Food Systems and Networks 
Wednesday, July 20, 2016, 02:58 PM - The Solidarity Economy & Microfinance
Completed a contract with the Public Health Agency of Canada- Innovation Strategy to help them develop a framework for assessing the system or sectoral level readiness of programs. I did a literature review on mental health, healthy weights, systems change. Then transformational scenario planning with the Food Action Team at Ecology Action Centre to test the a draft assessment tool.

Further testing of the assessment tool across the projects revealed a number of findings. Reach goals may need to be tempered against the establishment of a strong vested network of partners that lay a foundation for governance, sustainable funding, learning and adaptation. Those projects that scored well formed intentional networks that were home-grown, context-specific and highly based on the relationships and aligned incentives of the partners involved. Sophisticated networks had partners that acted in concert to push learning, change practice and affect behaviours and policy. They were able to act on multiple levels, often multiple determinants of health, multiple sites, multiple issues. This included creative leverage of community-based private sector partners such as retail stores and health stores. Each project (set of partnerships) has a “sweet spot” for determining how much and what types of multiplicity is most strategic for the broader influence.

One highly rated project was a self-declared food network- a mix of partners: schools, non-profits, stores and health food stores. Though led by a non-profit they were able to be very savvy in assessing the market for local foods. This business savvy also supported sustained funding and a governance base. They were able to identify specifically where smart subsidy could be used (address financial barriers of First Nations hunters). Community infrastructure (ovens, freezer, gardens, community tables) provided critical points of connection as did events and festivals that supported social networks, belonging and connecting cultural practices past and present. Policy dialogue and influence was intentional and elaborated based on learning and evidence.

Banco Palmas, Brazil - What Role can Community Organizing Play against Structural Violence? 
Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 02:13 PM - The Solidarity Economy & Microfinance
Banco Palmas and Instituto Palmas grew out of community organizing in the seventies where poor, neglected favelas mobilized hundreds of local volunteers and lobbied all levels of government. This early neighbourhood association was able to establish community centres, irrigation, basic utilities and infrastructure. Their analysis of the local situation and economy led them to create community banks and a social currency. Both models have spread throughout the country.

The approach they took using "Solidarity Economy" builds on the idea that economies should be place-based focused on local economies and local relations of trust and accountability. In practice, this means building individual and collective capacity to continually analyze the current reality. It means building formal and informal networks to encourage people to buy and produce locally, to address other community issues of safety and identity through dialogue. The community oversight and accountability is key and a distinguishing factor in how most economic models are designed. Both locally and nationally, networks were created to ensure that broader community issues of relevance are addressed and not narrowly financial or economic concerns.

However, current crises in Brazil have clawed back some of these gains and called into question the notion that small and localized is beautiful. BP played a tremendous role historically and continues to play an important role in the community and national dialogue. Community organizing was effective when poverty was visible and tangible.

In today’s climate of a political and economic crisis nationally, structural violence such as trafficking, poverty is not tangible, visible nor locally confined to the outskirt communities, even to the borders of Brazil. The urgent questions today relate to how far community mobilization and building civic capacities can go in the face of hidden powers such as organized crime and trafficking or rooted problems of gender-based violence?

Community and networked responses have never been more critical. What kind of collective and community analysis is needed today? What shape does organizing have to take in a globalized world where structural violence exists? What does the Banco Palmas story ask of us?

Strengthening Local Economies 
Sunday, September 20, 2015, 09:54 AM - The Solidarity Economy & Microfinance

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 
Thursday, September 10, 2015, 10:24 AM - The Solidarity Economy & Microfinance
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 
Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 06:22 AM - The Solidarity Economy & Microfinance
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.

Back Next