How to structure, position, scale and market this non-profit thing I’m creating has been occupying every waking moment. The route ahead and a strategy become slowly clearer but the volume of information still to read and understand grows ever larger. Initially it seemed that getting 29 Moroccan farmers on board was going to be the hard part but, of course and as always, delivering on the words is where the real effort lies.
At first, months ago, I thought it should be a Community Interest Company (CIC), end of story. After far too little research it seemed to be the legal entity best suited to our needs, all things considered. But therein lay an issue I wasn’t seeing clearly enough: our needs? I wasn’t using ‘our’ correctly. Regarding many aspects of what I am planning for this little corner of Morocco there is no ‘our’. There’s ‘them’, the communities of Azrou Issa and Al Faida, and there’s ‘us’, Ayelen and I. I will never truly be one of them and nor will Ayelen. It matters not how well we learn to speak Arabic, or how long we live amongst them for we will always be outsiders and foreigners to be excluded from certain things or titbits of information. The cultural gap is vast and to be brutally blunt we have not the slightest desire to cross to the other side. It’s not now, nor ever was why we are here among them. Let’s face it, we’re here because eight years ago I wanted to buy an interesting piece of land somewhere and this piece was affordable.
So I came to my senses and stopped thinking about us all as a single group with the same aims. Yes, for this project to succeed we must all have ‘skin in the game’ but we’re only going to be playing on the same pitch for the next five or so years. Do I want to be going through all this head scratching again then? Not particularly; whatever vehicle I build for myself now must be able to last until I have forgotten what it is and nodded off. Whatever vehicle they want to build must last a lot longer. How can a CIC, registered with Companies House in London and requiring annual accounts to be submitted there possibly serve their longterm needs?
A cooperative is what it must be. There are plenty of these in Morocco and a national support network, presumably – though probably not – to help it all happen and thrive. They will have heard of cooperatives and will have trust in the format. And indeed it proves so. When I ask them to start one they are immediately in favour. But on returning to Spain, wrapped up in the idea of this single project, I am still not thinking straight. I’m still not seeing past this project to the next and the one after that. It’s only when I sit down and try to work out how we’re going to get the money for extensive earthworks and the planting of three hundred thousand trees that my imagination begins to see through their fattening trunks to the proverbial wood beyond.
I have been thinking too small. This project, I begin to see, need not be just a vehicle towards finding my expertise, it could be the start of something much bigger and more important, which could also realise many more of my dreams. Every generation has it’s issues but it does seem that we who are alive today exist in a time when it’s more important than ever before that we strive, whether individually or together, to affect a real change. It certainly features large among my ambitions, firstly because I know how good it feels to believe that you have helped in something worthy, and secondly because I have waited until my forties to become an angry young man. Nobody is advertising for ‘revolutionaries wanted’ though. I need to work it out myself and then get on with it. One member of a permaculture forum I visit ends his posts with the quote, ‘If you have a job, get your affairs in order and leave it, for there is important work to be done.’ When not humorous I suspect self-aggrandisement as being the principle motive behind most end of message quotes but this one sets the steeple bells ringing.
Thus the Azrou Issa Permaculture Cooperative loses it’s slot as ‘The Project’ and is demoted to Project No 1; that’s theirs. Mine’s a charitable incorporated organisation, UK-registered, a foundation which will instigate, assist, oversee and encourage this project and others to come. Some of the trustees are already recruited and it’s going through its third and, hopefully, final name change. Raising money for this is going to be tough and the name is important; it’s hard to settle on one. It needs to be just right but I’m not the first to be starting a green charity or movement and many of the great ones are of course gone, or are too close to some existing organisation. Undeservedly, permaculture for many still carries hippy connotations but we are not here to knit yoghurt or sing Kumbaya to the stars. We are a vanguard of a revolution and our banner must avoid being, as my brother put it, too ‘sandaly’.
Meanwhile in Morocco, we have arrived back, our van creaking and bursting apart over the horrendous 3km track under it’s prison-beckoningly heavy load of wood and other assorted stuff that we’ve either found in skips or been given over the summer. Hassan, the main man here, has not been to see me yet so I know that he has made no progress in starting the cooperative. Ayelen has bet me a hour’s massage – our standard wager – that, in fact, despite all the excitement of September, he won’t even have been to see the man in town whom I arranged to assist him. I shook on it knowing she was right; this one’s a gift.