Getting from Here to There: Strategic Planning for EcoVillage Education

by Liz Walker

Vision: We envision a world in which people actively care for each other and the planet.

Mission: We provide transformative learning experiences for growing healthy, just and sustainable communities both locally and globally. We support and draw from a variety of practical and visionary resources, especially the living, learning community of EcoVillage Ithaca.

approved by Learn@EcoVillage Advisory Board, March 20, 2016

After 25 years of working hard to create a living model of an ecologically-oriented community, we’ve now successfully completed our third cohousing neighborhood, making EcoVillage Ithaca the largest, and one of the best-known cohousing communities in the world. It’s good to take a pause at the top of the mountain to consider the view ahead.

Dawn Montanye

Dawn Montanye

Learn@EcoVillage, the small non-profit organization which has provided the engine to bring EcoVillage Ithaca from vision to completion, is now taking time to consider how to best share “lessons learned” with the broader public and to support the Village as residents continue to seek knowledge and grow. Our Advisory Board recently hired resident Dawn Montanye, skilled in program management, to lead a five month Strategic Planning process.

The challenge is how to grow from an organization that has only two part-time staff people, yet serves a national and international audience, to one that has the ongoing funding to provide enough staff to meet the remarkably high demand for education on an integrated approach to sustainable living. This is not a small task!

Compost Workshop. Photo:  Jim Bosjolie

Compost Workshop. Photo: Jim Bosjolie

Over a quarter of EcoVillage adults have taken the time to meet with Dawn one-on-one or in forums to offer their ideas about the future of EcoVillage education. It’s clear that residents are both passionate learners and teachers. They have an interest in deepening their knowledge of topics such as aging in community, addressing climate change, local food production, diversity and equity, among others. They would like to see programs that share the EVI experience, create partnerships with local organizations, and serve low-income and marginalized groups.

In addition to interviewing village residents, Dawn and I have spent about an hour each with 17 different external partners, including representatives of regional colleges and universities, county planners, local business and non-profit leaders, and even national and international movers and shakers in the ecovillage movement.

SUNY Potsdam students. Photo: Jim Bosjolie

SUNY Potsdam students. Photo: Jim Bosjolie

Some striking feedback emerged from these external interviews. EVI and Learn@EcoVillage represent a unique niche in several ways: We’re consistently recognized as one of the top 5-25 sustainable communities in the world. There is more media coverage and more published research about EVI than any other ecovillage. We have special access to mainstream markets (most ecovillages don’t have this cross-over potential.)

The Learn@EcoVillage Advisory Board spent an exciting and productive day together in late March. After distilling lots of information and discussion, two overarching concepts emerged:

  • increase outreach and education to a more racially and economically diverse population of learners
  • provide and support demand driven learning and teaching opportunities for EcoVillage residents.

In addition, four working themes emerged to focus our educational programs:

  1. Youth, especially developing leadership
  2. Developing Sustainable Communities
  3. Aging in Community
  4. Professionals, working to leverage a cleaner, greener energy transition

SUNY Potsdam Alternative Spring Break. Photo: Jim Bosjolie

The Board, Dawn and I will spend the next few months figuring out how to translate these broad themes into workable goals and objectives. It will take a while to see what programs are financially feasible, and how we can best leverage our extensive experiences and the teaching expertise of residents and partners. As we pause on the mountain top, I trust that the path forward will gradually become clear as we find programs that address the deep hunger so many people feel for both community and connection with the Earth.