Strengthening the Ecology of Social Movements

22 to 30 Oct 2022

Organising and strategizing for transformative power

This training weaves together learning from our ‘Ecology of Social Movements Training’ with new material exploring transversal and transnational organising.

We’re living at a historical point of disruption which contains both great peril and promise. The stalled engine of neoliberal growth, bankrupted political leadership, an increasing sense of distributive injustice, and the fierce urgency of the ecological now are the cracks out of which something new can emerge. But to challenge the interlocking systems of oppression we face we need to nurture interconnected movements and struggles. This training will help us to explore the challenges and develop our capacity for ambitious and transformative movement building.

Built around the core of our Ecology of Social Movement training, this training is for experienced activists and organisers involved in movement thinking and practice from across Europe. We’ll inquire deeply into how our organisations and networks relate to the wider ecology of activism within our movements – and how these movements relate to wider struggles in the ever changing cultural, socio-political and ecological context. Participants will engage in deep analysis of their own movement practice and movement ecology. They will have opportunities to explore and develop skills and understanding related to bridge building within and between movements, and give attention to the opportunities and challenges of transnational movement building.

The training will be facilitated by an international team of movement organisers and thinkers from the Ulex Project team, the European Community Organising Network, European Alternatives, and University of Ireland Maynooth. Together these organisations are developing the Movement Learning Catalyst* project.

Strengthening European Social Movement Ecology

The core elements of the training aim to help us understand the opportunities and threats of this crucial moment and to empower our efforts to contest our future. We’ll explore the life cycle of social movements and seek to learn from social movement history. We’ll survey theories of social change, identifying tensions and complementarities. We will increase our skills in strategising, planning and working for change in the complex ecologies and systems of our movements and societies. And we will ask how big picture thinking can inspire and empower our work together.

The course blends a participatory inquiry methodology with the Ulex team’s framework for strategic analysis and deeper political reflection. It will incorporate key content developed within the Movement Learning Catalyst* project, which explores skills for transversal and transnational movement building. The training will support the development of creative and strategic responses for radical social change. It will provide space for deep reflection on practice and the opportunity to learn from each other’s struggles.

This course involves deep and critical thinking, so participants should:

  • Have significant history of social movement engagement and experience to bring
  • Be embedded in organisations or networks that can benefit from thinking strategically about their place in social movements
  • Be well placed to bring new strategic thinking back to their group or organisation

We will select participants to bring together a range of people from diverse movements and contexts across Europe to share and learn from each other.

We will explore:

  • How different social engagement practices intersect with each other
  • How to increase the collective impact of our work
  • How to develop strategies geared towards systemic change
  • How to build alliances and transversal strategies to increase our collective impact
  • How to create strategic approaches that are responsive, dynamic and systems intelligent
  • How to organise transnationally.

 Key areas of study and reflection include:

Theories of Social Change: Exploring a wide spectrum of theories of change, their contradictions and complementarities, and how we can engage with the complexity of social change processes.

Movement Seasons and Cycles: Reflecting on the ebb and flow of movement life-cycles, recognising phases of preparation, engagement and regrouping. We’ll derive learning from history and contemporary case studies.

Movement Ecosystems and Diversity: Mapping our movements and analysing our capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, the tensions and synergies, and identifying enhancing interventions and the roles we can play within them.

Planning and Strategising: Applying tools and thinking about long term strategy, context analysis and the creation of agile frameworks that adapt and respond to feedback.

Transnational Organising: Delving into the challenges and opportunities for building movements and networks with transnational capabilities.

We won’t just explore theories. We will also ask what we do with them – personally and collectively. This course will help us to think afresh and to gain perspective.

Why does it matter?

The interlocking and pervasive nature of the systems of oppression we face means that challenging them involves building interconnected movements of resistance and regeneration. At the same time, the difficulties involved in forming synergising relationships between distinct parts of our movements are widely recognised as a defining challenge for organising today. In a Europe-wide survey conducted in 2020, activists told us that the inability to build connections across movements and the presence of high levels of fragmentation within them, was one of the most incapacitating challenges they faced.

Attempts to challenge injustice and domination, from the ground up, are rooted in people’s lived experience. The specificity of their lives and the histories of their communities generates an irreducible diversity of struggles within our movements. With this in mind, Ulex aims to both support diverse struggles on their own terms and also to foster relationships between them that can contribute towards transversal and transnational majority social movement building capable of driving radical social and ecological transformation. Our sense of the strategic importance of learning to work better with the necessary diversity in our movements and to increase our ability to build empowering connections across those differences led us to a key concept informing our pedagogical approach: the ecology of social movements.

Thinking in terms of an ecology of movements, as well as transversal and transnational movement building, encourages us to look at our movements in terms of the relationships between things: roles, strategic approaches, struggles, issues, socio-political identities and histories. It can help us to appreciate and understand the specific internal dynamics of diverse struggles and approaches, while also becoming better able to situate them in a wider context. These ways of looking at our movements can also offer more nuanced understanding of the relationship between agency and the complexity of social change and help us to nurture movement building practices for deep transformative power.

A year-long option

In addition to the week-long residential training, we are aiming to support selected participants to take part in a pilot 12-18 month long Movement Learning Catalyst programme. This will incorporate peer-to-peer elements, mentoring, online gatherings, and some additional in-person trainings (either regionally organised or at one of Ulex’s venues). All participants on this training are invited to apply to join this programme and we can provide additional information on request. The application form includes the opportunity to request joining the Movement Learning Catalyst programme. More details here.


We expect this training to be hosted at Vidàlia.

*The Movement Learning Catalyst is a collaborative project bringing together the Ulex Project, European Alternatives, the European Community Organising Network and University of Ireland Maynooth. It aims to generate new resources and methods to enhance social movement learning, helping to embed learning more effectively within movement practice.

Suggested Contribution
In the solidarity economy: €400/€700/€1200
(see the details of our approach to Solidarity Economics for details)

The Team

Our Name

Ulex: Latin (argelaga Catalan, gorse English) noun:

1. A thorny-evergreen flowering shrub, with a high capacity for regeneration and resilience. Its seedpods open in contact with fire and it reshoots from charred stumps. A successionary plant that grows well under challenging conditions. It improves soil fertility through nitrogen fixing, preparing the way for renewed biodiversity.

2. A traditional choice for igniting fires. Burns hot and bright.

3. A networked project adding nutrition and fertility to European social movements through training and capacity building. It kindles the realisation of social justice, ecological intelligence, and cognitive vitality.