I was very pleased to get a chance to interview René Hirschi about his efforts on integrating and sustaining an ecological, social and sustainable community. He is the founder of the impressive Herzfeld Sennrüti community, based in Degersheim, Switzerland and has also hosted a 1bank4all event for members of the local ecovillage.
1. In a nutshell, who is René Hirschi? And how would those close to you describe you in a few words?
René: I was born in Zürich and grew up in Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa and Switzerland. I am also a father of three, a founder of a community and an active participant of the large grass root movement called Global Ecovillage Network-Suisse. I am a passionate person, who is open to learning about myself and about the world.
Those who know me well would say that I am responsible, trustworthy, powerful, creative, and a free spirit.
2. Please expound on your life’s philosophy.
I realised a long time ago that I cannot wait for society or the government to bring about the change I wanted to see in the world.I believe that the countless grassroot projects operating in several parts of the world, will in the end transform our illusionary system of endless growth which has been corrupting our planet over the centuries. Societies have been operating on the false belief that the Earth’s resources shall not be depleted and that self-interest is more beneficial than community support.
3. I have heard about the wonderful non-profit organization, Herzfeld Sennrüti Please elaborate on the community you have brought together.
It all started in 2005, when a group of people, myself included, came together with the common goal of searching for a holistic and sustainable way of life, that would also integrate and encompass different individuals and families.
We then embarked on a land-finding mission and in 2009, we found a suitable property for us. It consisted of three buildings with 6 flats and approximately 100 rooms, which had served as a curing house, which was well known throughout the country.
We founded a co-operative and begun to build 25 flats out of the existing rooms. It was a massive project, but with everyone’s help, we got it done. And since then, sixty adults and children between the ages of 1 and 85 years live here as part of a dynamic community. Herzfeld Sennrüti is now part of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), which is also collaborating with the Movement networks; Transition Town and Permakultur.
4. What is the vision of Herzfeld Sennrüti?
We are attempting to change our conditioned habits that have become part of the superficial lives that we have in today’s world. Instead we aim to lead more authentic, unpretentious lives. My vision for Herzfeld Sennrüti is to become an economic, ecological, social, spiritual and cultural community in its own authentic way. So much so that it inspires many others to do the same.
I understand ‘ecovillages’ as a field, that is more than a think tank. The concept of the ecovillage is also a ‘feel’ and an ‘experience’ tank. As human beings, we need to be able to connect with each other, nature and the world.We cultivate an accommodating and peaceful environment which values the diversity of individuals and encourages personal development.
5. What was your inspiration behind starting this project?
Becoming a father was a very special experience for me. I asked myself, as many parents often do, “How can I model my life to make an impact on my children?” With this question at the back of my mind, I felt the desire to start a community and try to learn how to live a purpose-driven life.
Additionally, it is true that more and more people today are seeking new ways of living. Therefore, I saw as one of my goals, an opportunity to become a personal example to individuals who want to undergo the process of changing their lives into more authentic ones.
6. What have been your greatest accomplishments, regarding the community?
In our ecovillage, we produce nearly double the amount of what we use on electricity, using photovoltaic energy. We have also managed to turn a majority of the property into low- consumption buildings, and thus gaining the world-recognised ‘Minergie’ standard.
Secondly, among other useful activities, we grow our own fruits and vegetables. Which is not only a healthy practice but the process will also slowly enable us to reach a high level of self-sufficiency and economical sustainability.
7. What have been a major challenge with running the ecovillage?
Attempting to build an ecological and environmentally friendly ecovillage has not been without its challenges. The main challenge, is that it has been an expensive and complicated project. For example, due to strict obligations concerning the property, we sometimes have extravagant costs for catching and storing rain water, fire prevention and many more measures.
8. Please describe details of the event you organized for 1bank4all on 24th of June,2017.
I learnt about 1bank4all, from Christian Heyner during a meeting for Ecovillage founders. I became deeply inspired by the vision of 1bank4all and decided to hold an event where members of Herzfeld Sennrüti could learn more about it. More than 20 people took part in the occasion and many of them had a lot of questions, as they were very interested in finding out more about the concept of social banking.
9. What words of encouragement would you give to anyone thinking about supporting 1bank4all in one way or another?
For as long there is money and banks exist, I see a need for a social bank; A bank for the people and for the grass root movements all over the world. I believe very strongly that 1bank4all will provide the solution and the anchor to accomplish the necessary transition from the dominating, capitalist system to an alternative structure. I believe this move towards a better world, needs 1bank4all.