photo courtesy of Scott Morris
Out of a little known corner in Iowa, tucked away in the peculiar and extraordinary town of Fairfield, comes this story of a new kind of community empowerment program that could hold the key to a more transparent, more life-supporting, more humanitarian money supply and system of incentives.
Since 2009, a core of social entrepreneurs has been crafting and proving out a new model of wealth generation centered on social and economic equity, the spirit of harmony found in volunteerism, and respect for individual sovereignty. The group piloted their now flagship "Hero Rewards" program from April to July of 2011, cataloging their experience of empowering local charities in engaging the community, rewarding local volunteers for being proactive in community building, and bringing stimulus to the local economy all at once with something no more complex than a coupon. With the pilot concluded, a group of civic-minded community members invited the Hero Rewards team to present their findings and on how they intended to perpetuate the model to the benefit of both Fairfield and beyond.
"myLocal Cooperative" emerged as the parent, administering organization that oversees the Hero Rewards, while it also provides a "Community Operating System" App for web and mobile along with a slew of relevant online marketing services to its merchant members. The Community Operating System provides: a unified community calendar, where the cornerstone entities of the community can unify their event listings alongside local schools, venues, and charities, and where individuals can customize their personal feed according to their own interests; a new platform for exchange called "myLocal Marketplace" which allows local trade to occur in a plethora of media from purely time-based "timebanking" to business-to-business barter while also featuring job listings, daily deals, and more; and finally, a new authority to the individual through "myLocal Voice", an online town-hall environment where people can express and discuss ideas, identify priorities, and see action taken on agreed-upon solutions. It brings all this to life in a rich maps-layer where people can interact with their locale and enjoy local wealth experiences in ways unlike ever before.
photo courtesy of Scott Morris
A Conversation with myLocal's Scott Morris
Mike Ragogna: So Scott, tell me a bit about how myLocal came to be.
Scott Morris: We started as a round table that was exploring alternative methods for local economic development. We wanted to create an program for Fairfield that had the benefits of a complimentary currency, but would not be perceived as one. We wanted to create a program that would help boost resilience and self-reliance while also activating latent resources in the community.
What we ended up with was a program called "Hometown Hero Rewards" which we piloted to explore whether rewarding volunteerism and other socially progressive activities with local merchant promotions and deals would be something that people would appreciate. What we actually created was something much more, something that everybody in the community could get behind, and in fact DID.
MR: How did the Hero Rewards pilot turn out?
SM: It actually turned out a lot better than any of us expected. The Civic Organizations loved the extra coverage and promotion of their events, Volunteers were thrilled to receive the Hero Rewards--actually called "Merits"--and participating Merchants recognized the value of pledging their "off hours" capacity to those who've gone and bettered the community. It was a win-win-win, and like we said, everybody got behind the idea. The data we collected speaks to what this program can do for local economies.
MR: You're running a crowd-funding campaign right now, tell me a little bit about that.
SM: We're raising $25,000 to kick-start the development of our "Community Operating System" App. The campaign can be found via the link: www.mylocal.coop/thiswayup and will certainly inspire pledges from readers who like the idea of generating an abundance of jobs, creating a brighter future for our children, and helping "local" to become the next cool and convenient thing to do. It ends on midnight on Thanksgiving Day, so the heat is on for us to get this link out there and around networks who will respond positively to our message. If you have networks you think will appreciate real solutions for local communities, than please share the link with them. We're counting on grassroots support, and we invite your readers to take a closer look.
MR: Do you think you'll actually get the money?
SM: The early-adopter wave of support we have seen is HUGE for campaigns of this type, and yes, we do intend on hitting our goal of $25,000 before November 24th. We're committed and we wouldn't waste our time unless we could actually pull it off. I mean, there's a whole field of possibilities out there, and with your help, the help of your readers, and the larger network of concerned and intelligent people out there, we think success is well within reach.
MR: What's the Community Operating System?
SM: It's a web and mobile app that puts the power of "local" into the palm of your hand. It combines the Hero Rewards program with mobile payments and a whole suite of other community services. For merchants, it lowers the cost of doing business with smartphone users and increases security and convenience for everyone. The user interface is maps and calendar-based for navigating local events, deals and promotions, and opportunities to engage in achieving the greater good through social engagement.
MR: How will it make life easier, can you give me some examples?
SM: (1) I've got kids in school, and I want to stay on top of related events. myLocal Calendar gives me the controls to subscribe to events that are school-related, receive updates via email, and have one-click access to details and directions if I need them. (2) I'm in college, I need to find ways reduce financial pressure. The COS allows me to explore opportunities to qualify for Hero Rewards, publish my skills in myLocal Marketplace for others to search and hire, and find deals that help me get more from the dollars I have in addition to generally expanding the bandwidth of what I can trade for goods and services around town. (3) I'm a massage therapist, and the Community Operating System allows me to be found by people who are interested in supporting the local economy. I can barter my services with local businesses, easily trade hour-for-hour with other people who have skills to offer, and I can attract new customers by participating in Hero Rewards.
photo courtesy of Scott Morris
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008