Wednesday, 24 June 2015

For Fresh Ideas - Breathe Fresh Air! On Moving to Lakeland

by Leander Bindewald, Doctoral Researcher, IFLAS

Finally summer returns to the Lake District, and so do I, this time to stay – well, at least me.

At the end of last year the exciting news came through that I won a University postgrad scholarship which now allows me to take my PhD research supervised by IFLAS founder Jem Bendell from a part-time aspiration to full-time execution – and finally base myself at the Institute right in the heart of the Lake District.

My topic is close to the heart of IFLAS core inquiry and teaching, examining the discourse around money and sustainability in the light of the bottom-up processes of community currencies. This is the field I have been working in for over 5 years now and finding a powerful partner in Prof Bendell and IFLAS has already yielded a number of unique outputs.

In 2012 I had assumed a research position at the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in London, an independent “think and do” tank that had promoted and researched complementary currencies since it was founded nearly 30 years ago. There, I was project managing the EU co-financed “Community Currencies in Action” (CCIA) programme, the biggest ever collaboration effort on the topic with partners and pilot currencies in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. It was as an external partner to CCIA that collaboration with IFLAS began, and when I came to deliver a workshop session on sustainable exchange practices in late 2012 the idea of pursuing a PhD with Professor Bendell was born. Admittedly, the beauty of the Lake District and the positive atmosphere at the Institute had no small influence on my decision to go back to school and forge ever closer links with IFLAS in the years since.

In the process I discovered that the Lake District has a tradition of creative and critical thinking, being the past abode of intellectual and cultural icons from John Ruskin to William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter to Harriet Martineau. The landscape is inspiring, and as Professor Bendell says “fresh thinking feeds off fresh air, and free thinking from a freer spirit.” Getting into the mountains has something to do with that, as I discovered when one of our supervisions involved discussions while hiking up a Fell (the local name for mountain).

My work with the Institute hit the news last year when I paid for the first instalment of my PhD fees with Bitcoin while speaking with Prof Bendell on a panel in Paris. This was the most high profile moment of a period of outreach activities on the subject of my PhD. Wearing the double hat of NEF and IFLAS if have already spoken about money and sustainability at the UN conferences on Social and Solidarity Economy in 2013 and again in May 2015. This time also reporting to their Interagency Taskforce on the findings of a UN roundtable on Social and Solidarity Finance and delivering an amendment on complementary currencies to the forthcoming accord on Financing for Development that Professor Bendell co-drafted. I also represented IFLAS at the annual SIBOS conference of the payment systems industry in Boston in 2014, challenging the financial technology professionals to seek positive social impacts.

By joining IFLAS full-time I will not retreat into a library but remain active with teaching and outreach activities connected to my PhD. For instance, I will continue to curate research networks including the website and ccResearch forum. And just after my move to Lakeland I will co-teach the second iteration of the “Sustainable Leadership” module and co-host the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival. Then in August I will co-deliver our free online course (MOOC) on“Money and Society.”

In November I will give an IFLAS keynote at the national Transition conference in Denmark. In April 2016 I will co-teach the Certificate of Achievement inSustainable Exchange, the first university certified course on community currencies (that we are aware of).

Professor Bendell explains that I will be joining 3 other PhD students who are co-supervised by the IFLAS team. He says “We welcome more applications from engaged scholars, either in Leander's field of complementary currencies, or in the area of leadership development.”
So, if you are interested in joining our growing research community, either based in the Lake District or working remotely, do get in touch, via

The Leading Wellbeing Research Festival: Why should I attend?

By Janine John

Final preparations are underway for the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival in July, which, this year, is being jointly organised by Brathay Trust and The University of Cumbria's Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS).

On agreeing to blog about the festival (I don't work with either organisation, but am looking forward to attending), I wanted to find out a bit more about how it all came about, and so arranged to chat with various people within the organisations, including Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership and Director of IFLAS, and Dr Lucy Maynard, one of the event's organisers at Brathay Trust; for those less aware of Brathay's work, this includes research on wellbeing and resilience in the workplace for aspiring leaders.

How did the festival come about?

In the last two years, Brathay Trust, along with various departments within the University of Cumbria, have held joint one-day conferences on wellbeing. Both organisations have considerable expertise in this wide-ranging subject, and this year it was decided to take things to a new level with a three-day event attended by world-class leaders and some of the leading minds within wellbeing and sustainability.

Jem tells me that it's now time for IFLAS to announce to the world what it is doing on leadership, which is something not being repeated anywhere else, and the conference will form part of this. This year's festival is very much a one-off opportunity; it’s unlikely that the format will be repeated in future years.

What's the festival about? Why is it different?

The focus of the festival is on wellbeing, along with the interconnected themes of leadership and sustainability. But it won't be your usual conference, as the emphasis is very much on experiential learning within an informal and inspiring environment - and what better place to achieve this than the beautiful Lake District?

Jem describes how he became really bored with academic conferences, and that somewhere along the line we forgot that discovering new ideas is amazing and should be fun. These are worrying times, which require a very different type of leadership, so these new ideas can't be explored in a boring way.

Lucy echoes these thoughts by telling me that Brathay's key methodology is experiential learning through personal experience. The festival will provide the time, space and new experiences to give attendees the permission to do things differently, to really reflect and to tap into a deeper learning and understanding. The festival's activities are designed so that people can explore and work together to unpack the critical subjects being discussed, with many of the activities taking place within the natural environment.

Lucy explains that wellbeing is often discussed at the level of the individual, whereas here we will be talking about collective wellbeing, and the leadership required for it. Jem too, tells me that sustainability is about collective wellbeing, and that ultimately, “we can only be well if we're all well together”. The festival will be an opportunity to learn about the latest ideas on creative change within organisations and communities, for local and greater good.

Who will benefit?

There are particular practitioners who will really benefit from attending the conference, including management consultants, those responsible for procuring the services of leadership trainers, and wellbeing professionals. Jem says that, given the growing responsibility of larger employers to support the wellbeing of their staff, it's critical we share the very latest ideas on wellbeing. The festival will also provide an opportunity to discover the newest approaches to leadership being used across the world.

As an attendee, it is expected you will gain new insight into how your future work can make a significant difference to what and who you care about most. It's all about doing things differently. Those who join the IFLAS MBA courses frequently comment that the course has completely changed their life, and this is the type of experience it is hoped the festival will create. And as Jem points out, when else will you be able to reflect on critical concepts with a CEO in a canoe, inspiring new ways of leading well, in such an incredible setting?

Tempted to book?

With the collective expertise of both IFLAS and Brathay Trust, and the many fantastic thought-leaders taking part in the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival, I'm really looking forward to the experience. If you think you or other members of your organisation would also benefit from attending the festival, there's still time to book - visit the 'tickets' section of the event's website at for more information.

On a practical note, if childcare is a concern for you, there are free indoor and outdoor activities being provided throughout the conference, along with professional babysitting.

I look forward to seeing you there!