Erin Axelrod & Kevin Bayuk on Designing the Regenerative Economy [Systems Change]

For our fourth workshop in the 2019 Systems Change & the Next Economy course, we are excited to host Erin Axelrod and Kevin Bayuk of LIFT Economy for “Designing the Regenerative Economy: Next Economy design principles and strategies for vocation and regenerative enterprise design.”

We interviewed them to learn more about their backgrounds, passions, and what to expect during their workshop on April 6-7.

SC Permaculture: Why focus on the economy as a strategy for creating a better world? When and how did you make the connection between the environmental and social catastrophes of our time and the current economic system?

Erin & Kevin: The economy is possibly the number one most powerful force affecting us all, and influencing all of our lives. At LIFT Economy, we believe that perhaps all of our cumulative crises can be traced back to economics – from malnutrition, to species extinction, from pollution to social determinants of health.

SC Permaculture: What brought you to this work? How did you get involved, and why are you passionate about it? When you imagine the next economy, what comes to mind?

Erin: In 2013, I felt called to move from the nonprofit space where I had been working into business. Whereas the conventional pathway exalted higher degree education, every bone in my body felt a dissonance at pursuing an MBA. I wasn’t convinced that it would teach me what I was yearning to learn: radical new strategies to remake our world based on economic principles of abundance, reciprocity and enoughness.

Instead, I created my own informal “apprenticeship” program that ultimately led to my becoming co-owner of LIFT Economy. The co-founders of LIFT Economy saw my lack of an MBA as an asset, because it meant that firstly, I was not in debt — and by extension of that I was in accord with values of thrift and economy that define our work — and secondly, I was not indoctrinated by the norms of current economics.

Today, I am a partner/worker-owner at LIFT Economy with equal decision-making power in the company. My day-to-day work is dedicated to creating, modeling and sharing a locally self-reliant economy that works for the benefit of all life. We counsel local businesses on ways to allocate funds to redistribute wealth, improve profitability and create ecological resilience.

(Note: This response is quoted from an article Erin wrote for bthechange.com.)

Kevin (as told by Lisa Gordon of Hoodline.com in this article): After years of raising capital for software startups, Kevin Bayuk grew “depressed at the state of the world” and visited a farm in Sonoma County that changed his life.

It practiced permaculture — a loose set of design principles that rely on patterns and features found in natural ecosystems to help humans grow their own food, build their own living environments, and exist more sustainably.

The permaculture designers he met on the farm changed his thinking. Instead of a world full of problems and crises, he grew to see it as an enormous set of opportunities, and what he thought were big problems—hunger, homelessness, etc.—as problems that were easy to solve, even “embarrassingly simple.”

He realized he could change his habits and behaviors to be part of this solution and then help teach other people how to do that as well.

Deeply moved and inspired, he came back to the city, sold his home and his car, and started learning how to grow food and do the things that he witnessed.

He learned so much about permaculture that he started teaching with his teachers, and in 2006 produced a permaculture certificate training at the SF Botanical Garden. He also had a hand in founding the Urban Permaculture Institute and the SF Permaculture Guild.   

SC Permaculture: Why is it important for the average person to learn about the economy and become an active participant in reshaping it?

Erin & Kevin: The root of the word economics can be traced back to oikos (home) + nomios (management), so what better thing to pursue than a study of how to best care for home?

Data shows that those who study “economics” in formal education, actually become greedier, so it is extra important that average people become versed and literate in the nature of economics so as to not leave it solely to “economists” to make decisions which have such profound impacts on all of our lives. We all have a role or multiple roles to play in transitioning the nature of the economy.

SC Permaculture: What is one thing the average person can do to participate in designing the regenerative economy?

Erin & Kevin: Become literate. Once you really understand the fundamentals of the exploitative systems underpinning our economy, you begin to see how every single aspect of your life either contributes to exploitation and breakdown, or is radically transformative.

In addition to this class, we teach an online class called the Next Economy MBA that teaches people how to break free of exploitative dominant economic systems and create pathways to remake our world for a more just, equitable future.

Whereas, becoming ecoliterate is a potent thing to do, perhaps a more accessible starting point for some might be to begin by giving gifts to friends and neighbors or re-skilling to produce some of what you need and giving surplus to those around you to grow relationships.

SC Permaculture: LIFT Economy is working with inspiring change-makers like Winona LaDuke and the White Earth Reservation. Can you talk about your approach to collaborative projects with organizations and businesses around the country? How do you create effective relationships with others who are passionate about changing our economic system?

Erin & Kevin: We rely heavily on the permaculture principle, “compose with, rather than impose upon” and are constantly seeking ways to nurture relationship and help people solve what we call their “pain points.” A “pain point” in business lingo is the core, most pressing need that you are solving for your client or customer.

But it takes a tremendous amount of skill and profound observation to build enough trust and rapport sometimes to discern the core pain point in complex dynamic systems. We have made it our craft and our commitment to constantly seek to learn (and then to help solve) the pain points of our clients and ultimately, our world.

SC Permaculture: It is easy to feel overwhelmed and defeated by simply turning on the news these days. What gives you hope and how do you continue in your work despite everything bleak that is going on in the world?

Erin & Kevin: Our clients and partners give us unceasing hope!

SC Permaculture: Why should people who are interested in permaculture sign up for your workshop? How does permaculture relate to the work you are doing?

Erin & Kevin: Above all, it is going to be a weekend full of fun, and we look forward to sharing it with you. We are not lecturers, we are facilitators, and we hope to craft an experience for our students whereby you leave having felt like you absolutely got exactly what you needed out of the experience, to move forward in a beautiful way towards helping contribute to an economy that works for the benefit of all life.  Permaculture principles, ethics and methods heavily influence both how we work and what we work on.

SC Permaculture: Of the projects you and your team are working on in the coming year, which are you most excited about, and why?

Erin & Kevin: There are so many. Wool-Hemp carbon-sequestering cloth blends. Climate-resilient buildings that sequester carbon in the building envelop. Permanently removing housing from the speculative real estate market and holding in commons ownership in perpetuity. Changing the very way we eat, drink, clothe, shelter and transact within communities. We are excited for what is to come!

Learn more with Systems Change and the Next Economy: Regenerative Design for People & the Planet

Join us April 6-7 in Santa Cruz, CA to spend the weekend learning about all of this and more with Erin and Kevin! Register online here.

Additional information about the Systems Change & The Next Economy course, including dates, workshop titles, and instructor biographies for our other upcoming workshops, is available at http://santacruzpermaculture.com/economy/

About Erin Axelrod

Erin Axelrod is a partner and worker-owner at LIFT Economy, specializing in accelerating the spread of climate-beneficial and land-based businesses in the Next Economy. She does this through a range of initiatives including client work, a regenerative agriculture investor network (RAIN), the Force for Good Fund and a Restorative Ocean Economies Field-Building Initiative. She also lives and works on a Grassfed beef and Land Restoration Project, Freestone Ranch, just outside of her hometown of Petaluma. When not working, she loves to forage wild mushrooms, huckleberries, elderberries and bay nuts to make nutrient dense foods for her friends.

About Kevin Bayuk

Kevin works at the intersection of ecology and economy where permaculture design meets cooperative organizations intent on meeting human needs while enhancing the conditions conducive to all life. He is a partner with LIFT Economy, serves as the Senior Financial Fellow at Project Drawdown, and is a co-founder of the Force for Good Fund. Kevin co-organizes a working group of food systems impact investors identifying regenerative agriculture organizations creating the highest leverage beneficial impact for all life. He frequently teaches classes, workshops, does public speaking, facilitates meetings, plans events and provides one on one mentoring as a founding partner of the Urban Permaculture Institute San Francisco. Kevin co-founded Clarus Systems and spent nearly a decade starting and growing companies in enterprise software and technology.  He is as fluent with information technology, leadership development, cooperative process, discounted cash flows, as perennial polyculture agroforestry, saving seed and conservation hydrology.

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