Intentional Eco-Communities: An Interview with Filippo Bozotti

by Hillete Warner

Global Innovators is a nine-part intercultural series that celebrates the remarkable work of social innovators from outside the English-speaking world. Twice a month, we will be profiling inspiring grassroots leaders from across three broad cultural clusters: change enthusiasts from Italy, France and the Spanish-speaking world. The series, inspired by the multilingual editions of the Enabling City toolkit, will focus on a rich variety of themes that explore 'enabling' frameworks for participatory social change.

This week's first interviewee is Rome's Filippo Bozotti of Tribewanted.

Enabling City: Filippo, your background is truly international. Tell us a little about yourself.
Filippo Bozotti: I am Italian-born but have lived all over the world: I grew up in France and Switzerland, went to school in Boston and lived in New York for seven years, where I was a documentary filmmaker. In 2010, I moved to Sierra Leone to start Tribewanted's second sustainable community in John Obey Beach and have just recently moved back to Italy to start our third Tribewanted community in Monestevole, Umbria.

EC: Can you tell us more about Tribewanted and how it works?
FB: Tribewanted is an online community of likeminded people who adopt, develop and create sustainable communities “offline”. Our goal is to establish long-term financial benefits to the communities we work with through the development of a cooperatively owned eco-tourism facility. For the last six years, on an island in Fiji, a beach in Sierra Leone, and now in the Umbrian hills of Italy, we have been working in partnership with villages (and 1500+ visiting tribe-members!) to develop eco-tourism destinations from the ground-up. Along the way, we’ve generated $1.5m in revenues, re-invested into the local villages and created over 50 jobs. Now we're working on a campaign to crowdfund a network of sustainable communities around the world and to expand our co-op model with the input of our member-supporters.

EC: How did you become involved in the world of sustainable design and social innovation?
FB: A few years ago, I created a documentary called Bling for MTV. The story explored the links between blood diamonds in Sierra Leone and hip hop music in the United States. Through that project I was able to bring several famous rappers to Sierra Leone and show them where their diamonds were coming from. Bling was quite successful, so we started a non-profit in Sierra Leone with a focus on micro-finance. The more time we spent there, the more we saw the opportunity for eco-tourism as a means to tell a positive story about the country. Most people know Sierra Leone for its blood diamonds and civil war, but the country has been at peace for years now and has been untouched as far as eco-tourism is concerned. The landscape consists of lush forests and gorgeous beaches, so Ben Keene, Tribewanted's co-founder, and I partnered up to develop the second Tribewanted community there. Fast-forward to today, and we're now in the process of opening our third community in Monestevole, Italy!

John Obey Beach

EC: You are originally from Italy, a country with a rich history and unique challenges. How is the social innovation community in Rome, your city? What are some of the challenges that people face there?
FB: Based on my experiences with Tribewanted, which so far have focused on building eco-tourism communities in developing countries, Rome and Italy present very different challenges. If, in my previous experience, some of the biggest issues revolved around the social need for education and healthcare, here one of the biggest needs is protecting local and artisanal traditions and finding a way to marry the old – our heritage – with the new. I interpret this as mainly the need to promote sustainable farming practices, permaculture, green architecture and green energy. I find that in Italy there is an obsession with concrete, and that is something we have to change. We need to scale our best practices nation-wide and get serious about reducing our carbon footprint.

In Monestevole, we were fortunate because the village already has a strong community. Everyone works together, shares amazing food, makes wine and oil, the hens are all free-range and we don't use pesticides. We have a lot to learn from those who have been living this way for generations. What Tribewanted was happy to contribute was an investment in turning all of this into an even more sustainable community – with renewable energy, innovative water recycling and permaculture.

 

EC: What are some of your favourite tools for bringing people together and creating change?

FB: I like urban gardens for their immediacy. They are a great way to bring people together; you get your hands dirty, take a break from personal electronics, and the initial investment they require is not as onerous as, say, solar panels or wind turbines. I think renewable energy and sustainable transportation are also quite useful in providing people with a visual – a tangible sign of our transition to a lower carbon footprint. Being involved in urban agriculture or sustainable architecture is an empowering way of getting people to participate. Same thing with the sharing economy. Bike-sharing, car-sharing... these are not one-time solutions, they are the combination of hundreds of similar steps taken in support of the same path. The reason a community forms around them, I think, is the way they change us and the opportunity they give us to affect change in our everyday lives. It's the combination of personal empowerment and the joy of finding a community that has us coming back for more. And what I think we've learned along the way is that we don't need to wait for catastrophe to bring us closer. Community can be just as powerful in our day-to-day.

EC: What are the values that inspire and guide your work?
FB: Sustainability is a big one for me. In some ways, though, it's a selfish way to be involved. I'm working to realize the life that I want to live, and the Tribewanted community model is how I want to live. We’re working hard to build sustainable communities in the world and setting high standards in the hope that we'll succeed, but even if we have to settle halfway the truth is that I don’t want a nine-to-five job, I don’t want to live in a city anymore. I’ve done that, it was a great experience, but I’ve moved on. Now I'm interested in getting as close as possible to the life I want to live – and Tribewanted is a great way for me to test my dreams and put them into action. Of course I still struggle with the tensions: we're an online community of thousands of people so even here in the rolling hills of Umbria I spend way too much time staring at my laptop instead of being in the fields. But if I keep at it, if we all do, then it's not really “work.” And we'll have hopefully achieved something meaningful along the way.

Thank you, Filippo!

Read more about Filippo and Tribewanted's story here. And stay tuned for the next articles in the series.

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