Founded in 1990 as the People-Centered Development Forum, the Living Economies Forum works with and through partner organizations and a circle of extraordinary colleagues to articulate and communicate framing ideas that light the path to a New Economy grounded in positive living system principles that recognize life’s extraordinary capacity for cooperative self-organization.
We are a small organization with an ambitious vision and a proud history paralleling the historic emergence of global civil society. We are currently based in the United States near Seattle, Washington on Bainbridge Island.
Since the time of our founding, we have been a global leader in efforts to expose the fallacies and illusions relating to economic growth models, corporate led economic globalization, and the Wall Street phantom-wealth machine. We are currently focused on advancing awareness of New Economy alternatives based on real-democracy and real-markets.
Our spiral logo symbolizes life’s continuing process of renewal as the dying of the old gives way to the birthing of the new. It is evocative of the Ollin, an ancient Aztec symbol for movement and evolution. Here it signifies this historical moment when we humans may perceive and actualize new possibilities latent in our being.
When the Forum was founded in 1990, our defining concern was that Third World development programs and policies too often gave greater priority to producing financial returns than to improving the lives of people. We observed millions of people being displaced from the lands and waters that were their source of livelihoods to make way for “development” projects that served those already better off.
We founded the People-Centered Development Forum to advance a dialogue aimed at making people the centerpiece of development. That was more than 20 years ago.
Our analysis, language, and reach have since evolved. To serve people, the economy must serve the whole of life and the very meaning of the term development has become corrupted beyond redemption. We must come to think of economies as flows of life energy rather than flows of money. Thus, we present ourselves here as the Living Economies Forum devoted to defining a living future of living communities, service by living economies comprised of living enterprises with living owners. We support living markets of the sort envisioned by Adam Smith, who recognized that markets work best when they are predominantly local and operate within a framework of shared moral principles and sensible rules.
We have two full-time staff. David Korten serves as president and Kat Gjovik serves as director of communications and outreach. Jacob Bomann-Larson was appointed as a Fellow of the Forum in February 2012 to serve as our ambassador and liaison with the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.
In addition, we have a five member governing board, and an international advisory board, four primary partner organizations. We remain small by choice to maintain our ability to respond quickly and flexibly to emergent opportunities. We achieve scale by working with and through other organizations and influential colleagues, which allows us to achieve a level of influence far beyond our modest size.
We envision a planetary system of interlinked locally-rooted, living-wealth economies that mimic the living structures and dynamics of Earth’s biosphere and support ecological balance, a just distribution of Earth’s real wealth, and a living democracy inclusive of all beings.
We contribute to creating a New Economy supportive of this vision by working with and through partner organizations to:
- Articulate its cultural and institutional design characteristics;
- Raise public awareness of the possibilities, requirements, and path to its realization;
- Develop supporting theory and practice;
- Provide tools for civil society organizations engaged in advancing the necessary cultural and institutional transition.
Our Theory of Change
We believe that transformational system change is most likely to be achieved through a process of emergence and succession that draws inspiration from forest ecology. Organizational change practitioner Margaret Wheatley says it well.
Once an emergent phenomenon has appeared, it can’t be changed by working backwards, by changing the local parts that gave birth to it. You can only change an emergent phenomenon by creating a countervailing force of greater strength. This means that the work of change is to start over, to organize new local efforts, connect them to each other, and know that their values and practices can emerge as something even stronger.
We see virtually no prospect that the Wall Street system will transform itself from within. Change depends on citizen’s working from outside the establishment to create from the bottom up a New Economy based on new values and institutions. As they grow the New Economy into being, it provides others with ever more diverse and attractive opportunities to redirect their investment, employment, and shopping choices from the old to the new. As people thus redirect their life energy to the New Economy from the Old Economy, the New Economy becomes ever stronger and more vibrant.
We think of ourselves as a movement building catalyst working with a select group of individual and organizational partners to advance a three-fold strategy for navigating a Great Turning from Empire to Earth Community.
- Change the framing stories of the culture to accelerate the awakening of a new consciousness of our species potential to create vibrant self-organizing, life-serving societies and economies based on real markets and real democracy. YES! Magazine is our lead partner on changing the story.
- Create a new economic reality through citizen action to build from the bottom up a global system of local living economies. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies is our lead partner on creating a new living economy reality.
- Change the rules to favor behavior and institutions that support ecological balance, equitable distribution, and living democracy over behavior and institutions that support environmental destruction, wealth concentration, and political corruption. The Institute for Policy Studies is our lead partner on changing the rules.
Historically, our primary contribution has been to element #1: changing the framing stories of the culture. This aligns with our distinctive competence and will continue to be our primary focus. Geographically, our focus is on advancing the awakening in the United States—the world’s one remaining self-proclaimed Empire.