BIG: Buy Local, Invest and Hire Local, Give Local

05/08/2015 04:04 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2016

Each year, the Northern California counties of Alameda and Contra Costa -- where the Insight Center is headquartered -- receive investment inflows totaling about one billion dollars. These investments support important industries like Biotech, Alternative Energy, Software Development, and Medical Instrumentation. While these investments are fueling essential regional economic growth and development, they fail too often to reduce unemployment and poverty rates in the urban cores of Oakland and Richmond, the counties' two largest metropolitan areas.

Late last year, working with an impressive array of more than twenty institutional partners, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development launched an important new initiative intended to address this disconnect. The initiative, called BIG, seeks to help organizations Buy, Invest and Hire, and Give locally within the two counties, which together anchor Northern California's East Bay economy. The campaign is intended to harness and align local reinvestment, new employment opportunities, and under-tapped community capital with an eye to bolstering local small business expansion, job quality, and employment equity.

In partnership with Oakland-based Urban Strategies Council and the Sustainable Business Alliance, and with generous planning support from the New York-based Surdna Foundation, the Insight Center is compiling and analyzing field research, engaging stakeholders, and assessing public opinion on allied issues and opportunities. If successful, this work will establish a framework and action plan for a multi-year BIG campaign in Alameda and Contra Costa during 2016-2018.

In the process, it will create new tools and agreements that organizations of any type or size can use to assess and adjust their practices to meet the BIG initiative's core objectives; namely, to keep and grow economic resources within the East Bay for the broader benefit of middle and working class families in need. This work is essential to create new models of economic justice and opportunity for the future. We believe these efforts in turn will create strong demand for similar work throughout our nation.

Why is local such a BIG deal? Local matters because re-investing in our regional economies creates stronger, more resilient communities. It also provides an opportunity to craft a more inclusive definition of community-incorporating those who have been historically underrepresented or increasingly marginalized in the global economy.

When we open the door to a conversation about our regional and local economy with employers, purchasers, investors and donors, we enter a conversation about equity. We redefine places to include all people. In this way, the Insight Center's work to improve employment prospects for boys and men of color, mid-career workers in transition, and other economically dislocated groups connects to these BIG ideals.

Its success is premised on engaging growing numbers of supporters in the private, public and non-profit sectors; and developing and standardizing tools and agreements that can help leading decision makers in each of these domains to better align their investments around more positive local benefits for surrounding residents, workers and consumers.

The relevant tools being developed through this work includes a self-assessment template designed to enable participating organizations both to ascertain their own levels of performance relative to BIG's goals, as well as aggregate trend lines covering collective field performance related to those goals.

The effort is additionally being driven by voluntary agreements and an overarching pledge by participating groups to advance BIG's aims in good faith and with meaningful intentionality. Click here to sign the BIG pledge. Use and share our Self-Assessment Tool and learn more about where your organization's and others' dollars are going.

The Insight Center offers a logical space for advancing more of this work in partnership with other groups and networks across our region and nation that are seeking to address the next generation leadership needs of the national economic equity field. We will only succeed by joining forces and working together. I hope you will join us in thinking BIG!