Subtitle: Imagination taking power

The ‘Imagine’ Tour of Switzerland, September 2022.

We had been talking about doing a tour with the Reseau Transition Suisse Romande for about 3 years, but every time we had it sorted, Covid would pop by and ruin the party. Finally though it was possible, and so the ‘Imagine Tour’ was ready to get started. It started in Geneva. I arrived into Geneva on Monday evening and headed to Geneva University for the evening’s event. I was one of the speakers at Alternatiba Leman‘s conference, with the evening titled ‘What is needed for a real change?

After some introductions, the first speaker was IPCC climate scientist Julia Steinberger who had the best ‘climate change in 15 minutes’ presentation I’ve seen: passionate, rigorously scientific, motivating and truthful. Then I spoke, with interpreter Xavier Combe, my companion for the whole tour, picking up from where Julia left off, giving a taste of what a Transition future could be like if we were actually now to do everything we possibly could do.

We were then joined by Veronique Kämpfen from the Fédération des Entreprises Romandes, the umbrella association of companies in French-speaking Switzerland, and Vincent Subilia of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce for a panel discussion. The discussion, led by questions from the audience, was pretty charged, passionate, fiery, as well as sometimes funny and revealing.

Veronique and Vincent brought a mainstream business-as-usual business perspective which very much ran counter to the mood in the room and to where Julia and I were coming from, and the paradigms of ‘business-as-usual with slight tweaks’ and ‘we have no choice other than to reimagine everything’ were clearly and passionately argued by both sides.

The evening finished with brilliant stand up comedian Thomas Weisel, who did a whole set reflecting on the evening with many jokes at the different speakers’ expense. It’s the first time I’ve heard anyone do a set of Rob Hopkins material. Very funny. We should have more stand up comedians at the end of talks like this.

Next day I taught at L’Espace, a hub for ethical businesses and social enterprise which is part of a larger project which includes a co-operative shop, cooperative housing apartments for over 300 people with gardens on the roof and amazing views of the city.

Rooftop food gardens on the top of L’Espace, Geneva.
Views of the city from the roof.

The tour had generated a lot of press coverage. This was a 2 page interview in Le Temps, one of the leading national papers.

It was really inspiring to see cooperative housing on such a scale. I did a short conference/workshop with staff from Loyco and Patagonia Switzerland, which was introduced by Geneva State Councillor Fabienne Fischer, in charge of the Department for the Economy and Employment for the canton of Geneva..

With the teams from Loyco and Patagonia Switzerland.
Fabienne Fischer introducing the workshop.

We did some time travel, we discussed how to implement imagination into business, and lots of other things too. Then we all had lunch, and had lots of conversations with many of the 40 or so people who attended. And then we were off to Basel.

On the the morning of Day Three, Muriel Raemy and Martin Gunn from Réseau Transition Suisse Romande and I travelled to Frick, for the IFOAM Organics Europe Youth event organised by IFOAM Organics Europe, over 150 young people from across Europe coming together to discuss organic farming. I was their opening keynote speaker. Before I spoke there was a panel made up of young farmers and activists and people working in the food industry. It was very interesting, but one of the guys from the supermarket sector kept saying that he thought it was important to be “pragmatic”, several times.

When it was my time for my keynote, I started by saying that I thought that was the last thing they should be, and to tell a room full of young people, in the time of a climate and ecological emergency that demands that we reimagine everything, to be pragmatic, felt to me like absolutely the wrong thing to say. Quoting Jim Dator, I told them “every useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous”.

I don’t want to hear your pragmatic ideas, I told them, I want to hear your ridiculous ones, because they are the ones with the sufficient level of ambitious thinking. It was a beautiful audience to speak to, really passionate and engaged. And one of them knew who Sun Ra was (I always show his picture and ask, and it’s rare that people know who he is).

We then had to dash away in order to catch our train to Lausanne, a beautiful city above a huge lake with mountains in the background. It’s a pretty hilly city, and one rapidly needs to develop the stamina of a mountain goat in order to get around the place. For that evening and the next day, I was the guest of the municipality of Lausanne, and they were amazing hosts.

In Lausanne with Xavier Combe, my wonderful interpreter and travelling companion.

That evening I was speaking at the Casino de Montbenon, a 500 seater theatre that had sold out weeks before. The conference was called ‘What if we imagine a positive future together?’ and it was just delightful. It’s so nice, after Covid, to speak again to full theatres, and in Lausanne the audience were amazing, full of energy and really engaged.

The conference was moderated by Marc Münster, co-director of Sanu, a sustainability training institute. The evening was introduced by Natacha Litzistorf from the municipality of Lausanne, in charge of Housing, Environment and Architecture, and then by Noémie Cheval and Martin Gunn who gave an overview of their work. I did my presentation, which included a delightful Time Machine, with beautiful reflections from the audience about the future they travelled to. We wrapped up with a great Q&A and book signings, and meeting lots of lovely people.

Next day started very early, setting up a workshop that started at 8.30am. I was presenting a workshop about imagination at the invitation of the municipality of Lausanne, and 100 people had subscribed to take part. We had four hours for the workshop, and they absolutely flew past.

We started with one of my favourite ice-breakers and imagination wake-up exercises, Potato Creatures. You put people into groups of six and give them a few potatoes and some cocktail sticks, and tell them to be back in 15 minutes with a creature, ready to share its name, what it eats, and its mating call. It’s such a great exercise. They basically just giggle for 15 minutes before returning with some crazy creature.

Potato creatures. Photo: Véronique Drougard

We did a beautiful Time Machine exercise, then put people into pairs to reflect on what they saw, and then into fours to capture that on large sheets of paper in words, or drawings, or whatever. People then moved around the room to see what each other had written. After a presentation about imagination, and the elements of the Imagination Sundial, we went outside to play ‘Yes, But/Yes, And’ which was a lot of fun.

Beautiful photo of our time travelling. Photo: Véronique Drougard

I then put people into groups of 6 to do their ‘Walk of What If’, exploring the question “What if Lausanne became the most imaginative city in Switzerland’. When they returned, we laid them all out on the floor in a long line, and people selected the ones that most excited them and were then invited to post them on the wall with their contact details to arrange a follow up meeting to discuss it further. And then we closed. It was a really engaged group, and a lot to squeeze into 4 hours.

Photo: Véronique Drougard
Photo: Véronique Drougard
Photo: Véronique Drougard

After the workshop, the municipality of Lausanne took us on a tour of some projects in the city, led by the community but supported by the municipality. The first was a street that had been closed to traffic and then had had a playground built, a mural painted down its spine with the support of local school kids.

The second was a street where some planters and trees had been added to bring new life to a particular street. Then we went to a street that was also closed to cars, and then had a lot of its tarmac taken up and gardens planted. It was amazing to see the before-and-after photos, and such a joy to see broken up tarmac with plants growing out of it, something we are going to need to see an awful lot more of over the next few years. The street, formerly rammed full of parked cars, now also has an organic veg stall in it most days, places for people to sit out, and is beautifully calm and peaceful.

And after.

Then we visited La Trame, a clothes repairing project social enterprise, which sells clothes they’ve upcycled as well as being an amazing resource for people to learn sewing and other clothes repairing skills. Our last stop was in the basement of a small bar, where we met a brewer from a local small brewery whose name, sadly I didn’t write down, but he told the story of his brewery, how hard it is to make a living on a small scale, and he shared his beers with us. I had a rather nice saison while sitting outside the bar doing an interview with Lucile Solari, for her programme called Prise de Terre, for the Swiss national radio (RTS).

But the impression I most take away with me was of the street whose concrete and tarmac was gone, with trees and shrubs growing, children playing and water that would have just run off now bring absorbed. A delicious taste of the future.

A sight we will need to see a lot more of, broken up tarmac and concrete.

Friday was a day of interviews. The first was in Morges (between Lausanne and Geneva) with Antoine, of Morges en Transition and also host of the SwissBox podcast. We had a really delightful chat which was broadcast live but which you can also see below.

The second was for a programme of Swiss national TV called Geopolitis, held by Cédrinne Vergain and filmed high up in the TV station’s building looking out over the city. The interview was about how Switzerland should react now following a summer of record-breaking heatwaves. One question was about whether people living in cities would accept the idea that cities should also include forests. I had to point out that just looking out of the huge windows in front of us we could already see several forests in the city, and people seemed to be pretty OK with those!

The last was with the Circular Metabolism podcast, hosted by Aristide Athanassiadis, a rich and deep conversation also with Noémie Cheval of Réseau Transition Suisse Romande. And that was our day done. Lots of travelling, lots of thinking and speaking. Anyway, enjoy the video below for a taster…

Day Six was the day of the Alternatiba festival in the beautiful Parc des Bastions in the centre of Geneva. Gorgeous place, filled with over 180 stalls from different campaigns and groups. A really buzzing event. I was part of the Réseau Transition Suisse Romande stall, hanging out there to talk to people, as well as walking round, checking out the samba band, the amazing musicians on solar powered cargo bikes (see photo below) and chatting at length with the guy who has created a simple system for using urine to water garden plants (I often end up hanging out with the humanure types…).

In the afternoon, along with the Reseau Transition guys, I ran a workshop in the middle of the park, on imagination, Transition, Yes, But/Yes, And and more. It was rather lovely, about 50 people playing together, and discussing the importance of being able to imagine what comes next. Once we were done, and had had a beer and a pizza, we were off to Bienne for a much-needed day off.

The workshop in the park.

Sunday, was a much-needed day off in Biel, spent sleeping late, sketching, and swimming in the gorgeous lake in Biel, warm, clean and amazing. Monday morning was spent with the Réseau Transition Suisse Romande team, discussing funding and ideas for their future, before we travelled to Yverdon-les-Bain, our last stop for the tour.

Tuesday, the final day, was the fullest of the whole thing. By 8am I was teaching a two and a half hour class to students at CPNV, the Professional Training Centre, in Yverdon. About 80 young people. To be honest, I often dread doing talks in schools and colleges because they can be very hard work if people aren’t really interested.

This lot were the best group of young people I ever worked with. We did mapping, Time Machine adventuring, discussions about climate change and what it means, discussions in pairs … it was rather wonderful. They really engaged and really enjoyed the session. Then the teachers showed us the garden they had built around the college, with its insect hotel in the shape of the college’s logo.

We then piled into pedal powered rickshaws and, accompanied by multiple members of Yverdon in Transition on bicycles, and accompanied by a news crew from RTS News, we headed to an amazing tool library place, la Tatouthèque, before heading on to the Centre Pro Natura de Champ-Pittet, one of the leading nature reserves and nature education places in Switzerland, for a lunch meeting with people from lots of different local associations and campaigns in Yverdon. Then I travelled to HEID-VD St Roche to do an interview with Dominique Bollinger for a series of episodes he is making, and then had a very short break before the final event of the evening (and the tour).

The evening was at La Marive, a big conference centre. When we arrived, in the canal next to the venue, moored just in front, was a boat called ‘Imagine’, a nice bit of serendipity.  Before the evening talk, I met with the municipality of Yverdon, the two co-Mayors and other members of staff. We had a great conversation, over supper, about future directions and inspiration from other places.

Then, after signing some books, was the evening talk. 450 people filled the space, and it was such a delightful evening, such a great buzz in the room. The evening was introduced by Laure Deschaintre from Yverdon En Transition who told a story of Yverdon in 2030 in a way that name-checked all of the partner organisations who were supporting the evening, really lovely.

Noémie Cheval and Martin Gunn from Réseau Transition Suisse Romande talked beautifully about the Hub, and the co-Mayor of Yverdon, Carmen Tanner, gave a very funny introduction, really delightful. Then it was my talk, which was a lot of fun. A beautiful and really responsive audience, and lots of fun with Xavier Combe, my brilliant interpreter. A really magical night, which ended with more book signings, a beer, and a late night.

I’d like to really thank everyone at the Swiss Hub for their incredible planning, care and attention, which made this amazing tour such a success. Noémie, Martin, Muriel, Cinzia, Sylvie, Christelle and Johanna. Thanks to Xavier Combe for his amazing interpreting and company on the whole thing. Veronique Drougard for her amazing photos of the training in Lausanne.  Thanks to everyone at YET – Yverdon En Transition, Alternatiba Léman, IFOAM Organics Europe, Loyco and Patagonia Team, Randa, Audrey, Laura, Mirjam, Julie, Louisa, Thierry, Woody and Chrigi, Everyone at CPNV Centre professionnel du Nord vaudois, the municipalities in Lausanne – Julie, Muriel, Chloé – and Yverdon – Silli – and to everyone else. Thank you so much. May Transition flourish in Switzerland. Power to the Imagination!

P.S. – If you enjoyed the Swiss Tour, want to support the great work of the Réseau Transition Suisse Romande and see more Transition in Switzerland, please consider their crowdfunding campain!







  1. Tony Buck
    September 25, 2022

    As usual Rob, great to share your Transition adventures with you, very inspiring.

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