About Me: Karryn Olson
I believe that when we base our livelihoods in Earth Care, People Care, and Surplus Share, entrepreneurship can be regenerative for our ecosystems and communities.
My approach is grounded in ecological design.
Design is about analyzing problems, engaging and learning from stakeholders, and envisioning and implementing solutions. Ecological design is rooted in what has worked on Earth for 3.5 billion years, and working with Nature.
I learned ecological design through permaculture. But let's face it, folks who haven’t heard of permaculture don’t wake up in the night thinking “I need permaculture!”
For these fields to be truly effective, we need to break out of “permavangelizing” due to our blind allegiance to the terms, and instead get really good at designing solutions that meet the needs of our communities and allow us to earn a sustainable living.
My approach adds the tools of entrepreneurship to your toolbox, so we can co-create our regenerative future.
When I learned about permaculture, I was especially excited about it as a career path. And over, the years I've realized that many of us in permaculture lack entrepreneurial skills because we understand the impact of “business as usual” and so have been “allergic” to learning the biz skills. I sure was. Heck, I got a Masters of Public Affairs (MPA), not an MBA, for a reason!
But after studying the Natural Step Framework for strategic sustainability planning in 2011, I realized that whole sectors will shift quickly towards greener and more socially just practices if we can speak their language. I realized that until now, permaculture has lacked a clear way to explain the business case for ecological design.
Around that same time, I was also starting my own permaculture design consulting business and understood too little about the business end.
Since then, I’ve trained in entrepreneurial leadership, and worked through an entrepreneur accelerator program where I studied and worked with the Business Model Generator canvas, and Lean Startup. I'm continually learning from innovative, kickass, and heart-centered coaches who use business as a force for good.
As a result, I tweaked my on-the-ground design work so that it combines coaching and consulting (to better serve my clients, who are women who either don't have time or money or life situations that enable them to do a PDC and they want to design their sites without getting overwhelmed doing it on their own). And I started teaching courses on regenerative right livelihoods.
In 2020, I'm deepening my practice, by continuing to study with Carol Sanford, a cutting-edge thought leader around regenerative entrepreneurship. I'm in both the Regenerative Women Entrepreneur community and the Regenerative Business Development community. This builds on my learning from her Change Agent Development work in 2019.
My approach is eco-feminist.
In undergrad, a whole new way of understanding opened up for me as a women’s studies minor and a rape prevention educator. Later, when studying natural resource management and comparative/international affairs in my Masters, my research and papers focused on women and sustainable development.
Did you know that much of women’s work in Africa happens in the “informal economy” that’s not on the books, thus rendering their economic contributions invisible and skewing aid away from them to the “formal economy” (which can only exist, even in industrialized economies, because it is supported by the unpaid caring work done mostly by women?)
OR that most of the food that feeds families in Global Majority Nations is grown by women smallholders, who receive little aid, again because they are considered “too small” to support?
OR that agriculture is the most environmentally detrimental activity humans undertake?
Living and working in Ghana and India, I was always drawn to the daily realities and learning the wisdom of the women and farmers.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, who combines astronomical intellectual power with indigenous ways of knowing, became one of my sheroes. And Joanna Macy introduced me to Deep Ecology, the Great Turning, and the Work that Reconnects.
In 2005, I co-founded the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute, and have served as a lead teacher for PDCs, and Board President. I learned a LOT about permaculture and business models, and the challenges for women in this field (even if you have awesome supportive men on your team, like I do).
I taught for a decade as an adjunct in the Environmental Studies and Sciences Dept. at Ithaca College. And I co-coordinated an annual professional development workshop on "Integrating Sustainability into the Curriculum," taught an online course on a similar theme, and still collaborate regionally. I lived for 14 years in Ecovillage at Ithaca, and have have two wonderful daughters who identify as women of color. Like many women, I've had a super meandering path towards my livelihood!
In 2012, I co-organized the first Women in Permaculture Gathering in the Northeast, and have regularly attended these gatherings, and see firsthand the impact of folks who identify as women having their own spaces to connect bravely, and have space to show up audaciously.
In 2013, I interviewed several women about women’s leadership in permaculture, who faced similar challenges. I subsequently wrote “A Pattern Language for Women in Permaculture” and attended the first North American Permaculture convergence to organize women's tracks, and subsequently compiled “Best Practices for Supporting Women’s Leadership in Permaculture.”
I believe women are key for co-creating our regenerative future.
Along this path of lifelong learning, I've found research that shows that
We get the work done, and we excel at doing it collaboratively, with transparency, and considering long-term impact..
The world urgently needs regenerative solutions, many of which will arise from historically marginalized perspectives..
Studies of women who are managers show that they outperform men in leadership, including the emotional intelligence needed to foster these connections and processes that build bridges across historical divides and bring forth regenerative win-win solutions..
However, in my extensive conversations with women in the fields like permaculture, I've documented the myriad challenges women face..
My big a-ha moment was when I realized that all of these challenges adversely affect women's livelihoods and flourishing..
So I decided that my highest contribution would be to use my privilege to learn all I could about entrepreneurship, and how to use these skills in service to Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. And to create transformative programs where women*--in all our diversity--can get the support needed to launch our unique highest contribution into the world..
I also support folks who identify as men through my 1:1 work.
Here's what I'm working on:
I offer transformative programs that nurture folks in the three earliest phases of entrepreneurship. Read more about those here.
Folks who work with me also gain access to the Regenepreneurs Network.
The Network offers a robust calendar of monthly themes, hiveminds, skillshares, and weekly check-ins, all designed to help you move steadily ahead on the various aspects of your regenerative right livelihood.
If you need urgent support around your livelihood, or focused on your particular situation, schedule a 1:1 session here. You can connect with me for a free strategy session, and we can both see if my approach is a good fit for your needs.
If you need inspiration about how other women are figuring out their regenerative right livelihoods, join me as for the next interview in my Regenepreneurs Interview Series. It's not your usual interview, we focus specifically on how our guest figured out their niche, pricing, offerings, and marketing, to design their Abundance Model.
Here's how you can connect with me:
I send out occasional emails that are more like love letters. I write about why it can be hard to thrive in permaculture, or as a regenerative entrepreneur—especially as a woman—and emphasize the tools that help us thrive. I also cultivate our big audacious visions for the regenerative future we want to create. Enter your contact info on the sign up form to receive those emails.
I'm actively questioning social media, but I do post occasionally on the Regenepreneurs page on Facebook.
I'm also on Instagram @regenepreneurs
I'll look forward to connecting with you. Thank you for the good work you do in the world towards co-creating our regenerative future!