Monday, October 29, 2018

Building A Resilient Community

Bill Sharp © October 29, 2018[1]

What is the most pressing problem we face today?  I believe it is the need to rebuild communities to have the resiliency to withstand the inevitable challenges of this century.   We want communities that are safe, secure and stable.

Transition Centre (TC) Resilient Communities is a model for achieving the capacity to adapt to inevitable challenges be they economic, environmental or social.  Resilient Communities is not about recovering from weather or other events but about developing the capacity of local communities to achieve greater self-sufficiency and self-determination.

There are communities in the US that are thriving and many that are not.  Even the strongest communities constantly strive to keep ahead of the game.  In a sense TC Resilient Communities is an insurance policy but in intent it is a model for building communities that are sounder, more robust and innovative. 

The Mission of Transition Centre:  Promote and develop an integral design for strong, local, human-scaled, self-sufficient and sustainable economies and communities that have the resilience to overcome the inevitable challenges arising from economic uncertainty, climate instability and resource depletion.

The Vision of Transition Centre:  Adaptable and innovative communities with the capacity to meet the challenges of the day building on local resources, innovation and regenerative economic development.

Transition Center Tag Line:  Prosperity and Quality of Life.

Organizing Your Community

Transition Centre was modeled on Transition Towns.  Transition Towns was founded by Rob Hopkins in the UK in 2006 and the US national office opened late in 2008.  In 2008 Hopkins published The Transition Handbook.  It was based on experiences establishing the first Transition Towns at his hometown in Totnes and other communities in the UK that adopted the model.  The Handbook provided a rationale and a blueprint for developing more self-sufficient communities.  The Transition Towns movement went viral with 1,200 initiatives formally established in 50 countries, including 164 in the US. 

Grassroots Organization

There are a number of noteworthy features to the Transition Towns program.  The first and foremost was that it is grassroots.  It starts with a small initiating group of people who take on the job of defining the issues the community needs to resolve and mobilizing people and resources to address them.  The Handbook includes ideas and tools for organizing a community association and provides a step-by-step program, twelve steps in fact, as a guide for creating a comprehensive plan for its future.

Grassroots means citizen-driven.  Such programs require no application, no approval – just a small group of people with an idea.  As Margaret Mead famously said, a small group of people can change the world (but this takes hard work).  Mead’s group forms around a person with an idea, a vision, perhaps a solution to a pressing problem, around who gather an initial group of supporters.  The Mead Minimum, as I have called it, is five people. 

Secondly, it is innovative, not tied down by existing ideas and practices, rules, regulations and red tape.  It does not exclude the involvement of local political authorities, institutions, business or nonprofits but they join as participants and partners.  Such associations represent an additional, citizen-driven, dimension of community self-determination.  It can provide the sense of common purpose for all parties essential for purposeful and transformative change.


At what level do we act:  global, national, state?  Do we try to change the world or seek a more workable scale of action?  A basic philosophy of Transition Towns is localization.  One’s community, or neighborhood, is something that can be better understood.  A community has a sense of place, of people; it evokes emotions.   Each community is unique in character.   Each needs its own vision, strategy and organization. 

Comprehensive Community Plan

The Handbook also provides a step-by-step program, twelve steps in fact, as a guide for creating a comprehensive plan for its future, an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP).  Totnes published its own exemplary EDAP, Transition in Action, in 2010.  In that book, Totnes established a series of goals for 2030 in each of a number of topic areas such as food, energy, water, health and wellbeing, etc.  Each topic contains a sequence of objectives for reaching its goal.  Transition Centre developed its own innovative plan (see below).

School of Living 

The School of Living, founded by Ralph Borsodi during the Great Depression of the 1930s, is based on three core principles:
  1. Personal independence through homesteading.
  2. Lifelong learning that provides a holistic understanding of life and the ability to clarify and effectively solve the problems of living.
  3. Collaborative community that provides greater security.

Personal independence and homesteading

Ralph Borsodi, a successful New York City consulting economist, seeking an alternative to the economic uncertainty of the city, moved his family to a small farm in Rockland County, New York, in 1920.  In 1929 he publish This Ugly Civilization in which he wrote a critique of industrial society and made a business case for his model homestead.  In 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression, he published a handbook on homesteading, Flight From the City.

Learning and the Problems of Living

In This Ugly Civilization Borsodi first proposed his lifelong learning program, a liberal educational program to develop what he quality the “Quality Mind.”  In 1934 he founded the School of Living near his homestead at Suffern, NY, to help homesteaders achieve the self-determination and self-confidence to pursue the homesteading lifestyle.  In 1948, his Education and Living elaborated his educational model and introduced the universal problems of living framework.  He continued to develop and refine this model over the next 30 years.

Collaborative Community

While Borsodi’s guiding principle was personal independence and self-reliance, he understood the need for community based on voluntary collaboration.  The School was intended to be at the center of these communities.  In Education and Living, he describe how such communities could be organized.  He also elaborated the values system he called “Normal Living.”  Normal living is not living at the average or mean but rather at the optimal level of human achievement.  Normal living is the objective of life in a School-centered homesteading community.

Joining two ways

Transition Centre was formed during meetings at a School of Living homestead (Ahimsa Village).  Introduced to Borsodi’s system, I found it compelling.  It became apparent that these two programs shared the same basic values.  From the beginning, Transition Centre was founded on the core principles of both schools of thought. 

Borsodi’s model preceded Transition Towns (TT) by 70 years.  It anticipated much of what we think of as sustainability.  TT considerably updated the model to present conditions.  It is more community oriented.  Both have a strong emphasis on local economies, organic food and appropriate technology.  Borsodi was an innovative pioneer of ideas such as community land trust, local currency and appropriate technology.  His model had a much stronger emphasis on personal development and integral learning (which I have updated, simplified and made more down-to-earth).  TT emphasized comprehensive community planning and development.

Over the past decade, the Transition Centre model has been steadily developed into the current updated Resilient Communities program.  Transition Centre is an independent, registered, non-profit organization (

What is Sustainability?

What are we trying to achieve?  Many find the term “sustainability” hard to define.  It is.  The sustainability movement, it could be argued, started with the idea of moderating consumption to leave enough for future generations as proposed by the UN Brundtland Commission in 1987. 

The classical diagram that illustrates sustainability is a set of three overlapping circles representing:  Environment, Society and Economy.  Sustainability is defined as where the three circles overlap and are in harmony.  We will come back to this.

Sustainability is but the latest phase in the conservation and environmental movement that goes back to at at least Henry David Thoreau.  It had early champions such as John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt and a host of other conservationist.  The Sierra Club was founded in 1892.  Patrick Geddes (Scotland) established the regional/town planning movement related to things like garden cities.  During the Great Depression funding was poured into the Civilian Conservation Corp, up to 300,000 at a time employed mostly in public parks and related work.  As a response to the Great Recession of 2008, a great deal of money was put into sustainability projects by the US Government, many related to energy savings for public buildings.

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970.  That year, the US Environmental Protection Agency was formed.  The Oil/Energy Crisis in the 1970s raised a red flag and the U. S. Department of Energy was formed in 1977.  The Noble winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded in 1988.  The global Earth Summit (Rio) was held in 1992.  More recently, the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016.

There are a number of incentives for working for a more sustainable future.  For not a few it is a moral mandate to “Save the Earth,” which includes the environment, species and people.  There are those who have adopted a sustainable lifestyle, some intensely committed to the ideals of simple, low-impact living.  This is particularly attractive where there is a local culture of sustainability that provides a sense of community for participants.  There are those who participate in protest and advocacy and attempt to influence public opinion and elected officials.

Money is an important factor in pursuing sustainability.  Projects get completed because of a grant or from donations.  Tax incentives are a good motivation.  Cost savings is a powerful incentive, particularly energy.  It can also be just good business.  Major corporations must comply with environmental regulations and many add compliance to their branding.  Most people will buy “green” products.  More and more major corporations are finding that sustainable practices save cost and boost the value of their products.

Are we achieving a sustainable future?

After three decades we should ask if a sustainable future, as defined by the Brundtland Commission, is achievable?  The UN is, paradoxically, pursuing “sustainable development” and it is a growth model.  

Sustainable development seeks to provide these increasing numbers with adequate food, shelter and basic services.  Even to meet a minimum of subsistence will soon exhaust the Earth’s resources.  In natural ecosystems, such growth inevitable results in collapse.  This problem points to the need for achieving greater local community resiliency.  We will come back to this.

Transition Centre

Transition Centre was formed in 2009, but the catalyst that sparked its formation came earlier with Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.  Katrina wrecked oil platforms and pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico and shut down refiners along the coast.  The cost of gasoline and other petroleum products rose dramatically.  Political unrest in the following years drove prices even higher and with the Great Recession of 2008 the price of oil reached a record level, indeed, off this chart at $140 US per barrel of oil.  This was our red flag.

Research suggested then, as it does increasingly today, that the ideal setting for developing a more sustainable community is the community – be it town or neighborhood.  We began to develop our first local plan in April 2008 that came out as Central Pennsylvania Local Economy in December 2008.  At that point we begin to explore the Transition Towns model as found in The Transition Handbook, published in 2008.

Making a Choice

Transition Towns was but one option for sustainable community development.  Our initiating team, in public meetings, explored a number of potential models before choosing the Transition approach.  Many models required money and upfront organization.  They are top-down models and less flexible and innovative.  Consensus was that the Transition grassroots approach was most promising.

Transition Centre was founded by Bill Sharp and Bob Flatley in early 2009 and incorporated as a Pennsylvania nonprofit (not a 501 c 3).  Transition Centre was formed as an unofficial Transition Hub with the mission of promoting the model in the region.  Two local Transition Towns were formally established.  Transition Centre presented the model and supported groups and initiatives in Pennsylvania.  We partnered with Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (Bill Sharp a founding board member of PAIPL).  We also had a board-level partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub working with groups and initiatives in neighboring states (Bill Sharp a founding board member of MATH).  Our model included Borsodi’s key principles and we worked over the years to develop and elaborate his system.

Quality of Life

Transition Centre defines sustainability in terms of community quality of life. When it was formed, TC made two key decisions.  The first was to focus on the economy.  In the diagram above, we established that the weak link in the sustainability formula was that between economy and environment.  Environmental issues are an effect of economic development.  We asked if our sustainable future could actually be secured through economic redevelopment (REconomy)?  We need new models for an economy based on natural principles.  We defined a community as an ecosystem (below).

The Transition Towns model addressed the issue of oil depletion and the rising cost of energy.  Our research disclosed a much broader problem of natural resource depletion.  We found a survey of major corporations that listed resources they consider “at risk.”  These are not necessarily environmental issues for them but rather a matter of supply chain – the resources they need to continue to put products on store shelves at a reasonable price.  Water is at the top of the list, followed by energy, other mineral resources and agricultural products (land plus water plus energy).  What multi-national corporations consider risk may tell us something about their potential impact on our local communities.  We need backup plans for our communities.

End Game:  Creating a Community Action Plan

The second decision was to follow The Transition Handbook twelve-part process to develop a comprehensive community action plan.  We followed the program adapting it to local conditions.  We formed a core group, held public meetings and events and widening our engagement with the community.  We found that while there were a lot of sustainability groups and organizations, they didn’t really know each other.  We focused on connecting them.  We published a newsletter and developed a website and a blog site.

Developing our comprehensive plan involved some 200 people over the course of two years.  We are a major university town:  there were many probing questions about what such a plan should do and how it would be organized.  A lot of research was done along this line and the results incorporated in the Centre Sustainability Master Plan, a link to which can be found on the Transition Centre home page.  That plan is scheduled for a five-year update in 2019.

We are one of only a small handful of Transition affiliates to complete this plan.  For many, comprehensive planning is about as attractive as a root canal.  We are all, however, natural planners.  We start planning things the minute we awaken in the morning.  Formal plans are not popular or easy for grassroots groups, but they are done.  The lack of the effort imperils the future of any form of organization.  Let’s ask why do we need a plan, what good does it do for us?  Here are some of the advantages:

       Collect and Organize Facts
       We’ve got a lot of facts:  What’s the Problem?  How can we solve it?
       Create a vision
       Define a mission
       Achieve consensus
       Establish standards and guidelines
       Organize Stakeholders
       Inform the public about what you are doing
       Set goals and objectives
       Decide how to achieve them
       Manage and monitor the process

The real question is commitment.  Changing the destiny of your community is a complex, demanding job.  There must be a compelling vision.  This is especially so for a grassroots initiative.  But the process is no different than forming a business or nonprofit organization.

At the time we were working on our plan a great deal of research was coming out about sustainability planning – what works and what doesn’t.  Some of our findings included:

       Only one in six are “comprehensive”
       Most are municipal based
       Few have staffing or line-item budgets
       Half are climate action/greenhouse gas reduction
       Many are single issues – often one time efforts
       Many are “policy” statements – shoulds and oughts.
       They require public funding
       They are compromises
       They are pursed within a set of established rules

The most evident conclusion of research is that there is a considerable disconnect between vision, plan and effective action.  The vision must be real and achievable.  The reason most organizations and projects fail is for the lack of a good plan.  The widest gap is between the plan and effective action.

A plan is more than a lot of facts, goals and objectives, and organizational details.  Plans must be understood to be contingent:  everything changes as you put them into affect.  They include strategies, guiding principles, and clearly stated values.  Plan is a verb.  Planning is, indeed, something inherent in the nature of being human.  But like any art, we need to practice it, develop our capacity, and nurture our confidence.

Shrinking Cities

We also explored two groups of communities.  The first is a list of some three-dozen recognized as leaders in sustainability.  What is it that makes them so recognized?  It became clear that the difference was the emergence of a sustainability culture.  That is something that takes time.  Most of these communities started in the 1970s.  Many had a major issue that mobilized the community to action.  Bit by bit things were done to change the tone of the community.  In time, people no longer had a sense of starting the effort but of joining it.  These communities have a solid business and government foundation that supports a green lifestyle.  Most have one or more local organization that champion the vision and provide resources to achieve the goals and objectives of the plan.

At the other end of the spectrum are communities that are variously labeled as forgotten, distress, shrinking, or as one national publication suggested, miserable cities.  They also represent a cultural type and it is not a pretty picture.  A close collaborator and community leader in Pennsylvania’s fastest shrinking city found a 2007 Harvard study that listed a large number of “forgotten,” economically decaying, post-industrial communities, most in Pennsylvania and New York.  These rustbelt communities are the consequences of global economic change.  With the Great Recession, more cities joined the list of distressed communities.  Most mid-sized communities and many larger cities are on these lists.  They are examples of the dynamics of uncontrollable change – change that continues to affect all of us.

My sensitivity to this issue is largely due to my hometown having the distinction of being the fastest shrinking city in the US.  When I graduated from high school it was a vibrant community with a solid agricultural and manufacturing base.  After completing military service and university, the “Land of Opportunity” had become a fading dream.  Like most of us who went to college, I “abandoned ship.”  As I became involved in community and economic development this image has haunted me.  One of the attractions of Transition Town is that it proposes remediation of social and economic distress.

Our group explored working with distressed communities.  They are promising but admittedly difficult prospects.  Most continue to pursue standard models such as trying to attract new businesses and industries.  They need outside resources.  The great majority of them continue to decline.  The updated Transition Centre Resilient Communities is an alternative model that builds on the resources – people and natural resources – found in those communities.  This can be started through grassroots organization.

Centre Sustainability Master Plan

The Transition Centre comprehensive community plan was completed in September 2014.  It took a unique form based on the extensive research that went into it and the partnership of strong community organizations, including Penn State.  We constructed it not as a final plan but as a template.  It has three components:

  •      Assessment:  We started with estimates of what was actually being consumed by the community.  This is necessary to understand what could be produced locally.  We assessed local potential to produce raw materials, goods and services – an off-the-grid economy.  The vision is an increasing level independence and self-determination.
  •       Basic Needs:  We developed a list, from research, of the basic needs of a self-sufficient community.  We identified 22 and used them for the body of the plan. 
  •       Implementation:  The most difficult step is moving from idea to reality.  We approached this through out Vision 10 – 10.

Vision 10 – 10

One innovation of the plan was Vision 10 – 10, or how to achieve a goal of ten percent in any category in ten years.  This breaks the problem into manageable chunks.  It implies developing the capacity, the infrastructure, the resources and organization needed to meet each need locally.  Once done the foundation is in place to go beyond ten percent.  Some of the initial objectives can be achieved in less than ten years.

Our demonstration of the concept is Ten Percent Local Food.  We conducted an assessment of quantifies of agriculture products consumed in this country.  We assessed the agricultural capacity of the region.  We estimate we could grow 95% of our needs.  The potential economic impact of ten percent local food is $80,000,000 in revenue per year and this money would stay in the local economy.  There is significant movement in this direction now in our region.  If we achieve it, we will be on the leading edge of the idea resilient communities. 

There was also a project related to local renewable energy – community solar projects.  Recently a 2.5 megawatt array was installed by a local utility, another of similar size planned by the university, solar ordinances being adopted by municipalities, and a growing list of community and private projects.  Now that solar and wind is competitive with fossil fuels, we expect accelerating progress.

We are also working within our watershed to develop a comprehensive plan for management of all water resources – an integrated plan to maintain both quality and quantity for the foreseeable future.  This plan is intended to provide a comprehensive vision of the development of our community to the year 2050.

There is significant progress in many of the 22 identified areas.

Five Questions

To bring focus to the plan we asked a series of tough questions:

1.     Do we want to develop a resilient community?
2.     Do we want to be an exemplary model?
3.     Is a local action plan an option or a mandate?
4.     Who will form the Team?
5.     How will we organize the effort?

Community as Ecosystem

Transition Centre adopted the idea that a community is an ecosystem just as a lake or forest is an ecosystem.  It is a complex, interdependent, essentially spontaneous organization that involves an exchange of matter, energy and information.  We developed a model[1] for understanding our community ecosystem.  I should point out that Transition Towns drew on the principles of permaculture, which is a holistic approach to agriculture with implications for society.  It is a design strategy.  We considerably extended this idea. 

As we begin our program, we observed that local entities were largely unaware of each other.  Some were siloed of course, others simply uninformed of each other.  Working in collaboration with a close partner organization, we developed and then extended an inventory of significant local organizations, projects, businesses, and groups in our community.  The list is over 600 and can be found linked to our website.  A design has been proposed for an interactive online application to help make connections.

Sustainable Culture

What do you do when you have finished a comprehensive sustainability plan?  What is the 13th step?  As mentioned, from our study of leading sustainable communities, we saw the emergence of a culture of sustainability.  Given the nature of our community we believe that such a culture is developing, indeed accelerating.  A funded organization could accelerate the process but given time it will emerge spontaneously.  Which begs the question of how much time we have?  We will return to this below.  We are also reassessing our master plan.

Myths and Untested Assumptions

As we did our research, it became apparent that there were a number of ideals and beliefs about sustainability that need further examination.  We identified these as potential barriers to achieving a sustainable future.  We came up with the idea of the myth of sustainability. 

A myth can be a good thing.  It can also contain untested assumptions.  The ideal of restraining consumption for the benefit of future generations has not stood the test of time.  The ideal of controlling climate change is not getting positive reviews.  In our research we saw a lot of approaches to sustainability and gave thought to both what works and what seems not to.  What works requires discipline effort.

Research suggests that the number of people living a green lifestyle in the US is on the order of one in eight – a thin green wedge.  About twice as many are climate deniers.  About half the population is in between.  It is a difficult political problem.  We need an alternative.

The sustainability movement has been said to be the largest in the history of the world.  There are millions of people participating with hundreds of thousands of organizations and groups doing an incredible array of work from advocacy and protest to education and recreation to eco-entrepreneurship to large public and private capital projects.  It remains a giant, unassembled, jigsaw puzzle.

There are a variety of approaches to “saving the Earth.”  They include:

       Casual Participant such as educational and recreational opportunities
       Community Projects, including such as community gardens
       Outdoor sports
       Protest and Advocacy
       Lifestyle Engagement
       Transition/Sustainable Towns
       Resilient Community

We need to make effective choices.

Many believe that we should reform the government.  I think this begs the question of the function of government.  Yes there is burdensome red tape and political corruption.  But we need to understand that at root, environmental legislation is not about the environment per se.  Government is rather about human health, safety and welfare.  Governments focus on what and how, not why. 

Governments typically have a very poor understanding of environmental problems related to population and development.  Science (research related to issues) and politics seem to be distinct domains.  Most governmental entities are pro-growth – they need the taxes and fees to maintain public services.  Regulations are imposed for people, not the environment.  Such regulation tends to be “one-size fits all.” And, calling the regulatory system extremely complex is an understatement.  Again, we need an alternative approach.

Local governments are restrained from innovation by lack of money and staffing.  The cost of basic governmental services is steadily rising and revenues declining.  The tax burden is shifting to local communities.  TC Resilient Communities is designed to pay for itself.

I think it is little known that local governments are served by a variety of authorities, boards and commissions.  These are staffed by volunteers, generally unpaid, who are appointed by local governments.  There is thus already an infrastructure of citizens dedicated to and knowledgeable about the affairs of the community.  This is an important bridge between grassroots organizations and local governments.

The Paris Climate Agreement set a goal to avoid a level of temperature change that could set off runaway climate change.  Little real planning has been accomplished.  Recent reports from scientists suggest we are beyond the tipping point.  Admittedly there are incredible political and economic challenges to such a plan.  It requires a level of understand that is beyond human ken, trillions of dollars (USD equivalent), and massive organization rarely found except during war.  Our alternative is to localize the effort by redesigning our economies at that level.

The core problem is continued population growth.  Like the climate change graph, population represents a “hockey-stick” curve.  It is geometric and it is a runaway trend.  Since 1987 two and one-half billion people have been added to the Earth’s population.  At the current rate, estimates are approaching 10 billion people by 2050.  Many are in developing countries.  Rising global population and developing countries are increasingly stressing the Earth’s resources, particularly land and water.  This should give us pause for thought.  The problem has been known for decades without resolution.  We need a framework for dealing with the effects of this trend.  Again, that is putting our local house into order.

Resilient Communities

Following completion of our comprehensive plan, Transition Centre continued to develop its model, explore assumptions, and address problems that arose.  Our focus shifted from sustainabiity to resiliency.  Resiliency represents a quantum leap up from sustainability.  Sustainability is about management and conservation.  Resiliency is about creating the capacity to adapt to serious change as it occurs.  It is in a sense a community self-insurance policy but it is more.  It is about achieving greater self-determination.  That requires foresight and hard work.  It requires a “pioneering” spirit.

Why should we think about making such an effort?  To start, because we are in a high-risk economic, environmental and political global situation.  We’ve already seen what can happen with post-industrial communities as a result of globalization of economics.  In part it is because hurricanes, tornados, heavy winter storms, hundred year floods, fires and droughts have become frequent stories.  The business cycle, from boom to bust, is virtually a law of nature and a recession is due. 

People question the idea of sustainability in no small part because they see it so difficult to achieve.  But if we don’t achieve the stability it implies, then what?  It’s not something we call in outside experts to achieve.  It needs to be something that can be achieved at the community, level.  It needs to be driven by the people living in these communities.  It will take a lot of resilient communities around the world to turn the tide.

Cove Institute

In the Fall of 2017 Transition Centre introduced “The Road to a Sustainable Future.”  We were accessing the progress of the vision of our comprehensive plan.  We were also seeing that a number of old allies were struggling to stay afloat and that many new initiatives are struggling to get off the ground.  In essence, we did a reboot.  We asked two tough questions:

1.     Do we know what actually must be done to achieve a sustainable future?
2.     Do we have the capacity to achieve it?

We might have asked a third:  If not, then what?

In addition to community, economy and environment, Transition Centre is keenly interested in leadership.  In the Fall of 2018 we resumed the Cove Institute program that had been on the back burner since we started Transition Centre.  The project was informally organized in 2002, named for a place at a beautiful cove on the Pacific coast where several meetings had been held leading to this project.  It addressed the question of human transformative capacity, leadership and community development.  Five great mentors, representing some 200 years of personal experience, nurtured this project. 

The mission of the Cove Institute (CI), and a page can be found on the Transition Centre website, addresses personal capacity expressed as follows:

·      How do you prepare individuals, organizations and communities to achieve self-determination? 
·      How do you achieve adaptive resilience in the face of massive change? 
·      How do you undertake purposeful transformative change?

Self-Reliance:  Achieving Personal Resiliency and Independence (William Sharp, Amazon Kindle book) includes a number of key ideas developed over the years to address these questions.  While the books incudes exercises and a chapter on personal development, it is not a self-help book.  It’s about increasing personal capacity to lead.  The book includes key principles and practices leading to effective action.

It should be noted there is a leadership style for each stage of the evolution of human society from ancient to agricultural to industrial to digital.  We have made limited progress in developing that leadership model appropriate for this dynamic century.  What are the qualities, the knowledge and skills, that state of mind, of a person capable of dealing with the incredible complexity of modern life and the inevitable challenges to come?   

In this short book we explore the nature of being human.  We are nature – a product of billions of years of evolution.  What did Nature achieve with us?  We have, in fact, awesome potential if we can learn to realize it.  The book explores general systems (holistic) perception.  It is about understand the big picture.  It has three sets of tools related to achieving clarity and certainty, for accurately defining problems and for organizing effective resolution.  Self-Reliance also includes the first phase of a series called the Well-Formed PersonalityTM.  It is about working for a more integral sense of self.  This is the foundation of community.  The objective is summarized as: 

"We have the option to passively accept what life gives us or to actively engage in it -- to seek self-reliance and self-determination.  I believe we must pursue that option. Society is the product of its members. The more humane its members, or at least its leaders, the more humane the society."

Transition Centre Vision and Mission

Transition Centre is apolitical and non-sectarian.  It doesn’t care what you believe as long as dialog is respectful.  It takes no part in divisive debate.  All communities have common needs.  

Our website has pages for three strategies: 

       Localization:  Building a more human-scaled community
       REconomy (Regenerative, Restorative, Resilient) + Economy
       Leadership (which also includes a page for the CI project)

The Mission and Vision of Transition Centre were stated at the beginning of this article.  Our tagline is “Prosperity and Quality of Life.”  Here is and outline of our services:

The Objectives of Transition Centre:
  • Transition Centre promotes the best practice model of an effective grassroots program for rebuilding local community economic sustainability and a growing level of self-reliance.
  • Integral ecosystem architecture of the self-sufficient community and local economy.
  • A comprehensive learning institute to prepare youth and adults for the challenges of a society in a state of increasing disequilibrium.
  • Innovative leadership capable of guiding the transformation of communities, from villages to urban neighborhoods, to achieve sustainability.
  • Provides materials and resources to assist communities to achieve sustainability.
What we do:
·       Transition Centre provides consultation, coaching, planning and workshops about building your community’s sustainable future.  We offer:
  • Transitional Awareness:  Building awareness of why your community needs to create a resilient, sustainable economy to secure its future.
  • Sustainability Master Design:  A workable and doable framework for organizing all sectors of your community to secure a high quality future.
  • Community Ecosystem Mapping:  Identifying, connecting and mobilizing the resources of your community into a self-defining, self-sustaining network of collaborative action.
  • Sustainable Economy:  Leadership, enterprise and economic redevelopment to reinvigorate your local economy, that adapts to the rapid and erratic changes of the global economic system and that will secure a stable and viable future for your community.
Transition Centre is a service organization.  We have the capacity to assess the needs and capabilities of communities and neighborhoods.  Our objective is to inspire and support local initiative.  We serve as a catalyst.  Go to 


As a final note, there are a lot of ideas from Eastern thought that enlighten our understanding of the Earth, the biosphere, and the nature of human nature.  Kaizen is a Japanese terms that means taking small steps.  The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.  Vision 10 – 10 was inspired by this concept.  Taking the first, small step, and you take the next and the next and the next.

We need, however, to understand the context of our action.  As noted, many sustainability efforts are single issues.  A community may have a lot of groups and organizations with a mission.  All are important.  But how are they connected?  What end to they collectively achieve?  What we must understand is that each of these is a part of a complex ecosystem.  They are all interdependent.  Unless and until we understand how each action fits into the broader framework, until we understand the nature of that broader framework, both locally and globally, we are not working in a deliberate and purposeful manner to solve the problems we think are important.

Our frame of action is the local community.  That works because a community is essentially a bounded system, albeit a part of other, larger, systems.  Moving our perspective to this next level is a “small” step.  Putting that first step on the Moon was an unparalleled achievement of human vision, will and determination to express who and what we are as a species.  Taking our community to that level of achievement, to make it resilient – safe, secure and stable – is just going to take a lot work.

Bill Sharp
Founder/Director Transition Centre/Cove Institute

[1] This document is based on a presentation made in Titusville, Pennsylvania on October 8th, 2018.  I was invited to speak about Transition Towns as founder and director of Transition Centre located at State College, Pennsylvania (