Articulating and Evolving a Holistic Context with Scott and Sam’s Permaculture Design Business: (Part 1 of 2)

This interview will show you what working on a holistic context looks like and how you could do this for yourself, your family, or your permaculture project or enterprise. Scott Gallant and Sam Kenworthy from Porvenir Design in Central America have recently created a holistic context for their business. In this episode I review it with them and support them to evolve it further. Here you’ll get a better feel for applying what we learned from Allan Savory in the previous episode on Permaculture and Holistic Management. The whole Holistic Context idea comes from Allan.

If you are interested in this topic you might want to listen to my introduction to Holistic Decision Making in episode 40. You can also catch up on my prior conversation with Scott on the practical and professional realities of a more living design process in episode 41 and episode 42.

In conjunction with this episode, I have also created an online course on Holistic Decision Making starting September 4th, 2020. This course will educate and resource participants to develop their own holistic contexts and start making decisions aligned with that context.

Scott Gallant and Sam Kenworthy

Setting a Focus for the conversation: The Task Cycle Framework

After hearing a little something of Sam’s backstory, I started by introducing the Task Cycle Framework to clarify our focus for the episode. I learned about this framework from Carol Sanford and the Regenesis folk. Among other things, this framework invites you think through:

  • The task
  • The purpose of the task
  • The products that need to be produced to pursue that purpose
  • The processes that will generate those products

In this case, the task was reviewing Porvenir Design’s Holistic Context as a podcast episode. As for the task’s purpose, what came up for me (and resonated for Scott and Sam) was:

We are recording this interview to review your holistic context and potentially help you increase its depth, clarity and decision making power…

…in a way that supports Porvenir design’s vitality, viability, and capacity to evolve… that you and your business are becoming an increasing potent agent of regeneration in Costa Rica and beyond.

The main product was a tight, focused podcast episode that adds value to Porvenir design and to our listeners in terms of resourcing them to do this kind of work for themselves. Then the process we used was, after some scene setting, slowly working our way through the Porvenir context, reflecting on each bit for as long as we need.

In addition to going through the task cycle, Dan brought a personal aim to the conversation of evoking reflection and sharing experience more than providing answers.

Porvenir Design’s Holistic Context

Thanks to Scott and Sam for letting me reproduce the version of their context they have shared publicly in this blog post. A Holistic Context for an entity (such as a business) created for a specific reason comprises:

  • a statement of purpose
  • quality of life statements
  • what Savory calls forms of production and Dan calls enabling actions
  • a future resource base

Porvenir Design’s Statement of Purpose: Why was this entity created?

Porvenir Design exists to help clients achieve their goals within the context of tropical land planning and management and to provide meaningful livelihood for its employees.

Some snippets from our conversation about Porvenir Design’s Statement of Purpose

On a meaningful livelihood…”One of the things I sometimes struggle with, with the holistic context, in the (purpose) statement and everything that flows from it, is when are we making decisions to regenerate landscapes and all these things that get us super excited and that we love doing everyday. We also formed it to buy a little piece of land ourselves and have the highest quality of life that we can live, and so I always see those two things and wonder how the rest of our statements flow from there and if there is any tension. I don’t feel like there is any tension within those two statements, those two separate purposes, but they are different purposes.”

“…It often feels like an almost irresolvable tension for people. I could do this stuff to make money, and I could do this stuff about the shit I really care about and make a meaningful difference in community and the world, and they seem to be in different directions, and so I will go and earn some money and then come back and do something I care about, and then life becomes this yoyo back and forward. A thing that can literally fragment and tear you apart. And so I think key to an operation like yours and others, and you talked about them being two separate purposes, is reframing to what degree is it possible for them to be fully aligned and in the same direction. And one impulse I had as you were speaking is around nestedness and whether it’s not so much the two things are at the same level and we’re going to try to reconcile or balance them, but maybe one is nested within the other.” – Dan

“…oftentimes clients approach us in a way that they want us to be problem solvers for them. And some of the solutions are simple enough for us to come up with, but that’s from our context and what we would do in a given situation. And what we sometimes struggle with is, What do you want? And how can we help define what your context is?…I think that achieving their goals has a lot to do with client willingness to get involved.”

“Part of what you exist to do is to help them actually know what their goals are. To articulate and state their goals. So you can’t help them achieve their goals until you’ve got them. And it’s not just helping them articulate goals that they don’t already have, but it’s also helping them become unattached, or to let go of goals they do already have that aren’t a good fit for their context. So a core part of the value you offer is around supporting people to actually arrive at a context appropriate set of goals.” – Dan

“The phrase “achieve your goals” reminds me more of running a race and you accomplish the marathon or something. It’s like now it’s this finished thing. But none of landscape management is ever finished. So it’s this ongoing piece and I feel like the idea of “achieve your goal” implies some finite end, but no part of our work is like that and no part of the client’s ongoing management of whether it’s a little kitchen garden or a big agroforestry system, has that end. It’s an ongoing process, and the phrase “achieve your goals” doesn’t capture that process, that ongoing interaction, that ecological literacy training that people have to develop in order to regenerate landscapes.”

Quality of Life Statements: How do we want out life to BE?

Regarding Economic Well Being

  • We are financially secure with a cash flow that is consistent and allows us to prioritize long term planning and quality of life decisions.
  • We have comfortable places to live that allow for gardening and food practice

Regarding Relationships

  • We have relationships among our Decision Makers and with our Resource Base which are
    • Transparent
    • Mutually beneficial
    • Clear and openly communicated
    • Balanced with regard to power dynamics
    • Empathetic
    • Compassionate
    • Empowering
    • Professional
    • Safe
    • Non-toxic
    • Fun
    • Diverse

Regarding Challenge and Growth

  • We continue learning and gain confidence on how to run and grow our business.
  • We grow on a personal level as communicators and facilitators.
  • We accept work which:
    • Encourages us to keep learning.
    • Features diverse projects, ecosystems, and contexts
    • Has clear objectives and outcomes.
    • Brings clear and obvious value to our clients.
    • Align with our values.

Regarding Purpose and Contribution

  • What do we want to be?
    • We are effective in helping clients meet their goals.
    • We specialize in tropical agroforestry, permaculture design and education, and project and client facilitation.
    • We are a design firm with an excellent reputation for professionalism.
    • We work within our tropical climatic and culture expertise as a place based organization focused on Costa Rica.
  • What do we ultimately want to accomplish?
    • We create regenerative productive systems that inspire people to spend time in nature every day and actively participate in their landscape.
    • We earn enough money to achieve our individual quality of life goals.
    • We have time for professional development and personal free time.
    • We grow the business in a way that others (community, future teammates, etc) can benefit from the structures we create.
    • We contribute to the efforts of regenerative tropical agriculture and its impacts on social, financial and ecological systems.
    • We are an active and positive presence in the permaculture community in Costa Rica and beyond.

Forms of Production: What has to be produced to achieve the quality of life and statement of purpose.

  • We act with integrity, follow our business code of conduct, and foster the quality of relationships described in our quality of life statement.
  • We manage projects that result in productive, beautiful, functional landscapes which are evident in their improved soil/water/microbial/ecosystem health.
  • We manage projects which create safe and reliable livelihoods for workers and meet the financial, environmental, and social goals of the clients. 
  • We have clear expectations and deliverables for clients.
  • We actively engage the Costa Rica permaculture community, visit other projects, network with leaders, and support their work.
  • We work with people whose primary project(s) and focus are in Costa Rica.
  • We monitor our progress through a year end business review, tracking our project outcomes, and ecological surveying.
  • We train teammates to evenly share work responsibilities so that we can all meet our free time goals.
  • We balance our current work capacity, our future financial needs, and our desired time off.
  • We have clear and well documented agreements regarding ownership, finances, decision making, and entry and exit strategies.
  • We have legal working status in Costa Rica.
  • We are legal residents of Costa Rica.
  • We actively seek out workshops, reading material, and mentorship in order to improve our communication and  facilitation skills, and our understanding of power and gender imbalances.
  • We have a network of mentors and advisers.
  • We invest in professional development for ourselves and our team.
  • We work with providers and contractors who are based in Costa Rica in order to foster intimate working relationships
  • We regularly check ourselves against our capacity and skill set when taking on new projects.
  • We have clear and precise language in our public outreach about where we work, what we do, etc
  • We offer employee ownership options to future teammates.
  • We consider all our work and knowledge open source.
  • We document and share our work through blog posts, teaching, open houses, etc.
  • We offer mentorship opportunities to the Costa Rican permaculture community.
  • We actively stay in touch with former, current and prospective clients and students.

Future Resource Base: A description of the resource base as it will need to be in order that future generations can live lives described in the Quality of Life statements.

People: We have relationships steeped in the values laid out in our quality of life statements. Our clients, students and general network see us as diligent, professional, creative, empathetic, humble and constantly seeking to improve.

Land: The lands where we work are abundant in diverse sources of food. The cycles of water, minerals, soil, and microbes are thriving. Wildlife is evident. Succession is moving toward a mature ecosystem.

Community: We are surrounded by friends and neighbors who are dedicated to regenerating the planet. Our community is interested and supportive of our work. They supply us with resources, fill niches as they arise, and participate as clients, students, and friends.

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