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Andrea Learned

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Business Unusual: Living Economies

Posted: 06/21/11 03:42 PM ET

"Living Economies." Though the phrase is a mouthful, a lot more businesses, and businesspeople, should be seeing themselves as part of them.

Perhaps because so much of what we hear and read about business today is reports on bad corporate (or corporate leader) behavior, "business" is getting a nasty reputation, and could definitely use a re-framing. That's why "living economies," as coined by the founders of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), is an interesting place to now turn. The way business gets done within this alliance is something so much greater than business as usual.

BALLE members are not content with the old-fashioned, silo-ed ways of doing business. The more local, living economies they participate in are interconnected networks of businesses working together to sustain themselves, the environment and all of the people involved (employees, customers, community members, and beyond). The organization itself exists because so many small- to medium-sized business owners believed in the power of bottom-up, networked change. As the BALLE site puts it: "In the age of the Internet and social networking and the emergence of 'glocalism' as a new form of social consciousness, we believe that never before have communities possessed as much power to determine their futures as they do today and in ways that are good for people, places and the planet."

So, what do these "glocalists" know that you don't? After spending time at their annual conference last week, three things seemed key:

1) Women/Diversity: The BALLE take is by no means that women need to be helped or women's groups need to be formed. Instead, the idea is to see women as a huge market and economy in and of themselves, and to also see them as an incredible resource for your businesses (both as employees and customers). Just ask David Berge from Canada's largest credit union Vancity, who noted how today's "women's economy" will grow at a more rapid rate than that of the combined Chinese and Indian economies in the next five years. He also noted how crucial Vancity's gender balance was as a support for identifying the true impact loans they'd be involved in (as opposed to those loans that might simply have a pretty business plan). Bottom-line? Women are not an initiative.

2) Communications: Telling stories well; about what the living economy means, what your company has to offer and why it matters, will be key for moving forward. Take for example, how energy efficiency (EE) is still so misunderstood. Even though, as a BALLE presenter from PSE (Puget Sound Energy) put it: "energy efficiency is a very inexpensive resource," homeowners (and businesses) still seem to fall into this trap of solar panel lust - only to later realize the low-hanging, biggest bang for buck improvement is likely through EE. How do people not get that particular message? Every BALLE member business, including energy assessment businesses, is learning from one another. They are swapping experiences and mistakes about how to communicate challenging stories more effectively - and many are also enthusiastically using social media to help do that.

3) Collaboration: This may be the most difficult for "business as usual" to get to. As Simon Mainwaring puts it in a recent article: " The corporate world is full of intellectual property and research departments that remain unnecessarily proprietary when they could be helping each other solve problems." As evidenced by many of the "local first" organizations that have sprung up in communities all over the country - many of which were represented at the BALLE Conference - each business does that much better when efforts are combined. Unforeseen alliances are built. Unanticipated connections emerge. (The Somerville Local First organization in Massachusetts exemplifies this through its web site and social media efforts).

So, I'm suggesting you consider things like women, communication and collaboration, because these days, business has to be unusual. The way that BALLE members believe in and contribute to living, and breathing, economies - truly interconnecting and supporting one another on a "glocal" scale - is the light in a dark tunnel.

 

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