Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interview with Steven Wright, Co-Founder, 4 Walls International

An excerpt from Luminaries on the Verge
by Brigitte Taylor
Photograph by Brett Holman

Risk Taking as a Way of Life

-A tribute to the risk taking social entrepreneurs who continue to inspire others with the courage to follow the voice of the soul – the heart’s true desire.

Steven Wright, Co-founder, 4 Walls International

It was Earth Day 2009. I woke up thinking about the word “sustainability,” the Earth Day festivities and the scientist that I was going to meet who would be happy to come to a community which rarely hosts environmental events and health promotions. I have been coordinating an environmental/health promotion through a festival called Envirofest at Chollas Lake Park for years and I felt it was time for solution-oriented scientists to come forward and support our efforts by educating the community about our relationship with the planet. I believed that someone would be available and committed to educating communities about the state of our environment and also offering solid information that could be integrate within our lives on a daily basis. I intended to encounter these people at Earth Day; they would offer a hands-on approach to educating our community about the role it plays in environmental strengthening and the alleviation of poverty.

As I visited various vending booths, I quickly noticed the nonprofit, 4 Walls International and its co-founder, Steven Wright, handing out information and signing up supporters for the sustainable housing called Earthships that are built using tires, bottles, cans, dirt and other easily found materials. It was obvious that these visionaries brought energy of fire and enthusiasm to Earth Day and speaking with them reinforced my knowing that anything is possible. Individually and collectively -- it is we who hold the power to positively impact our environments regardless of seemingly limited resources – financial or otherwise.

I learned that 4 Walls International was organized in February 2009 and by January 2010, they had already completed a pilot project exemplifying the benefits of an Earthship, conducted several fundraising and building events as well as participated in Envirofest as educators, allowing the community to get a solid understanding for the value of the Earthship, neighborhood’s role in waste reduction, poverty elimination, border awareness issues and overall self-determination.

4 Walls recently completed exploratory building with the crew of Earthship investor, Earthship Biotecture in Baja, California. Every month since my initial meeting with Steven, I have been amazed by the rapid progress and sustained energy that this newly formed organization has been able to maintain. Further, I have witnessed the support they have received from people from all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic status for the solutions they offer to counter the housing and environmental crises. As I have observed 4 Walls’ evolution and growth, it has confirmed to me what I know: anything is possible when we believe in our dreams and continue to press forward, regardless of obstacles and challenges faced along the way; regardless of the doubts of others, the state of the economy or societal fears.

I invite you to meet Steven Wright, Co-founder, 4 Walls International

Coming from your educational background in evolutionary biology, what was your plan for your life?

The plan was to go to graduate school for another 8 years and become an evolutionary biologist. I quickly realized that the lab and the lifestyle weren’t for me. For me it was more about the travel and adventure and being one with nature. The research trips I had taken over the years did have a purpose however in opening my eyes to what is happening to Mother Earth.

How did you create 4 Walls/describe how your vision came to you:

We used to have lots of natural resources and no human/garbage problem. Now it’s the opposite. So we need a solution that reduces the garbage and provides for people, allowing natural systems to recover... I found out about earthships and it just seemed like the logical solution. The vision was sort of coaxed out of me from a series of questions from my brother, and then working with 4 Walls co-founders Christian and Waylon, we refined it. We wanted to aggressively push the building of these homes.

What is so striking about the earthship as such an excellent model for sustainable housing?

The aspect of the earthship that is most important, for me, is the reduction in daily survival stress. A simple version of these homes can be a significant improvement in the standard of living for very simple, poor, people.

As your company evolves, what do you notice changing with regard to your original intent? What has remained?

I think the original idea of making this accessible to the poorest people on earth has remained in focus, just the path to that goal is much different. We KNOW where we are going, we just don’t know how what exactly will happen along the way. It’s a pretty fun ride though.

How has your involvement and development of this nonprofit altered your worldview, including view on humanity and views on humankind’s relationship to the earth?

My view of humanity hasn’t changed at all. We started this thing to try to fix what’s happening, and to bring those close to us and those willing to hold on to the idea, in to weather the storm. However, looking at the amount of American tax-dollars being spent in “Aid” around the world, we want to know where the money is going. We’ve traveled to these areas, and if we had a fraction of the money we are sending overseas we would create far more impact.

I am aware that you practice meditation. How has your meditation practice influenced your impressions of the role of science and spirituality in your life?

Meditation has really helped me to let go. It allows me to charge my battery, tapping into the eternal rhythm that flows through everything. I feel much more clear after meditating.  My view of science has changed.  Now, I see it as a way of “micro-observation” because science wants to break everything down and break it apart into little pieces instead of viewing everything as connected and ONE. Evolution, after all, is the study of how we are all related, tracing all species back to ONE common ancestor.

As you move along your path and implement your vision, how has this journey shaped your personal understanding of the meaning of your life?

The journey has given me an appreciation for the journey!  I’d have to say the journey has simply reinforced what I already know and what I already am.

In what areas has this process challenged you and encouraged the shaping of your personal growth?

It has challenged my patience and taught me to let go of things I cannot control.

How has it strengthened you?

All the positive feedback we’ve gotten along the way strengthens us, big time.

What is the greatest thing you have learned to date as a result of creating 4 Walls?


What major changes do you feel you’ve made personally as you work your passion and realize the vision that you are actually living?

Personal changes would be some of the self-destructive behavior being cut out. My mind is much clearer now, and the world is a much more magical place. I see signs everywhere now, and the NOW is so much damn fun.

What are some of the most startling observations that you have made since your undertaking of the 4 Walls project?

I don’t know if I’ve ever been startled from anything resulting in our projects. Maybe how relatively fast it is all happening?

What is your long-term goal for 4 Walls?

Our goal is to build 50 homes at a time with our main labor force being the poorest people in the world living in environmentally damaged areas. We want an office on every continent and to be contracted by national governments. Basically, we want 100 million dollars so we can really put a dent in this problem.

What existing circumstances do you perceive as major challenges to the earth/environment? 

Government.  I feel that people intuitively want to take care of their environment and provide for their families needs of shelter, food, water, and sanitation. Governments generally tend to take a while to get things done, and we don’t have a minute to spare. I do however believe that the situation is plenty bad in many places and that government officials are eager to act, but they need a real, comprehensive solution.

How do you remain focused and grounded as you work toward the unfoldment of your professional goals?

My business partners Christian and Waylon. I’m very much the head in the clouds, and they are the two feet on the ground. Those guys are great at what they do and 4Walls would fall apart if the tripod wasn’t a tripod.

What do you propose as an effective way to work with the indigenous populations to implement a system relating to environmental change and sustainability?

LISTEN. They already know what they need, and the system needs to come from within their culture. We have some ideas, techniques, etc., but needs will vary around the globe and first we need to listen to the people and what they want/need. It can’t be some outside system imposed on them, that already happened and it didn’t work out too well for them.

What do you feel the indigenous populations offer your organization and vision?

Most indigenous peoples are extremely poor, and sad to say it, but DESPERATION is what we need. It is desperate people that struggle daily to survive that will gladly work for free and receives one of our homes in return. People that are doing okay, won’t grab on to the idea soon enough, but people with nothing will find these homes magical and will latch on quickly.

Do you feel that you are part of a healing movement not only in your own city but in the countries that you enter?

I feel that we are part of a healing movement happening all over the world. People are waking up all over the place and realizing that we don’t have to live this way. People CAN take care of themselves and their environment. I also feel that this is a contagious movement, and wherever we go, it’s just too logical of a solution to ignore. I believe that this thing will be massive one day soon.

What is your advice or message do you have for youth regarding bringing forth their visions in their own lives and for the world?

Don’t listen to grown ups when they say you can’t make your wildest dreams come true -- they only say that because someone told them that once and they made the mistake of believing them. All you have to do is BELIEVE in yourself.

How Can We Support 4 Walls' Current Projects:

4 Walls International needs to raise $10,000 for its Tijuana development project. Fundraising events are underway throughout the month of November.  You can also be involved in volunteer efforts by contacting the organization directly. Please see: for more information.

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