interview
From collective stupidity to collective intelligence
How to interact with friends and personal networks to get more than just an income
I met Arne Bollinger at the Ecovillage Design Education course in one of the oldest ecovillage in the world, Damanhur, in Italy in 2015. In this interview Arne, a big traveler, promoter of gift economy and founder of Ecobasa.org, is telling me about the practice of living without money and how sociocracy helps to integrate ecosystem design principles in the governance of our organizations.

– How did you get there where you are now?

I have studied music therapy. During my studies I did 2 internships in psychiatry and psychosomatic hospitals.

I realized that I can work with people and help them, but not within the system. Because the system is working in a way that makes people sick. For me sicknesses are symptoms that are showing that something is off balance.

I think the way people interact in the world is off balance. And people who live in psychosomatic hospitals is just a reaction to this, because there is no other known way how to deal with them.

So I tried to find a place where I can help people and decided to practice therapy in a sustainable community. I tried to find a healthy environment where they can be integrated and supported by nice people.

It was 6 years ago when I started to travel among communities and study this issue. I realized that these communities could profit a lot from an online platform where they could help each other with their experiences.

So I created Ecobasa.org.

I also studied permaculture. Permaculture is something more than a technique, it is a philosophy to understand, recreate and influence eco system.

Gift economy is social permaculture. You interact with your friends and your personal networks and it provides you with so much more than just an income.
– What is to live with no money?

I was living without money for half a year while traveling and in Berlin in 2012.

It is a lot about relationships — being in a right place with the right people. It is a lot about networking and spreading information. Whenever you need something you need to talk about it all the time until you find access to what you want.

It is a lot about systemic thinking. If you want something, you could not just put your money and buy it. You need to think how to get there.

Berlin is really a great city to live without money. It has a lot of alternative structures that supports such lifestyle: self repair shops, gift shops, food share networks, lots of hosting projects, food cooperatives, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

In these networks it was very easy to sustain my lifestyle. They supported it ideologically so I did not have to prove that I am abusing them. I was around such communities — I cooked a lot, was cleaning a lot and doing favors and repairs for flatmates.
Columbia, 2015
To live with no money – it is about systemic thinking. If you want something, you could not just put your money and buy it. You need to think how to get there.
– Does this practice work when you travel?

It depends where you travel. But it was on my first journey alone, that I started hitchhiking and the drivers invited me for dinner and to sleep over at their place.

I was traveling mostly to the places where such communities exist, that would give me food and accommodation for my volunteering.

It is like wwoofing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and one of the principals of Ecobasa. In these places I met people that were directing me to the next place.

– What makes Berlin one of the most affordable capital in the world? Do city authorities and German government has helped to create that environment?

Yes, well they did not prevent it as much. Also because they did not have so much chance.

It was a very specific situation in Berlin. The city was divided. On one side — strong communist party and the other — western part, capitalist.

On one side — big mentality of sharing, of holding together, supporting each other also against the regime. On the other side — West Berlin with great liberal structures with lots of artists.

When the borders were open they just mingled and mixed. Very nice mix of alternative scene, lots of punks, left wing political people, anarchists, self-organizations, grassroots initiatives and squats.

People started to squat places and now they have huge houses like 40–200 people who are self-organized. One of the greatest initiatives is "Kitchen for Everyone". Houseprojects and collectives cook publicly and everyone can eat and give donations.

They often dumpsterdive food and have lower costs and save good food from the bin.

– What are the main instruments of Ecobasa.org?

Ecobasa is not just an online platform. It coordinates people in real life into actions and help to build sustainable relationships.

We have 2 formats that people can participate in. One is Community Tours. You can go and see sustainable communities, you can find people currently traveling and where to join them, what are the needs of community and how you can support it.

Another tool is Community Convergence. People from communities come together, exchange things on a gift economy basis, create working groups, common projects and new communities. It creates bioregional gift networks.

Our funding is based on gift economy. We do not like to be dependent on grants, we are aiming to become self sustainable through contributions through the network.

Of course it is complicated, our target are people who are trying get away from using money. So apart from donations we welcome volunteers that don't need to be payed with money. We have a great team, wonderful places and experiences to offer!

– Today in a modern world more and more individuals create organizations but often on the way to collaboration face so many conflicts. How does Sociocracy help to implement ideas?

It is like a software upgrade for an organizational management system. What it creates? It enables you to go from collective stupidity to collective intelligence.

It changes the way you think about yourself and how you think about the others, conflicts, how you communicate and interact.

Sociocracy is a set of tools that you can use for your community or organization. Basically It changes your attitude to people.

We use it to organize our network and teams decentrally and globally scalable!
«EcoVillage Design Education» in Damanhur (2015)
– Can sociocracy be used in a business world also?

Actually Sociocracy was developed in a business world. First it became popular in Netherlands. There was a case when the son of the general manager of one company from electronic segment has first applied it, because the company went bankrupt.

He redesigned the structure of the company to save it. In a few months they became the leaders of the market in their segment — all thanks to collective decision making.

One worker from this company from the production department asked to be trained in a marketing to help reach business goals. And he knew exactly what was needed in production to improve. In a traditional management model his ideas could never reach the management. But with sociocracy organizations become more flexible to react on changes.

Numbers of companies that are using sociocracy are increasing. Lush, Spotify… Lush are also collaborating with the ecovillage scene. They reinvest in sustainable development.
– Through your experience in campaigns for sustainable agriculture how do you work with contradictions? In the issues of food sovereignty, anti GMO campaigns, activity of Monsanto…

When it connects to the organization I am staying apolitical. I prefer not to criticise and I do not to attack anything really. It is a simple law of attraction — what you give is what you get.

Me personally I was working with Monsanto issues in the media agency. Our customers like Greenpeace, Oxfam did campaign against Monsanto.

Monsanto is a very interesting case. Since 90 years they have been doing a pretty good job of mass killing by building up a crazy imperia. It makes very much sense to work against this structure somehow.

They reached a level of power — economically and politically — that they can be invisible. It is very hard to sue them but they are suing the countries if they do not cooperate with them. So the only powerful instrument against them is resistance and boykott.

Especially with GMO. Technologically they can put private property (petents) on genes. But genes are spreading biologically — naturally they are reproducing, and all thus also belongs to them. Like this they are taking over this planet. A person or company owning organic substances like plants and their cultivation, water and air, to me it is a crime to humanity. How can it be possible just to claim that something is yours and sell it to those who can pay until it is gone and destroyed?

– What is your activity plan for the year 2016?

We are starting a project with nextGEN (the youth section of the Global Ecovillage Network). It is a youth exchange program for people who grew up in eco-villages. They can go unconditionally to other eco-villages with no money exchange and transport gifts.

We are hosted by the ecovillage Valle de Sensaciones Granada in Spain. Our working group will stay there for 3 months. It is an open project so everyone can apply.

My girlfriend and I are joining a Community Tour in Columbia. After Columbia we probably go to Ecuador and Peru. It is an ongoing project, we will stay there for 4 months. Follow us on Ecobasa — see where we are and join the tour!
You can make a donation here to support Ecobasa

Interviewed by Oleksandr Suprunets


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