When the richest quarter of the world’s population uses about half of our global resources--and take the liberty to produce half of the global waste--while another third live in poverty, it is clear that our economic and societal systems are failing us.
That is even before we have reached the point where our planet needs to accommodate 9 billion mostly urbanized and aging people. Add in the rapidly growing middle class in China, India, and elsewhere who also want their share, and it is easy to see that our current path is unsustainable.
From incubators and makerspaces to nonprofits and social enterprises, the energy surrounding social innovation is contagious, but as this ecosystem grows, social change entities become disconnected and often work in silos. Conferences like TEDx attract hundreds of people and connections are made, but the consolidation of brain-power, energy, talent, and resources isn’t permanent enough to create long-term efficiency and large-scale change.
Coworking spaces are specifically designed to inspire, connect, and enable individuals to realize entrepreneurial ideas, but how could this model be pushed further? How could the innovative work within these walls be shared with the public? How could untapped social capital within the public be leveraged, and how could collaborative innovators be connected to more resources?
Each month we’ll be taking a closer look at the people who make up the 2013 BALLE Local Economy Fellowship and sharing insight into what makes them tick, what inspires them to do this work, and why we think they are among the rising stars in Localism.
Welcome Sarah Bishop from Buffalo, New York, our February Featured Fellow of the Month. As well as being a BALLE Fellow, Sarah is leading the local planning for the BALLE Conference in Buffalo, June 12-14, 2013.
Help us welcome Sarah by joining us for an Instagram Live Feed on March 1 at 10:00 am PST. Sarah has been compiling some of her favorite Localist images from around Buffalo and is going to share them with us in real time and offer commentary on each one.
Sarah’s passion for Buffalo and Buffalo First!, is more than a job, it’s her calling. In her words:
“Buffalo First! exemplifies that the toughest socio-economic barriers can be overcome by a common denominator, Localism. We are reaffirming the commitment to the spirit of collective entrepreneurship envisioned by great Black statesmen such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and other progressive leaders that keenly understood that a thriving local economy was synonymous with a self-determined one. We are proud to be the example of Rust Belt Localism, and to dispel the myth that localism is merely a trend or a belief held, reserved for, and/or executed by a certain class/race of people.”
What will BALLE Conference-goers experience in Buffalo?
Sarah says that Localism is engrained in the culture. As the third poorest city in the country, corporations overlooked Buffalo, instead seeking more lucrative markets. The upside, of course, is that Buffalo is one of the few cities today that is full of locally owned and independent businesses. And, Buffalonians are proud of that fact. They take a great pride in finding and frequenting locally owned businesses. You will be hard-pressed to find a Buffalonian that prefers a national chain to their neighborhood independent store.
Why Localism Matters:
Sarah sees the grassroots movement as one that happens neighbor by neighbor, person by person. While the outside world sees a huge collection of “Buffalonians” the people who live there are compelled by individual dreams, talents, and character traits.
Why Place Matters:
“I feel really drawn to this place and I want to invest in it. I grew up here and despite thinking that I would be on the first train out when I could, I now find myself compelled to stay here.”
“When my partner Brooke accepted a scholarship to pursue her Master's Degree at The Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University in New York, I was thrilled – and also realized something pivotal, for me it was a turning point: I didn’t want to leave, and decided I could not leave, Buffalo. “
Being able to see the needle move towards a more socially just society, to know that these stories have a ripple effect, and that an impact is being made is what keeps Sarah going.
Her hobbies outside of her work might not look like hobbies at all, but she says ‘once an organizer, always an organizer’ and feels duty-bound to volunteer with other nonprofits that need her skills and experience. She sums it up by saying: “I like to put my network back to use!” Spending more time outdoors in the Adirondacks and hiking and traveling outside of the city are also giving her a chance to hone her skills as an amateur photographer – so it comes as no surprise that the most used app on her phone is Instagram.
Sarah’s goals for the Local Economy Fellowship:
“To continue to fight for an economy that benefits people, the planet, and builds true prosperity. To continue to build the infrastructure necessary to create a self-sustaining and perpetuating movement, built on systems that are life enriching, truly democratic, and aligned with our most sacred values. In the next five to ten years, I hope that this community continues to redefine “the big picture” to reflect the expansiveness and creative nature of the new economy movement. With that said, what can’t we achieve?”
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Local First have partnered to form a two year pilot program to increase awareness of the economic impact of supporting local businesses, while gathering data that could lead to new or improved small business support programs.
Grand Rapids-based Local First partners with about 600 independent businesses and community organizations to support sustainable economic development in the region.
As part of the pilot program, Local First will expand its developments into Grand Haven, Holland and Portland. The nonprofit will also hire a new staff member who will collaborate with the new locations’ community leaders and business members.
But Larson is also a data point in an economic revolution that is quietly turning millions of people into part-time entrepreneurs, and disrupting old notions about consumption and ownership. Twelve days per month Larson rents his Marin County home on website Airbnb for $100 a night, of which he nets $97. Four nights a week he transforms his Prius into a de facto taxi via the ride-sharing service Lyft, pocketing another $100 a night in the process.
What’s the best way of creating jobs and building a stronger economy in British Columbia? Many economic development “experts” and political figures focus on attracting big business to set up shop through tax breaks and subsidies, even though the verdict of economists is that most of these jobs vanish quickly when another region or jurisdiction across the world offers more attractive incentives. A better way to boost the economy — one that is entirely in our control — lies in our own wallets and shopping patterns.
That’s been the philosophy behind CUPE B.C.’s Ten Per Cent Shift campaign, which encourages consumers to “shift” 10 per cent of their spending to locally owned businesses and services. Studies all over North America have demonstrated how much additional economic activity is generated by making this simple shift in spending habits.
The campaign has been partnering with chambers of commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, among others, to show business owners and consumers alike how important purchasing decisions are to local economies.
An annual survey has found that independent businesses experienced solid revenue growth in 2012, buoyed in part by “buy local first” initiatives and growing public interest in supporting locally owned businesses.
But the survey also documented significant challenges facing independent businesses, most notably an increase in “showrooming” and competition from online retailers, tax and subsidy policies that favor their big competitors, difficulty obtaining loans, and a customer base still reeling from the recession.
The 2013 Independent Business Survey, which was conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in partnership with several business associations, gathered data from 2,377 independent businesses across 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Microbreweries and brewpubs may have exploded in popularity over the past decade or so, yet that’s in spite of the challenges brewers face when getting started, including heavy regulation, hefty overhead, and substantial risk. But in downtown Houston, the world’s first “brewery incubator” aims to grease the wheels for aspiring brewers, by offering community, a shared workspace with professional brewing equipment, and a tap room with a built-in customer base, so brewers can focus on what matters when they’re just starting off: making the best beer possible.
“We cultivate these nano-breweries through business workshops, networking events, co-marketing, investor pitches, and co-working until they are fully ready to launch their own brewery,” reads the Brewery Incubator’s Kickstarter. The project is actually an incubator within a more established incubator, Kitchen Inc., which provides food entrepreneurs with affordable commercial kitchen space and a café to sell their wares.
A less traditional source of funding, a DPO allows businesses and nonprofits to raise money from community investors. A company can reach out to hundreds and possibly even thousands of people in the community and offer them investment opportunities such as stock, notes, and revenue sharing agreements. Depending on which federal exemption a company qualifies for, there may be no cap on the total that can be raised, though, in some cases, there is a $1M cap.
Brahm was thrilled by the idea of allowing the community to invest in People’s Community Market. Instead of focusing on high return rates and exit plans, Brahm could now focus on value-alignment and community building. Brahm said, “Since being inclusive and accessible is an important value to us, we’re very pleased to see that ‘average folks,’ in addition to more affluent investors, are investing in us and becoming shareholders.” Instead of fearing the need to sacrifice control for capital, Brahm said, “It allows us to sell a story that we get to write.” More than half of the people who are now investing in People’s Community Market were never in their network before.
In his autobiography, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "I believe firmly that love is a transforming power than can lift a whole community to new horizons of fair play, goodwill, and justice." Dr. King's words inspire me to think what the transformative power of love could do for Milwaukee. I love Milwaukee, my community. For everyone who loves Milwaukee, Dr. King teaches that we can use that power of love to lift our whole community.
The whole community is lifted by love if, when we make choices, we think about how our choices affect others, and we try to pick the choice that's best for us and for others. If our choices show our love for others in our community, then we are transformed and so are others.