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Origins of Global Action Plan

The original impulse came from two people with very different backgrounds: David Gershon, USA, brought his experience of the ‘First Earth Run’ that involved millions of people around the globe in the International Year of Peace and UNICEF’s 40th anniversary; and Bessie Schadee, Netherlands, had designed a program to help households reduce energy use.

Together they called on Robert Gilman, astro-physicist and radical lifestyle activist; his starting point was the Club of Rome’s report Limits to Growth. At that time, all the rich countries pointed to poor countries as the cause of global problems (for having too many babies), while poor countries pointed to rich countries for over-use of resources. Published in 1972, the book was based on computer modeling.

The founders of GAP borrowed the Club of Rome's computer models and ran some more simulations. They showed conclusively that resource use is the key issue: only if the rich change their consumption patterns is there hope for a future human civilization.

So the course was clear: experiment with our own lifestyles and resource use, then communicate to others what can be done, and how. The first GAP family to do so was born.

The members The first two countries were the USA and Netherlands, who worked in parallel to produce the first draft EcoTeam workbooks in 1989. They were quickly joined by others – Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and UK were among the first.
Membership quickly grew to nearly 20 countries; a bit too quickly, perhaps, because not all members were successful. We learned a lot… One tangible result was the development, together with GAP Russia, of our 'cultural adaptation' package for new members. With that innovation the time needed for a new member to develop a fully-functioning ‘GAP program’ fell from four years to one, and the success rate rose to almost 100%.

An International meeting in the UK in 1993: at Hazelwood House, Devon.
Back row from left: Peter van Luttervelt – Netherlands, Trewin Restorick – UK, Michael Harbottle – UK, Michel Boddington – UK, Stan Nitak – Poland, Thomas Imboden – Switzerland, Nadia McLaren – Norway, Hannes Jumppanen – Finland, Colin Hutchinson – UK, David Gershon – USA.
Front row: Pirjo Tulikukka – Finland, Audrey Dickson - Ireland, Eirwin Harbottle – UK, Kjell Brokvam – Norway, Angelika Laube - Sweden, June Paton – Canada, Karin Sillander – Finland, Bessie Schadee – Netherlands, Marilyn Mehlmann – Sweden, Alexander Mehlmann – Sweden.

Some ins and outs
Some members dropped out because they failed - either closed down, or stopped delivering GAP programs. One reason was poor succession, when the person who took the initiative left, which in at least one case was quite dramatic. The other major reason was lack of structured support in a long-term perspective, to enable the new MO not only to develop functioning programs but also to establish a viable delivery system. Now we know how to do it better.

The programs
First out was the household EcoTeam program, in USA, Netherlands, Canada and then Sweden. Next step was to further develop the ‘empowerment’ concept into a training program for EcoTeam coaches, which in Sweden almost tripled the success rate. Iceland, Russia and other countries joined in. The program has continued to develop and thrive to this day. Latest addition is Hungary, with Ukraine next and several other countries lining up.

Global Action Plan International today

Today, the GAP International network still shares the same beliefs as the network’s founders - that radical changes to consumption are needed and that people are key to achieving this. With new members joining the network is centred on international collaboration, skills and knowledge sharing and a common goal to work together to advance and implement approaches that empower people across the world to adopt truly sustainable lifestyles. 

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