Beyond Growth 2023 Conference – Why do CLIs need to be strengthened by increased public support networks?

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 concept of economic growth has been at the forefront of policy-making for decades, with governments and organizations striving to increase GDP and improve economic performance. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition that economic growth alone cannot address the challenges of social inequality, environmental degradation, and resource depletion. This is where the concept of “Beyond Growth” comes in.

The Beyond Growth Conference, to be held at the European Parliament from May 15-17, is a multi-stakeholder event that aims to promote sustainable prosperity policies that go beyond the traditional focus on economic growth. The conference is focused on building a post-growth future-fit EU that balances economic development, social well-being, and planetary boundaries. The aim is to challenge conventional policy-making and shift towards beyond-growth indicators that are more in line with long-term sustainable development goals. 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.

One of the key challenges facing the post-growth future is the lack of support networks for community-led initiatives (CLIs), which have the potential to bring about transformative socio-ecological innovation. These initiatives require interfaces to connect them with the wider system, making mushrooming, scaling, and mainstreaming of transformative socio-ecological innovation possible. Unfortunately, few support mechanisms are in place, and current funding programs at the EU, national, regional, and local levels do not adequately support community-led initiatives.

CLIs serve as laboratories for transformative social innovation, yet they receive little public funding and support. Even when funding is available, it often comes with bureaucratic requirements and timeframes that conflict with their basic ethos and aims, ultimately alienating them from their original goals. Additionally, CLIs that adopt a legal form to perpetuate and deepen their work experience twin pressures of resource dependency and external pressures, both of which undermine their capacity for innovation and transformative potential.

Furthermore, CLIs face internal barriers to mainstreaming and growth, especially when they struggle to recruit and engage the public beyond narrow demographic boundaries of race, education, and class. To make CLI approaches accessible to wider society, they need support in the form of capacity building and training. Additionally, there needs to be support for mainstream players and people to connect with CLIs.

ECOLISE, the European network of community-led initiatives for sustainability and climate action, argues that to address these challenges, greater public support is needed to strengthen community-led initiatives. Care work for socially diverse networks and nature is not yet remunerated by market economics, and without public funding, communities and individual change-makers experience a lack of support and financing overall, leading to the burn-out of structures and people.

ECOLISE calls for: 

  • Adequate EU support for healthy communities and social innovation, including core funding for diverse and resilient networks and community building instead of a sole focus on project funding. This means strengthened public support (funding, fiscal incentives, capacity building, networking etc.) for grassroots initiatives and planetary health care work overall. 
  • Public support needs to enable CLIs to earn a livelihood sustainably and prioritise this in local/bioregional eco-social-economic development plans, following a vision of diverse economies within planetary boundaries (see thesis 3). 
  • Support for transformative education in order to guarantee upskilling and reskilling of people of all age groups in an inclusive and just manner (see thesis 5 and 6). 
  • Adequate funding for communities within sub-local (village), local, municipal and bioregional structures, within the framework of a dedicated funding programme, to ensure local implementation of the European Green Deal. Mainstreaming social innovation and sustainability within all funding programmes is needed at the same time. National contributions towards the European Green Deal need to include obligatory funding for localisation, i.e. for local and village levels including citizens and CLIs.
  • Principles of bottom-up and multi-sectoral methods such as LEADER/Community-led local development (CLLD) to be strengthened and improved in their holistic focus on sustainability and used as a blueprint for all EU funding at the heart of bringing the EGD to local levels. Funding programmes need to integrate community-led initiatives and include capacity building both for local authorities (civil service, politicians) as well as for communities on deliberative politics and the European Green Deal. 
  • Greater support for building and supporting interfaces such as ECOLISE which can intermediate between CLIs and regime levels of policy, in order to mainstream transformative social innovation and to strengthen the advocacy of CLIs in general, enabling communities to speak with a stronger, more united voice. Connections between change-makers on policy levels (civil servants & politicians) and CLIs need to be supported.
  • Transformative socio-ecological innovation (see thesis 6) to be a much more prominent focus across all funding, including research and innovation programmes such as Horizon Europe, and the overall European innovation agenda, for example, represented by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology and its Knowledge Communities (KICs).
  • exploring and introducing new measures of success in funding programmes overall (funding indicators and targets) to be adapted accordingly, integrating strengthened socio-ecological ties (see theses 4,5,6), transformative social innovation (thesis 6) including capacity building, learning and education as well as transformative economic systems (thesis 3) which valorise and incentivise care for humans and the planet. 
  • “Perverse subsidies”, which damage people and the planet, urgently need to be phased out. All public funding needs to be in line with a systemic view of sustainability, international agreements and the EGD, including strict implementation of the current EU principles of “do no harm” and the “polluter pays”, aiming for positive socio-ecological impacts.  
  • Cultural changes to be supported by the public sector, for example with a European festival of socio-ecological transformative innovation within the framework of the New European Bauhaus initiative. Inner transition is a good example of cultural change which in turn triggers outward action. Public sector support needs to include this internal aspect of transformative change as a prerequisite for collective action. Adapting to the planetary crisis and keeping a healthy mental balance requires public investment into social and human capital as well as into stronger connections with nature/natural capital. 

The link to the European Green Deal 

Funding for social innovation and community-led initiatives is scarce, and there is a general lack of core funding for networking and community-building, alongside a lack of metrics for measuring the success of community-building and healthy networks. 

Beyond Growth and towards increased public support networks

The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference seeks to challenge conventional policy-making and shift towards a post-growth future-fit EU. We invite you to join us to discuss and propose new policy contracts that support community-led initiatives and address the lack of public funding and other support currently available to them.

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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