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

Michael Lewis, MOOC Co-Lead

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 2023 MOOC.

Mike Gismondi, MOOC Co-Lead

Hi. I am a distance and adult education specialist and Emeritus professor at Athabasca University. A former three term municipal councillor, currently I chair the Athabasca Regional Municipal climate change adaptation working group. And, I’m part of a regional renewable energy coop called ARREA which includes a local investment cooperative that I co-developed a decade ago. I live with my partner in the Town of Athabasca, Alberta, Canada, alongside the Athabasca River where Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 meet. I respectfully acknowledge that I work and live on the traditional lands of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada (First Nations, Inuit, Métis) and support their efforts at justice and reconciliation.

I’ve been lucky to work with many activists and practitioners in my life and in retirement, I’m trying my best to use (or be guided to use) my privilege to assist people doing bottom up systems change, especially to assist those folks to leverage online learning tools to make real democratic change. You can learn more at ResearchGate. I will be supporting you across the 2024 MOOC as a co-lead.  

John Restakis Co – Founder and Co-Facilitator of the Care Module

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.

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.

Sadly Pat is currently too unwell to continue to be involved in Synergia, but we couldn’t have got to where we are today without him. Thank you Pat.

The MOOC Team

Christine Clark CCEDNET/STARCAP Community Facilitator

Christine  is the Program Manager for the Synergia Transition and Resilience Climate Action Program (STARCAP), a partnership between The Canadian CED Network, Synergia Institute and Athabasca University with funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada. STARCAP’s objective is to support climate action at the local level. Over the three-year program, STARCAP offers financial support to select Canadian organizations, who recruit members from their communities to take the MOOC and engage in study circles to discuss learnings and action groups to undertake a local climate initiative.

Christine is also co-founder of Freedom Dreams Co-operative Education, a co-operative development and education hub that shares knowledge and resources about co-operatives and the solidarity economy from a Black, Indigenous and Person of Colour (BIPOC) perspective, and an instructor at CoopZone’s Co-op Development Training Program, where she provides training to the next generation of co-op developers in Canada.

Carolina Carvalho, Small Group Facilitator

Carolina Carvalho is a Portuguese ecologist with a particular interest in the interconnectedness of living beings and how to apply this knowledge to human society. She joined the Synergia MOOC in 2023 as the Small Group Facilitator. Carolina will be joining us for the Orientation and supporting small groups again this year. You can reach out for any help to get started collaborating (em português ou espanhol também)!

She has a BSc in Environmental Biology and MSc in Natural Resource Management and Conservation. Carolina is accelerating our transition to a regenerative future as Activation Team member at the Global Regeneration CoLab (GRC), Data Scientist at African Data Technologies and Permaculture Designer at Kumano Shindo GIA.

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. She is co-facilitating Module 3: Towards Ecologically Resilient and Just Food Systems with Dee Woods. As well, Kelleigh has contributed many supplemental readings across the MOOC.

Dee Woods Food Module Co-Facilitator

Dee Woods, FRSA is an award winning food and farmingaction-ist. A passionate knowledge broker, ideator, pollinator and weaver who advocates for good food for all and a just food system. Her work meets at the nexus of human rights, food sovereignty, agroecology, community, policy, decolonial research, culture, climate and social justice.  Dee will be co-facilitating Module 3: Towards Ecologically Resilient and Just Food Systems with Kelleigh Wright.

Dee co-founded Granville Community Kitchen and the African and Caribbean Heritage Food Network. She sits on the GLA London Food Board, and is a co-editor of A People’s Food Policy. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at CAWR, Coventry University and member of the Food Ethics Council. She is the co-chair of the Independent Food Aid Network, IFAN and Vice Chair of A Growing Culture. She currently represents La Via Campesina as the Western Europe Focal Point on the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CSIPM)

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. He is co-facilitating Module 4: Forging Pathways to Energy Democracy and Just Transition with Mariana Villegas.

Mariana Villegas-Mendoza, Energy Democracy Module Facilitator

Mariana is a dedicated lawyer and university professor with a strong passion for Just Energy Transitions, Renewable Energies, Climate Change mitigation, and Energy and Climate Justice. Proficient in two languages, with a strong aptitude for communication, research, writing, and advocacy.

Devoted to advocating for the public interest, and interested in exploring innovative approaches to advance a fair, ethical, and inclusive future for humanity, with a particular emphasis on energy production and consumption systems and patterns. Inquisitive, meticulous, and dedicated to merging pragmatism with profound insight.

She will be co-facilitating Module 4: Forging Pathways to Energy Democracy and Just Transition with Derya Tarhan.

Sion Whellens

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. He is facilitating Module 5: Precarious Livelihoods: Pathways from Precarity to Solidarity with Josephine Grey.

Josephine Grey

Josephine Grey, Precarious Livelihoods Module Co-Facilitator

Josephine Grey has been an eco-human rights organizer for over 30 years. In 1986 she co-founded Low Income Families Together (LIFT), run by and for low-income people to incubate community based projects. She is a co-founder of Foodshare Toronto and a founder/director of the St. James Town Community Co-operative and the OASIS Foodhub pilot project.

In 1995 Josephine was appointed Canada’s Official Observer for domestic issues to the UN World Summit on Social Development. She has reported to the UN to expose Canada’s failure to respect Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Her work has taken her to communities, summits and social forums on 7 continents. Josephine is single parent of 4 and a grandmother of 5, dedicated to working with youth and community to advance basic human rights and climate resilience, primarily through the OASIS food-hub project and advocacy for a Basic Income Guarantee. She is facilitating Module 5: Precarious Livelihoods: Pathways from Precarity to Solidarity with Siôn Whelan.

Júlia Martins Rodrigues, Care Module Facilitator

Júlia is the managing editor of Ownership Matters, a biweekly newsletter for the founders and funders of the emerging solidarity economy published by Solidarity Hall. She is also an attorney and researcher focused on intersectional approaches to economic democracy, decentralized finance, shared ownership & governance, Human Rights, and Collective Indigenous Rights. Júlia earned her PhD in Social and Legal Sciences from the Università Degli Studi di Camerino (Italy), and a Master’s of Law in Human Rights and Innovation at the Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (UFJF, Brazil), where she also graduated as a Juris Doctor in 2016. Professionally, Júlia has been a licensed attorney in Brazil for over six years, working as a consultant, interpreter, and researcher. She is co-facilitating Module 6: Broadening and Democratizing Care: From Welfare State to Partner State to Earthcare with John Restakis.

Andres Bernal, Finance Module Facilitator

Andres Bernal, a former advisor to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Lecturer of Urban Studies at CUNY Queens College and Doctoral student at The New School For Public Engagement, Division of Policy Management and Environment. His research focuses on the Green New Deal as a site of political communication and policy analysis. Andrés is a leading voice and proponent associated with the heterodox school of economic thought known as Modern Monetary Theory. He is a Research Fellow at the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Missouri Kansas City Department of Economics. In the Summer of 2017, Andrés began supporting the Congressional campaign of former colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a policy advisor and organizer. His work facilitated the incorporation of the Federal Jobs Guarantee policy onto the official campaign platform. He is facilitating Module 7: Democratizing Money and Finance for the Great Transition

Julie MacArthur photo

Dr. Julie MacArthur, MOOC Advisor

Dr. Julie MacArthur is an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Reimagining Capitalism at Royal Roads University. Julie is taking a break from teaching the energy module this year but continuing in her general advisory role.

She is the author of Empowering Electricity: Co-operatives, Sustainability and Power Sector Reform in Canada (UBC Press, 2016), co-editor of Environmental Politics and Policy in Aotearoa New Zealand (with Maria Bargh), and has 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. She is the recent past-Chair of the WISER (Women and Inclusivity in Sustainable Energy Research) Network. She is also a mother of three young children, two of whom are twins, putting a whole other spin on the meaning of renewable energy. Julie helped us with Module 6 revisions before taking maternity leave during the 2022 MOOC.

Dan Wilton, Athabasca University 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.

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.

Thank you

We would like to thank Good Futures Collective and Eviance for their work evaluating the 2023 MOOC and STARCAP Project.

We would like to thank Dr Lorelei Hanson, Athabasca University who was Managing Partner with STARCAP in 2021 and 2022 and Dr. Leigh Brownhill, Athabasca University, who together oversaw and carried out the first rounds of evaluation and monitoring activities for the MOOC project.

Strategic Partners 2024

Athabasca University and the Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies, Canada

The Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNET), Canada

CCEDNET Community Partners in 2024 MOOC

Previous CCEDNET Community and Network Partners 2022 and 2023 MOOC

New Dawn Enterprises

British Columbia Cooperative Association

Network Partners

Makeshift Commons, Canada

The Next Economy, Australia

United Diversity, UK 

Key Collaborators 2023

Post Carbon Institute and Think Resilience, USA

Shareable, People-powered solution for the common good, USA & International

The Democracy Collaborative, USA

Social Solidarity Network Europe, Europe

Socio.org, solidarity documentation centre. 26,000 documents in 5 languages

International Centre for Co-operative Management, St. Marys University, Canada

Behind the Lines Podcast, Australia  

Global University for Sustainability, International

Catalyze Network, New Zealand 

Civil Diplomacy Center – North and East Syria, Syria

and, the support of 2000 Synergia Alumni

Study Circle Organizers

Ken Ross, New Zealand –  3 study circles centered in a rural district on the far north of New Zealand

Scotty Foster, Australia – Canberra group – many roles and a veteran of this MOOC

The Next Economy, Australia – Their whole staff is taking the MOOC 

The Canadian Community Economic Development Network and Community Partners, Canada

Kevin Flanagan, SolidNetwork, Ireland

Stuart Boothman, Just Transition Wakefield, UK

Josef Davies-Coates, United Diversity, UK

North and East Syria Civil Diplomacy Centre- Rojava study circles

Meraki,  Greece

more to come