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 Economy – 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.

Julie MacArthur photo

Dr. Julie MacArthur, Royal Roads University, Module Developer

Dr. Julie MacArthur is an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Reimagining Capitalism at Royal Roads University. She is the author of Empowering Electricity: Co-operatives, Sustainability and Power Sector Reform in Canada (UBC Press, 2016), as well more than 30 articles and book chapters on energy democracy, participatory environmental governance, and comparative energy policy. Her recent research projects on the contribution of community energy initiatives to climate change mitigation and the role of women in energy transitions were funded by the RSNZ Marsden Fund and SSHRC. She is the Chair of the WISER (Women and Inclusivity in Sustainable Energy Research) Network. Julie helped us with Module 6 revisions before taking maternity leave during the 2022 MOOC.

Kelleigh Wright, Food Module Facilitator and MOOC Advisor

Kelleigh is an uninvited guest and 3rd generation settler who resides on the traditional Ojibwe territory of the Mattagami First Nation peoples in northern Ontario. As the president and co-founder of Boreal Food Systems Advisory Inc. she is committed to creating bioregional food systems for a world in transition. Keilleigh will be joining us for Module 3 on Food. In Module 2 she also discusses how she uses MLP in her work. As well, she has contributed many supplemental readings across the MOOC.

Hazel Corcoran, Precarious Livelihoods Module Facilitator

Hazel is Executive Director of the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation (Links to an external site.) (CWCF), and has been involved in virtually all aspects of worker co-operative support and development including capitalization, technical assistance, research and writing.  Hazel trained as a lawyer at Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia), and is fluent in English and French with a working knowledge of Spanish. 

CWCF runs a worker co-op development fund, the Tenacity Works Investment Fundand program for investments in co-ops in various sectors primarily with Registered Retirement Savings Plans or RRSP’s, called Common Good Capital.  She has served various co-op sectors beyond worker co-operatives, including as Director of le Conseil canadien de la coopération (1994-2005)and coordinator of the CoopZone Co-op Developers’ Network (2009 until January, 2018). She co-founded the Western Canada Labour-Worker Co-operative Council (temporarily inactive), a network of labour and worker co-op activists dedicated to improving conditions for workers, and is an occasional collaborator with the primarily US Union-Co-op Council.  She is also a co-founder of the Big Idea Rainbow Foundation, whose goal is to spread the co-operative values, principles and potential through artwork, stories, songs and popular culture generally.  Hazel served as a founding Director of Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada from 2013-2016. She has been on the Board of Co-operators since 2016.  She has served on other boards including First Calgary Credit Union (now Connect First), Calgary Co-op,and Prairie Sky Cohousing.  She is a Steering Committee member of CICOPA-Américas, and of CICOPA-North America.”

Siôn Whellens, Precarious Livelihoods Module Facilitator

Siôn Whellens is worker cooperative organiser and adviser based in London UK, and a member of Calverts, the printing trades and design co-op. He is active in CECOP and CICOPA, the European and world federations of co-ops in industry and services. This has helped him develop an understanding of the role of worker cooperation – and cooperative production broadly – in the global effort to combat social domination and create an equitable economy. 

Derya Tarhan Energy Democracy Module Facilitator

Derya Tarhan is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University Toronto. His work focuses on the theory, practice, and intersections of social and solidarity economy (SSE), community development, and socio-environmental change. In his research, Tarhan inquires into the impact, limitations, and potential of SSE organizations, specifically co-operatives, in enacting socio-environmental change, with a keen eye on energy democracy and energy justice. He also has been involved in the forming of a renewable energy co-operative in Ontario and serves as a board member of the Canadian Association for Studies in Co-operation. Tarhan’s further interests include economic democracy, critical theory, science and technology studies, and social learning. 

Emily Birr, Website Design & Management

Emily is responsible for the beautiful Synergia Institute website and maintaining it with resources from the institute.

Dan Wilton, AU Technical Support

Dan is an instructional designer and analytics specialist for MOOCs and other online initiatives at Athabasca University, and has over twenty years’ experience as an online instructor. He is a co-author of several articles on inquiry-based MOOCs, as well as the open-access Guide to Blended Learning. Dan is currently completing his doctoral studies into educational research collaboration at Athabasca.

Don McNair, Editor

Don McNair has 30 years experience in the editing, formatting, and publishing of materials about community economic development (CED), social enterprise, and co-operatives, for practitioners and the general public. Since turning to self-employment in 2012, he has also grown very active in local history as a researcher, writer, and layout artist. He and his wife Kari live in Vernon, BC. They have two adult children. Don is also a Sunday School teacher. He finds time with kids to be a great way to become more proficient in the use of language.

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,

The Cape Breton Climate Change Task Force, Canada

SETSI (Social Economy Through Social Inclusion), Canada

Parkland Institute, Canada

St. Mary’s University, Canada

Makeshift Commons, Canada

The Democracy Collaborative, USA

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

ASEC (Asian Social Economy Coalition), Philippines

UP Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies, University of the Philippines

SEA (Social Economy Association), UK

Stir to Action, UK