go through lean periods. We can minimize unnecessary expenses – and avoid buying into many of the hyper-consumption habits of the culture because we know we don’t want to/have to sustain the income to pay for things that aren’t priorities for us. We learn how to be inventively frugal.
All of these things give us increased degrees of freedom in our life. A regular experience of shortages in earnings gives us an opportunity to reappraise our priorities. However, we are not speaking here of chronic poverty. We are speaking of the common fluctuations, the rhythms of a self-reliant, fund-earning lifestyle.
Gaia University is founded and run according to the three characteristics described here – livelihood creation, social en/intrepreneurism, and fund earning. At some stage soon we may look for credit to expand (perhaps by fund-raising, and more likely through participant investment), but we are not going to wait around for funds to arrive before we get on with things. We propose that you do the same.
Ready for more? Take our free, always available, Creating Regenerative Livelihoods course.