Student gets funding for LifeJAM

January 6, 2012
Raina Delisle
Alla Guelber

For Alla Guelber, it’s all about the power of the people.

The MA in Environmental Education and Communication student is in the midst of creating a facilitated process called LifeJAM that will bring together a group of people to help an individual explore, refresh, invigorate and create a vision for a project, a business endeavour or another specific decision related to creating meaningful work.

“LifeJAM is a coaching process that encourages social innovation and finding creative solutions,” explains Guelber, who recently won a third Co-operators Group IMPACT! Fund grant to develop and pilot the project. “Working for social and environmental change is the goal and we’re going to be doing that through a group process that has a multiplier effect. We’re tapping into the power of the community and creating mutually beneficial relationships through which people can share their skills and experience.”

LifeJAM is based on permaculture principals and a process called “permablitz,” in which a community implements a garden very quickly thanks to the participation of volunteers, who in turn learn about planting from an expert and can then have a blitz come to their garden. Similarly, once you participate in a LifeJAM as a “jammer” (someone who offers feedback on a project), you can host a LifeJAM and get feedback on your idea and ultimately you can act as a facilitator. 

“We want to take this to scale, so eventually there are enough people in the community who can help others brainstorm ideas, move projects forward, take on earth restorative projects, create meaningful work in their community and think about economic transition,” Guelber says.

“With a little financial support, the sky is the limit in terms of what these exceptional, passionate young people might be able to achieve,” says Kathy Bardswick, president and CEO of The Co-operators, which gave a total of $75,000 in funding to support a variety of student projects aimed at creating a healthier, more sustainable world. 

Guelber’s $3,000 grant will build on the success of her Meaningful Work Project, which to-date has focused on two wilderness retreats also funded by IMPACT! grants. The purpose of the retreats was to spend a weekend with inspiring professionals from diverse disciplines discussing vocation, sustainability and social innovation as participants move toward creating their own meaningful work that sustains people and ecosystem integrity. It was at the last retreat that Guelber came up with the concept in collaboration with Meaningful Work Retreat attendees, including advisory board member Adrian Buckley of Big Sky Permaculture. Based in Calgary, the Meaningful Work Project has also included workshops and open houses. There will not be a retreat this year, as Guelber is focusing on her thesis and LifeJAM.

The idea for the Meaningful Work Project sprouted while Guelber was taking a Royal Roads course on educational program design. Through her coursework, she developed a program for a three-day residential workshop that followed a dialogue model, inviting guests who are experienced social innovators, business and nonprofit leaders and community activists to interact directly with participants. After putting together the program proposal for her course, Guelber applied for and won an IMPACT! Grant, allowing her to make the Meaningful Work Project a reality.

“For Alla to see that work and meaning really go together is wonderful and she’s right and she’ll be successful,” says professor Rick Kool, who founded the Environmental Education and Communication program. “She’s such an inspiring person. She just glows with energy. She’s exactly the kind of student I like to see. She’s really broad and diverse in her background. She’s completely committed and passionate.”

Before starting her first residency at Royal Roads, Guelber attended another unique environmental education program developed by MA in Environmental Education and Communication alumna Nadine Raynolds. Redfish School of Change also started as a Royal Roads class project and grew to much more.

“I was really encouraged by Nadine and her experience at Royal Roads in that she could create a real-life educational program as a result of her studies,” says Guelber, who originally wanted to do her thesis on Redfish, but instead chose to examine her Meaningful Work Project.

For her thesis, Guelber is looking at the personal and professional journeys of past Meaningful Work Project participants and is also reflecting on her own quest to find meaningful work. She is interested in determining how communities of practice – groups of people actively engaged with each other on a regular basis in order to move toward a common goal – are created as a result of participating in the project. Work on her thesis is ongoing, but Guelber says she’s already determined a few clear findings.

“There’s a very strong interest in having better alignment between values and work and there are a lot of people looking to do good work that serves people and the planet.”