PRI Networking, the Value of Collaboration, and the Development of More PRI Education/Demonstration Projects


Do we segregate…?
Photos © Craig Mackintosh

Most of us are by now wholly cognizant of the fact that the global response to long-brewing trouble has been well short of timely or appropriate. The world as a whole, if I were to be brutally honest, is taking three steps backwards for every few inches it moves forwards. Wonderful moves towards sustainability are daily dwarfed by industrial and individualistic efforts in the opposite direction. There are, indeed, wondrous examples and tantalisingly positive suggestions and ambitions shining like little beacons of hope from various quarters worldwide, but most of the world’s population experience these as mere pleasant, but out of reach, distractions from their daily quest to survive. Whether it’s ‘survival’ in the very real sense, scratching for food, water and firewood, or in the modernist sense of retaining some degree of sanity after too many hours at an unsatisfying and unnatural job (that’s only endured due to previous purchases ‘the system’ has pressured us into), either way there are too few people either willing or able to venture out of their very real personal worlds to run with concepts far removed from their daily lives.

In the permaculture camp, however, a great deal of positive work is being trialled and actioned, often independently, and, as such, painfully unnoticed.

Getting it noticed is a central part of the PRI’s work….


… or integrate…?

As a worldwide community we encompass a great deal of experience and situation-appropriate knowledge and skillsets, but, if we are to hasten a potential worldwide awakening and reskilling, and fast-track life-, society- and ecology-saving transition, I think this relatively small collection of hot embers needs to be gathered together, stoked, and rekindled. The ‘unnoticed’ needs to become an ‘in your face’ movement that sweeps through contemporary civilisation, taking with it all the lucid souls who are already yearning for much more, and much better, and who just need the encouragement of community to get on board.

Many of you are aware that, until a couple of years ago, it was impossible to really know who, in the permaculture community, was doing what, and where, and — importantly — how. We have tried to address this by creating the Worldwide Permaculture Network (WPN), a system that enables you to find permaculturists worldwide, and connect, inspire, share and educate. If you’re a teacher and/or consultant, the system even helps put your economy-transforming services on the map, free of charge. This system has great potential — as much potential as you grant it, depending on your level of appreciation for its purpose and possibilities.

Now I want to share, for those interested, some of the intended knock-on effects of this system — that being the exposure and support it brings to the establishment of much-needed new permaculture educational demonstration sites.

Just an email to you all to say thank you very much for all the help you have given us, particularly in the last few months. The PDC started today and we have 12 students, which is a huge jump from the 3 we had been getting per course. We are also getting enquiries about the next course in August and currently already have 2 bookings. So we are very excited! …
So, herewith a big thank you to you all! — Zaia & Tom Kendall, PRI Sunshine Coast

Tom recently applied for and achieved PRI PDC Teacher status, and Tom and Zaia’s site, formerly known as KinKin Souls, has since become the PRI Sunshine Coast. Our review process means that potential students can expect a high standard of instruction, and that the course will be free of subjective metaphysical content (which puts up unnecessary barriers to permaculture uptake) and this qualification grants Tom’s years of permaculture experience some recognition — respecting his status as being on another level, as a permaculture educator, than someone who simply declares themselves a teacher.

This translates to worthy teachers attracting more students, which, in turn, translates to improving the standard, and spread, of permaculture education — giving it a better name and hastening its uptake.

The ultimate goal, in my mind, since governments are far too slow to recognise the needed shift in education (to train people for the world that will be, rather than the short-lived world that was), is to create a parallel education system for reskilling in appropriate knowledge and technologies — one that challenges and forces the mainstream educational institutions to overhaul their outdated curriculums. (As permaculture education grows, it’s only a matter of time before mainstream institutions see this parallel education economy, and will seek to tap into it — or they’ll become increasingly redundant….)

We encourage all PDC graduates to start sharing/teaching, but we also recognise that there are teachers and there are teachers! As an example, I recently received emails complaining about an individual (attending a non-PRI course) who didn’t even complete their PDC (and who also didn’t even pay for the course) and who apparently had little understanding of permaculture concepts, and yet turned around, labelled themselves as a PDC Teacher, and started advertising for students. This, of course, is entirely their choice, but when students take two weeks out of their lives, and the loss of income associated with that, then they want to know their time and money is well spent — and permaculture educators, and all who call themselves ‘permaculturists’, will want to see the word met with respect and appreciation, and not have it undermined through the neglect of reasonable teaching standards.

In another email, from a PDC teacher who is about to apply to be a PRI PDC Teacher, I read: "… having been exploring Europe on our trip [I] have seen such varying standards in teaching [that I] feel like this could be a good next step for me."

People who pass our review process are clearly labelled on the WPN (see each individual’s profile, or use the ‘PRI Teacher’ search filter). This system helps to decentralise education by making it community-policed. All teachers who qualify as PRI PDC Teachers have their ‘Course Outline’ (a summarised overview of the course they teach) showing as a download link on their respective sidebars. Prospective students, in addition to noting the teacher’s status, by way of the verified PRI PDC Teacher badge, can thus also browse these course outlines. If several students, after taking the course, subsequently complain that the course material was not as advertised in the teacher’s course outline, they have the ability to provide feedback on that via that teacher’s profile, so this issue can be addressed with the registered teacher. This helps eliminate the problem of prospective teachers providing application material that they believe is just what the PRI reviewer wants to hear, before later gaining PRI PDC Teacher status and then going off and teaching something else entirely. Additionally, with the WPN we now have the capability to assign worthy, conscientious permaculture educators as reviewers for PRI PDC Teacher applications in their region and language — so quality permaculture teaching standards can be encouraged and maintained in every locale, regardless of language.

This is part and parcel of what we’re trying to achieve with the WPN — to support worthy teachers everywhere, so they can step out of their (normally destructive) day jobs, to immerse themselves in permaculture education, with that education helping to finance the development of their all-important demonstration sites. It’s all a bid to reinvent the world’s current consumer economy, and turn it into one based on appropriate knowledge, systems and technologies.

Another example of the win-win we create with the WPN is seen in the examples of Kay Baxter and Bob Corker, who now head PRI New Zealand. Kay and Bob, well experienced permaculturists, have just finished teaching courses at the PRI Australia’s own Zaytuna Farm. I think the cross-pollination of teachers is very important and highly advantageous for all. Kay and Bob have their own unique skillsets to offer not only students, but also fellow teachers. If I can take the liberty of thinking of teachers as being a little like beneficial bacteria, having teacher exchanges across sites is a bit like positive inoculation — ideas, knowledge, techniques and even enthusiasm and inspiration can all get transferred across the global permaculture garden. Bob and Kay will learn from Geoff and Nadia Lawton, and vice versa — and subsequent students of all of these teachers will benefit from the exchange.

Imagine if we could cross-pollinate the combined knowledge base presently isolated in the minds of permaculturists everywhere…. In essence, that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve!

Inclusiveness

Our work doesn’t stop at those wanting to become part of the PRI network though — we’ve been shining a spotlight on permaculture projects worldwide, and all project leaders need to do is share what they’re doing, so we can share it with you, our readers (for more on sharing, click here). In exchange for sharing their knowledge and inspiration, project leaders can run free course adverts on our site. This has been working to great effect to help finance new permaculture initiatives. A recent example email:

Thanks very much for your work Craig. It has been a big addition to our PDC, and one I plan to extend in the future to attract more western students in the future (we had no worries getting African applicants through our own networks).
Not bragging, but I capped our course at 29 students (we had close to 60 enquiries and applicants). We have close to a 50/50 mix of Africans and Westerners, with people paying from $0 to $950 to attend and representing 9 nationalities. We have about 15 people from the local area attending. And are making a pretty reasonable profit that will go back into the work of FWS. So thanks for supporting this. — Robert Cork, FoodWaterShelter

As a policy, we maintain a principle of integration, rather than segregation. With the world hanging on the edge, I’ve been shocked to see some permaculture educators clinging to a mindset of territorialism. Some have even been telling their students they can’t teach courses in that teacher’s area — as if the world had already reached a permaculture saturation point…. The PRI policy is to promote genuine permaculture education everywhere, including in our own back yards. (We often advertise PDCs and internships, for free, that are run in the vicinity of our own courses.)

Non-PRI Permaculture Qualifications in the WPN

It was recently brought to my attention that some people don’t use the WPN system for two reasons:

  1. They feel it’s somewhat imperialistic — that qualifications that are not PRI qualifications show as a grey badge in the system, in contrast to the nice green badge that denotes a PRI recognised qualification.
  2. Another related complaint was that there could be other recognised qualifications in the system as well — not just those of the PRI.

I was grateful for the person who brought these grievances to my attention. At the same time it’s disheartening to realise that people are sharing their whispers with each other, and not coming directly to us to tell us about them — to give us the opportunity to explain and/or potentially adjust how we do or present our work.

Well, we couldn’t agree with these people more. My response to the person who informed me was thus:

  1. In regards to point #1 above: There needs to be a point of difference, as explained further above, between someone who has been vetted as a worthy teacher, and someone who just clicks on an ‘I am a teacher’ checkbox and declares themselves a permaculture educator. (Amongst the latter group can be some who are wholly undeserving to be called a permaculture teacher.) The grey badge is provided in the system to help new teachers get started. Potential students of these teachers can judge the teacher’s competency and experience by the teacher’s profile updates, where they give evidence of their knowledge base and activities through the knowledge they share, as well as by clicking on that teacher’s verified student list — seeing how active they are, and how many go on to become teachers themselves.
  2. In regards to point #2 above: In previous posts on this website, and in mailouts to those already in the WPN system, we’ve made this point clear — we invite other permaculture educational institutions, those that are recognised and respected, to include their qualifications in our system. We only ask that these institutions recognise the work that has gone into building the WPN, and recognise the purposes behind it, and help contribute to our costs in building it. At the moment we have our PRI logo at top of the WPN, only because we’ve invested more than 100k into the system, and need to get some return, but if others contribute, and, indeed, help us develop the site further (there’s much we could do with it yet!), their logo can take pride of place at top of the site also. (Or we could all agree to have no logos on the site, if partners prefer it thus!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that collaboration equates to leveraging. It has been my goal to establish a permaculture web presence (a permaculture ‘portal’) that enables…

  • … people interested in permaculture to get a broad view of permaculture work worldwide, all in one place, so they’re inspired to say to themselves: "Hell, I’d better get involved, as I’m getting left behind!" Conversely, if the permaculture movement looks like just a few well-intentioned, but scarce and scattered, unfindable individuals, doing unknown work, then it’ll just look like too little, too late, in the face of the multiple crises we’re now in the midst of, and people will give in to despair and apathy.
  • … permaculture project leaders to concentrate on both education and on-the-ground site development (rather than website development and promotion, which would water down their on-the-ground efforts, and even help ensure they fail…), whilst taking advantage of our high readership to make themselves and their goals known, and thus generate recognition and support for their efforts.

The good news is that it’s working. I am constantly seeing that project leaders are directly benefitting from their time spent putting together inspirational reports on their challenges and victories — with many courses, which were looking unviable initially, filling up after running their course adverts with us. Even those who don’t thank us or who don’t appear to support our efforts (and who sometimes seem somewhat suspicious or even critical of them) must be benefitting from our work, as they continue to want to run their adverts on our site.

Permaculture ‘Master Plan’ Sites

We are constantly being sent requests by people with projects, or about to start projects, to join the PRI network, and we wish to do all we can to help facilitate this exponential interest in spreading permaculture concepts with quality education and the replication of convincing, inspiring demonstration sites globally. To help ensure these sites maintain the win-win scenarios described above, and to ensure they maintain a reasonable standard of education, free of subjective metaphysical content, we’ve created this PDF Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Those of you wanting to establish recognised PRI satellite sites will want to download this and check it out.

Shall We Stumble or Fly?

It needs to be recognised that mainstream society comes with its own momentum. Consumer society has all the appearances of being unstoppable. Even as resources dry up, and nation states begin to fail and unravel, industry-lead destruction only seems to persevere with a heightened sense of frenzy. Any ‘corrections’ to the system are almost without exception ponderous and superficial or wholly reductionist and misguided. But, we have the opportunity to present holistic solutions and a face of reason to the world — but only if we collaborate. (The industrial system is collaborating with politicians, bankers, etc., against sanity – we cannot hope to change these systems with individualistic, atomised efforts.)

We have the opportunity to build new economies and sustainable interdependencies. We have the ability to inspire, share, and show each other better ways of doing things. While all the problems of the world can be solved in a garden, a few scattered gardens owned by isolated permaculturists will not change the world, and the people in these isolated gardens will ultimately fail, if we can’t replicate those gardens across the global landscape, and soon….