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OPEN Fellow – Isabel Carlisle






First Name



Bioregional Learning Centre

Job Title



Isabel is a team-builder and leader, communicator, facilitator, teacher, and innovator. She is skilled at analysing social challenges with a bird’s-eye view, then homing in on practical strategies and leverage points for systemic change. Her work is rooted in community and place while engaging many actors within a system. 

She started her career as an archaeologist of prehistoric sites, continued to explore material expressions of the human as an art critic for The Times and exhibitions curator at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and now works on solutions for a resilient future.

In 2003 Isabel set up and directed the Festival of Muslim Cultures that took place across Britain throughout 2006. Over 120 events in almost every conceivable art form brought audiences into contact with the Muslim world in order to build bridges of understanding between cultures.

Her own experience of putting herself on the line as a change agent has shaped the design of One Year in Transition (1YT), a programme for people who want to make a livelihood in the field of social change. It is open to all ages and sits within the programmes of the Bioregional Learning Centre, Isabel’s latest project.

The Bioregional Learning Centre acts as a backbone organisation serving the sustainable future of South Devon. Its work lies in bringing many individuals, organisations and groups together to create a collective strategy towards a resilient bioregion. One that addresses food, energy, water and waste and considers how ecology and economy can work together.

Why am I an OPEN Fellow?

I want to offer real-world challenges in the field of whole-systems change and sustainable economies to those in the world of business. We need more intelligent and creative thinking brought to bear on our shared future. I desire to be part of an international community that is solutions-focused and working collaboratively on problem-solving for resilience.

Areas of Expertise

SDGs / sustainable development;Social sustainability issues;Environmental sustainability issues;Economic sustainability issues;Strategy;Innovation;Social Entrepreneurship;Responsible leadership;Governance & Ethics;Systems thinking;Foresight;Teaching livelihood-creation and strategic leadership skills around wicked problem-solving

My expertise in more detail

My work over the past five years with Transition Network, the international movement for community action towards sustainability, has exposed me to a wide range of projects in the fields of social, environmental and economic sustainability. I have been privileged to meet leaders in alternative currencies, renewable energy, organic agriculture, social enterprise, community development and many other related fields. I live in Totnes, where Transition started and acted as a Trustee of Transition Town Totnes for five years.

The new Bioregional Learning Centre is addressing the challenge of scaling up these innovations at an integrated regional level, here in South Devon. To that end, I am part of a new Good Growth working group for Devon that is developing an alternative economic strategy for the county. I am also working as a consultant on surveying the existing economy in Devon, looking for leverage points that would win resilience and sustainability, and recommending projects that could be scaled up and the kind of organisation that could support the growth of a new economic approach. We are forward-planning for climate change, resource depletion, eco-system degradation and economic contraction.

On the ecology (environment) front the Bioregional Learning Centre is engaging citizens in taking responsibility for the environment and is working at the whole-systems level on food, energy, water, waste, fibre systems and the connections between them. We are building on the whole-catchment approach that is part of the EU Water Framework Directive and working with the South Devon Catchment Partnership and West Country Rivers Trust. We plan to use Community Charters to help communities steward their natural and cultural heritage.


I set up, direct and teach on the livelihood-creation programme One Year in Transition; I set up and direct the Bioregional Learning Centre in South Devon; for five years I worked as Education Coordinator for Transition Network; I also set up and am active in the Community Chartering Network for local governance of resources and wellbeing; I am a member of the European Commons Assembly 


A masterclass in using Regenerative Design for place-based economies; a masterclass in Action Enquiry and personal growth; a masterclass in the art of leading social change; a masterclass in how the Commons is shifting economic thinking; a module in economic innovation for sustainable futures, drawing on international examples; a module in whole-systems change in a regional economy, drawing on the work of her Bioregional Learning Centre and encompassing food, energy, water, waste.
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