Rural Europe mobilizes | Regenerative governance in rural Spain

The Resilience.Earth team. Photo: Resilience.Earth

Next in our series of excerpts from “Rural Europe takes action – No more status quois the story of Resilience.Earth, a non-profit cooperative committed to community resilience and regenerative design as fundamental tools for social and ecological transformation. By engaging rural communities, Resilience.Earth is constructed from a feminine, indigenous and decolonial perspective. This story is presented alongside other inspiring initiatives in the chapter of Rural Europe acting for cohesion and democracy. From these stories emerge action points on how the policy could support inclusive dialogue and community-led regeneration. We summarize these messages for decision makers before presenting our conversation with Erika Zárate, senior consultant at Resilience.Earth.

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Photo: Trebnitz Castle

political action

We need public support for inclusive dialogue and community-led regeneration.

Be more human and give people a chance. Social cohesion and democracy develop in a spirit of common interest and respect. The communities in this chapter reframe tired tropes about rural areas, welcoming and proving that solidarity and inclusive dialogue helps us live together in harmony. We urgently need dedicated space and resources for meaningful dialogue and collective decision-making in rural governance.

Regenerative governance

A conversation with Erika Zárate, senior consultant at Resilience.Earth who supports communities and administrations to develop more regenerative governance models.

We see the work we do as a process to decolonize and reconcile structural violence, and transform it into something regenerative and nurturing for our communities and ecosystems, making them more equitable and resilient.

Warming the Ground for Citizen-Led Government

A soft way to start is to do interviews with key actors and map the different actors, the most visible and also the invisible ones. By analyzing community mapping, we can detect the diversity of the rural community and are able to create a commission to represent the voices of this diversity. They are the knowledge holders and they help us design the process that is best suited and adapted to the needs and context of this land and its inhabitants.

About seven years ago in Spain, local politics moved away from partisan politics towards independent grassroots groups standing for election. We’ve been through a few municipal elections like this, and it’s starting to warm the ground for public administration deeply interested in citizen-led governments.

Resilience.Earth works at the territorial level. When a municipality in La Garrotxa started working with us, others also wanted to, regardless of their political orientation. The funding that we are able to request and obtain for these municipalities was low, but it made it a little easier for the local administration to carry out participatory processes. However, the next challenge, of course, is how to generate meaningful change from participatory processes.

Reconciling the tensions of deeper systemic issues

There is a need to link community-led local development to community-led climate action. Story mapping and dialogue can unleash the imagination of communities and help them see pathways for climate action.

How do you approach this kind of work? If you seek to reconcile the tensions of deep systemic issues instead of trying to fix or resolve them, it changes the way you think about and do community-led local development work. We accompany people to reflect on the challenges of their community. In these spaces it is so important to have public administration, the private sector, the community in general and civil society. After doing interviews and creating the commission, you can make a first public event.

Hours of preparation are required to ensure that the diversity of voices is represented. We live in rural areas, where almost a quarter of the population comes from migrant communities, mainly from Senegal, Gambia and India, but also from China and Romania. These communities are often excluded (intentionally and unintentionally, and due to structural violence) from these spaces for dialogue. We pay special attention to ensure that these communities are able to participate and think about their community, reflecting on the most visible issues, structural and strategic issues and the essence of the cultural paradigm.

The structural level is essential. At this level, what people are asking for, and what we are trying to help them build, is an Open Governance Structure – it looks different in every community, but some characteristics are quite similar: a space with designated persons which is also permeable and open to other participating persons if they so wish; the persons appointed are representative of the diversity and are a kind of community voice to accompany the public administration in order to ensure that their decisions really respond to all the needs that have been detected.

Open governance structures exist

We have been supporting communities for 5 years now in the design of community-led policies at the development level, at the practical level, at the evaluation level. We translate what communities say into political language.

We have just completed a regional strategic plan linking the 21 municipalities of La Garrotxa. There was more than 11% active participation in the construction of this Evolving Strategic Plan for Territorial Resilience. The beauty of this plan is that it was not just a document funded by the regional government, but rather a process that engaged everyone involved to come up with strategies, goals and actions they would direct and even fund or implement. This strategic plan is not driven by the public administration; it is managed by everyone.

There is also a plan in the tourism sector in the neighboring community which is entering its second year. I am amazed at how they are able to bridge the differences – now they can see, respect, understand and empathize with each other. There is a real dialogue.


Local and European funds are difficult to access here, especially if you are a small organization or rural community. The funding we have comes almost exclusively from
the provincial government. While greatly needed and appreciated, this funding is often insufficient to fully pay for the community-led assessment and planning processes that move us towards more open governance structures and the collective management and implementation of development projects. community. As a non-profit co-op, we often co-fund these processes with our annual surplus, if we have any, or use our small bank of paid community service hours that each worker in the co-op is allocated to accompany and support communities. rural. organizations and communities that generally do not have the money to pay for these services.
Two things would help to improve funding: accessibility to funding and awareness of funding policy. In addition, there could be local or regional level support to facilitate climate officer roles.

More from Rural Europe takes action

Reversing the rule and the exception – A transformative new integrated policy for rural agrifood presented to the European Parliament

Rural Europe mobilizes | Create alternatives, create community

Rural Europe mobilizes | Seeds of collaboration

Rural Europe mobilizes | Creative municipalities

Rural Europe mobilizes | Much more than our daily bread

Helen D. Jessen