Photo credit: Jasper Da Seymour
The future is connected to the past
Flinders and the communities of the Furneaux Group understand this. The future is threaded through the places and the communities to which we belong, and on Flinders, the stories are deeper than quiet beaches and coastlines, mountains and mist. The stories of place and people reflect deeply held values and reveal what people care about. They are the threads of DNA that connect the past and present to future generations.
The Furneaux Futures Forum (FFF) will be held next week. This is the third event where Flinders Council, the community and the local chamber of commerce hold space for a conversation about the future and what it might look like. Truth be told, it is challenging. The Island has been facing some serious tipping points in terms of its social and economic sustainability for some years. The pandemic, the housing crisis, the availability of labour, and an ageing population have created very real challenges for maintaining public services and infrastructure. The economies of scale needed to support small business hangs in the balance. The community bank agency on the Island closed down recently adding a further challenge. The Purple Swamp Hen, a hub for handmade arts and crafts since 2014, and an outlet for the wares of 50+ local makers, will also close its doors soon.
The future needs new ideas
But the people of Flinders Island are robust and resilient folk. They can also have some big ideas too. For example, way back in 2013, Flinders Council was the first local government in Australia to stop celebrating Australia Day. In its place, the Furneaux Festival celebrates its unique Island culture in a collaboration between FIAAI (Flinders Island Aboriginal Association Inc.) and Flinders Council. Flinders Island was breaking new ground 10 years ago, ground that many other Councils across Australia are yet to break.
So it's perhaps unsurprising that in 2021 Flinders Council opted to explore a regenerative approach to its development in a 2-year living lab. To our knowledge, there has yet to be another place in Australia that has adopted such a bold move.
The regenerative lab was a collaboration between the Flinders Council, and Designing Tourism, and was funded by the Tasmanian Department of State Growth. Its ambition was to explore a different kind of relationship between the community and tourism. Up until that point, decisions about tourism, how the Island was promoted, and development decisions had been 'done to the community' rather than with and for them. Within the community, social licence had been withdrawn, some lived in a state of anxiety fearful that they could not meet visitor expectations, and others simply stepped backstage avoiding visitors altogether. If dealing with the Island's tipping points was not enough, tourism seemed to be dividing the community.
The traditional approach was to ask the question, "How can we grow tourism?". It's a question that focuses narrowly on business and ignores the essential role that the broader community plays in supporting and servicing the sector. On a small island, the relationships between business and community are compressed and interwoven, so focusing the tourism narrative to benefit a few while excluding the many that contribute to the visitor experience started to generate questions about the real value of tourism to the Island.
As a result, the key question above was reframed: "How can tourism contribute to local social, environmental and economic well-being of all Islanders?"
Regenerative development and tourism
The shift towards regenerative travel that has been identified in travel markets across the globe presented a unique and perfectly aligned opportunity for the Island. Regenerative travel refers to the search for deeper and more meaningful relationships between travellers and the places they visit. Regenerative travellers want transformational experiences, which are plentiful on the Island and include experiences of learning, self-growth, and feelings of awe, connection, and respect. So it made perfect sense that regeneration be the lens through which this project was delivered. By attracting visitors who wish to give back and make a positive contribution, regenerative travel could also lead to positive re-generative benefits to the community.
Reframing tourism in this way, so that it sits within a more complex system, is well overdue. Tourism is interconnected with a range of issues including economic development, housing availability and affordability, worker shortages, social well-being, climate change, ecosystem change, and more. Promoting tourism while the system is under stress will only increase that stress and amplify community angst. Regenerative development of tourism was seen to be a positive step that could unite businesses wishing to leverage the rise in regenerative, positive impact thinking.
The Islander Way project has contributed to a broader discussion about Flinders Island's looming tipping points. The identification and/or progressing of six community-led projects illustrates that communities can identify practical and targeted actions to address local challenges based on their own lived experience and local knowledge. But regenerative development is so, so, so much more than tourism, and that is where the Furneaux Futures Forum comes in...
Why the Furneaux Futures Forum is needed
The thing about adopting a regenerative perspective is that it is impossible to look at only one driver, one aspect, or one element of the complex system that drives change. Tourism was the initial lens, the entry point, and the trigger to explore what was really going on. After all, how can the Island possibly host visitors if the Island itself is not flourishing? No one wants to visit a dying community. Visitors don't want to see decay and decline. Transformational visitor experiences are made in communities that welcome visitors, are healthy, and have a sense of flourishing. So, how can the very act of hosting visitors contribute to social, economic and environmental well-being? To answer that question requires that we step back and understand the larger context.
The aim of the Furneaux Futures Forum is to bring together new ideas and opportunities to foster creativity and innovation in the business, social, and environmental spheres for the Furneaux Islands Community. The themes that will be woven through the forum include:
Photo credit: Jasper Da Seymour
Regenerative businesses go beyond simply making their own businesses more sustainable to acknowledge the role that they have in building the social, environmental and economic health of the entire ecosystem in which they operate. Regenerative businesses are driven by a deeper sense of purpose. They contribute back more than they take. They acknowledge the dynamic ecosystem in which they operate, and that their decisions have far-reaching social, economic and environmental impacts beyond what is immediately visible. For example, pushing down labour costs to maximise profits impacts the health, well-being and willingness of workers. This only contributes to the long-term decline in the available workers and reduces business ecosystem health.
According to Carol Sanford, regenerative businesses are:
in the right relationship with their context.
they are innovative, adaptive and responsive to change.
they are empowered by collaboration.
they honour place and people.
Regenerative agriculture is an approach and a system of farming practices that aims to rehabilitate and enhance soil health. Attention is placed on aspects such as soil composition, biodiversity, soil structure, water management, fertiliser use and more. Regenerative agricultural practices seek to improve and replenish soils instead of depleting them.
As a metaphor, 'community' is the soil that supports a healthy economy. Tending to the community, and ensuring its well-being, is the foundation on which a local economy can be grown.
Regenerative communities are communities that are thriving and can replenish and regenerate. These are communities that are inclusive, connected, empowered, respectful, and creative. People belong, they are connected, and trust is high. While Flinders has a high rate of volunteering, illustrating its connectedness, it has been declining in recent years. In order to address the tipping points ahead, we need to restore and regenerate communities, hold space for emerging leaders, and reframe approaches that we know do not work.
Regenerative economies are those that support and uphold positive, supportive relationships between people, place, business, and nature. Regenerative economies support diverse business models and ecosystems, good meaningful jobs, and connected communities. In general terms, they are economies in balance, reinvesting back into the local place rather than extracting value and distributing it to offshore shareholders that don't care about the place or community.
The right people, at the right time, in the right place
The thing about regeneration is that it asks us to be present.
It asks us to be available for new ideas.
It asks us to listen and understand the challenges from the standpoint of others.
It asks us to consider that we are all interconnected and that one's choices and actions impact all others.
It asks us to consider what nature and this place need and to attune to community.
The ambition for the Furneaux Futures Forum is that it provides a place for this conversation. It will attract the right people, at the right time, in the right place... just like the way that our food comes together to create magic!
Photo credit: Sammi Gowthorp
Check out the Furneaux Futures Forum website for further information and registration.