PINA’s Leadership Summit Report

PINA’s first North American Leadership Summit (NALS), concluding August 23rd, was a roaring success. It brought participants up to date on major projects, added new members to the organization, and connected activists from across the continent. Attendees engaged in briefings, workshops, and interactive sessions on topics such as broadscale water harvesting, regenerative agriculture, mutual aid, deep community adaptation, PINA’s Million Tree Challenge, and how to develop permaculture careers.

NALS was the culmination of months of research and discussion into activist strategies for the coming decade. It was led by the best talent we could recruit; it was also the kickoff for a campaign of action. We know that climate change threatens everything we hold dear. The Covid pandemic has laid bare the interconnectedness of all humanity and the urgent need for system change. It has also created some of the conditions to enable that change.

Permaculture design has tools both to address short-term threats and to mitigate long-term environmental and economic damage. Moreover, we know what it will take to achieve real climate stability, environmental justice, and prosperity that doesn’t cost the Earth. However, our voices are seldom at the table when decisions are being made. The Summit is the first step in our response to this dilemma. It laid the basis for a continent-wide design charrette—a Plan North America, if you will—to repair landscapes, heal communities, reform agriculture, and cool the climate. When cities, counties, state agencies, and yes, the new federal administration come looking for answers to make a Green New Deal work, we will be ready.

A number of summit attendees felt that fruitful connections were made with others in breakout and meet-away sessions. In some cases, this has already blossomed into working relationships.

One outcome of these rich discussions is a working group cooperating on the development of  databases. They have already met several times and are very much in action. PINA committees and NALS working groups have benefited from a boost in interest stemming directly from the Summit. Some who participated were pleased to see social and other invisible structures included in the collective conversation. Feedback indicated that many were excited about the group design process and creative “big thinking” that NALS launched, and the “whole systems” scope of what was addressed. Attendees were happy to see PINA promoting our continental scale Million Tree Challenge, and several sought to get involved. One participant said, “it was the first continental gathering that shaped where we are headed as permaculture activists”. 

Each of PINA’s working groups presented data about what they had accomplished as a group, with an emphasis on bringing people up to speed on key accomplishments in the area, worldwide.

The Water Harvesting and Climate Cooling group presented three major watershed restoration projects in Europe, Africa, and India that could serve as models for North America, as well as smaller-scale projects in the dryland West of this continent. These projects each show many yields; a lesser known but vitally important benefit is that they all draw down substantial CO2 from the atmosphere. This working group will continue to explore how such projects could be done here. 

The Mutual Aid, Regional Hubs, and Economics of Resilience group presented little known examples of strong existing mutual aid networks throughout the US, and how we could incorporate the most successful of their ideas into our movement. These sessions also discussed expanding PINA hubs to incorporate resilience and mutual aid networks.

The Regenerative Agriculture group explored key challenges along with projects that have successfully addressed them. The focus turned to questions such as “how can we scale up what we’re doing?” and “Where are the new farmers coming from, and how do we get them access to land?”

The Million Tree group introduced the newest PINA initiative—to facilitate the planting of one million trees via our networks in North America. While a million trees across 8 million square miles is barely a gesture, we are laser-focused on using this challenge to generate the knowledge and action frameworks that will enable us to scale up tree planting efforts in all regions, learning what community challenges, growing and stocking requirements, ecological limits, and land access issues must be overcome, and identifying both best practices and successful models and patterns for a massive reclamation effort to follow.

The Mainstream Action, Funding, and Outreach to Institutions working group explored the pathways that connect small, innovative projects with mainstream communities, local governments, businesses, and other accepted sources of authority. Being able to grow our ideas from the margin to the mainstream is essential for leveraging our solutions to address the many problems facing society. The group’s presentations began to sketch out a pattern language to help designers grow virtuous projects into social powerhouses.

The Trauma Response and Deep Adaptation group dove into the roots of well being and how this can be enhanced in communities everywhere. We recognize that supporting mental and emotional health amidst the ongoing traumas of climate change and economic dislocation is essential to achieving successful mitigation or adaptation. On the last two days, several of these topics were brought together through breakout discussions with the questions geared to launching a continent-wide design process. A number of people mentioned how welcome it was to be doing design work from a whole systems perspective with other veteran designers in the room. 

Several attendees urged PINA to create new working groups, covering Education, Media and Marketing Development, and Allied Movement Outreach and Alignment. To join a new or existing working group, contact Elizabeth Lynch at:

Many of the attendees came to a common realization that when experienced designers get together to tackle the gnarly problems currently facing our culture and our planet, we can generate a lot of power. The focus on invisible structures was widely praised. We have the potential to design invisible structures that are as robust, fertile, and abundant as our visible designs. 

Examples of new mutual aid networks emerging in North Carolina inspired many of us with the confidence that collective action has much greater power than separated individual efforts.  

One attendee noted, “Any group is more powerful when it is well organized toward a positive goal. But when you get whole systems designers organized, now we’re operating at an exponential level!” 

Attendees got a taste of that, and that work will continue through the working groups and into future summits. 

PINA is planning at least two further summits in 2021 that will be focused on specific working group themes. The first of these, January 23-24, will develop further our ideas on Mutual Aid and Resilience Hubs. PINA members will receive special notices and offers about this and other summits to come. 

Recordings of the presentations and workshops have now been edited and posted so they are available to paid registrants of the summit (at no additional charge), and to others for purchase. Visit the North American Leadership Summit to access the replays.