This year’s Social Venture Institute (SVI) Hollyhock brought together a number of leaders working on building local economies, from Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) to Simon Fraser University’s community economic development program.
Axiom News was curious to find out what local economy means in today’s globalized world, and what front-line localists are seeing that gives theme hope.
What follows is an edited version conversation with four inspiring women moving forward the local economy movement.
Katja Macura, digital and business strategist, board member of LOCO BC
• Why is the local economy important to you?
When I think about my own community, and my family friends, the people who I interact with in my community, I want them to be successful, so I will go to their store and buy their stuff. I think it’s also important because I want to have convenience where I live.
I think there is a role for global corporations or globalization as long as we always recognize that things come from somewhere, ideally there are lots of local economies, and we don’t have to get hung up or paralyzed if you can’t find something local. Instead, we can think bigger picture, like how does this business support people to have good lives in their community all along the way?
Companies can struggle, especially smaller companies trying to balance local economy and the need to grow. So, how do you fit the values of local into your growth plans and how do you interact with your suppliers even if they’re not local to create lots of thriving communities? That (approach) would lead to more global resilience.
Nicole Chaland, program director of SFU’s Certificate Program for Community Economic Development
• What does local economy mean to you?
We can’t really talk about localization without talking about globalization. It’s not talked about anymore, but 20 years ago when we were talking about globalization some of the things we were really afraid of was that people would end up feeling isolated, and end up feeling like they didn’t belong to their communities because they weren’t having those market exchanges anymore, which are also social exchanges.
That’s now happened, that has passed, there is an intense concentration of power, and a lot of people don’t feel like they have control over their personal lives, and almost everyone feels like they don’t have control over their economy.
For me, the local economy movement is so incredibly important (as a response to this).
One of the ideas I’ve heard that really resonates with me is a global exchange of ideas and knowledge, and local exchange of products and services, and to me that’s a very hopeful and pragmatic idea.
California just passed a cottage food industry bill, which means people can use their home kitchens for commercial food processing. This is completely amazing, because it means new entrepreneurs can enter the market with very little to no start-up costs. So this is a huge thing in economic development, by removing barriers through policy.
Co-operatives and credit unions also give me hope. Co-ops circulate money in the local economy, they’re local, and studies show they last twice as long as other forms of business.
Amy Robinson, founder of LOCO BC
• Tell us why you wanted to form LOCO BC?
Mine is a personal story about working in sustainability and business.
Talking about social entrepreneurship is often about green business. In the whole sustainability world, as it became more mainstream, nobody was really talking about ownership and community — the social and economic side, and the BALLE movement helped open my eyes to that.
I started LOCO and I think people are getting it because it’s about community. We’re trying to educate them but it’s not by bringing them to workshops. I talk a little about why you should join LOCO but in some ways it’s sort of an experiential thing, you’re going to become part of our local economy because it’s about community and about relationship.
For me, a lot of it is our society wants to divorce money and values. We think it’s a good thing that you endorse money and values, and I think it needs to come together. I think a lot about how that creates power in the world.
We really are trying to bring together people and have fun. We launched our membership in 2011, and we have 100 members. The movement is growing a lot.
• Can you define local economy?
For me, it’s about businesses that are creating value in their community. We don’t have a tick box for exactly what that means; it’s about local employment, its place based.
It’s also about an economic reality that is global. We don’t have all the answers, we’re trying to figure out how we define local, and support local suppliers but also recognize that a lot of stuff is made overseas.
Even big corporations can help create benefits in our community. It’s about creating wealth, rather than just making money. It’s making sure the profits are spent locally and as much as possible we’re supporting local industries.
Vicki Pozzebon, principal at Prospera Partners – Practicing Bold Localism
• What are you seeing in the local economy movement that gives you hope?
For six years, I was the executive director of the Santa Fe Alliance, a local living economy network ( in Santa Fe, New Mexico) with about 600 members. We were started by a group of really concerned citizens after 9/11 after the event that rocked our world, it rocked us to our core. It was a group of concerned people who came together and said ‘How can I do something in my own backyard?’
The (George W.) Bush administration was saying “spend, spend spend,” and these folks said we need to spend, spend, spend, but do it locally, and do it mindfully, and that’s where we started in 2002. It’s now the 11th anniversary of 9/11, and I’ve seen this movement go from a small core group of really concerned conscious citizens moving it, to businesses embodying it, to communities truly embracing it, and local leaders emerging within it.
I think the biggest challenge we see to the local economy is policy. If we can work on changing some policies on the local, state/provincial and federal level we can have more direct impact on the ground. I think we need to start thinking about better incentives for locally-owned businesses, I think they need a voice, a tax credit or job credits.
On the upside of that, I think that we have a lot of business owners who are engaged in these issues, and in my community I am seeing a lot of business owners get involved and lobby their own municipal leaders, and state leaders. I think the deeper we go with business owners who have a stake in their community, the better off we are. I feel like the business owners are the way to go.
And the hope for me, that I see, is the growth is happening, and we’re starting to see some actual results. There are studies coming out, and we’re starting to connect people with meaningful work in local jobs, and we’re seeing communities really galvanize around this idea, and we’ve moved so far beyond “buy local” because we can’t just save the economy by spending, spending, spending — we’re changing entire culture.