Exploring the possibilities – and limitations – of the new economy

What does the new economy look like? How can organisations the world over become generative rather than extractive? And what does that mean for society? Greta Rossi travelled to transformational learning space Schumacher College to find out

The waning crescent moon of the early hours guides my last walk to Schumacher College. Birdsong and the burble of the River Dart are carried on the fresh breeze and I breathe in the English countryside one last time. I will struggle to give up this sacred ritual that I have so preciously cultivated over the past week. The usual train commute to London awaits. Yet I will leave knowing that it has helped me consider how I can belong to the generation of the new economy.

Around 80 people travelled from all over the world to attend the first ever festival dedicated to the generation of the new economy. Change-makers, activists, students, artists and writers convened at Schumacher College in Totnes for a week of exploration and co-creation. Its aims and activities emerged during the week as everyone shaped and adapted to the festival according to their own needs and gifts.

We filled spiritually rich spaces with conversations around the possibilities and limitations of the new economy. We investigated the growing number of not-for-profit organisations that are flourishing in the current global economy. We explored the valuable practices that permaculture and biomimicry offer to organisations working towards becoming generative rather than extractive. And we discussed the potential for traditional organisations to innovate and support our work.

The festival also welcomed the wisdom of great teachers. Patricia Shaw, coach and author of Changing Conversations in Organisations, and Fernando Guidi, founder of Vida de Tango, who combined the movements of tango to explain concepts of the new economy such as emergence and complexity. David Graeber, anthropologist, anarchist activist and author of Debt: The First 5000 Years, pushed us to rethink and reclaim rationality and freedom. He described the tension in freedom between the pressure of rationalisation to turn freedom into a game with specific rules and our urge to improvise and to play with no rules.

Inspiring talks reignited passions and offered renewed hope for the work of the generation of the new economy. Margaret Wheatley, management consultant and author of So Far From Home and Turning To One Another, encouraged us to reflect on who we choose to be for this world.

Discovering our true motivation is needed to persevere through setbacks, difficulties and hardships as we follow an untravelled path. “We make a way out of no way,” said Martin Luther King Jr. We were invited to become warriors for the human spirit. We can believe in human goodness and be brave enough to do our work, simply because we cannot not do it.

The question of what the new economy actually looks like lingered the entire week. Are we part of a new movement? A desire to define the new economy and set the scope for a movement gave way to a fear of returning to the old paradigm and the need to categorise everything and explain it all.

Satish Kumar, the co-founder of Schumacher College, offered some words of wisdom to guide us. “Think about water,” he said. “Water adapts to its container and takes its shape, but water never loses its identity.”