[permaculture] NAPC: Scarcity?

Thomas Allen thallen at nwlink.com
Tue Aug 5 02:27:21 EDT 2014

The issue Toby addresses is one we at North West Permaculture Convergence have struggled with every year and there isn’t a consensus within the permaculture community in our area on the base philosophy: Do we put on an event with volunteer labor at a very low price so young entrants into permaculture can attend or do we put on the best event possible. Either has considerable risks that the board members are ultimately responsible for.

I think that, when the dust settles and we reflect on the events round a campfire, most agree that by putting on a convergence we are engaging in a community service that pays forward to those that come after us. Some of us can afford to give a lot and some not so much. We give what we can. We ask in return that young people with lots of energy and not much money contribute as work-traders. 

All of us benefit from the presentations we attend, the projects we engage in, the connections we make and the joy of a get together. If that’s not your thing then you don’t have to come.

Every year NWPCC takes considerable financial risk. It’s not unlike promoting a rock concert. Some entity has to risk money to get the show rolling and the more we promise in terms of honoraria, stipends, entertainment, etc.  the more money is at risk. There are no guarantees. NWPCC have managed to acquire a nest egg large enough to make a deposit on a venue and do promotion without someone personally putting up the money but it took us five years to do it.

I believe we have struck a compromise most years but it isn’t easy and the lack of consensus within NWPCC organizing committees over the years has created some management problems. Many of the organizers don’t understand that someone has skin in the game even if it isn’t them. Other’s feel that they should be paid a percentage of the gross which is tantamount to socializing the costs and privatizing the benefits as the US did with too-big-to-fail banks. They are operating with money that was contributed by the community at large through surplus from ticket sales, etc. and reaping personal gain from it.

It’s a tough balancing act. Some presenters demand to be paid well and have been negotiated down to a fair price relative to what others receive. Some people donate their presentations and money besides. Some people have not participated because we couldn’t reach an equitable price. Without naming names (you know who you are), I have to give a shout out to all the presenter coordinators who have done that very tough job. There are some jobs that just aren’t fair to ask people to do on the cheap: cooks for example, who are on duty from way early to late. There are management jobs that become nearly full time for months before hand and if those people need a day job also, it’s very hard on them. The best we can do is a compromise and as with so many compromises someone isn’t happy.

Thomas Allen
Treasurer, NWPCC
thallen at nwlink.com
Seattle, WA

On Aug 3, 2014, at 12:09 PM, Toby Hemenway <toby at patternliteracy.com> wrote:

> On Aug 1, 2014, at 12:55 PM, Michael Pilarski via permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org> wrote:
>> Can you imagine how much it would cost
>> if we had to pay each one of them what they currently get paid for giving a
>> workshop or keynote speech!?  . . .  We don’t want to set up a
>> hierarchy. Come because you are excited about participating ... not because you
>> are getting paid. 
> Since you mention it publicly, I gather that a number of presenters have asked if they can be compensated for their work. (Warning: rant ahead, and Skeeter, this isn't personal--since I've gotten, like, 8 copies of this notice, it's repeatedly hit one of my hot buttons.)
> What if a corporation or plantation boss had said, “Can you imagine how much our products would cost if we paid our workers fairly?” Permies don’t get a pass on that just because we’re doing good work; corporations think they are too. It’s also a guilt-tripping argument, which is kind of embarrassing. 
> Here's the answer to the question: Given the expected 500 attendees, another $50 would generate $25,000. More than enough to pay everyone well, including the hard-working organizers. Since the fee structure of NAPC already has a set of $50 tiers, one more would have fit in fine. 
> People aren't asking to be paid just to get money. It's hard work to put a talk together (takes me 40-80 hours for a 90-minute talk), and if our work yields no return, we've designed a bad system that burns us out. Remember "Get a yield?" Not to do so is unsustainable. We should be modeling abundance, not scarcity. "Here, come be a permaculturist, stay broke, live in scarcity, and get nothing for your hard work but good feelings!"
> The price of NAPC is ludicrously low. $150 for 3 days of presentations, workshops, awesome conversation, meals, and camping? That’s just nuts! For $50 more, NAPC could have compensated everyone well for their work and had broader appeal. And at a regular conference rate, we could have funded the projects we'll conceive there. I know a lot of people who aren’t attending because it’s just the usual folks, camping in a field, like every convergence. 
> It feels like the guiding principle for NAPC is “let’s spend as little as possible so we can charge as little as possible.” That’s a brutally limiting design ethic. Imagine how much richer the event would be if the ethic was, “How do we make this as awesome as we can, pay everyone fairly for their work, and still find ways for everyone to afford it?”
> One of many ways is how Permaculture Voices did it: A block of very expensive, full-price tickets (which sold well because not every permaculturist is poor!), blocks at half and one-quarter price, and a large block of free tickets. They had 650 very diverse attendees, and a presenters budget of, I estimate, over $100,000 to pay 70 speakers very well. There are many ways to design it to be affordable for all, beyond “do it as cheap as we can.” 
> When 500 people come together, they can generate a surplus that will provide enough for everyone. How did NAPC miss that resource? (I assume, since NAPC isn't paying others for working, that NAPC staff, too, are all doing this for free). 
> It’s not that there is a “hierarchy,” as the letter puts it. There is true diversity in skills, experience, and income. To deny that reality, to not take advantage of it, is poor design. 
> Please, let’s get over the idea that everyone in permaculture is poor, that there is no money out there, that this is a world of scarcity. What kind of a vision to hold is that? This is a huge limitation for permaculture that we have to break out of!
> Maybe we need a session at NAPC on how to break the scarcity mentality of permaculture.
> Toby
> http://patternliteracy.com
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