Thus began the gradual evolution of the concept of an international network of regional networks linking them, in what came to be known later as GEN (rhymes with “when”) – the Global Ecovillage Network .
The initial GEN “seed group”, which was quite diverse in make-up, history, and state of evolution, consisted of the following : Findhorn Community, Scotland; The Farm, Tennessee, USA; Lebensgarten, Steyerberg, Germany; Crystal Waters, Australia; Ecoville, St. Petersburg, Russia; Gyürüfü, Hungary; The Ladakh Project, India; The Manitou Institute, Colorado, USA; and The Danish Ecovillage Association. These were chosen for a variety of reasons, including geographical spread, attractiveness as models, and personal contacts. None were considered perfect models, but all had something vital to contribute.
A major watershed in the development of GEN occurred in October 1995 when Findhorn, assisted by GEN and Gaia Trust, held a conference on “Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities”, which was a great success attended by over 400 people from 40 countries. Over 300 had to be turned away. The interest in the concept was immense. We decided to establish three regional networks covering the globe geographically, with administrative centers at The Farm, Lebensgarten, and Crystal Waters. Gaia Trust committed to covering expenses to support the networks for 3-5 years, and to act as coordinating secretariat out of its Gaia Villages office in Denmark. Interested ecovillages , as well as individuals and other interested parties were encouraged to join the regional networks which all have an open-ended, democratic, non-hierarchical self-organizing organizational form. As the organization grows, it was envisaged that the three initial regions will split into several autonomous regions.
Since the Findhorn conference, the Western Hemisphere has been divided into 8 sub-regions, the Asian network in two, and over twenty nation networks are active in Europe.
In order to maintain the integrity of the original vision within a structure that is open for anyone to join, GEN developed the concept of an ecovillage audit to measure the degree of attainment of any particular project on a multidimensional scale. This model – which is now accessible on the GEN Internet site, enable the networks to define “qualified” ecovillages as those that have come furthest in their development. Organizationally, it was intended that representatives of “qualified” ecovillages will have voting rights, while “initiatives” and other interested parties could be associate members. Besides preserving the integrity of the vision, this approach gives every project a yardstick to see how close it is to the ideal, and thus where it can improve. Of equal importance, the structure means that anyone can join their region’s network, linking in to the nearest node anywhere across the globe. The hope is that with sufficient support, the network can evolve into an instrument of real change. All who support the vision are encouraged to consider joining. Terms of membership and services provided are evolving in real time. It can all be followed on the Internet at www.gaia.org
The Internet was a technology that hit the scene at just the right time for GEN. The Net is ideal for a thinly dispersed global network. A GEN information data base has now been established on the Internet and is expanding quickly, having over 2000 pages by the spring of 2000.2 The site was getting about 700,000 ‘hits’ per month at this time, and has links to many other organizations and data sources. The site now includes profiles of a number of ecovillages who wish to present themselves to the world, resource lists for special skills, lists of relevant books and videos, a calendar of events, a complete listing by region of existing ecovillages and chat groups on financing, permaculture, ecological building, etc. Future plans include fundraising facilities with multiple choices for donors, e-commerce for “green products” across the globe, a ‘classified ad’ service, ecovillage tourism, and a global clearinghouse for complementary local money systems. As mentioned, everyone is welcome to join the GEN regional networks without conditions. This include ecovillage projects, of course, but also individuals and organizations that have an interest in what is happening.