2011 BALLE conference: bringing local economies together

By James Frazier

If you believe that positive change in the world must include fundamental changes in our economy and how we do business, and if you believe that the most power we have to affect real change lies right where we live, in our local communities, then you should know about the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (BALLE, pronounced “ball-ey”).

BALLE is a consortium of business networks spread across the USA and Canada. Each of these networks brings together the green, sustainable, locally-focused businesses of a given region. Each network is independent and autonomous, focusing on the unique resources, culture, and challenges of its area.  BALLE acts as a forum for all of these green business networks to share information, encourage each other, and coordinate their agendas.

BALLE Logo 4C

It sounds simple, but that’s probably where the beauty is. By linking together over 22,000 small businesses across the continent, BALLE has turned what would otherwise be lots of well-intentioned but unconnected green businesses into a force for advancing local, sustainable, human-scale business practices in the world, starting at the grassroots level.  According to its website, “BALLE believes that local, independent businesses are among our most potent change agents, uniquely prepared to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century with an agility, sense of place, and relationship-based approach others lack.”

In today’s globalized world, where it seems that big, abstract entities such as nations and corporations dominate the news and control the agenda, why do small, local economies and businesses even matter at all?  To name a few reasons:

  1. Local economies are more resilient.  A supply chain that stretches around the globe is more apt to fail during crisis than one that depends more on locally sourced materials. This is a great reason to support your local farmers and food suppliers by doing as much business with them as possible.  They deserve your support, and they will feed you when the going gets tough.
  2. Dollars spent locally increase your community’s collective prosperity much more than dollars spent with large corporations. This is because locally-owned businesses hire more locally, source their products more locally, and keep their profits local instead of sending them off to corporate headquarters. Those local dollars are re-spent many times, creating financial abundance via “the multiplier effect.” The same principle applies to investing your money in local small businesses instead of Wall Street.
  3. Local businesses run by local people often take better care of the environment and the unique culture of their locale than large businesses run in a “one size fits all” style from far away. Because locals have a real connection to the land and the people that live there, they are better stewards of place.

I recently had the pleasure of attending BALLE’s national conference in Bellingham, Washington (see this link for full conference agenda and recordings of some sessions).  Over 600 people came from all over the continent (and world) to teach and learn, inspire and be inspired. It broadened my horizons, as I learned about efforts to bring sustainable, human-scale business practices to areas I hadn’t thought of, like fashion design and marine fisheries.

I heard luminaries of the sustainable and community-focused investment world speak on inspiring topics. Leslie Christian of Portfolio 21 (a mutual fund found in many Natural Investments client portfolios) spoke of a Modern Portfolio Theory featuring community investing at its heart instead of at its fringe—an idea that we at NI are working to bring to life.  Then, David Berge of Vancity (the largest credit union in Canada) blew everyone away when he said that the global woman’s economy is poised to grow faster than the much-vaunted high-growth emerging economies of India and China in the coming years!

From the BALLE perspective, the future is looking bright, because the potential for positive change is greatest at the community level, where local people, neighbors and businesses, can empower one another to make good things happen.  BALLE lays out its vision of the future on its web site, stating boldly that “Within a generation, we envision a global system of human-scale, interconnected Local Living Economies that function in harmony with local ecosystems, meet the basic needs of all people, support just and democratic societies, and foster joyful community life.”  After spending a few days at the BALLE conference, that vision seems more real than ever to me!

To learn more about BALLE, check out their website at www.livingeconomies.org

This article first appeared in the Summer 2011 edition of the Natural Investments News

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James Frazier

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