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Weaving A Network of Local Economy Leaders

"Leaders tend to form tight bonds within their cohorts. We also knew that much could be gained by bridging across cohorts in order to increase the flow of knowledge, innovation, and resources."

By Jess Daniel, Director of Fellowship

Over the past year, our team has been in deep experiments about how to better weave together our Leadership Network. The Local Economy Leadership Network is a lifelong peer support network of leaders who have participated in one of our Communities of Practice — the Local Economy Fellowship, Foundation Circle, and Investors Circle. These 120 leaders are committed to a common trans-local mission to help build healthy, equitable local economies that work for all people. These leaders tend to form tight bonds within their cohorts. We also knew that much could be gained by bridging across cohorts in order to increase the flow of knowledge, innovation, and resources.

The BALLE Leadership Network and invited guests at the 2017 BALLE Leadership Summit.

The concept of weaving ties closely with our theory of change, which is based in emergence — an idea championed by our friends Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze and expanded by many others. The core of this idea is that we can shift large, complex systems like our economy by identifying, supporting, and weaving small, local efforts together. Through our programs, we specifically work to name, connect, nourish, and illuminate the folks on the ground who are pushing, experimenting, reflecting, and leading us towards new ways of structuring businesses, supporting entrepreneurs, distributing capital, measuring success, and building wealth. As they see they are not alone, learn from and replicate each others’ models, and inspire others to do the same, our economy as a whole changes.

Considering all this, back in late 2015, Christine Ageton, Sr. Program and Strategy Advisor and one of the originators of our Fellowship Program, came up with the role of the Network Weaver. These former Fellows would come alongside our 2016 Fellowship cohort in order to help identify and make connections within the broader network, especially with their own cohorts. The Weavers would also have the opportunity to form bonds with one another and re-experience the other transformative aspects of the program from a slightly new perspective.

The following are reflections from two of our four inaugural  BALLE Network Weavers. Their experience, contribution, and wisdom continues to guide us as we look forward to possibilities for our next Fellowship and Foundation Circle cohorts, launching in early 2018.

 

 

Harper Bishop
2013 BALLE Local Economy Fellow

Grace Lee Boggs once said, “Transform yourself to transform the world.” That simple truism has challenged, corrected, and guided me through my journey with BALLE, both as a Local Economy Fellow (2013-2014) and as a Network Weaver with the most recent class of fellows (2016-2017). These experiences have profoundly shaped me as a human being and as someone who has worked for the past decade to create an alternative, people-centered economic system that respects the Earth and its natural processes.

It’s the very reason that I chose to become a Weaver. I imagined, both selfishly and correctly, that more time spent with great teachers from every corner of North America would give me the chance to sharpen my own practice and continue the inner healing and transformation I started as a Fellow.

Weavers are not Fellows. That was apparent from the first moments of the first immersion, when facilitators looked to Weavers to share their understanding of practices they had learned as Fellows. It was both a thrilling and terrifying reality. It was an opportunity to share back what had been offered to us, with the assumption that we would be fully capable of living into these new roles. As a Weaver, I learned a lot about trusting myself more through a spirit of humility.

Move and be moved. Thirty-six leaders from the US and Canada comprised the 2016 BALLE Local Economy Fellows. There were organizers and entrepreneurs, capitalists and anti-capitalists, thinkers and doers, revolutionaries and reformists. This marked a shift from previous cohorts and was far more reflective of the new economy landscape in North America. It was a risk by BALLE, and one that I believe paid off in the end. As a Weaver, I learned what is most needed for authentic conversation that will move us all forward is what adrienne maree brown calls “moving at the speed of trust.” It takes time, and such a process can’t be rushed. If we want to build a sustainable movement, then we must put the time in to build presence, real accountability, and mutual respect.

A cohort in a cohort. One of my favorite things about being a Weaver was the chance to connect with folks from outside of my cohort. I learned a great deal about their lived experiences as people and as Fellows. I heard stories that I would have never heard, and built close connections that remain now. These are my people; I claim them as my own. As a Weaver, I learned about closeness that comes unexpectedly but freely when you’re open to the possibility.

 

 

Crystal German
2014 BALLE Local Economy Fellow

As a child I was a fan of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” (CYOA) books. In those books, at different times, you are given the opportunity to choose from a set of actions, each resulting in different series of events that propel you further into the adventure — or, if you chose unwisely, off a cliff. For me, being a BALLE Network Weaver was like participating in a group reading of a CYOA novel.

When you dive in to a CYOA book, it is not the destination that matters, but the journey. There are twists and turns, cliffs and apexes. There are dangers along the way that threaten the journey and fill you with doubt about the ultimate destination. You discover hidden talents and tools that are meant to help you along the way.

And time and time again, you are given the opportunity to choose your next step towards a different ending.

In the Fellowship, it is not the destination that matters, but the experience. There were countless twists and turns, group disintegration, and eventually, group coalescing. Misunderstandings, questioning of others’ intentions, different visions and values all threatened the journey. We had to constantly remind ourselves about our desired group destination — healthy and equitable local economies that work for all people — as well as the power of the group arriving whole. Fellows learned about when to challenge each other, and when to let things go and laugh as the group developed its norms. We had some very fraught moments, and we had dance parties to let it out. Along the way, we had the opportunity to see the “awesomeness” of individuals in action and the power of the group together.

As a Weaver, there were times along the journey where I wanted to scream — “don’t take that path — there is a cliff ahead,” but I wondered if we sometimes need to face a cliff in order for the group to discover its journey-saving-talents. There were times when I grew tired and weary, doubting whether the destination was worth the trip, only to be buoyed by a Fellow’s epiphany about their personal journey and growth. There were times where I questioned my own value, whether I was a burden to be carried, versus an enabling tool, only to have my fellow Weavers point out the moments where I had helped the group re-find the path. And there were so many moments of great joy — connecting, learning, growing, and so much laughing — as my edges were pushed and pulled with love and care.

This past month, the group ended its Fellowship Journey. However, they learned that the CYOA book was really just a CYOA chapter in a book with many adventures — some taken alone, some in small groups, some by the entire BALLE community — in towns and cities across the country as we push towards building an economy that works for all.

So, just as I love those CYOA books, I love the Fellowship and all its twists and turns. Serving as a Weaver allowed me to open a book I was familiar with — and create a whole new adventure with some of the coolest bat-shit-crazy revolutionaries on the planet. I cannot wait to read about others’ journeys, join some adventures and wait for the BALLE CYOA mini-series to make it to network cable.

The revolution will be televised.