Question: Why are ecovillages important for sustainable development?
KJ: Ecovillages promote a supportive and inclusive social environment and a way of life that has a low environmental impact. This means that communities have the potential to address environmental protection, social justice, and economic viability and prosperity.
Ecovillages are demonstration sites of sustainability in practice, showcasing that human beings are capable, and have the knowledge to consciously restore depleted natural and social environments. Members of the Global Ecovillage Network have among the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the industrialized world. (>>Measure your own carbon footprint)
The message from ecovillages is that:
● A low-carbon and environmentally friendly lifestyle is possible within vibrant and well-designed communities, and
● This is the path that is most likely to deliver both human well-being and planetary sustainability.
Q: What is your ecovillage experience and how did it make a difference for you?
I came across my first ever ecovillage in South Africa during the periods of great unrest, when Nelson Mandela had just been released. It was a community where black and white people were living together, tilling their fields, building their huts – sharing their joys and pains. Here people were building their dream of the new within the old, in a peaceful but radical way. As a young adult, this was the answer I had been looking for.
On returning to Europe, I found ecovillage projects wherever I went – and realized that here was a global movement right before my eyes – but invisible to the radar of mainstream society.
Since then, we have been working to make these networks more visible. To meet current and future needs, every village needs to become an ecovillage and every city needs to become a green city.
Q: What is the potential for ecovillages in this region?
This region has gone through a lot of change, but there are still community networks in traditional villages, and great potential here. This untapped local knowledge or traditional sustainable wisdom is alive and well – and needs to be nurtured before it disappears.
More experience on this could be drawn from an European Union (EU-funded) project on ecovillages already running in Baltic sea countries.
The young generation in the region is also very aware of the challenges the world and their countries are facing – and longs for new solutions.
Q: Do you see any opportunities for partnering with UNDP in the region and beyond?
KJ: One example for how collaboration might look comes from Senegal. Here, a network of 45 ecovillages came into being through Global Ecovillage Network educational programmes.
Civil society started showcasing best practices including solar cookers, drip irrigation, permaculture design, and reforestation programs, and demonstrated the potential of an ecovillage approach for sustainable development.
This got the attention of the Government, which adopted a national strategy to transform 14,000 traditional villages into ecovillages throughout Senegal. A Ministry of Ecovillages was established.
The Global Ecovillage Network is a grassroots movement. We believe that the good intentions and creativity of citizens, and their willingness to make a difference, is one of the most underutilized resources we have today. The power of communities to come together and design their own pathway into the future can be a major driving force for positive change. This is something that we have in common with UNDP and something that we should jointly pursue.