by Joey El-Khoury, PhD Candidate, Université de Montréal; Lecturer, HEC Montréal/McGill University; Cofounder, Jardins sans frontières and Member of the coordinating committee, Coalition Climat Montréal

As a Montrealer involved in local transition initiatives, the World Social Forum that recently took place in our city was the ideal platform to talk about transition culture with other practitioners, researchers and enthusiasts from across Quebec, Canada and the world; and this without having to travel for it!

World Social Forum Transition conference organising committee – brainstorming session, March 2016.

Back in March, a few people spontaneously met to brainstorm the kind of activity that could be organized for the occasion. Around the table were various transition initiatives, projects and organizations; such as Villeray en Transition and Transition NDG [Montreal’s two main transition neighborhood organizations], Loco [a newly opened zero waste grocery store, the first of its kind in Quebec], L’Accorderie [Quebec’s prime skill-sharing network], Gardens Without Borders [a permaculture social enterprise] and last but not least, the Montreal Climate Coalition, a citizen-led initiative looking to design and implement a carbon-neutral energy descent road map for the city. Indeed, an interesting mix of local transition experiences and know-how that were eager to collaborate and represent the local transition culture and movement at the World Social Forum.

What emerged from the several subsequent meetings that took place was an activity structured around the three key pillars of transition culture: the mind, the heart, and the hands of transition.

Framework for the Mind, Heart, Hands approach used by the committee to present Transition Movement concepts at the 2016 World Social Conference.

On the day of the event, little did the organizing team know that they were to have more than forty participants, with one person having come to the World Social Forum from as far as…. Antarctica!

The activity began with the “mind” of transition, first setting the Transition Town movement in the broader context of other initiatives that use a variety of transition discourses (term coined by Professor René Audet (2013)), followed by insights and discussions on the academic research taking place on transitions in Canada, such as the important work of Professor Blake Poland of the University of Toronto, whose team researched Canada’s transition town movement over a period of 3 years.

In addition to the exposés on academic research, the first block of the activity representing the “mind” of transition also included a general introduction to the Transition Town movement, as well as a fish bowl type of discussion on community resilience based on the practical experiences of two Canadian transition town initiatives: Transition Guelph and Sherbrooke en Transition.

Over forty World Social Forum attendees participated in the discussion and information session.

After the “mind” of transition came presentations and discussions on the second pillar of transition culture, the “heart”. Based on Transition NDG’s own transition journey and experiences, the team’s interventions revolved around the ethics of transition, the practice of non-violent communication, and an exercise in which participants visualized transition.

After the “heart” of transition came the third pillar of the activity, that of the “hands” of transition. Loco, Transition NDG and Villeray en Transition shared their various local transition projects, such as Incredible edibles and La Remise [a community library for sharing DIY tools and know-how] to name a few.

Overall, and despite the relatively little time and resources that the organizers had to put this activity together, the level of participation and quality of exchanges that took place exceeded expectations!

Participants enjoyed the opportunity to network with like minded people from all over, creating relationships that will hopefully strengthen the movement worldwide.

My personal take-outs moving forward can be resumed in the following points:

  • The strategic importance of being aware of, accounting for, and navigating the diverse discourses and practices of Transition.
  • The need to better identify and understand the system “lock-ins” and windows of opportunity that the transition movement is faced with as it looks to deepen its influence on municipal politics [specifically in the context of Montreal]. In this sense, what avenues of political work [if any] must the movement connect with and nourish?
  • The transition movement’s need to effectively tackle its “wicked problem” of social “exclusion” within the movement, that is, its lack of demographic heterogeneity. An interesting avenue for this work is looking at the flip side of resilience: vulnerability; and better understanding the links and dynamics between both resilience and the latter.
  • The need to look into how the transition movement should deal with and manage the day-to-day violence and alienation exerted by the dominant system on the most vulnerable citizens and communities that are at the forefront of social and environmental struggles? In this sense, a more diverse strategy for transition could be required within the transition movement [A combination of direct militant actions and demands, political involvement, and the day-to-day practices of transition culture].
  • The opportunity to disseminate the work of Villeray en Transition and Transition NDG to other individuals and groups in Montreal [and beyond] that are excited to begin transition work in other neighborhoods, such as MileX, St-Henri, and Rosemont.
  • The ability of neighborhood level work to reinforce a city level grassroots transition vision for a carbon-neutral Montreal and to nourishing the current energy descent road map that the Montreal Climate Coalition aspires to.
  • The opportunity to build on the networking that took place during and after the activity in order to catalyze the Quebec en Transition network.
  • Last, but not least, there seems to be a demand and need to further develop the “Mind, Heart and Hands” framework for possible future activities, workshops, conferences, and maybe a holistic training course?

In light of the above, I am very pleased that the inspiring opportunity that the World Social Forum presented us with was very well seized, with transitioners across Montreal and Quebec now looking forward with great excitement for this event to be the first of many collaborations, and the beginning of a fruitful adventure as we look to connect with transitioners the world over in the diffusion, reinforcement and the construction of a transition movement that’s rooted in the solidarity and vision of the World Social Forum.

The organizing committee, from left to right: Kathryn, Jane, Maureen, Dany, Martine, Gorana, Joey and Émanuèle

Once again, a very big thank you and well done to everyone who got involved and made this initiative possible and a success!


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