This is the fifth in a series of Q&As with JEI Fellows about the path they’ve taken to financial activism and what they’ve learned along the way. For this post, we interviewed Ain Bailey, founder and lead designer of New Seneca Village and a
New Seneca Village is a retreat space and social ecosystem seeking to secure gorgeous land and a founding endowment in order to provide justice-focused leaders and healers with access to time, space and nature within an intentional community centered on restoration, connection and visioning – in perpetuity.
JEI: What is New Seneca Village today? How much of your vision has been fulfilled, and what’s next?
AB: Today New Seneca Village is entering the third year of our pilot phase, hosting women and non-binary leaders and healers of color in an experience centered on restoration, connection and visioning for the sake of their sustained leadership. We continue to partner with existing retreat centers to host up to four residencies a year while organizing to collectively own our own retreat center space so that we can significantly expand the number of Villagers we can host, while deepening our own ability to be adaptively responsive with our offerings and space.
New Seneca Village is a love offering born out of our knowing what our leaders, across sector, issue area and region/country, are dealing with, which is often similar patterns of negligent and targeted abuse at the hands of institutions and organizational actors who are not ready to make real space for the presence or contributions of leaders of color. These repetitive patterns exist inside of a broader culture that celebrates productivity at all costs, while sidelining reflection, intuition, the creativity that lies in dormancy and the power that is accessed through our connection to ourselves, to nature and to our communities.
Our current systems ask our leaders to solve many of our society’s most egregious issues and yet provides them with often conditional funding that is nominal for the current work, much less for the work that lies ahead which requires that they are funded also for nimbleness and creativity. We want our leaders to feel abundantly resourced so that they can connect easily to their wise inner selves as they expansively vision and guide our progress.
New Seneca Village is an invitation into a self-guided liberatory embodiment practice, and it is designed to be a paradigm shift opportunity. At the same time, the productivity programming of capitalism, philanthropy and nonprofit culture is strong and insistent. We want to make sure that the Village experience, the relationships we build and the intentional and impromptu conversations that center our well-being, dreams and visions continue well past the sacred time we share together and this work is still emerging.
There are many fascinating patterns and questions that continue to emerge in this offering, and they continue to signal the importance of our founding vision of a permanent retreat center that is designed and governed by us and for us. We are actively looking for donors who understand our work, resonate with our legacy vision and can commit to funding us comprehensively, extending beyond the acquisition of land to the (re)development of structures for the intended use of the property, and for appropriately compensated staffing and ongoing self-determined sustainability. This means funding New Seneca Village in a way that allows us to be good stewards with and for the land (and the structures on it), while remaining centered on our offering and all that it takes to be engaged with and responsive to our Village community.
JEI: When did the vision for New Seneca Village come to you? Did it seem feasible? How did you respond to it?
AB: The vision for New Seneca Village came to me roughly eight years ago, and I rejected it immediately as someone else’s work to do. For years I simply ignored the vision because it felt too big and too hard to do right. Creating this vision with intention and the appropriate level of resources was especially important because our work is focused on pouring into communities that too often get shortchanged. In time, I realized that the vision had been working in and on me despite my initial rejection and that I was being led to relationships that significantly shaped the eventual Village offering and to experiences that gave me access to resources and connections to potentially make the vision possible.
My JEI experience—especially the intentionally held container of both introspection and deep listening—supported my ability to communicate my vision, knowing that it would be held with respect. Being with others over the nine months of the experience allowed for the development of trust, which is only expanded whenever I am able to gather with Fellows from my own and other cohorts. JEI attracts such interesting people and creates an environment where we can share not just our professional strategies and innovations, but also our personal passions and heart-held questions.
All of this resonates personally and within the New Seneca Village vision, which is more interested in questions—and how they inform, expand and guide us—than it is interested in answers, which can often shut down crucial elements of living, creation and experimentation.
JEI: How do you continue to feed your vision?
AB: New Seneca Village is an invitation to practice the future now. It is a liberated space for leaders and healers to strengthen their connection to their own sovereignty and to their innate and sacred purpose. And to all of the resources that are beyond the limitations of funding and organizational structures.
To be a useful steward of this transformational work that is alive at both the individual and the collective level, I steep myself in solitude and prayer. Prayer is shorthand for my practice of devoting time, energy and commitment to my intentions for this work while asking for and remaining open to direction.
In this practice of holding vision, I spend a lot of my time daydreaming generative questions and hosting intentional conversations. How do we get free? Or does this get us free? are the questions that I hold most frequently as I continue to be present to all that is unfolding now for and with Villagers and the Village team.
I find my answers most often in nature, where it is easy to wait, listen and look for wisdom as shared by the trees, my ancestors, sunsets and the stars, to name a few sources of ever-present clarity and power. Nature tells the true story of our belonging and of all the ways that it is possible to be nourished, sustained and powerful within this human experience.
I am also deeply connected with and grateful to my growing community of leaders, healers, dreamers and doers who share their hearts and their visions with me, thereby continuing to connect me to the Village vision and beyond it to all that is possible.
Ain Bailey is a justice focused philanthropic strategist and collaborative leader whose work is grounded in infinite possibility, proven by the miracle of this planet and our shared humanity. After years of funding racial justice, organizational development, housing and narrative shift as levers for advancing an equitable and just society, it became clear to Ain that the systems will not change unless we change the way that we care for the leaders who are doing the complex and perpetual work of shifting them. This belief, along with her deep knowing of the transformative and healing power of nature and the longstanding benefit of healing practices, compelled her to develop New Seneca Village to sustain cis, transfeminine and non-binary women of color social justice leaders who have been at the forefront of all major societal movement in this country (whether they were acknowledged or not.) Ain is most energized by her role as the Founder & Co-Designer of New Seneca Village, a retreat and visioning project designed to connect these critical leaders to nature, restorative practices and each other such that their leadership and work is grounded in restoration, community connection and expansive vision. New Seneca Village is a response to her long-standing question, grounded in 400 years of history and made more relevant by the events of 2020: What is possible for our society, our people and our planet if we abundantly and consistently resourced the leaders advancing our society’s most evolved values ?