Beyond Growth 2023 Conference – Why is collective action led by communities so important?

This article is part of a series that highlights why The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference aligns with several of the ten theses of ECOLISE

The Beyond Growth Conference, taking place from May 15-17, 2023, is set to bring together experts, activists, and practitioners from around the world to discuss the urgent need for transformative change in our societies.

Beyond growth is a concept that challenges the idea that economic growth should be the ultimate goal of societies. Instead, it advocates for an approach that prioritizes social and ecological well-being and sees the economy as a means to serve those goals, rather than the other way around. This approach is increasingly gaining traction, particularly in the context of the urgent need to address the planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other forms of environmental degradation.


As the latest IPCC report emphasizes, the challenge of climate change requires radical lifestyle changes that are embedded in systemic change, leading to collective social change that goes beyond the individual. Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III, states that having the right policies, infrastructure, and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential for systemic change that can also improve our health and well-being.

ECOLISE, the European coalition of community-led initiatives for sustainability and climate action, advocates that a systemic approach to policy-making that recognizes the need for both individual and systemic change is needed. Policies should create pathways for structural, systemic change, which in turn facilitates radical lifestyle change, initiating a virtuous circle towards transformative change. To put concrete collective solutions in place locally, by communities, is part of structural, systemic change, because of the nature of the planetary crisis as a “wicked problem” that can only be tackled together, collectively.

Collective action led by communities is therefore critical to achieving this systemic change. The conference recognizes that the potential for community action as an enabling context for more sustainable lifestyles is activated when people self-organize, at local levels, as part of initiatives that empower them to work towards meaningful change. As such initiatives develop and mature, they can become a potent source for deeper structural change. They activate new forms of social identity, collective learning, knowledge creation, and political engagement that create conditions for new and more powerful forms of collective action.

The Beyond Growth conference will highlight the importance of healthy networks and resilient communities as a basic prerequisite for any form of collective action, and the foundation of community resilience is the strengthening of social and socio-ecological ties. The positive impact of this on health and well-being is often one of the main motivations for communities to act together for a better life within planetary boundaries, creating a virtuous circle, by mainstreaming good practices, knowledge transfer, and advocacy.

ECOLISE calls for: 

    • The EU to acknowledge collective action and place-based autonomy in initiatives such as the EU Rural Pact and the EU Climate Pact as the basis for transformative change and localisation of the European Green Deal.
    • A focus on strengthening the political capacities of communities by supporting learning, skill development, translocal exchanges and advocacy in line with article 6 of the UNFCC which seeks to reduce the impact of climate change by enabling society to be a part of the solution.
    • Deliberative, participative democratic practices need to be included in policies and funding mechanisms at all levels, in order to strengthen the impact of advocacy by CLIs (see also thesis 9).
    • Localising the European Green Deal demands an adequate share of the EU budget dedicated to reinforcing collective community action locally, with a minimum of 8% of the overall EU budget dedicated to sustainable community-led local development following LEADER/CLLD principles, in line with the ELARD Halmstadt Declaration.
    • Existing EU methods and frameworks which connect EU and local levels with collective action need to be strengthened overall. For example, the LEADER/CLLD approaches need to prioritise ecology and culture/ social innovation (community-building, facilitation, peer-to-peer learning, capacity building etc.) in order to deliver transformative local/bioregional development plans. The LEADER/CLLD approach could be mainstreamed across all EU funding programmes, so that community-led local development and its bottom-up principles are a requirement for all member states when receiving EU funds, and can be applied in all areas (rural & urban/bioregional).

The link to the European Green Deal 

There is no blueprint or plan on how to localise the EGD, and how to strengthen collective action to do so. Some of the rare touchpoints between European policy and collective action at local levels are existing methods and frameworks such as the EU’s LEADER/Community-Led Local Development (CLLD), which channels EU funding to local levels. Its guiding principles include the need for bottom-up, decentralised, multi-sectoral and place-based collective action and the method has a large reach of 3000+ local action groups within the EU. EU initiatives such as the Rural Pact and the European Climate Pact acknowledge the need to reach out to citizens in order to achieve the goals of the European Green Deal, but they are yet to integrate the scope for collective and political citizen action and activism.

Beyond growth and towards collective action

The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference is an innovative approach to policy-making that challenges conventional thinking and we hope it will emphasize the importance of collective action led by communities. By recognizing the need for both individual and systemic change, we will pave a new way forward towards a post-growth future-fit EU that prioritizes economic development, social well-being, and planetary boundaries. Through high-level discussions and co-creative policy labs, this conference will provide an opportunity for policymakers and citizens to come together and create policy recommendations that can lead to transformative social change. The conference is free and accessible to all, with live streaming available, and will feature seven plenary sessions, 20 focus panels, and four policy labs. Reports from the conference will also be made available to the public.

This article is part of a series that highlights why the The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference aligns with several of the ten theses of ECOLISE


The Beyond Growth Conference, taking place from May 15-17, 2023, is set to bring together experts, activists, and practitioners from around the world to discuss the urgent need for transformative change in our societies.

The conference has several mutually reinforcing goals, including:

  • discussing the significance of economic growth as a policy goal
  • shifting the discourse towards future-oriented economic policymaking
  • shaping the EU’s path to a more resilient economic agenda
  • creating real policy impact with new proposals to establish a new social, economic, and environmental contract, and creating new and unusual alliances between a great diversity of stakeholders
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