Movement Building


Collaborative Trainings and Retreats at OAEC

When we opened our doors 25 years ago, OAEC invited movement leaders of key organizations to come to OAEC and make with us a highly unique land-based ‘safer space’ to retreat, rethink, be restored by and depart with new relationships, strategies and networks built. Since then, we have hosted hundreds of groups and tens of thousands of organizers, teachers, land-stewards, tribal members, farmers, policy makers, government agency staff, philanthropists, and advocates from all over California, the U.S., and around the world to plan solutions for some of the most pressing issues of our time.

We do this broadly in 3 ways:  Convening, Facilitating and Hosting.


“While addressing the myriad individual issues that motivate people to action, social movements must now transcend the isolation of their own sectoral goals and centralize the rapidly emerging and overwhelmingly consequential reality of ‘peak everything’. We seek to stimulate and support existing and new social movement formations that integrate a holistic and overarching ecological systems lens and a Just Transition framework into their vision and strategies.” – Dave Henson, Executive Director

Learn more about OAEC’s Vision and Strategy






Sustainable Economies Law Center staff retreat. 



Hold your organizational retreat at OAEC

Featured Collaboration: Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project

Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project inspires and engages in transformative action towards the liberation and restoration of land, labor, and culture. The Project is rooted in vibrant social movements led by low-income communities and communities of color committed to a Just Transition away from profit and pollution and towards healthy, resilient and life-affirming local economies.  Since launching in 2007, MG has engaged over 300 grassroots organizations and annually trains over 3,000 community leaders, activists, and organizers.

Once a year, MG hosts an intensive retreat that brings together a selected cohort of 25-30 local and national leaders of racial, economic and environmental justice movements for a five-day retreat at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center to explore the following themes:

  • What are the economic, cultural, political, and ecological contours of the systemic crisis we face?  Together, with the cohort, we grapple with the scale, pace and implications of the crisis through multiple lenses such as water, food, climate, work, democracy, race, and biocultural diversity.
  • What can we learn from struggles for people and planet around the world? What are the lessons and inspirations we can draw from diverse domestic and international social movements?
  • What role do organizers, activists, and cultural creatives, play in making those connections?

MG and OAEC have also co-organized and co-led “Permaculture for the People” trainings in ecological theory and hands-on earth skills for community leaders. Learn more about Permaculture for the People and watch the video. 

Visit MG’s website for more information about their other programs. Learn more about this collaboration…


Curriculum Design

In addition to our public course offerings (ex: Permaculture Design Certification), OAEC has developed participatory training pedagogies, including our Resilient Community Design methodology, that we apply with movement groups at their request. Each engagement can be tailored to fit the group’s particular needs, desires, issues, and opportunities but is always focused on 1) deepening ecological understanding of their place, 2) strengthening practices of self-governance through collaborative decision-making, and 3) increasing social cohesion and personal welfare through collective work.


Featured Collaboration: Women’s Earth Alliance US Accelerator Program

In recognition of the central role that women play in environmental and climate movements and the resources they acutely need to grow their impact, the U.S. Grassroots Accelerator for Women Environmental Leaders supports women leaders from the U.S. and U.S. Territories with skills, tools, and networks critical to transforming pressing environmental and climate challenges into scalable solutions for all. This 4-month incubator involves training, skill-sharing, research, fundraising, and networking, and participants focus on furthering their work on a community-based environmental project for which they are in a leadership position.

Kendall Dunnigan, M.Ed. and Director of OAEC’s Permaculture Program, is part of the design team for the curriculum development of this innovative capacity building project, along with Corrina Gould, Pandora Thomas and Niria Alicia. Kendall brings her depth of experience in both education and ecology as the lead contributor for the units on ecological literacy and hands-on earth skills, and she also serves as the principal host for the week-long skill share and networking retreat at OAEC.

Learn more about this collaboration…


Facilitation and Strategic Planning

OAEC is highly accomplished at convening and/or facilitating challenging but necessary strategic planning and other movement conversations. Several OAEC staff are renowned strategic planning, network management and conflict resolution facilitators and have been sought out by hundreds of organizations to help guide complex questions through to a successful result.

Featured Collaboration: #BreakFreeFromPlastic

Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 2,000 organizations from across the world have joined the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to ramp-down fossil fuel production and plastic production, leading to lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. With decades of experience co-convening and facilitating strategy development for social justice and environmental movements, OAEC’s Executive Director Dave Henson has served as a lead facilitator and strategy consultant for BFFP. He facilitated the global strategy meeting in Thailand in Summer 2019 and BFFP US national strategy meeting in Philadelphia in Fall 2019.  In March 2020, he facilitated the global BFFP staff as well as the BFFP global communications staff at OAEC for strategy planning meetings at OAEC.

In August 2019 here at OAEC, #BreakFreeFromPlastic organized an Environmental Justice Culture Hack storytelling workshop geared at highlighting the stories of frontline communities who are feeling the toxic impacts of plastic pollution at every level of the supply chain. The workshop brought together environmental justice organizers with communications strategists to creatively shift the narrative of plastics as a “litter” problem focused on individual responsibility to a story focused on corporate accountability for the gross injustices of oil extraction and manufacturing of single-use fossil fuel-based products. Various organizations within the #BreakFreeFromPlastic meet regularly at OAEC to reflect and plan new strategy.

Learn more about this collaboration…

Network Formation

Featured Collaboration: Basins of Relations

From 2000-2009, the OAEC WATER Institute’s Basins of Relations Program provided trainings and ongoing technical support for the creation of more than 30 community-based groups organized within watershed boundaries.  The program was designed to increase the level of awareness and familiarity that citizens have within their home watershed “basin of relations,” and to empower them to initiate local education, monitoring and restoration efforts. Government agencies increasingly recognize that significant change can only occur with the involvement of private landowners and local citizens. The main goal of this program, along with much of OAEC’s work, is to move beyond individual actions towards community-wide, regional, structural solutions.

The trainings brought watershed neighbors together to address the concepts, science, and organizing tools for protecting and restoring watersheds and featured guest presenters from various agencies, such as the California Department of Fish & Game, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, various Resource Conservation Districts, and several local restoration organizations.  The curriculum for the training was the WATER Institute publication shown here Basins of Relations, a Citizens Guide to Protecting and Restoring our Watersheds.

These convenings gave birth to and further developed several Sonoma County watershed groups that are still active today, including the Dutch Bill Creek Watershed Group, Green Valley/Atascadero Watershed Council, Salmon Creek Watershed Council, and Friends of Mark West Creek. Basins of Relations alumni also came together later to create the West County Watershed Network. Learn more about this collaboration.




Policy Initiatives

Featured Collaboration: California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN)

The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center is a founding Executive Committee member and for 11 years served as the fiscal sponsor of a statewide coalition of sustainable and organic agriculture organizations called the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN). Founded in response to both the threat climate change poses to agriculture and the sustainable farming solutions it can offer, CalCAN is a coalition that advances policies to support
 California agriculture in the face of the climate crisis. CalCAN is the only organization in the country focused solely on advocating policy solutions at the nexus of climate change and sustainable agriculture in California.  Learn more about this collaboration and about OAEC’s other fiscally sponsored projects.

Movement Building Retreat Fund

Many of our partner groups are grassroots, community-based organizations with quite modest budgets but are doing some of the most amazing, impactful work we know of. Many of these groups cannot afford to come to OAEC at our full-cost – a price that is very reasonable for larger or national non-profits, but out of reach for so many other smaller but still very important groups. With funding for our Movement Building Retreat Fund, OAEC is able to say yes to our small-but-mighty partner organizations doing key environmental and social justice work to hold their trainings and retreats at OAEC and benefit from the unique inspiration, education, collaboration and services that we provide.