The story I am about to tell you is about a community of people from all over the world who care about restoring health and vitality to the Earth. We accomplished many ambitious goals that have inspired many more along the way. And like so many good stories, it had a humble beginning.
It all started with a book.
Let me clarify from the beginning that I am no longer leading activities in Earth Regenerators. This was a role that I officially stepped out of in August of 2022 so that I could focus my attention on the Barichara Ecoversity and a new design school that is now taking shape. The story I want to tell here is how great care and intentionality was given to the cultivation of prosocial groups in the last three years. The ability for leadership to become shared was a big theme from the beginning of this profound cultural experiment. That said, let us begin.
I wrote the first words of The Design Pathway for Regenerating Earth on December 14th, 2019. It felt so timely that I decided to create an open-access study group where chapters would be shared online. Six months later there were 2,000 members from all over the world. At the time of writing for this article, the number has grown to 4,500. Together we formed more than twenty decentralized groups, trained hundreds of people, raised funds to purchase community land and support on-the-ground projects, and shared learnings about ProSocial with several thousand people.
The intellectual ground on which this body of work was constructed had three focused themes: complexity, evolution, and the dynamic Earth. The case was made for applying insights from cultural evolution to large-scale patterns of systemic change. Clear emphasis was given to the integration of projects at landscape scales organized as bioregional economies. We were going to need to learn how to collaborate on many fronts at the same time.
All of this was made explicit in webinars that are freely available to watch like Learning About Prosocial Groups, Cultural Scaffolding and Social Niche Construction, and ProSocial as Regenerative Finance. We hosted eight-week learning journeys called Prosocial Groups for Earth Regeneration and Prosocial Groups for Territories. This inspired many people to seek training with ProSocial World and bring what they learned back into our community.
Early in the creative flurry to make all this possible, a key theme took hold. What began as one leader offering webinars and written discussion materials needed to become shared with a diversity of different people who could lead from their hearts in their own personal ways. In May of 2020, an Italian community organizer named Diego Galli reached out to ask if I would be open to cultivating shared leadership. I enthusiastically said yes. We began the design and implementation of a two-month training called Community Regenerators Mutual Learnings that was offered for free in exchange for applying what participants learned to the decentralized governance of the Earth Regenerators community.
We had 40 people enroll, 35 of whom stayed with us through the entire process. These devoted community members began leading their own group activities in a coherent way in the months that followed. I took the lead in the formation of a fundraising workgroup to create the Barichara Regeneration Fund that would go on to raise $50,000 for the purchase of a strategic piece of land where I live in Barichara, Colombia. Some of these funds would also be used to catalyze a territorial-scale regeneration effort among 15 local projects on the ground.
Importantly, each group had been taught ProSocial and was actively sharing concepts and language about Elinor Ostrom’s core design principles, the ACT Matrix from contextual-behavioral science, and cultural scaffolding from evolutionary studies. We created a governance system around temporal cycles and thematic resonance across what grew to be about twenty distinct groups in the Mighty Networks platform that hosted Earth Regenerators members from all over the planet.
One of our most generative rhythms was the eight-week learning journey that began each solstice and equinox – with a one month break in between to prepare for the next round of trainings. Six learning journeys were offered in total throughout an 18-month period between March 2021 and August 2022. The first topic we explored was regenerative finance. In the fifth week it became clear that support structures must be built for the participants to continue learning about the themes that had come up so far.
This was how our host team birthed the Regenerative Project Incubator with advisory circles, office hours, and other support activities. It is important to note that all of this was done on a volunteer basis. Earth Regenerators to this day is not constituted as a legal entity. Members of the community hosted book clubs, indigenous-inspired gatherings called campfires, a special fund for peer-to-peer support of people wanting to live more regeneratively, and focused design processes around parenting, education, and more.
What I want to emphasize here is that we could not have done this without the shared semantic space of knowledge, language, and experience in ProSocial. New participants arrived to a fully supportive environment for becoming vulnerable and open to sharing the content of their hearts. People have been transformed by leaving their jobs, investing in one another, relocating to start new phases of life, and healing deeply from the grief they feel about what is happening to the Earth right now.
To give you a feel for what it was like in these learning journeys, we would hear comments like “I can say how I actually feel” and “It’s so refreshing to speak my heart” from new participants as they arrived. We are very mindful that the topic of planetary collapse – the systemic breakdown of health and stability across the Earth that cascades across all relevant scales – is deeply interwoven with ecological grief and intergenerational trauma. The feeling of safety to speak honestly about our inner struggles was essential for all that emerged throughout the learning journeys.
By naming the two psychological capacities that make prosocial participation possible – the regulation of emotions and psychological flexibility – we cultivated an openness that would have been very difficult to achieve otherwise. Frequently, a member of the community would express very strong outpourings of sadness and pain during more sensitive moments. The support they received was both non-judgmental and fully embodied as supportive of their healing process. People truly were transformed during these experiences and named the power of their inner transformations directly to the group as the process occurred.
I am not certain how many Earth Regenerators have become trained ProSocial facilitators. But I do know that it is at least a few dozen and that most of the leadership that emerged in our community grew around these individuals. All of our learning journeys had at least one webinar about ProSocial and we actively embodied its practices in our weekly community calls that were part of their core design. In this way, we have spread ProSocial to a large number of people who are now out in the world continuing to spread them far and wide.
As we now invite people to join our Design School for Regenerating Earth, it is important to recognize the historical developments within Earth Regenerators that make this new and distinct endeavor possible. Three leaders within Earth Regenerators – Penny Heiple, Benji Ross, and myself – have begun activating a planetary network of bioregional economies in the spirit of what was outlined in my book.
We know that ProSocial must become fully embodied and that this implies a delicate blend of decolonization, unlearning, and trauma healing from the hardships of the unhealthy cultural backgrounds so many of us arrived from. Social supports are needed at every step along the way.
While much has been learned, we still have a long way to go. And it is obvious to us that ProSocial will remain fundamental to the path we walk into a future where regeneration of the Earth becomes possible. If you would like to hear a different telling of this story about how we intentionally guided the design of prosocial cultures, these two podcast episodes explore the history of Earth Regenerators in more detail.
Onward, fellow humans.