Archive for the ‘Neighborhood Economics’ Category

Notes on Movement Building from a Convener

March 16th, 2017

By Kevin Jones

Movements happen when people who thought they were alone discover valuable strangers who become unlikely allies. I am flying to Armenia tomorrow to keynote the Impact Investing for Development Summit (IID) convened by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and knowledge partner INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Initiative. The Summit will bring together development agencies, sovereign funds from the Nordics, Eastern European and Middle Eastern impact investors so that development practitioners can figure out how to work seriously with impact investors. The reality of climate change and societal risk has led IID Summit participants to recognize that public funds and philanthropic funds are not enough to handle the task.

At the same time, we at SOCAP are convening a session in June in Manhattan to see what it will take to integrate impact investing with Wall Street at scale. That initiative, The Good Capital Project, (GCP) will be a two year online mapping project that will convene people from Wall Street, the financial sector, impact investing and the social capital market to catalyze collaboration and accelerate capital flows into purpose driven investments. After our first meeting in June, GCP participants will convene again at SOCAP in San Francisco in October, and on other event platforms as the participants require. These people may have never worked together before GPC, but SOCAP’s secret sauce is bringing the people out of their tents at the oasis; valuable strangers discovering they can be unlikely allies. Movement building, even among strangers, is right up our alley.
 

Missing Infrastructure for African-American Wealth Creation

May 2nd, 2016

#SOCAP365 at Impact Hub NYC

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The U.S. is battling systemic problems in terms of both wealth inequality and racism. Recent research from the Pew Center reveals some hard data connecting these two injustices: the average white individual has $144,000 in assets while black individuals, on average, have $11,000.  This has major implications for African-American wealth creation; it highlights the opportunity gap faced by black entrepreneurs trying to “bootstrap” or raise a “friends and family” round of funding, which then also raises the question for how wealth can be generated and sustained in black communities for the long haul.
 
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Jessica Norwood and Kevin Jones are tackling this problem head on, and presented some of their latest work at a SOCAP 365 event at Impact Hub NYC on Friday, April 15. Jessica is the Executive Director of Emerging Changemakers Network and a BALLE fellow; Kevin is the founder of SOCAP and the Neighborhood Economics platform. They are forming a unique partnership to begin building necessary infrastructure to increase the flow of capital to black communities in culturally appropriate ways with important core stakeholders along the way.
 
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The discussion ranged from blind spots within impact investing (Why does early-stage funding seem to flow more easily to start-ups in Africa rather than African-American communities?” “We recognize people through our dollars — we’re missing the opportunity to tell black entrepreneurs I see and value you”) to a much broader scope addressing issues of cultural exclusion, trust building, and ways market dynamics reveal and can potentially start to shift systemic racism.

@Kevindoylejones: “There are huge opportunities for financial inclusion to lead on issues of cultural exclusion. How can social capital shift the paradigm?”

@EmergeChange: “There’s a need to create trust and rebuild culture by deep listening & understanding of structural inequity dynamics — it’s the only true way to shift wealth.”

@EmergeChange: “We don’t have an airplane problem or a pilot problem — we have a runway problem.”

For more on this conversation, check out the #SOCAP365 buzz on Twitter and see additional resources below. We’ll continue exploring these themes as part of the Neighborhood Economics and Inclusive Entrepreneurship tracks at SOCAP16 and throughout the year at SOCAP 365 → sign-up for the SOCAP newsletter to stay updated on what’s happening next near you.

Learn more:

 

Invest Locally: 10 Top Tools for Grassroots Investors

June 15th, 2015

By Michael H. Shumanmichael_shuman_headshot_resized

As the movement for socially responsible investing (SRI) matures, a growing number of its movers and shakers are appreciating the importance of local investment. One reason is that there is compelling evidence that locally owned businesses are the key to community prosperity. Another is that the close proximity between investors and local companies increases corporate accountability and reduces the probability of fraud.

But if you’re a non-wealthy investor—part of the 98% that securities regulators deem “unaccredited” – common wisdom suggests that you have few options for investing locally. Nonsense. To dispel this skepticism, I’d like to share the top ten ways grassroots or retail investors can participate in the SRI revolution by going local:

  1. Invest in Yourself – Before thinking about investing in any other business, you should invest in yourself. The best rates of return to yourself and to your community—far greater than the average 2.7% per year return from Wall Street–come from getting rid of credit card debt, becoming a homeowner (mindful to take on only a mortgage you can afford), paying off your home (if you already are an owner), generating your own heat and electricity with solar power, and growing your own food. Think of these options as becoming your own fund manager.
  2. Move Your Money – Move all your day-to-day financial activities, including your checking, loans, credit cards, and mortgage, to a local bank or credit union. These institutions recycle their capital locally—so much so that every dollar placed on deposit in a local financial institution is three times more likely to be lent to a local business than a dollar in multi-state bank.
  3. Create Targeted CDs – By law, even local banks and credit unions must be very conservative with their money, so they are often wary of loaning money to any local businesses without full collateral. A few banks, such as Ithaca’s Alternatives Credit Union, have agreed to set up special certificates of deposits that fully collateralize loans to high-priority local businesses. Eastern Bank in Boston has a CD that collateralizes a line of credit to Equal Exchange, a local fair-trade company. You can nudge your local financial institution to set up a similar program, which will instantly give local investors a new option.
  4. Stretch Your Coop – Coop members find that their membership investments pay off better annual returns (in discounts and patronage dividends) than Wall Street does. Some coops are also willing to pay their members handsomely to borrow money for capital projects. The La Montanita Grocery Coop in New Mexico has created a revolving loan fund so that members’ capital can support local farmers and food processors.
  5. Pre-Purchase Local Goods and Services – In most U.S. states, preselling is not regarded as a security, so businesses can raise capital without attorneys by convincing their most loyal customers to make purchases in advance. Pay attention to the growing number of local stores in your region that are offering such deals. For example, Credibles is a pre-selling web site that makes available such deals from small food businesses, coast to coast, seeking to expand.
  6. Weave Investor Networks – The Local Investment Opportunities Network (LION) of Pt. Townsend brings together local investors and businesses each month to establish “preexisting relationships” that facilitate the circulation of business plans and investment opportunities, and new LIONs are spreading around the country. Unlike traditional angel-investor networks, where entrepreneurs present their business plans at periodic dinners, LIONs welcome unaccredited investors.
  7. Direct Public Offerings – Until recently, it has been very expensive to restructure a small business so that it could accept funds from unaccredited investors. But thanks to “crowdfunding reforms” that have been passed or are pending in nearly half the states, the legal costs of “going public”—but just intrastate, so local ownership is protected—are coming way down. Grassroots investors will soon be flooded by local stocks purchasable on a new generation of “community portals.” If the federal JOBS Act ever is implemented by the SEC commissioners (thus far they have tried to kill the law with three years of needless delay), even more local stocks will be available.
  8. Create a Local Investment Fund – Pools of capital are preferable to one-off investments because they diversify risk. There are thousands of local-investment pools around the country, most of them linked with local economic-development programs, but nearly all of them are only open to accredited investors. Important exceptions that allow unaccredited investor participation include MountainBizWorks in North Carolina, the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, ECDI in Columbus, Ohio, and PV Grows in Western Massachusetts. These funds will certainly multiply in the years ahead.
  9. Form a Local Investment Club – If you can’t find a local fund that allows unaccredited investors to participate, you and your friends can form your own investment fund on the cheap in the form a “club.” The legal key is that all your decisions have to be made together, as a group. A great example of No Small Potatoes, a project of Slow Money Maine.
  10. Use Self-Directed IRAs – Almost all the options above are also possible to unaccredited investors who wish to move their tax-deferred IRA savings out of Wall Street. By rolling over your funds into a Self-Directed IRA, you can direct a custodian (for about $200-300 per year) to invest instead in any and all of the items above. The only restriction is that you cannot invest in your family’s business or home. But you can invest in your neighbor’s business or home, and your neighbor can invest in yours!

Thirty years ago, the mainstream finance industry scoffed at the SRI movement, warning participants that they would lose money in their silly causes. Today, everyone involved in SOCAP knows better. The naysayers on local investment are about to learn a similar lesson, as we start to see dozens—and soon thousands—of local investing strategies that can simultaneously save Main Street and beat Wall Street.

About the Author

Michael Shuman is the author of Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity (Chelsea Green, 2012) and more recently The Local Economy Solution: How Innovative, Self-Financing Pollinator Enterprises Can Grow Jobs and Prosperity (Chelsea Green, 2015). He blogs at michaelhshuman.com

Neighborhood Economics will be one of the featured themes at SOCAP15 October 6-9 at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Comment below to add your own voice to the conversation about ways we can create community wealth for all by investing locally.

Prosperity for All: What’s Working Locally with BALLE Director Michelle Long

May 26th, 2015

Michell Long BALLE

We can and should design our businesses and economy around things that actually make us well. Real prosperity is a deep connection to self, others, natural world, and all of those are, by their very nature, local.

–Michelle Long

One of the leading organizations in the Localist Movement is the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, BALLE. Sara Day Evans, a BALLE Local Economy Fellow in 2014 and Founder and Executive Director of Accelerating Appalachia, recently had a conversation with Michelle Long, the Executive Director of BALLE, about the things that are working in the Localist Movement in 2015 and her organization’s goals for the future.

 

Sara Day Evans: Achieving prosperity for all has always been BALLE’s mission. How do you define prosperity?

Michelle Long: I just got off the phone with David Korten who is a long time friend and author. He was talking about a visit he had with a man who helped create the Gross National Happiness Framework in Bhutan. He said, “well you know, time is life.” And that struck David so much. Instead of time is money, no actually, time is life. What is the goal of prosperity? The GNH in Bhutan is saying we should think about measuring whether or not we are well. Not whether or not we have more microwaves per household.

I think that real prosperity would be aligned with what makes us well. We are more prosperous in our lives, in our work, in our communities, and in our economies if we are well. That includes meeting material needs, but it also includes what two decades of well-being science have shown makes all humans deeply well. This includes a connection to meaning and personal purpose in our lives. It means forming deep connections with other human beings, besides just our own little clans. Recognizing that all people are fundamentally connected. We won’t be okay unless we are all okay. And it means a connection to our place in the larger natural world — in almost a reverent way. To allow ourselves to feel awe. I can’t believe that the tomato plants give me tomatoes everyday–just growing out of the ground. It’s amazing, it’s awesome. Whether it’s the mountains or the universe, we need to feel a sense of reverence and connection with the natural world. Being generous makes us feel well too. We feel better when we are giving to others. This is all from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley.

I, and many others too, believe that we can and should design our businesses and economy around things that actually make us well. Real prosperity is a deep connection to self, others, natural world, and all of those are, by their very nature, local.

What are three of the top objectives BALLE hopes to achieve this year towards the goal of achieving prosperity for all?

One is investing for opportunity in communities that have been historically oppressed. We have a big focus on partnering with communities that have not, because of various “isms,” including racism, have not had the same opportunities to build wealth. We look for what’s working and for the leaders in these communities and back them with additional connections and financial resources and storytelling to help them thrive and all of us to learn and that is a big part of our work.

Second would be around building entrepreneurial capacity to meet local needs. How are we investing in those who support entrepreneurs to make more of what we need closer to home using local resources?

And then third is around shifting our investment strategies from Wall Street, from faceless, nameless, anonymous transactions–in which we don’t know the impact of our investments–toward real businesses. Investing in real people. The founder of BALLE is a woman named Judy Wicks. She wrote a book called Good Morning Beautiful Business. A BALLE board member, Leslie Christian, speaks of something that is a play on that, she calls it, “Good Morning Beautiful Portfolio.” The premise being that you should be able to read through your portfolio happily and look at pictures of the actual people and the actual things you are making a difference in with your money. I was just at another conference where I was speaking recently, and attended an impact investing panel. The panel was all about vehicles and products — not the businesses or people they were investing in or what they were trying to create. Someone talked about the inefficient small scale farmer market. Someone else said that the social enterprise market has not been yet been ‘fully exploited”–so it’s a big opportunity. The language was just so divorced from anything real. Who are the people you are investing in? Not just thinking about your returns from an anonymous vehicle, but WHO are you investing in, really. And how is your money an expression of your values and who you are and are you putting your money into something you care about or not. And I basically felt sad. So that kind of place-based impact investing is one of our third biggest areas of focus this year.

BALLE’s Local Economy Fellowship program was started in 2011, but has already impacted over one million people–with over 80% of the Fellows focusing on underserved and low income communities. From what you’ve learned from that program, what resources or infrastructure do you think would help more entrepreneurs be able to create greater impact in low income and underserved communities across America?

That’s a great question. (The answer) is multi-pronged. There is broken infrastructure at the community level. For instance, (look at) basic food systems. Fifty years ago we grew most of our fruits and vegetables in the places where we ate them. Since then, we’ve so swung the scales in the opposite direction that much of that infrastructure has been lost. So to rebuild the ability for us to grow food and make and deliver the other goods and services that our communities need closer to home requires an re-investment in infrastructure. That allows for local economies of scale so that lots of locals can succeed, as opposed to where we’ve gone now–which is fewer and fewer large, distant corporations. We know the number one contributor to inequality over the last 40 years in the United States has been how much Wall Street activity, financialization of our economy, has taken place, (ILO study across 71 countries). So as companies get larger and more distant, we see fewer jobs and less wealth for the majority. And we see wealth going into fewer and fewer hands.

Ownership is really the key to building the opportunity for everyone to be able to benefit from the labor that they put into something. That is the key to building wealth and jobs for more people. We need to decentralize ownership and this requires the rebuilding of infrastructure as well as technical assistance at the local level. This requires investing in the technical assistance and capacity providers locally, which come in multiple forms. Its a spectrum. There are those who are doing pre-entrepreneur work. People who are working in low income communities that have been historically oppressed and are helping young men to graduate high school. Being there with young men who have not had the same opportunities, to get them even to a place where we can talk about equality. Equality and equity are not the same thing. To get people to a place of equity requires more pre-investment and pre-entrepreneurship work. This is so so critical. Especially in low income communities of color. We have to invest in those communities if we ever have any hope of having an equitable society. And money is now concentrated in so few hands that philanthropic gifts or government support are needed to distribute that money back into a wider circulation.

So there’s pre-entrepreneurship work and then there’s the microenterprise level work that’s necessary. We need to invest in those capacity builders that support microentrepreneurs–the people who are starting their own small businesses and then helping them navigate the ropes. Helping them connect the contracts with larger institutions in the area. Helping them legally. Helping with basic business planning for main-street businesses. We must get over this obsession with tech start-ups. Most people want to start everyday main street companies and these are who are providing us the most jobs, the most job growth.

And then we need those who are supporting at the business association level locally. Business associations that share values of, “we are not here to only help you become a large transnational corporation”, which obviously most do not anyway, but we are here to help you succeed here. Help you collaborate with other businesses locally, procure locally, and help you hire locally, help you to ensure that your environmental impacts are stable if not regenerative. We want to help you find values aligned capital so that to pay it back you don’t have to become acquired by a company that does not share your values one day because you accepted capital from the wrong places early.Those who will share this kind of vision of an economy that works for everybody and all life–these are the kind of business associations that we need now.

And then we also need those who are providing the technical assistance to companies that are providing good jobs, certainly not everyone is going to run a business or be an entrepreneur. How are we supporting businesses to provide good jobs, good career paths? One example is in Oakland, Inner City Advisors, they provide low interest loans and lots of technical assistance to businesses that provide “good” jobs.

Then there’s also the capital side. We know since 2008, 40% of the small business closures has been related to lack of access to financing. So we need to get capital into the hands of the smaller businesses and the source of that capital needs to be value aligned. There’s all sorts of innovation happening here right now with investors who are looking at how to partner with capacity building groups that support entrepreneurs. What kind of capital do you need? How do we get it to you? Bringing together banks, foundations…etc. and figuring out where the gaps are and why is it so difficult for us to navigate access to capital in our community. How can we streamline the path to capital and innovate around that?

And finally a lot of foundations are starting to think about their endowment and bringing that to communities as opposed to it being off in Wall Street somewhere. People are asking, “What about all the money that’s been sitting in the stock market? What’s happening there?” BALLE has both a Local Economy Investor’s Circle, and a Community Foundation Circle, which are similar to the Fellowship program. One of the members told us that when they analyzed the investments in their own foundation’s portfolio (we recommend that foundations look to see which companies they are actually investing in, because often times they don’t) they found a big chunk of their return was coming from predatory payday loan companies. And yet they were trying to give grants to the very same communities that are often harmed by those companies. And they started asking if  they were doing more harm than good. They have a lot more invested than they give each year. So the the wall between giving and investing is coming down and that money is starting to flow into communities. And that’s necessary too.

Where do you draw inspiration from? What is giving you hope right now?

I have more hope now than I ever had before. I have great hope that a beautiful, great joy is possible for us. The main thing that gives me hope is that what we need to do,and what we actually want deeply, and what is actually working–are all actually the same thing. Problems like climate change and the other big complex crises that we face today all have just one logical response–interdependence. We are all in this together.. It’s an evolution, the recognition that we are interdependent, that we have to lead from a place that it’s not just me that benefits, it is all off us that benefits including me.

This is the type of leadership that’s being called for in this era. So if you study organizational systems, at the government level, at the level of academia, finance, all these realms, I’m hearing these very thoughtful people saying that we have got to learn how to act from an understanding that we are interdependent. And what gives me hope is that it turns out that really the capacities that are necessary to recognize our interdependence can be cultivated. So its not that we’re just stuck in this place. Its not that this is just the way that we are. We are continuing to evolve and grow and we can cultivate and practice in a way that awakens our understanding of empathy, compassion, interdependence, that we can can practice small acts of generosity and altruism which turn out to make us happy. We can cultivate a connection to our own purpose, to our own inner voice. Those are steps towards our own personal wellness too.

We have, I think, gotten to a place of such shattered “apartness.” We’ve broken into millions pieces that are so disconnected. Where does our food come from? What does my money do off in some mutual fund? We don’t know our neighbors. We’re depressed. We’ve broken apart so much. Walking the path toward solutions for the crises of our day means walking back again toward connection. That can be cultivated. Science has shown this and this is what will make us feel happy. It will bring us joy. So the fact that we want what we need is incredibly hopeful to me. This is new science, only over the last two decades that shows this is our humanity, this is what makes us well.

So if we operate from a place of recognizing our interdependence, of caring for each other, of believing that maximizing our relationships with each other matters more than maximizing a single bottom line–we would also be doing the things that BALLE fellows are doing in their communities. We would, for instance, choose to buy from people we have a relationship with. We would want our money to be in line with our values and choose to invest in things that we understood, we would choose to do more with business that are an expression of our gifts to the world, we would innovate from that place of service, innovating for the good of our communities. We would ask ourselves what do communities need? How can I meet that?

And it turns out there all those kinds of things, whether we are doing them because they make us well or because we want to do good, those are the areas of our economy that are actually working. So we need to focus on building more entrepreneurial capacity, where more people are, in their gifts and purpose, creating more jobs, more wealth, more success. Wherever we try to help someone out, it helps all of us. These things are actually working for economy, working for all of life. Where we are maximizing for health of all of us. That’s what makes us happy. That’s how we solve these crises. Thats what gives me great hope.

BALLE lists convening as a solution that is pushing the localist movement towards the goal of achieving prosperity for all. Coming together helps us recognize our interdependence. There’s nothing quite as powerful as gathering in a peer network–to know that you have that support network, that you grow from it, that you then share it back in your community. The convening of the fellows, at BALLE conferences—that is something that we’ve brought home. We brought that into Accelerating Appalachia, for instance. We always had a peer mentorship concept in our accelerator, but the way BALLE convened us around transformational leadership is so inspiring that we specifically accepted entrepreneurs who are open to the concept of transformative leadership. So to speak to how BALLE brings together peers and convenes in the way that the way that “we’re all better together” has been really valuable to us and my peers.

That’s great Sara Day, and to add to that—we very much align with that Einstein quote, “No problem can be solved through the same level of consciousness that created it.” We must move away from an analytical mind that sees “differences between” rather than “connections amongst.” To allow people to understand each other’s struggles…to help people to access more parts of themselves, so that we can innovate, from a new level of consciousness, so we can solve problems in new ways, ways that we’re using now which are about interdependence. We are all in it together.

I just wanted to affirm that, because that sense stays with you. That sense of interdependence is something that you continue to carry with you in your work and in your life.

This is how change happens. Our theory of change is around accelerating the emergence of a new economy that works for all life. The way that we do our programming is directly aligned with the science about cultivating emergence. So if something new is trying to emerge, if there is a movement for change—whether it be civil rights, or creation of the Internet–it all starts with little pockets in lots of places and then they connect with each other and then it eventually becomes the new thing.

You can work to accelerate that emergence by finding those innovators, those little pockets of innovative change and connecting them and resourcing those innovators. Those innovators are always fighting against the old system while trying to create what’s next. It’s very difficult and very lonely. By convening them together, great courage emerges. They learn—”I’m not crazy after all.” And when they feel resourced and they feel encouraged, then nothing can stop them. The root word for courage is “coeur”– french for heart. When you feel that moral imperative, nothing will stop you. And the innovation just flows out. You don’t question yourself, “can this be done?” You suddenly are telling yourself, “This can be done! We will figure out how.” And then the final piece of that is to illuminate their work. Illuminate the work that comes out of these innovators and their connections so that others can join in and accelerate the birth of the new economy that is happening.

BALLE is a SOCAP Network Partner that is working to grow the social capital market with a focus on local economies. You can learn more about what’s working locally, and benefit from the power of convening, at the 2015 BALLE Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, June 10-12. BALLE and the Localist Movement will be also featured at SOCAP15, October 6-9th. One of the major themes at SOCAP15 will be Neighborhood Economics, the movement to accelerate the flow of capital into local neighborhoods and rural communities and distribute that capital more equitably.