Bioneers 2015: Nurturing a New Navigation System

By Joshua Fouts,
Executive Director of Bioneers

Joshua Fouts

I first met Katie Hoffman of Divest-Invest ( when she spoke at Bioneers annual climate intensive in 2014. On a panel moderated by former CA senator Tom Hayden, Katie spoke about her role in spearheading the University of California divest-invest campaign, which led the institution to commit $1 billion in investment to climate solutions. The youngest speaker of the day, Katie’s message was discerning and deft, “we are building a political and economic movement that will accelerate investment into just, renewable solutions strong enough to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts, lift people out of poverty, and grow healthy jobs that people my age actually want to do.”

I did not get a chance to talk to Katie for several months until I serendipitously ran into her in southern California at a Social Venture Network conference in the spring. She asked me what was on deck for the Bioneers Conference this fall, and I told her about the amazing line-up of speakers from water wizards Henk Ovink and Andy Lipkis to former Senator Tom Hayden and Vien Truong, the newest executive director of Green For All. (Learn about all of the 2015 speakers here- Katie told me how inspiring it is that Bioneers remains true to its focus on providing a platform for women, First Peoples, youth and families by creating autonomous spaces and programming at the national conference. She asked “what about a space for entrepreneurs, investors and millennials that are trying to build a more just and resilient economy?”

Katie explained to me that she had just learned that her climate oriented start-up, the Resilience Collaborative (, did not get a fellowship with an impact incubator based in New York City. The program would have offered her and her team of five seed funding, mentorship and support resources to grow their enterprise. She described the lack of opportunities available to emerging ecologically and socially grounded businesses. I could sense a bit of frustration in her tone, before she smiled and offered, “Bioneers is the exact community of change makers that [we] need to partner with to transform the world.”

“Bioneers is a navigation system for the next generation of impact entrepreneurs,” she told me. “Millennials are building solutions to pressing social and ecological challenges through enterprise, and we need mentorship and real investment.” Katie suggested we host a new space at the Bioneers national conference dedicated to impact, innovation and mentorship for Millennials who are launching social impact businesses. I was thrilled, but I didn’t know how we would pay for it.

I told Katie that I loved the idea but that a tent would cost $5,000 for rental and the union labor to mount it, and that Bioneers didn’t have the budget to pay for it. Upon deeper reflection, I realized Bioneers has always led the way to lift up the next generation of mission-driven change makers. I called Katie and asked if we could partner with her firm to strengthen the Bioneers platform for youth, Millennials and entrepreneurs. As a result of our partnership, Resilience Collaborative transformed from an unofficial association to an incorporated innovation firm responsible for launching the debut Summit tent at this year’s national conference October 16 – 18 in San Rafael, CA.

Resilience Collaborative has raised more than twice the target in sponsorships, and is planning a series of activities including the debut of a pilot accelerator project called the “propell3r” for several emerging impact businesses, a series of community-led conversations with hosts including RSF Social Finance, Cutting Edge Capital, the Divest Invest Network, and OSC2, as well as networking opportunities, product displays, art and music.

“We are often told to wait for permission to build the solutions we need; a notion we cannot accept if we are to build a more resilient and just society for all generations,” Mauricio Castillo, Creative Director for Resilience Collaborative told me last week. “When others saw [the Resilience Collaborative] as a novel idea for discussion, Bioneers acted to propel us. Bioneers holds a commitment to action and investment in our generation that we hope serves as a model for others.”

The history of movements and communities asking Bioneers for sovereign space is a long and storied one. Our Youth Leadership Program, which last year brought 357 youth on scholarship (thank you donors!) to Bioneers for a parallel youth-focused Bioneers experience, was launched at the request of famed activist Julia Butterfly Hill; and our Indigenous Knowledge Tent was created at the request of Bioneers Board Member and Canadian First People’s activist Clayton Thomas-Mueller and Board Member Melissa Nelson, President of the Cultural Conservancy.

If you’ve not experienced a Bioneers Summit before or not been in a while, 2015 is the year to do it. Join in San Rafael, CA on October 16 – 18.

The Summit is going to be but one epic example of what we have in store this year. For 26 years Bioneers has been facilitating movement growth and this year is a banner year.

What’s New at the Bioneers Conference this Year?

This year’s conference is truly going to be unlike any you’ve ever experienced. The class and caliber of speakers are brilliant, revolutionary, inspiring and what many would call off-the-hook. And we’ve reworked and reimagined the conference grounds to include a number of new themes we haven’t seen before.

We have an amazing line up this year that is sure to inspire hopeful action and strengthen our community. Some of the items I’m most inspired about are:

Powerhouse First Nation’s Rights Activist, Eriel Deranger, will address the challenges and the successes of First Nations in reclaiming their cultures and their place in modern society

Water Wizards, Henk Ovink and Andy Lipkis, will share the power of resilient design to address climate instability for communities

Former California Senator, Tom Hayden, will be leading our pre-conference intensive on October 15 on California’s Game-Changing Climate Leadership Model

Social Justice Champion, Fania Davis, will show us the way towards our social human evolution for the better world we are creating together

Best-selling Science Fiction and Eco-Futurist Author Kim Stanley Robinson will be sharing his Utopian vision for the green, just economy.

Forming effective alliances in the face of inequity and mistrust – Transforming Power Dynamics into Dynamic Power for Movement Building with Miakoda Taylor and Rosa Esperanza Gonzales – Post Conference intensive on October 19.

And so much more!

We have engaging panels planned on many topics including: Food Justice, Carbon Economy Disruption, Scaling Up Climate Education.

I’ll even be leading a panel with my own parents, Roger and Debbi Fouts, on Rights of Nature and their cumulative experiences as primate scientists who made “bringing your work home with you” their day-to-day. They helped forge the animal rights movement and prove animal intelligence in the 1960s, with their colleague Jane Goodall.

All in all there will be 15 keynotes, over 60 panels and many, many activities for you to choose from and engage deeply with. We’re excited about new programs this year, such as Organic Valley’s “Grass Up!”, the Summit Tent – bringing together emerging movers and shakers, ecopreneurs and green investors, and a Family Fair that is creating space for parents with young children to be at the conference and get the kids engaged early on – while mom and dad take turns at the keynotes and panels.

Yoga? Yes! We’re excited to have Off the Mat’s super popular, change-making yogini, Suzanne Sterling, leading us through asanas and stretches in the mornings and embodiment exercises in the afternoon on Saturday – and her colleagues from Off the Mat on Friday and Sunday. Getting out of our heads and back into our bodies is a great way to most fully integrate the Conference – and it’s just good for us. Ask a yogi.

The Saturday Night Awards Dinner and Benefit (get your ticket soon as it will sell out) will be followed by a dynamic dance party where you’ll be welcome in a booty-shaking, groove-inspiring energy fest – I’ll be there.

In addition to the world-changing speakers, we have a whole array of new additions, including …

Family Fair: A world-class program for parents and kids to experience hands-on learning together about the Earth and humanity – FREE and open to the public!

Change Makers Fair: Highlighting the best socially conscious businesses and non-profits – FREE and open to the public!

A brand new artisan vendor space showcasing a diverse mix of beautiful and creative goods for sale, including a special pop-up from the Indigenous Fine Art Market.

If you haven’t been to the Bioneers Conference in a while, this is the year to come back. If you are new, then this is your chance to have an epic experience. Find out more about the whole event here-

Article by Joshua Sheridan Fouts. Joshua Fouts is a globally recognized media innovator and social entrepreneur known for his visionary work paving new inroads for meaningful understanding between cultures. He is currently executive director of Bioneers (, a 26-year-old NGO focused on practical solutions for people and planet.

An anthropologist, Joshua has worked in both film and the arts. He began his career in Washington, DC in the 1990s where he worked at the US State Department and began to experiment with new ways to use radio, television and Internet technology for cultural collaboration. He went on to launch two first-of-their-kind think tanks focused on digital media innovation and cultural relations at the USC Annenberg School in Los Angeles where he founded the first-ever blog about digital journalism and later created a new master’s degree in public diplomacy.

During his 20-plus years career in international and cultural relations, Joshua has personally worked with the peoples of Malaysia, Africa, and Indigenous Tribes of the Amazon. He has led or directed various intellectual projects in collaboration with governments and universities in over 20 countries. 

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