TRANSITION INITIATIVE, A CHANGE WITHIN OURSELVES
How we can move towards being better humans and, ultimately, towards a better world.
“We all need transition, one way or another. But we need guidance.” – Anonymous Transition Initiative member
At a time where societies are increasingly vulnerable regarding to energy, social, environmental and economic issues, the Transition model argues that one should act at a local level, promote a new vision of the future and turn the communities into more human, sustainable and resilient places.
Fundamentally, the underlying idea is that, by planning and acting early enough, and using creativity and cooperation to unleash the innate genius of communities, we can build more fulfilling, enriching and environmentally-friendly future.
Today, there are already Transition Initiatives spread across thousands of communities around the world. They started their individual projects in the food, education, energy, construction, waste, and art industries, amongst others, in order to provide a local response to economic problems, global climate change and to achieve a reduction in the use of particular energy resources.
Transition Initiative started when Rob Hopkins (author of the Transition Handbook, co-founder of Transition Network and Transition Town Totnes) felt the need to look around for places or organizations which were using permaculture principles and sustainable thinking. As he found none, he decided to improvise a ‘20-years-into-the-futureplan, conventionalizing how and what could be improved, from a starting point of how they currently were. This small academic exercise was actually the beginning of something far more complex and difficult to define, as Transition Initiative can be seen as a new way of understanding life, a way of living it, within a community’s particular reality.
There are many ways of approaching and conducting this experiment and scheme, but each group is individually looked at to ensure that they suit the community and are a good fit for its needs. Nonetheless, there are at least four steps that Rob Hopkins has defined as being common to all participants of the Transition Initiative.
First things first, the way to begin is by starting out. In this initial, phase people are motivated to find others whose concerns are similar to their own and that match up to the ones promoted by project- they have to ensure that they all want to see some actual changes. According to the Co-founder of the Transition Network, the act of actually forming groups is the root of the entire process, as it brings people together and it serves as a catalyst for the discussion of their local improvement needs.
There is no set rule for how to gather potential colleagues, but one common method is knocking on people’s doors, as noted by Joel Prittie. He first started knocking on doors for professional reasons and then, with the extra confidence gained from the unshaking belief he had in Transition Initiative, he decided to try it for these ends. This was how he met Ali Mohamed who, despite having never been a part of a movement like this, became interested through Joel’s speech about his local region (Moss Side, Manchester, UK). He is also convinced that bonding with neighbors is fundamental, as they can help out when needed. A well-connected community means a protected and unified community.
Joel has knocked on over 14200 different doors, walking along street after street, recruiting neighbors and strangers who show an interest in the initiative. This curious, but very dedicated, way of approaching people has resulted in 237 new additions to the Transition Moss Side contacts list. Others tried different approaches, such as meetings in public libraries or at their own houses – there are actually some guidelines on how to communicate ideas about Transition within the neighborhoods on the movement’s official site. Some chose not to actively pursue new people and instead waited for them to come and approach them out of their own free will. However, once it becomes something more serious, people are able to make it official. In other words, after several meetings (at least seven, in most cases) and formal assurance of the members’ commitment to the cause, there is the possibility of becoming an official movement. When you look at the movement’s website, you can see all the procedures of how to officially become a real member of the Transition Initiative displayed in the support area. Here, you can read how registering as a member of the system and knowing a “good amount of information” about the initiative’s profile and ideologies are mandatory. This actually relates to step two, which is called deepening, as it represents the process of becoming an organization, rather than just a group of people.
After completing these processes, which takes a lot of time and dedication, there’s the natural path of connecting even further. This phase of the project is about embedding it much deeper in the community and approaching the authorities. In order to achieve a thriving community, one where people feel included and able to participate, is also vital to have support from the local institutions. Individual efforts are important within the framework of a logic that sees everyone as their own role-model and everyone as capable of making the changes they want to see in the world. However, even although this is all very meaningful, this effort can be even more representative and effective if it is allied with cooperation with the local authorities, who can choose to collaborate or not.
Umberto Fonda, for instance, Councilor for the Environment in Monteveglio (Bologna, Italy) and responsible for the project Energy sustainability and CO2 reduction among local COMmunities – part of the Transition Italy movement. He is an example of how politicians and institutional powers, people who are often perceived as very distant, can build strong alliances with the people they represent.
Another example of how bottom-up approaches can be met halfway by institutional powers is the case of Kilburn’s platform (UK). Here, the persistence of Transition Initiative’s workers, like Michael Stuart and Sanchia Dunn, with the help of the local authorities responsible for the particular change they wanted to see (which was, in this specific case, Transport for London), led to the construction of little fruit and vegetable patches right beside the train tracks. This initiative succeeded in an incredibly high profile environment- a first of its kind, a platform where fruit and vegetables grow, is in a tube station in London, with over 12,000 people passing through it each and every day. The idea of growing food on the platforms was initially not very well received at all, and it only happened due to the persistence and determination of those who had originally dreamt it. Everything depends on people- make contact, and persevere.
It is interesting that a considerable number of the initial actions of fairly new groups are related to food. Rob Hopkins believes it has something to do with the fact that it doesn’t require enormous amounts of money to do this, and also there’s no need to wait around for the bureaucracy. Dan McTiernan is the Co-founder of Handmade Bakery, a local food project that can be seen as either a social enterprise or a co-op. In this particular case, when he was setting up,Dan was able to find families who were willing to pay up front for their bread and was also able to obtain several loans from individuals and community members whose interest was later repaid in bread.
Heal the soil was the first Transition Initiative in India, whose main concern was ensuring that everybody had access to good quality food. In order to evolve but still keep the rural spirit of India’s villages, in order to find a balance, they decided to introduce kitchen gardens and other green practices.
Green Valley Grocer is another example of a food related initiative. It is known as a local grocery store, which has been open from around the time of World War II. More recently, the grocer was on the point of closing because there weren’t enough costumers to finance its survival and the business struggling. So one of the Co-founders, Graham Mitchell, decided to take the shop on as a community-owned approach, with the business owned collectively. The purpose was to recapture the interest of the town’s people and encourage them to come back to shopping there, in other words to make people shop locally instead of driving to supermarkets. The way to do this is to make the community the owner of the shop. People sell local farm products to the shop, products that are grown by themselves, and then they spend the money that they earn, or recycle it (as a shopper/owner points out), at the shop again.
This is actually a component of the fourth, and final, step referred to by Rob Hopkins, and one that can help us to understand and define Transition Initiative. Always keeping in mind togetherness the fourth stage of the process is called building and is all about strategic thinking and the creation of new infrastructures. It’s to do with how to start collectively and strategically thinking about local needs and transforming abstract ideas into something concrete.
An example of a particular initiative at the level of local infrastructures, besides the food trade, is the establishment of local energy companies. Chris Rowland, of Ouse Valley Energy Services Company (OVESCO), is an example someone who has driven the creation of local energy companies in the UK. But OVESCO is not the only one: Fujino Power Company is also a renewable energy company (solar panels) that was started to serve the need of local people, in this specific case, after a natural disaster.
“In these difficult months following the 11 March quake and tsunami, it has been a time for reflection and an opportunity to ponder what the future holds in store for Japan. Some hints of what a better future may look like can be found just a short train ride from Tokyo, in a place called Fujino.” – Brendan Barrett, United Nations University
It would appear that people tend to unite not just to celebrate good times, but also in the face of despair and necessity. Christchurch, New Zealand, is a case where, very like Japan, people suffered severe damages caused by natural disasters and, yet, were still able to reinvent themselves and their community. “The true heart of a community is its people” – Julie Lee, Time Banc Coordinator, assures us.
To be able to imagine change on a small scale is a challenge, but it also makes it more manageable and achievable for each individual, according to the Co-founder of Transition Network. That is the main reason why each group, from each locality, has its own goals and diverse needs. For the small Portuguese village, Aldeia das Amoreiras, the mainly objective is to keep dreaming, as it was the power of dreams that managed to get people together to paint houses and to set up markets in the village. In Brazil, Transition Initiative primarily represents educational concerns and the preservation of species diversity. This kind of localized social cohesion is believed to be necessary in order to create cooperation on more global scale.
For Rob Hopkins and Sophy Banks, also Transition Network representatives, it is important to realize that one doesn’t need to be part of a particular organisation in otder to start transforming neighbourhoods and communities and making them into better places. Whitney Avenue Urban Farm (Pennsylvania, US) is the example given in the documentary made by Transition Initiative, which is known as In Transition 2.0: a story of resilience and hope in extraordinary times. The co-founder Chris Condello started shifting the mentality of the suburban people, much to the joy of some of the inhabitants, such like Lorna Taylor, who speaks proudly and emotionally of her new neighborhood.
Even though there are certainly some individual changes that can be made, the strength comes from unity and togetherness. Communities are also encouraged, by the people who first dreamt up Transition Initiative, to have places where members can join in, celebrate and appreciate the work that their communities have achieved. Somewhere where everyone has the right to speak and, more importantly, has the right to be listened to. However, despite what’s currently being promoted by the Co-founders of the movement, there have been some active critics of this initiative. According to Jay Griffiths, from Orion magazine, there are some conflicts within the movement with divisions created between those who want to act faster and want to see more results sooner, and the ones that would rather wait and plan a strategy which would be more efficient in the long term.
Transition Lancaster, for instance, did not go so well. There’s always conflict and differences, and entire organizations can crumble, if not able to deal correctly with these problems. Chris Hart tell us about his bad experience:
“If I’m absolutely honest it was horrible (…) had an absolutely horrible ending to it. Gosh! If this is people trying to get together and try to save the world get me of this planet, I don’t want to be here. Cause we ain’t got hope, and we are probably or completely misguided, and we’re naive and a bit stupid.”
There are also the critics proposed by certain organisations and large companies who do not directly profit from this kind of social awareness. In fact, some of these initiatives might lead to some fierce questioning of economical agendas and political orientations.
To put it in a simpler, briefer way, Transition Initiative is imagining the best possible future and trying to figure out how to get there with the support of local communities. This complex movement starts with a much simpler proposition, which is the will to do more for a common future. Although these are the intents of the movement, there must always be an awareness that Transition is a social experiment, not a certainty. Its members and defenders are conscious of the possibility that it might not work at all, as they have stated:
“Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale. We don’t know if it will work, what we are convinced of is that if we wait for governments it will be too little, too late. If we act as individuals it’ll be too little. But if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.”
Even with the possibility of failure, the uncertainty and the reasonable doubt, to Naresh Giangrande (Co- founder of Transition Town Totnes) “we’re facing a historical moment of choice – our actions now [are] affecting the future. Now is the time” to act.