Swedish Transition hub takes off at Rural Parliament

This week, stakeholders in social economy and rural development in Sweden are gathering in the town of Sunne to hold what they call the “rural parliament”. It is a gigantic annual undertaking, bringing politicians, local government, international partners, rural development agencies and interest organisations together. The organisation, “All Sweden shall live”(HSSL) is host, and by the way, also a hub partner for Transition Network. A healthy splash of entrepreneurship is displayed in the exhibition hall, with banks and insurance companies vying for attention with solar panel suppliers and sustainable home heating system. And for the first time in its 11 year history, the Transition movement is represented. Invited to give international guests an update on Transition in Sweden, and wandering around totally impressed by the organisation, I can’t help but feel I am seeing a glimpse of how the Transition movement might look in the very near future.

The undertaking is gigantic by Swedish standards. Representatives from 22 countries are attending, in an event that has some 1000 participants, who spend most of their waking moments on the gigantic campus comprising sport halls, ice hockey arenas (set aside just for the catering) schools and offices. The four-day programme is packed. Speeches, local music performances and panel debates give way later in the day to seminars on hundreds of topics in small rooms. Suitably fired up and informed, delegates regroup into county-wide action groups to discuss strategy and priorities. Whilst all information is collated, busses take delegates on trips to local projects demonstrating sustainable development.

As I write, and delegates relax on their field trips, I can’t help but reflect on some amazing experiences so far. Firstly, the organisation of the parliament (each takes two years and 500 volunteers) is impeccable. Added to that, it takes place in different small municipalities every year and so helps support local development. I loved to see all the local school kids helping out, and to hear local performers give us a taste of everything from traditional music through to pop to local humour.

What almost brought tears to my eyes was a beautiful rendition of the county song “Värmland”. After a few bars people from the county stood up. Not out of a sense of duty like we Brits would do with the national anthem – these people were standing up from a true sense of pride and love for the place. People from outside the county stood up with them, caught up in the moment.

A welcome speech by the deputy Prime Minister, Maud Olofsson, left us transitioners stunned: Sweden is committed to a fossil-fuel free vehicle fleet by 2030. I am still pinching myself… but reminding myself of what David Korten said: when the people lead, the leaders follow.

What really got me going though, was not the political promises ( I am still trying to check this fact – I may have to get back and admit I heard wrong), but the pronouncements of the expert and researcher panel that formed the opening part of the first day. Invited to give their perspective on the future, all were in agreement that Sweden must transition from fossil fuels for climate reasons, for supply reasons, for health reasons and anyway, we need to design a less resource-hungry future.

My talk in a small seminar room was scheduled to explain the background to why All Sweden shall live has started to partner with Transition Network and to finance and promote transition in Sweden. These people had done most of my job for me. Instead, I could focus on how we in Sweden have had the good fortune to partner with an organisation like All Sweden shall live, and how incorporating transition into their operations has been going smoothly. Of course, there were doubts as to how such a large organisation would take to transition, and the ironic perspectives from both countries. All Sweden shall live questioned the town focus in Transition Towns. As the Transition network questioned the rural focus of All Sweden shall live.

I am so happy to see how the message and spirit of transition is spreading throughout the HSSL organisation. Young and old see how just they can connect with the message, be it through reviving old skills or getting community gardening going, or focussing on “green” jobs. It seems that HSSL has just been waiting for something like transition to energise them into becoming an even stronger voice for change to sustainability.

Happily, since starting nearly two years ago, about 20 of 24 county organisations have taken transition on board, with training of local transition groups scheduled to take off after the summer. Our web-based network boasts 1400 members with over 40 local groups active. I wish I had one of those counters you use when looking at animal populations. I would click it every time the work transition (omställning or ställ om in Swedish) was mentioned. THAT would be worth a blog in its own right.

The parliament ends on Sunday the 9th May.

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