Strengthening Local Economies 


Facilitated Strengthening Local Economies with Yogesh Ghore these past two weeks at the Coady Institute. We start with a critical look at globalization and its effects on local communities- economic, ecological, rights. We explore local responses. A local oyster fisherman, Philipp of Shan Daph Oysters captured it well. "Ecological sustainability, social sustainability. Only then can you sustain the economic." His business is completely off the grid and he keeps it small intentionally. He talked about sitting at lots of kitchen tables.

Local craft production. Processing and purchasing locally. Social bartering systems. Fair and organic trade. These are all part of the solution but Philip captures the most important element. Relationships.

This is really the only way economic models have ever been part of real and lasting change. They are embedded in and built on relationships. Networks and alliances that have the power of both organizing locally and holding policies and processes accountable. We review over 30 case studies from around the world from Aravind Eye Care that offers 2/3 of their eye services in India free to food systems in Vermont. Through their organizing they managed not only to strengthen the local and state economies and impact health, agriculture, transportation. They were also the first State to win in the federal courts against Monsanto and others demanding that GMO foods be labelled.

Community Bank in Brazil that works with Social Currency and Neighbourhood Associations 
A lot of my work has been looking at the connections between economic and political in community and member-owned economic models such as savings groups and cooperatives.

Went to Fortaleza Brazil, on behalf of the Coady Institute, to work with the Innovation team there at Banco Las Palmas. They are a Community Bank that grew out of a neighbourhood association that led to remarkable political organizing in the 70s and 80s. Displaced when coastal development was occurring these residents organized and built over 600 homes, 2 daycare, set up a sewage system, a community centre, church, lobbied all levels of government successfully. Since then, they have not only created this Community Bank but also a local exchange/social currency (LETS) based on barter to keep money in the local economy. This approach has been replicated in hundreds of towns and cities across Brazil.

While BP still plays a key role in the local and national dialogue in support of a "solidarity economy," the situation in Brazil has changed quite dramatically. Two things stood out that seemed to be echoed in the other case studies in India, Indonesia and Ethiopia:

- How increasingly restrictive states have frustrated citizen analysis and action in terms of accountability and transparency. Critically, not only states require the vertical accountability but also other forms of visible and hidden power- the market, organized crime, for example. In a globalized world where the boundaries of state are contentious, hidden power becomes both more important to address and more challenging.

- The limitations of associational life in these circumstances. What does this mean for analysis and practice? And yet, what can they achieve? What conditions, what capacities strengthen their influence? Cultural dance and singing groups, interestingly, were critical glue for belonging and organizing locally. Underestimated in these discussions of political and economic and yet, potentially the building blocks for them.

More on Banco Las Palmas.
  |  related link
Social change through alliances and networks- One of the few things that works 
Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA, women's labor and self-employed movement close to one million strong, once said. "A project never changed the world."

There is growing consensus that the old approach to community development, local economic development have not been working because they are not really addressing larger political and systemic issues. This is partly because they are atomized into departments, projects, institutional and individual egos. Growing experience of what works in communities and has been written about in theory is that alliances and networks are one of the keys. This includes effective engagement of government and business. One of the ways that corporations or the private sector are held accountable is through alliances that have legitimate ownership and power at the local level.

This from a conference at Harvard in October of 2014. The Doing Development Differently conference. They found that successful initiatives reflect common principles:

They focus on solving local problems that are debated, defined and refined by local people in an ongoing process.
They are legitimised at all levels (political, managerial and social), building ownership and momentum throughout the process to be ‘locally owned’ in reality (not just on paper).
They work through local conveners who mobilise all those with a stake in progress (in both formal and informal coalitions and teams) to tackle common problems and introduce relevant change.
They blend design and implementation through rapid cycles of planning, action, reflection and revision (drawing on local knowledge, feedback and energy) to foster learning from both success and failure.
They manage risks by making ‘small bets’: pursuing activities with promise and dropping others.
They foster real results – real solutions to real problems that have real impact: they build trust, empower people and promote sustainability.

I would add:

They are political.

All of my experiences with alliances, citizen-driven examples I've seen at all levels from social movements in Brazil to neighbourhood revitalization include advocacy and political organizing. Even the literature supports the notion that the non-profits that have achieved the most impact have done so at a systems or collective level, not organizational. And through what they do in combination with advocacy. This is the little left out bit in all of our conversations about collective impact and social entrepreneurship, doing things differently. It's the only way to clear a path for and sustain the gains that we make.

Local Food Systems, Sectoral Change and the Role of Government, Businesses 
Participated in a really well-facilitated day-long session through the Our Local Food Team, Ecology Action Centre, on the next phase of their work in local food. This on the heels of a fabulous food conference here in Halifax.

I did a contract with the Public Health Agency of Canada- Innovation Strategy related to EAC and the food team. I was looking at how subsidy can support networks and sectoral-level lasting social change rather than projects and organizations.

Two themes predominated:

- how to move to system or sectoral level change
- how to engage businesses

The following came out of the work that I did in the contract as key considerations:

- Real lasting change happens through networks of unlikely suspects together for a specific purpose i.e. tackle obesity or get kids outdoors. It grows from a small corner of energy and champions. Passion capital is key at the start. We need government, private sector and community organizations and residents to be at the tables if they are to move - and last.

- The term businesses or private sector needs breaking down. Cooperatives are businesses. Small family-owned businesses are private sector. There is so much more than big corporations and foundation grants. In my experience, some of the most exciting stuff is happening in the middle with smaller, local businesses. For example, venture philanthropy pools small business capital into a larger fund that can be used for supporting a food distribution system. Or in San Diego, in a neighbourhood revitalization movement community members contributed their own capital (aver. $500) and pooled $300,000- enough to get start-up capital for a local grocery store. These are a far cry from the cheap, corporate food model.

Government and donors can play the important role of up-front subsidy, risk financing. Later, businesses can participate, particularly if there opportunity for income such as links with restaurants, farmers, distributors. But every business/governance model is embedded in the relationships and the community. The lasting examples have had the unlikely suspects around the table analyzing the situation and making hard decisions about what matters, where funding comes from and how to paddle in the same direction.



Local economies in a globalized world 


How do small producers and artisans get a leg up in a globalized world? Community organizing and support to local economies for a start combined with solid historical, market and contextual analysis. Taught the Livelihoods and Markets course with Yogesh Ghore at the Coady Institute the last couple of weeks. Such a treat. Yogesh is highly experienced and adaptive. Participants had rich experience to share from cooperative and federation organizing to pushing policy and legislation at national levels. Colleagues from Latin America, CUSO partners, most representing cooperatives and associations- a few government representatives- shared their work in such diverse areas as wild medicinal plants, wild almonds, honey, fruit/jam, cacao, coffee.

Great debates about the extent to which what we are doing is contributing to or building alternatives to the neo-liberal model. We work toward the bottom-up solutions where cooperatives can network and build their capacity to market their goods and do well, particularly in niche markets like fair trade and organic produce. But what of the producer cooperatives who choose to become distributors for large grocery chains. Tapping into a larger system allows smaller coops with capacity issues to focus on what they know-production. Is this an alternative economic model or more of the same? Does it depend whether it is wild medicinal plants or a commodity like coffee? These are the tensions and trade-offs. No easy answers.


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