Organizational Capacity Building

Candace LaRue and Associates

#nei2012 Building Local Economies

on June 9, 2012

Afternoon plenary:

BALLE: Building Local Economies


The fastest growing network of 30,000+ local entrepreneurs, local business alliances, and local economy funders in North America. Together we are building local economies, city by city, town by town, business by business.

We made a lot of rules along the way that channeled wealth into the hands of a few, and kept us from feeling the results of our own choices. Solving the problem requires thousands of small scale local actions to overcome this. Once a system becomes corrupted, it is difficult to impossible to overcome the corruption. The best way to fix the problem is to create a safe space outside of the dominant system in which something new can grow up. Shell oil has two “most plausible” outcomes – The Scramble, and New Blueprints where local actions would lead to new ideas. They envisioned no plausible scenario where the leaders of the world came together to solve the problems. The two options are to hold on to fundamentalism, or to adopt new ideas and live life as an experiment, trying to imagine and envision health sustainable communities.

BALLE is a network of local businesses – farmers, builders, sustainable power, independent retailers, and local economy funders. There need to be coordinated strategies through philanthropy and investment to build the economy from the ground up.


When there are more local businesses, there is more wealth for more people, more decision-making and accountability, and more purpose in our lives. A higher diversity of locally owned businesses results in higher incomes and jobs. The best unit for decision-making is 5 to 7 people, and businesses of 20 or fewer people networking with other businesses have the best outcomes for communities. As they get larger, corporations develop committees and more voices are dropped out the process. Decision-making is best made by the people who are close to it. Local businesses are more likely to give to local non profits because they know that kid, that block, etc. When people know their purpose in life, it leads them to be happier and healthier. The best thing to do is not to find a job that is “in demand” and will make money.

Ownership matters. Small doesn’t mean small impact. When big has led to violence, then it is a problem. BALLE is supporting business models that are based on preserving the good things about ownership, even when they are large, such as through networks.

Place matters. At the place level, you can encounter the scenarios that allow you to know, understand, and care about what is happening. It is also the place where you can take action. The local places is where the restauranteur says they will use local turnips and bacon, which leads to overcoming challenge and innovation. Many businesses have built their business around the idea that place matters. Tee-shirts, for example, can be made where cotton is grown.

Opportunity matters. In the US, there are 6 black-owned grocery stores throughout the country.. There are no friends and family business-owners to help young black entrepreneurs. We need to adjust how we treat each other.

Nature matters. All wealth comes from nature. Living Building Institute is an example of an organization going beyond LEEDS.

We measure what matters. Maryland is using a genuine progress indicator.

Relationships matter – they matter the most. This is how things change. We make change because of relationships with other people. When something new is emerging, the studies show that the best thing you can do to accelerate that emergence is to identify innovators, connect them to each other, to resource them, and to illuminate their stories so others can see the path they walk upon. It is also time to tap into different kinds of knowing, not just the kind in books.

David Orr

We must challenge conventional thinking of economics, take ideas from the classroom to main street. Oberlin, OH is a town with 28% poverty, 53% of public school students getting free and reduced lunch. The goals are to improve use of renewable energy, local foods, smart growth, new urbanism, and local ownership. How do you succeed from an economy dominated by big oil, agribusiness, and large corporations – remote tyranny.

There is an ecological design and technical revolution. We can grow the economy powered on sunshine and grow food sustainably, but there is a lack of leadership making this into a reality.

In Oberlin, the shops that sell beer, pizza, and coffee are doing well, but others are not. Lots of people know lots of things, but there has not been a systematic approach to revitalization. There is a zero-discarded building on Oberlin campus, which is being used as an example to redevelop a block in downtown as an economic driver and anchor for downtown. The goal for Oberlin is also to get to Carbon neutrality by 2025. The electric supply will be 90% carbon-free by next year. The third goal is to grow 70% of food locally. Most local farms are growing corn and soybeans for animal feed. Fourth, the are working on education so that young people are learning the skills they need for 21st century living.


There are four additional committees. The goal of the project is to break out of these silos, with each component reinforcing the larger pattern. There is environmental sustainability, economic renewal, education, etc, and there needs to be a blurring of these boundaries.

Quotes Donella Meadows essay on Leverage Points. Leverage points are where you intervene in a system. The most effective thing we do is to change world views and the way people think.

Academics are often viewed as boring people. Can we begin to widen the dialogue? Can we re-package the dialogue on sustainability to include the arts, humanities, and sciences in a way that is exciting and engaging. They are reveling an “arts block,” starting with an old hotel. So far Oberlin has invested $53 million in rebuilding the local economy and local businesses.


The goals for the next few years are some construction, a lot of organization, and some business development. Full-spectrum sustainability means that different people will have different opinions on what it means.

What do we do? Change needs to happen at the federal level with a national strategic narrative, through specific policies (such as transportation, smart-growth, and energy), and at the grass roots through sustainable communities, especially networked communities. The challenge is at the local level, but it needs to aggregate to something bigger at the top. We have to do both.

Will Raap

Vermont has been preparing a safe place outside the dominant system to explore. Vermont has the largest per capita small business ownership in the country. Vermonters believe that We are The People. There are town meetings that guide the democratic process, and a citizen legislature where people are not career politicians. Through town meetings, 65 towns ratified the idea of overturning Citizens United Supreme Court decision. We have power when we agree that ownership matters.

Opportunity matters as well. In Vermont there is a combination of Yankee independence and progressive thinking, especially in business models. After an analysis of how to improve the living wage for Vermonters, it was decide that plugging the leaks of value flowing out of the state, there have been big projects using systems analysis (using ReAmp) to change the systems related to food and energy. (see notes from yesterday). Vermont has the highest per capita consumption of local food. Can we double the amount of local food produced in Vermont? Can we have a 50 year plan to develop the New England foodshed so that 80% of local calories come from within this foodshed.

The Energy Action Network follows a similar but different approach working with experts within the energy system, with a goal of 80% of energy coming from renewable sources.

Measure what matters. This is key, and some work has been done on this in Vermont through the Gund Institute pushing the government to use a genuine happiness indicator in the state.

Place and nature matter. Capital must flow to the opportunity to enhance the working landscape. This invests in place and nature, creating jobs with a healthy relationship to place and nature. This process requires an engagement of backbone organizations that understand the process and are able to engage with the tenants of BALLE to continually move the process forward.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: