About Synergia Institute

Synergia Co-operative Institute is an international network of senior, lifelong practitioners and community educators committed to sustainability through progressive system change. Our transition work is unique insofar as it focuses on institutional and systems-level change. The organization was incorporated as a non-profit co-op in 2016 and collaborates closely with organizations and activists around the globe.

Synergia Co-Founders

John Restakis

John has been an activist and educator with a lifelong commitment to social change. His professional background includes community organizing, adult and popular education, and co-op development. He is former Executive Director of Community Evolution Foundation and former ED of the BC Co-operative Association in Vancouver. 

John consults on international co-op and community economic development projects, researches and teaches on co-operative economies and the social economy, and has lectured widely on globalization, regional development, and alternative economics. He is currently an instructor for the course, Alternative Economies for Social Transformation at the University of Victoria. John has authored numerous books on community development and social change, including Humanizing the State – Co-operatives in the Age of Capital and Civilizing the State – Reclaiming Politics for the Common Good.

Michael Lewis

Since the age of 25, Michael has been a leader in community economic development (CED), development finance, and the social solidarity economy through various organizations he founded or helped to create. Michael has led hundreds of projects over the last 40 years involving entrepreneurial development, organizing, technical assistance, training in marginalized communities, organizing solidarity networks, and designing tools and curriculum to strengthen community resilience.  

Michael has authored 13 books, mostly focused on practice, including “The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady State Economy”, which he co-authored with Pat Conaty. Drawing on this diverse experience and the work of countless people around the globe, he is thrilled to be part of the Synergia team that has delivered both online and in-person educational and training programs, including the 2022 MOOC.

Mike Gismondi

Mike Gismondi is an adult educator and professor emeritus of Sociology and Global Studies with Athabasca University. An online and distance education specialist, he lives in the Town of Athabasca, Alberta, Canada, alongside the Athabasca River where Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 meet. He respectfully acknowledges that he works and lives on the traditional lands of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada (First Nations, Inuit, Métis). 

Mike is an experienced community developer in northern Alberta and former three term municipal councillor.  He has worked extensively with practitioners over his career and is a co-founder of the Synergia Cooperative Institute and co-developer of Synergia’s 2022 MOOC. Mike’s research interests include critical development studies, social and solidarity economy, and sustainability transitions. He co-edited Scaling Up: The Convergence of Social Economy and Sustainability (free and open source), and co-authored with Debra Davidson, Challenging Legitimacy at the Precipice of Energy Calamity (2011), which explores the socio-political and climate impacts of Alberta’s oilsands industry. Visit ResearchGate to learn more.  

Pat Conaty

Pat is a worker co-op member of the Consultancy Co-op in Wales and for many years a research Associate of Co-operatives UK. He has been a leader in the field of community legal services, debt advice, welfare rights and credit union development. His work at the Birmingham Settlement and New Economics Foundation in the 1990s led to the establishment of the Community Development Finance movement, including pioneering projects he co-founded in Birmingham and rural regions of England and Wales. 

At Community Finance Solutions Pat co-led development work to establish the Community Land Trust (CLT) national demonstration project and the founding of the National CLT Network in 2010. He is co-author of The Resilience Imperative – Co-operative Transitions to a Steady-state Economy and Commons Sense – Co-operative Place Making (2016). His recent work with Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative College has promoted collaboration between the co-op and trade union movements to develop joint solutions for those in precarious work. Pat is a co-founder of Union Co-ops UK.

The MOOC Team

Dr. Lorelei Hanson, Athabsaca University

Lorelei Hanson (she/her) is associate professor of Environmental Studies at Athabasca University. She works and lives on Treaty 6 territory (Edmonton, Alberta), and has extensive experience undertaking interdisciplinary community-university environmental research, much of it focused on critical sustainability and just sustainability transitions. Her publications include Public Deliberation on Climate Change: Lessons from Alberta Climate Dialogue (2018). She is a Managing Partner with STARCAP, the principal investigator for the research associated with it, and in collaboration with Dr. Leigh Brownhill oversees the evaluation/monitoring activities for the project.

Dr. Leigh Brownhill, Evaluation & Research, STARCAP Project

Leigh is a part-time faculty member at Athabasca University, tutoring courses in Sociology, Communications, and Environmental Studies. Her community-engaged research is focused on transformational social change, with special attention to anti-colonial movements in East Africa and food and energy sovereignty movements globally. She is Associate Editor of the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism, author of Land Food Freedom: Struggles for the Gendered Commons in Kenya, 1870-2010 (2009) and co-editor of the 2016 collection Food Security, Gender and Resilience: Improving Smallholder and Subsistence Farming. In collaboration with Dr. Lorelei Hanson, she co-ordinates the development and implementation of monitoring & evaluation and contributes to the research activities associated with the STARCAP project. 

Aileen Ling, Makeshift Commons, Design and Technical Support

Aileen Ling (she/her) is an interdisciplinary designer with a Bachelor of Architectural Studies and an MA in Design for Cultural Commons. She is interested in exploring how “design” and its relevant disciplines can support transition in diverse contexts, from grassroots sustainability initiatives and entrepreneurship/co-operative development, to tactical urbanism and community design builds. She is a co-founder of Makeshift Commons and currently training to become a co-operative developer with CoopZone.

Nam Hoang, Makeshift Commons, Design and Technical Support

Nam Hoang (he/him) is a designer, strategist, and researcher with a background in foresight and systems thinking, human-centred design, architecture, and motion design. He is the founder of Makeshift Collective, a shared studio space for designers, artists, and fabricators. In both his professional and community work, Nam uses design to create more equitable futures rooted in civic empowerment. He is a co-founder of Makeshift Commons and is currently completing his MDes in Strategic Foresight and Innovation.

Kelleigh Wright, Synergia Advisor

Julie MacArthur, Royal Roads University, Module Developer

Emily Birr, Website Design & Management

Dan Wilton, AU Technical Support

Key collaborators include

Athabasca University, Canada

CCEDNET (Canadian CED Network), Canada

New Dawn Enterprise, Canada

BC Co-operative Association, Canada

Alberta Co-op and Community Association, Canada,

SETSI (Social Economy Through Social Inclusion), Canada

St. Mary’s University, Canada

The Democracy Collaborative, USA

ICAP (Central American Institute for Public Administration), Costa Rica

ASEC (Asian Social Economy Coalition), Philippines

SEA (Social Economy Association), UK

Stir to Action, UK