Building Capacity for the Redesign of our Economic Systems

by Daniel Christian Wahl

in 2005 Gaia Education — a global network of sustainability practitioners and educators born out of a collaboration between the Global Ecovillage Network, Gaia Trust, the International Society for Ecology and Culture, Permanent Publications, and others — launched a practical 125 hours curriculum for a residential programme in Ecovillage Design Education (EDE).

Gaia Education 4D Framework in whole systems design for sustainability

The curriculum was structured into the four dimensions of Gaia Education’s whole systems design mandala of sustainability. To create truly sustainable — even regenerative — solutions we need to pay attention to the social, economic, ecological and worldview dimensions of sustainability and how they interact. Gaia Education’s programmes are all based on integrative whole systems thinking and see design as the pathway towards its systemic implementation at local, regional and global scales.

Very quickly it became evident that many of the people who attended these EDE courses, initially taught in ecovillages as ‘Living and Learning Centres’ around the world, were not there to learn how to set up their own ecovillage. What many diverse participants were looking for was a whole systems design approach to transforming existing communities, cities, bioregions, social enterprises or businesses into having a predominantly regenerative rather than destructive impact on the wider systems their were nested in while serving people and planet.

Within a few years, it also became clear that a four-week residential programme taught in an ecovillage was not very accessible to many people interested in the course content. The first response were more flexible formats and different venues for the EDE, pioneered by the enthusiastic team of Gaia Education graduates and teachers in Brazil, with urban EDEs springing up in Rio de Jaineiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Curitiba. These were all based on a series of weekend courses and some evening classes, and hence much more accessible to urban professionals.

The next step was to explore offering the course online in a partnership with the Open University of Catalunya (UOC)’s Campus por la Paz (Peace Campus). In the process of turning a highly experiential course like the EDE into an online programme — now called Design for Sustainability — hands-on experience was transferred into the practical experience of working online with a diverse team of fellow students in the ‘design studio’ focused on transforming or designing a specific project in a specific site, as a way of integrating the four dimensions of sustainability.

The new online course was also somewhat richer in content than the residential (experiential) version and each dimensions had between 60 and 80 pages of additional curriculum material initially. Since 2008 this course has been expanded and reviewed a number of times and now each dimension has between a 120 and 160 pages of rich background material,with links to resources, videos, and many organizations.

In 2012, I rewrote the Worldview Dimension of the course in order to give it more academic and well-refernced background to fit the new postgraduate diploma and masters course that the UOC was offering based on Gaia Education’s curriculum.

The last major review of the online course happened in 2016. I almost entire rewrote the Economic Design Dimension of the course. The 2008 version had been authored by Jonathan Dawson, who now heads the Masters in Economics of Transition at Schumacher College, and eight years later much of the content had been superseded by the rapid developments in the fields of new economics, the sharing economy, P2P networks, and innovations in business models etc.

The academic disciplines of economics and management seem to have become particularly orthodox in holding on to now outdated theories. Academic exploration has too often given way to dogmatic justification and reinforcement of a system that now longer serves.

This means there are actually not that many opportunities for young economists or anyone who understands that “it’s the economy stupid!” could go to brush up their knowledge and understanding, not only about the degenerative impacts of an economic system that is based on an inbuilt growth imperative and hence the need to exploit people and planet, but also about the wide range of innovations and experiments that are already happing around the world to create viable alternatives.

The Economic Design Dimension of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability offers just that. Currently the course is offered in English and Portuguese. The collaboration with the UOC has recently come to an end and so the Spanish version of the online course will be relaunched next year. What follows are a series of links to excerpts from the curriculum’s Economic Design Dimension:

There are also a series of books called ‘The Four Keys’ — anthologies of essays from practitioners around the world — that were created by Permanent Publications to support the programmes of Gaia Education, both the Ecovillage Design Education residential course and the online course in Design for Sustainability.

Here are some examples of different contributions to the Economic Design Key in this series by pioneers like Herman Daly, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Hazel Henderson, David Korten, and Wendell Berry:

The next instalment of the Economic Design Dimension as part of the online course in Design for Sustainability starts on March 19th, 2018.

Gaia Education offers flexible access to people wanting to join that course at the start of each new dimension. So it is possible to either just join for the economic dimension or to later decide to join the whole course and continue on with the Worldview Dimension in 2018, join the Social Design Dimension and the Ecological Design Dimension in autumn of 2018 and early 2019, and complete the course with the Design Studio in 2019.

In combination with participating in a residential Ecovillage Design Education course somewhere in the world and adding a ‘Training of Trainers’ to your experience, you can complete Gaia Education’s professional pathway and join the growing network of Gaia Education Certified Trainers around the world.

I invite you to have a browse of the links offered above and consider whether this course and any of the programmes it links to might be your pathway towards a career or career change. The courses offer an opportunity to build the capacity of proactively contributing to the emergence of diverse regenerative cultures everywhere.

Here are some more articles about Gaia Education’s work around the world:

The remaining links are offering excerpts from my book Designing Regenerative Culturesthat also explore the shortcomings of our current economic and monetary systems and possible pathways towards designing a more viable alternative — a regenerative economy based on circular resource flows, increased solidarity and a shift towards collaborative, rather than competitive advantage.


I hope this article offers you an entry point into the diverse aspects of redesigning our deeply dysfunctional monetary and economic systems in ways that serve people and planet. Such a transformation would critically contribute to a viable future for humanity, along with the widespread regeneration of healthy ecosystems functions and the co-creation of thriving communities collaborating within vibrant bioregional economies linked by global collaboration and solidarity.

Join with others in exploring and implementing this crucially important work of our times!



Originally published here by Daniel Christian Wahl.


There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!