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Addressing Wealth Inequality and Advancing Rural Economies

A Letter from the Executive Director

I’ve been on a whirlwind tour the past two months — from the Sorenson Winter Innovation Summit in Salt Lake, to SOCAP Pacific Northwest in Seattle; a MacArthur Foundation and Urban Institute convening of place-based impact investors in Washington, D.C., followed by an Aspen Institute gathering in Detroit on equity and inclusion in venture capital; then on to Santa Fe, where I had the tremendous opportunity to spend time with the 2016 BALLE Local Economy Foundation Circle for their final immersion.

Over and over, people shared their desire to discover innovative, effective leaders who can create tangible change in our communities, aligning values with philanthropic and investment capital.

I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate returning home than introducing BALLE’s fifth cohort of Local Economy Fellows — 25 leaders working in some of the most overlooked, under-resourced, and talent-rich rural communities in North America.

BALLE Fellows are systems entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders selected because of their visionary leadership, groundbreaking work, and their role as a strategic connectors and supporters of thousands of local businesses. These Fellows build on a powerful foundation of leaders in the BALLE community, who have been creating local economies that work for all for decades.

When I reflect on these new Fellows, and the past weeks in particular, I’m reminded that systemic root causes are often understated, or outright overlooked, in our quest to solve what appears to be an endless constellation of challenges affixed to our moral universe. We must doggedly question and rebuke racism, patriarchy, corporatism, and the innumerable power dynamics that have created an economic system that engenders radical wealth inequality: Last year, 82 percent of all wealth created went to the richest 1 percent, while the poorest 50 percent saw no increase in wealth at all. It’s why I wrote “Wealth Inequality and the Fallacies of Impact Investing.”

BALLE sits at an exciting and important nexus, both tinkering at the edges of our unjust economic system  and leaning into emergent future economies that can create shared power and community wealth. Whether working in my hometown, Baltimore; or Lyons, NE; Lawrenceville, GA; Mandan, ND; Wellpinit, WA; or any other communities where our new Fellows hail from — altogether BALLE Network leaders demonstrate that a brighter future is not only possible, but imminent.

We are thrilled to welcome our new Local Economy Fellows into the BALLE Network, and learn more about the unique challenges of working in places with fewer people and vast resources, as we deconstruct the myriad injustices that make our work necessary, and collectively build what we know is possible.

— Rodney Foxworth, Executive Director