Communities & Ecosystems
Unlike many organisations who work with either people or the environment, Gaia's approach has always been to work with both, hand in hand. This is because human communities have co-evolved within their ecosystem. This is why Eskimos have adapted to conditions that others from temperate climates would find unimaginable. Our young, modern industrial culture, which has rapidly globalised, has become so removed from our source of life - from Nature - that we increasingly neglect the inextricable connection between people and place, which still exists for so many communities across the world.
For the communities with whom our partners work in the global south, humans and Nature are part of the same Earth Community. It is for this reason that indigenous communities have safeguarded some of the world's most critical ecosystems so successfully for millenia. Gaia believes that - as one of our first Associates, Jose Lutzenberger, once said - "social and ecological justice are two sides of the same coin".
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.Chief Seattle, 1855
Our work with communities takes the form of long-term relationships with the grassroots partners who work alongside them. Community dialogues mark the beginning of our long journeys together. These dialogues enable communities to analyse their own situation - what was life like in the past; what is it like now; what are their options and priorities? Out of this self-analysis, a path emerges, which we walk together. This is founded in the belief that local communities are able to define their own path and find their own solutions if given the space, trust and confidence to do so. However, after years of imposition, oppression and prejudice, it takes time for this confidence to be re-built.
This is why our work focuses on a process which has become known as Community Ecological Governance (CEG). This is the overarching approach in working with communities and their ecosystems simultaneously - or rather, not distinguishing between the two and instead recognising their symbiotic relationship. This holistic approach includes processes such as community dialogues, experiential learning and eco-cultural mapping, which work together to re-weave community cohesion and ecological governance.
Gaia has supported our partner, the African Biodiversity Network, to pioneer an approach which encourages grassroots leaders to go back to their own roots, rediscover their own identity and reconnect with their community. This personal journey on the part of our partners is stimulated by a process we hold annually in Botswana. Known as "the Botswana Experience", this is an immersive process which encourages an alternative African leadership to emerge through an understanding of pre-colonial Africa and a celebration of Africa's own unique identity. It is through participating in the Botswana Experience that many of our partners have gone on to create transformative processes for their own communities: Partners such as Gathuru Mburu from Kenya and Fassil Gebeyehu from Ethiopia. The Community Ecological Governance approach has been the bedrock of their work and continues to be used and adapted by practitioners across our network, from the Amazon to Africa.
Do we know who we are? Do we know the whole of our communities? What is our true African identity? We can build resilience once we know this.
Mphatheleni Makaulule, The Mupo Foundation, South Africa