Introducing a ‚ÄėHeart, head, hands‚Äô approach to innovative learning for ecological and social change

Ashoka Belgium Impact Programme 2020 introduces participant Sabine Denis and the project Schumacher Sprouts. ūüď£ Sabine shared her vision and how the Impact Programme is helping her to reflect about the development of Schumacher Sprouts. ūüí•The Impact Programme is a multi-sector collaboration between Ashoka, ABN AMRO Private Banking Belgium and Accenture Belgium to foster social entrepreneurship in the fields of #circularity and #climatechange.
Sabine Denis description
Source: Ashoka Belgium

Schumacher Sprouts may be located on a farm, but the focus is on growing new ideas rather than cultivating those famous Brussels vegetables. The idea was born two years ago, when Sabine Denis, founder of the sustainability network The Shift, began a one-year Master’s in Ecology and Spirituality at Schumacher College in the UK. This experience inspired Sabine and other alumni of the College to launch a similar initiative in Belgium, located at Froidefontaine Farm. The 2020 Ashoka Impact Programme is supporting Sabine and her team by providing outside perspectives on what they are doing and how they can achieve their long-term goals.  

Personal reflection 

Schumacher College is named after the German-British economist,¬†Schumacher, whose mantra was¬†‚Äėsmall is beautiful‚Äô. The college curriculum¬†takes¬†a¬†‚Äėheart, head, hands‚Äô¬†approach to innovative learning for ecological and social change. Students¬†live¬†and work as¬†a community:¬†taking care of the immediate natural environment, cooking¬†together, cleaning¬†together...¬†‚ÄúTeachers talk about¬†the¬†subject, there is theory, but that‚Äôs only a third of the¬†learning experience. The other two-thirds¬†are¬†personal¬†reflection: questioning the way¬†you¬†think about life and what¬†you¬†can do¬†next¬†with¬†everything you have learned,‚Ä̬†Sabine explains.¬†¬†

After returning to Belgium, Sabine met Nicholas who studied Economics for Transition at Schumacher College¬†and Pauline¬†Steisel¬†who studied Ecological Design.¬†‚ÄúWe¬†realized that there were probably lots of people who would¬†benefit from this type of learning.¬†However, not everyone can go to the UK, not everyone can take a year off, so¬†how about bringing this experience to¬†continental Europe?‚ÄĚ Schumacher Sprouts¬†was launched.¬†¬†

Soil, soul, society 

Within five¬†years,¬†Sabine wants to see¬†a living¬†Schumacher Sprouts¬†community at¬†Froidefontaine¬†Farm,¬†not only¬†offering¬†short, hands-on¬†courses¬†such as gardening and beehive building, but also¬†more theoretical courses such as¬†Regenerative Society¬†and ‚Äėleading transformation from within‚Äô,¬†meaning¬†from within yourself¬†and¬†from within your organization. For now, they have a range of sixteen courses in the pipeline.¬†‚ÄúPeople could stay for more than just one or two weeks to¬†witness¬†the¬†changing¬†seasons on the farm.¬†All the courses will be¬†related to the land ‚Ästto the soil, to the soul and to society.‚Ä̬†¬†

Sabine is also dreaming of a¬†Master‚Äôs¬†program¬†inspired by a Japanese degree called ‚Äėhalf agriculture, half something else‚Äô, enabling participants to become self-sustaining. ‚ÄúOne half of the degree would be focused on gaining¬†basic knowledge of soil, plants and agriculture, and¬†the other on¬†a¬†social or environmental¬†topic, for example,¬†economics for transition, ecological design,¬†or¬†social sciences.‚Ä̬†

Although the coronavirus¬†pandemic¬†has¬†brought¬†a temporary halt to its¬†first courses, Schumacher Sprouts has already¬†hosted¬†Satish Kumar,¬†co-founder of Schumacher College and¬†the ecologist, teacher and writer,¬†Eve¬†Annecke¬†an expert on¬†Sacred¬†activism. ‚ÄúActivism can lead to¬†burnout¬†and¬†frustration. Sacred activism is a different way to¬†stay resilient in¬†your activism,¬†taking¬†care of yourself before you take care of the world.‚Ä̬†The founder of the Transition movement and¬†Ashoka Fellow¬†Rob Hopkins¬†is also a visiting professor of the Schumacher Sprouts.¬†¬†

Speaking the right language 

Sabine’s ambition is to not only be a college for people who are already convinced, but also for those who are curious to discover what Schumacher Sprouts are doing. For this to work, they need to speak a different language. 

Schumacher Sprouts started¬†organically, without¬†too¬†much structure.¬†‚ÄúWe like it that way,‚ÄĚ Sabine says. ‚ÄúHowever, when you¬†start to share your vision with the¬†outside world, when you start¬†looking for funding, you need to have a strategy and a business plan¬†and be able¬†to¬†demonstrate¬†the impact¬†you want to have.‚Ä̬†¬†

With the¬†support of¬†coaches¬†of the Impact¬†Programme's partner¬†organisations,¬†Sabine and her team are being challenged to better communicate their story¬†and define a long-term strategy. ‚ÄúWhen I talk about our vision and plans, it seems obvious to me!¬†However, the coaches are asking us all the¬†right questions. They bring an outside perspective,¬†which helps us¬†to¬†make our message clearer, especially for people¬†who¬†have¬†never¬†heard of¬†the Schumacher¬†College.‚Ä̬†¬†

Another¬†challenge¬†is¬†how to¬†become¬†financially sustainable while¬†making¬†sure¬†Schumacher Sprouts¬†stays¬†affordable for everybody.¬†This depends on the partners Sabine and her team can¬†mobilize. ‚ÄúAt present, we‚Äôre not a for-profit organization. I don‚Äôt think we'll¬†be¬†recognized as a university ‚Äď there are¬†enough¬†universities in Belgium and throughout Europe. But we¬†could¬†work in¬†partnership with a university, which shares the same conviction¬†that this kind of teaching is the future,¬†so that¬†our¬†Master‚Äôs¬†degree¬†is¬†recognized.¬†After all, if you spend a year somewhere, you want¬†that¬†recognition.¬†A certificate is a good starting point, but a¬†Master‚Äôs¬†degree would be even better!‚Ä̬†¬†