SPECIAL SESSION: “BUILDING CAPACITY AND KNOWLEDGE THROUGH NETWORKING”

In our rapidly changing environment we are building solutions-focused narratives that are leading the way forward. Critical to enacting those solutions are the networks, partnerships, and collaborations, between grassroots groups, doing the hard work of building capacity and resilience in their regions. Three such organizations, led by Jonathan Rosenthal, Ruah Swennerfelt, and Nina Smolyar, will be represented in this panel. Leaders will discuss what the collective capacity of our work will yield today, where new collaborations may be forged, and envision what a stronger network will entail.

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Jonathan Rosenthal is the Executive Director of the New Economy Coalition and co-founder of Equal Exchange. He has spent over 30 years working to transform the power of business from a destructive force of accumulation into a healing force honoring the interconnectedness of all people and our earth. He co-founded Equal Exchange, Oké USA and Belmont-Watertown Local First. He has consulted with people and organizations all across the trade justice movement. He is the author of numerous articles and is a frequent speaker at colleges and events, is a board member of the Coffee Trust and an emeritus board member of Root Capital.

Ruah Swennerfelt is a Quaker environmental activist, and president of the Transition Town Charlotte Vermont Board (part of the Transition Towns USA movement), dedicated to localizing ways of living in harmony with the Earth. Swennerfelt is also the author of Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith, a book about the role of faith and faith communities in the Transition Town Movement. Quaker principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and sustainability are guiding principles in Swennerfelt's work to encourage people to live responsible lives. An important Transition Towns credo says that we must act and, “If we wait for governments, it will be too late; if we act as individuals, it will be too little; but if we act in community, it might be just enough, just in time.”

Nina Smolyar is an activist for social justice, sustainability, and authentic democracy. She is the network coordinator of the New England Resilience and Transition Network (NERT), a group of grassroots organizations building localized resilience. Growing up loving nature in rural Russia, and committed to preserving the ecological conditions that support life, Smolyar is a passionate advocate for sustainability across systems of ecology, economy, and society. Believing that environmental activism is incomplete without a spiritual root, Smolyar’s life is also marked by a commitment to spiritual traditions and philosophies from around the world. She has lived and worked at two intentional communities in Western Massachusetts, practicing sustainable living in relationship with nature and people. She has investigated community-building in a self-designed graduate program, with thesis work on conflict transformation in intentional community. She is a current graduate student at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, pursuing her MS in Leadership for Sustainability.