Community leaders cross borders to share ideas

Editor of EcoHustler magazine, Matt Mellen, reflects on the lessons learned for local action at the recent CEAL-Festival – a Europe-wide celebration of social enterprise

A festival for entrepreneurs might conjure up images of dry, profit-focused seminars with little thought to real community. But at the beginning of September, I took part in a gathering with a difference, and a common goal: to unite different nationalities and to learn from thriving local projects.

This year’s CEAL-Festival took place in Brussels, bringing together groups dotted around the continent. I was there accompanying Frome’s Edventure team – who have made national news for opening the UK’s first ‘share shop‘, a community fridge and a school for social entrepreneurship. We joined likeminded leaders from Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and the Basque Country, and we were keen to soak up their ideas for effective local action.

The Community-based Entrepreneurship Action Learning Network (CEAL-Network) works with European groups to nurture community projects and skills. The two-day festival highlighted how local action can promote lasting change. Those leading the way included ideas for creating real communal spaces, new ways to share skills; alternative ways to empower people (especially those from marginalised groups) and novel approaches to learning.

Holland’s Act4Change’s model of nurturing a sustainable society by empowering young people stood out as an example worth replicating. The organisation’s Mara Verduin was drawn to the festival to hear how others were “going into communities with sincere curiosity so that real relationships can form”. She found that the ideas on show “came from the heart; people genuinely want to work together to add value to their lives. People can sense when a project is authentic.”

CEAL Festival 2016

The festival highlighted that showing grit and determination to do something different at a local level can promote real change

We were sharing using a new model of learning. By connecting and testing ideas, we allowed new knowledge to emerge without the need for conventional teachers. Projects were shared to identify real community needs, create change, and ultimately to improve lives in our neighbourhoods.

Hearing what others had learned over the year, while working together to tackle a range of different challenges (economic, social and environmental) and sharing an enlivening common purpose, was hugely inspiring. More than that, it highlighted the benefits of an inter-connected Europe.

Sharing an enlivening common purpose, was hugely inspiring

It was poignant to cross multiple borders to Brussels and benefit from an EU-funded networking event. Europeans warmly embraced each other, with national alliances only hinted at through different mother tongues and the occasional friendly banter. Far more important was tackling the urgent task facing our generation – to effectively come up with viable alternatives to what many people see as a failing exploitative economy. Practically, we must start locally, but to create the scale of change needed in the time-frame required, connecting internationally is key.

You can get involved with the CEAL-Network here:

Matt Mellen is the director of Emergent Communications and founder and editor of EcoHustler magazine

Images: CEAL-Network