Pathways to Village Building

Pathways to Village Building

Authoring a Real Story of Change


Meet Janani. She is the founder of GRIN (Growing In Nature), dedicated to connecting children to nature for a healthy, happy future. Based in the city of Bangalore, India, GRIN is a social enterprise working to build a sustainable and equitable solution to helping every child in India play in Nature.

Like so many creative projects, GRIN emerged in service to a set of intersecting needs in the local community...

​Janani observed how young adults were moving into the urban environment from the surrounding rural areas to find work and new livelihoods; these new community members had grown up close to the outdoors and were keenly familiar with nature’s patterns. Could their outdoor experience be shared with their new urban community in some way?

Meanwhile, youth growing up in the urban environment typically had little safe access to nature, and could benefit from guides who could inspire and mentor them towards their own personal connection with the earth. 

Recognizing opportunity, Janani gathered with other stakeholders. Over a period of five years, the group has continued working to co-create a robust mentoring environment that supports mentors to share nature’s wonders with the next generation, with amazing results.

Janani isn't implementing this strategy in isolation, however. She has a proven, repeatable map that allows her to look at the bigger picture of her community, helping her to assess the strengths of what is already in place and working well, as well as to identify many of the gaps and needs that are waiting to be met more effectively. 

Janani also has tools that help her choose where the most effective places to leverage connection and change might be within her community, so she knows where to start, with a clear vision of what she is working towards. She also observes the gifts and skills of others in her community and is able to gather a network of support when needed, so that she doesn't have to go it alone. Rather, she helps empower and engage others in a collective movement of community building. 

Instead of simply experiencing the existing story of her community operating in increasing isolation from nature, Janani’s efforts enliven her community members to work together to intentionally author their collective experience moving forward. Her community members become active authors of the positive changes they seek to experience together. You'll have a chance to hear more about Janani's story in a video interview ​later on this page...

​Her story is one example of a unique strategy for change that has been successfully implemented by many other communities around the world, too. 

The tools and strategies that Janani implements for building a spirit of collaboration, and enabling mentoring and planning powerful gatherings, are part of the 8 Shields Village Building Map, a pathway for building strong community connections and resiliency. 

If you are a community builder, school leader, volunteer coordinator, or anyone interested in deepening connection and engagement for members of your community or team, you can learn and implement these strategies, and adapt them for your community’s needs, too.

Join us for the next cohort of Pathways to Village Building, our nine-month distance training in the art of positive changemaking for community connection and resilience.

Are You a Village Builder?

This course is ideal for people who want to catalyze and energize 8-Shields-based activities in their local regions. It will also benefit those looking to support and inform their existing community building projects and organizations, with an elegant set of simple design principles for creating connection and regenerative culture.

So whether you are working to help more people in your region connect deeply with nature, or you are looking to help bring more social coherence, peacebuilding, collaboration, and intergenerational support into your community, this course can help.

​Please join us if any of these are true for you:

  • ​You feel called to help empower community members of any age to fully activate their unique brilliance and deepest gifts.
  • You hope to surround the children in your community with caring and happy adults living in harmony with nature.
  • ​You seek creative ways to restore mentoring and nature-connection in modern times.
  • You already support a project using the 8 Shields model and would like to reach out to a wider area or to more diverse groups.
  • You are committed to building thriving, connective, and regenerative cultures in your region, project, or organization.
  • ​You are already involved with restoring natural systems and are looking for more tools to increase people connection and community initiatives.
  • You can imagine how your team might benefit from the 8 Shields model, with nature-based small-group dynamics and peace-building.
  • You are a practitioner of connection, community-building, or healing, trained in assisting personal growth or life transitions, who is looking for a helpful framework to increase the effectiveness of your work.

* If you are new to the 8 Shields model, we generally recommend beginning with the 9-month distance training Rebuilding Nature Connected Communities  (RNCC), and then continuing for a second year with Pathways to Village Building.

RNCC guides participants in understanding and embodying the Natural Learning Cycle, along with creating connective community events supported by the Acorn Team model. These foundations are important tools that Village Builders often rely upon in facilitating larger community building projects.

Email us ​at support (at) if you have questions about which program is the best fit for your situation and experience level.

About Pathways to Village Building

Pathways to Village Building is 9-month distance training program, coordinated by regenerative community designers Deborah Benham, Root Cuthbertson, and 8 Shields founder Jon Young. 

This program connects you with a network of peers and experienced changemakers from around the world. Grow and discover through ongoing live discussion and mentoring, as you learn and implement the practical tools and philosophy of Village Building.

Training methods include:

  • online course portal for accessing multimedia materials 

  • video meetings, via Zoom and Maestro, for both keynote presentations and peer sharing

  • guidance for the implementation of a local project 

  • one-on-one phone calls with your program mentor.

We support your learning by offering:

-How to enhance connection between people in your community.

-How to build the social “soil fertility” in your area, so more regenerative aspects can emerge.

-How to identify and recruit allies, partners, and future village builders.

-Cultural mentoring to role model pathways for more deeply nature-connected people.

-Community facilitation models that build harmony and strengthen existing relationships.

-Ways to support the healing of challenging relationships.

​The Power of Three...

8 shields logo

It's possible to get started on Village Building as a solo changemaker, since it’s important to start right where you’re at!  And, we’ve found that a group of invested stakeholders who “hold center” often experience a special synergy that ​jumpstarts ​the Village Building process. Particularly, a group of three...

A group of three forms an ideal collaborative team, with each member bringing a unique set of strengths and gifts to the emerging Village. We call this core group of three stakeholders a “triad.”  

Since 1995, the 8 Shields Institute has repeatedly employed the Triad Model with great success.  Worldwide, it has proven to be the most efficient way to build capacity, integrate leadership, and train stakeholders in the 8 Shields Model.  

We strongly recommend the Triad Model if you:

- want to jumpstart an Art of Mentoring community in your area

- seek expanded capacity to rebuild a regenerative culture in your area

- are a social changemaker cultivating a more resilient community

While you can opt to begin the Pathways to Village Building as an individual and find other stakeholders over time, we encourage registering as a triad to share the training fees and resources.  This is the most supportive approach for both learning and community building. The Triad Model works!  

We also offer a discount for joining as a triad, (or a dyad). Learn more about tuition splits for triads in the [registration section] at the bottom of this page.

Program Details

Experience 9 months of comprehensive training in Village Building, with access to one new in-depth study module per month.  Each module includes themed coursework, assignments, reflection study questions, and Q&A sessions with the course facilitators.

Explore the theoretical path and practical implementation of building the village through group mentoring, custom 1-on-1 mentoring sessions, and curated online training materials. Click the tab titles below to learn more about each component:

  • ​Group Mentoring
  • ​Custom mentoring
  • ​Online Training Materials

Learn and grow your Village Building skills,

through Group Mentoring: 

Engage with ​two Group Mentoring calls each month. You'll receive access to all of the session recordings, with 16 calls total from October through June. Each call is 1.5 hours. Calls are held on Thursdays​.  

Call dates: 

​Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 Dates coming soon...

Sessions include two special types of group training calls:

    • Group mentoring calls with Deborah Benham: Each month, look forward to connecting with a global network of peers, as you share the results of your Village implementation and dialogue around how to work with the best practices you are learning each month. These one hour calls are held monthly on Thursdays; choose from either 4am-5am Pacific, or 12pm-1pm Pacific (a third option may also be added).

    • Group mentoring calls with Jon Young: Get inspired and learn core principles and best practices of Village Building, drawing on Jon’s 30+ years of on-the-ground Village Building experiences with communities from around the world who are implementing the 8 Shields Model. These calls are held monthly on Thursdays; choose from either 11am-1230pm Pacific, or 5pm-630pm Pacific call times.

​Monthly Training Modules

​Click on ​the titles below to learn more about each module.

Module 1 (October): Orienting to the Village Building Core Model

Module 2 (November): Understanding Needs in Cultural Design

Module 3 (December): Teams & Anchoring

Module 4 (January): Supporting Peace, Communication, and Group Harmony

Module 5 (February): Designing For Creative Collaboration

Module 6 (March): Supporting Regenerative Leadership

Module 7 (April): Tools for Connection

Module 8 (May): Preparing the Groundwork

Module 9 (June): Bigger Picture Needs

​Village Builders In Action - Video Interviews

Village Building is an intentional process of community connection, serving to connect people-with-people and people-with-nature. ​Check out what Village Builder alumni are doing in their local communities:

​In this video, 8 Shields mentor Josh Lane interviews Janani Eswar ( and Siddharth Bharath ( about their experiences with implementing Village Building strategies and techniques in their ongoing community projects.

Meet the Course Coordinators

​Deborah Benham has been involved with 8 Shields and the Art of Mentoring since 2011. A participant on the 2015-2016 Village Builders program, she has since witnessed many successful applications of the program’s principles.  She is the current course coordinator for the Pathways to Village Building program and also coordinates a number of online and in-person short courses for 8 Shields.

Since 2017, Deborah has led a UK-based team incorporating a non-profit organization to support the development of 8 Shields activities in northwest Europe. Prior to this, as managing director of a sustainable living center, she introduced village building principles in support of developing a residential community and its educational programs. Part of the strategy team for 8 Shields Institute, Deborah is fascinated by the application of regenerative culture within organizations. She also works for the Transition Network, with a particular focus on social change, regenerative culture, and Transition Trainings. 

deborah benham

Deborah holds a Ph.D. in wildlife conservation, nature education, and the people/nature interface. After 15 years working in this field, she realized that the critical problems facing wildlife habitats are caused by disconnection and systemic problems within modern human societies. Searching for frameworks amplifying deep nature connection and regenerative culture, such as Gaia Education and Transition Network, she has been passionately committed to 8 Shields ever since discovering it. Deborah lives on a co-operative smallholding in East Devon, England, collaborating with the other members to embody and develop village building and nature connection principles in everyday practices.

​Root Cuthbertson​loves dancing, music, poetry, public libraries, matching needs with resources, monofloral honeys, generously inclusive humor, and stories about healing and hope. He has lived in a variety of village settings: nine summers as a youth at an 8-week overnight summer camp in the Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire; and ten years as a young adult in housing and dining co-operatives.  He has travelled to live and work at ecovillages and sustainability projects like Lost Valley Education Center, Pachamama, Wind Spirit, D Acres permaculture farm, and Rowe Camp and Conference Center.

​Root holds an M.A. in Environmental Education from Vermont College of Norwich University; he is a curriculum designer for 8 Shields Institute and Findhorn College; and former education director at The Newbold Trust​, a sustainable living centre in northeast Scotland. He is a certified trainer in Gaia Education eco-social design, and has co-led courses with Deborah and Jon at Schumacher College, in Spain and in Thailand on aspects of social sustainability and cultural mentoring. He attended the California Art of Mentoring camp in 2016, and since 2017 has staffed the first-time adult program at the Vermont Art of Mentoring camp. ​ He is part of two teams developing weekend programs: a UK-based one introducing folks to 8 Shields; and a New-England-based one combining 8 Shields with social change practices.  

Root is grateful for the savvy and soulful members of the co-operative smallholding in East Devon where he resides with his partner, Deborah. With Deborah, he co-ordinates the online course “Introduction to Regenerative Community Building” and the 3-part webinar called “Designing for Peace.” He is currently developing new courses with Jon for 8 Shields Institute, including “Designing For Peace 2.0.”

Jon Young is a co-founder of the 8 Shields Institute, a nature connection mentor, naturalist, wildlife tracker, author, workshop leader, consultant, public speaker, and storyteller. A leader in the field of nature-based community building, Jon has spent over 30 years researching the impact and significance of nature on human development.

Jon has authored several books on nature connection and mentoring, including What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World (2013), and Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature (2007). In 2016, he received the Champion of Environmental Education Award for his innovative work, which has inspired positive developments in the field, and fostered the growth of the global nature connection movement.

​"Our children and the coming generations need us now, more than ever, to rise to our genius and our greatness…​"

Over the last 30 years I’ve had the honor, the pleasure, and the responsibility to share the tools of culture repair and nature connection mentoring with people all over the world.

Constantly I look for patterns in the communities who have adopted the 8 Shields Model, especially where it is really taking root. I have found that there is a particular kind of individual behind the scenes that helps the community to flourish. I like to call these individuals Village Builders.

We are now seeking Village Builders to join us in a very special relationship to help understand and develop the networks of support required to build intergenerational cultural mentoring structures in their own communities.

I see the participants of this global initiative as an integral part of transforming the culture on the planet worldwide and restoring peace and well being for all and for future generations.

If you would like to join us on this journey, please apply now.”

-- ​Jon Young

Join a global movement exploring best practices in nature-based cultural mentoring, designing for peace, healing historic trauma, and building community:

Registration & Tuition

About Tuition Fees For This Training:

The 8 Shields Institute's financial model is a social enterprise. Every year we rely on generating a large percentage of our operating income from program fees.  This covers essential operational costs, like online hosting platforms, creating and updating content and materials, and staff time. We are also working steadily to secure grant funding to make all our offerings more affordable, and to provide discounts for those in need.  

We intentionally keep prices low to be as accessible as possible. A portion of the proceeds from this course will be allocated to the 8 Shields Reparations Fund, lending support to BIPOC-led (Black, Indigenous, Persons-of-Color) organizations working to establish racial equity in Outdoor Education and Nature Connection.

At 8 Shields, we value diversity in all its forms and commit to actively building a community that is diverse across many dimensions, including race, sex, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, ability, culture, nationality, socioeconomic status, occupational status, education, life experience, religion, political opinion, and level of comfort and experience with the outdoors. We commit to identifying, minimizing and removing barriers to participation in our programs.

​Choose from our sliding scale, payment plan, or group discount options below.

​Sliding Scale Options

Please choose one of the pricing options below, based on whether you are on a low income (sea level), mid-income (prairie level), or feel comfortably provided for with some to spare (mountain level) - this option enables a lower income person to attend.

We encourage those who are able to contribute to our “Community Coffer” fund (Mountain level option).  These contributions are earmarked for folks who apply for discounts on program fees. When you add $100 or more to your program fee, you support someone who may not otherwise be able to participate.  

You can choose to pay in one installment or a monthly payment plan over ten months. Payment plans include a 10% administration fee to cover the extra work needed for our staff to manage these. 

Payment Plan Options

​Small Group Discount Options

Previous participants report that the Village Builders program generates tremendous impact when ​the training and implementation process is shared by a small group of stakeholders.  We encourage triad group registrations, and we offer a reduced package price for triads.  

​Access special discounts on our other trainings... Village Builders will receive a registration code, valid for 12 months, to receive discounts on our other programs:

  • 50% off Village Talk - a community of practice and particularly recommended for folks who do not have a local group or triad.  You can learn more about Village Talk here.  You can opt in or opt out of Village Talk seasonally, 4 times per year.   
  • 50% off other 8 Shields digital courses - If you wish to explore other online courses during your 9-month course
  • 15% off an individual 9-month course (Year 1: Rebuilding Nature Connected Communities or Year 2: Pathways to Village Building)  if you have attended a residential or live event. Not valid in combination with small group discounts.

Frequently Asked Questions

​​This training is for me if...

​How much time do I need to do this course?

​​Do I need Internet ​access for this course?

I’m super busy - What if I fall behind?

Do my triad members need to be local?