The DIY economy asks: how do we put human beings and communities at the center?

AT THE RECENT DIY Economy retreat, over 60 social entrepreneurs, designers, foundation members, and community organizers met in Asheville, North Carolina to collaboratively design a blueprint for the New Economy.

The group began in David McConville’s GeoDome, an inflatable shelter with projection system that enables you to travel 3-dimensionally through a digital map of the universe.

As the group sat looking at an outer space view of Earth encircled by orbiting satellites, McConville said, “when you’re thinking about tackling these wicked problems, one of the things Buckminster Fuller used to say was ‘start with the Universe.’

“Our imaginations have been very limited by a culture that has essentially shut off certain lines of inquiry. . .

By superimposing various images on the map – from Lascaux cave paintings to Greco-Roman constellations – McConville showed how our concept of the universe has evolved over time, and how certain key events such as the first full “blue marble” images of Earth taken from space have impacted our collective understanding.

One distinction he noted however, was that with all our technology, compared to earlier peoples, “our imaginations have been very limited by a culture that has essentially shut off certain lines of inquiry. Think about the ways humans have been using their imaginations for a long time to understand where we are, and particularly to synchronize with the cycles of life.”

The takeaway, and essentially the kickoff for the DIY Economy retreat, was that as our understanding of the universe continues to evolve, how do we also evolve and deploy economic models that mirror this understanding?

In learning more, I spoke with Matthew Abrams, founder of the Mycelium School, co-sponsor of the retreat.

[Matador] How do you define the DIY Economy, and how does it differ from the current US economy?

[M.A.] DIY Economies are about putting human beings and communities at the center. Rather than having economies designed to meet the needs of multinational corporations and governments, we’re looking at how we can design and implement economies that meet the highest values and aspirations of people. Essential, we’re asking the question, “how can we create a new story that inspires happy, healthy and resilient communities?”

Is the DIY Economy an actual movement? How does it fit into the larger social fabric such as Occupy?

It is a movement in the sense that there are people around the world re-imagining how value flows within social systems. Right now, I believe only 0.5% of people are actively engaged in catalyzing the movement, so in that sense, I’d say it’s at a nascent phase of growth.

However, within the context of the larger social fabric, I believe people are looking for new solutions to our current social obstacles. DIY Economies are coming from the same seed as the Occupy movement – simply an exploration of new ways we can create health and harmony in our world.

One of the most salient points I heard during the retreat was that many of our terms describing economic and community relationships are outdated. Essentially we lack the language necessary to articulate the models and structures needed to evolve. What are some of the key terms and vocabulary that emerged from the group?

One of the most powerful words that emerged is regenerative. Beyond the word, it’s a concept that is difficult, yet necessary for people to understand if we are to draft a new social story. Understandably, the idea of economies being a regenerative vehicle for healthy communities is foreign to most since the economy has traditionally been such powerful force in deteriorating things we, as humans, generally value; such as community, nature, family, meaning and happiness.

The idea behind regenerative economics is that in the very act of transferring energy and resources without the coercion or force, communities can regain response-ability and agency to deepen relationships and awareness of peoples’ and communities’ highest values.

What are some of the most successful examples of DIY economy already in place?

The idea of regenerative or DIY Economics is not merely about reversing the trends of hyper-consumerism where we all believe we need our own lawn mower, washing machine and cars, but it’s about sharing resources and as a result tightening the social fabric within our communities. . .

I think they are the things that are already happening that are not “exceptional.” Blocks in communities having a large garden where 5 families till the soil, plant and cultivate the seeds, harvest and share a meal together. Streets that share lawn mowers, washing machines and cars.

The idea of regenerative or DIY Economics is not merely about reversing the trends of hyper-consumerism where we all believe we need our own lawn mower, washing machine and cars, but it’s about sharing resources and as a result tightening the social fabric within our communities, which will drastically increase the health, agency, and resilience of our communities.

What does a generalized shift from our traditional to a more DIY economy “look like”?

People and communities believing they are responsible for their collective health and a social infrastructure in place that enables this responsibility.

How can an individual, even someone who works a traditional 9-5, migrate to a more DIY economic approach?

I cannot speak for the DIY Economy as a whole, but I’d say the most important element of fostering this transformation is adopting a new story. I don’t believe DIY Economies are solely about doing things in a new way, but more importantly we need to think about things in a new way; A way where we understand that our health and awareness of real value exists in the relationships between things.

So for the 9-5er, I’d say she should be aware of how her life decisions and actions are affecting the environment around her and how the decisions and actions of others are affecting hers. As we begin to be conscious of these relationships, we can begin to recognize patterns of health and patterns of dis-ease within our lives.

For DIY Economies to grow life, we need a new story that transcends the reductionistic views born from the Industrial Revolution and adopt a worldview that synthesizes the fragmentation and weaves us into this integrated landscape.src="https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/assets/images/icons/mfinish.png">