The Case for Regenerative Knowledge and Leadership

ex·tract  ikˈstrakt/ veb remove or take out, especially by effort or force

Definition of extract

Around the country activists are taking action on climate and clean energy. The call for change is growing louder and for that we should feel good, especially as we witness young people and marginalized communities leading the effort. But it is still far to common that the activism is organized by centralized efforts designed in conference rooms without the input of those most impacted by pollution. These campaigns are highly resourced and shaped by polls or experts seeking "winnable" solutions for change.

While this top-down approach is moving along the public conversation we have yet to substantively move or develop solutions that will transform our economy and build a just and clean energy future.

The environmental movement’s most notable champions—those who have transformed our nation—were often local people who did not fit mainstream definitions of experts in the field. They were motivated to fight for what was right or necessary. They saw a problem and advocated for a solution against great odds and without the initiation, support of, or funding from outside institutions. These local leaders engaged and ignited the national spirit for change; indigenous leaders fighting centuries of exploitation and harm to Mother Earth, farmworkers fighting pesticides and calling for boycotts, or mothers fighting toxics pollution harming and killing their children.

The reason why extractive, top-down approaches don’t work is because they are often focused on short-term wins and do not build lasting power for community and their capacity to have a role in change. In many cases, campaigns drop into communities without trust, knowledge, or expertise, resulting in organizing that only scratches the surface of what is possible and the knowledge to be gained. In the wake, communities are disconnected from the work, and when only “mined” for one action are often left dissatisfied either wanting more, wondering what’s next, or worse, feeling angry and used only to be discarded.

Relationships, trust, and knowledge are often centralized, again to build power for the central actor, therefore undermining the ability to scale, replicate, and regenerate because knowledge is not held by the community.

Regenerative networking

re·gen·er·ate rəˈjenəˌrāt/ verb (of a living organism) regrow (new tissue) to replace lost or injured tissue

Definition of regenerate

Regenerative networking is about local leaders working in communities around the US who, along with allies, can come together to learn, identify effective solutions, and support one another in the face of a well-funded and deeply entrenched opponent. We are strong if we can also gather and share what was working and make it accessible to those who are emerging or yet to begin work as local leaders so they can have a head start.

Our success requires space, capacity, and networking to regenerate solutions in ways that are broadly available and build from the community up.

To build a regenerative movement is to create systems, structures, and relationships that are collaborative, open, and driven by communities and, most importantly, focused on repairing past harm and growing back what has been removed: their voice and ideas.

A regenerative approach ensures communities leverage their assets, resources, power, and abilities for their own growth and solutions, while connecting with other communities to share, replicate, scale, and learn together about how they are creating change. This approach is long-term. It embodies decentralized self-determination. It recognizes that expertise includes lived experience, ancestry of knowledge, history of strength, and capacity to lead change.

Regenerative efforts shift leadership to communities, especially those most impacted by environmental degradation and pollution, and ensure they are resourced, networked, and uplifted. Regenerative organizing shifts the narrative away from one that says highly impacted communities are deficient and unable to create change without help from “experts”, outside actors, or anyone disconnected from and non-reflective of communities.

Just Solutions Collective: A regenerative and equitable network

Since 2015, the Just Solutions Collective has been bringing together environmental organizations, intermediary groups and frontline community organizations to forward an equitable transition to 100% clean energy. The Network fosters learning, sharing, and relationship building with an objective to build policy alignment.

In 2018, we made a conscious effort to take the work to the next level to embark on a more intentional approach and attention to communities and leaders who are creating policy and programmatic solutions and having success at moving the work forward. In collaboration with key partners, many of whom are now on our newly reconstituted leadership body, we are elevating and supporting community-led solutions, garnering and deploying resources to places where the work is happening, fostering the sharing, learning, and analysis necessary to scale and replicate regenerative solutions, and, most importantly, shifting the location and source of leadership and power toward frontline and equity created solutions for 100%.

The Network is committed to creating intentional space for frontline policy experts who are leading work on an equitable transition to 100% clean energy, to strategizing about what it will take for them to win, scale, and replicate, as well as assemble equitable, regenerative solutions. Coupled with this commitment is the necessary element that leaders in the movement must be supported, resourced, and elevated. In addition, we must continue to foster alignment to shift the narrative so that frontline communities are recognized for their assets, capacity to lead, and ability to develop innovative policy and programmatic solutions, and of course to shift to a long-term commitment to community capacity building for change.


— Aiko Schaefer is the Director of the Just Solutions Collective