Telling Our Stories: New Economy Gets Noticed

In the world of community wealth building, most of us (most of the time) operate in relative obscurity. As a result, “telling our stories” has become a routine conference topic.

For example, one session at October’s Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) conference is described as follows: “The CDFI [community development financial institution] story can be a challenging one to communicate. By the time you’ve defined the term CDFI and explained your mission, your target audience may have moved on to something else.” 

This is not a new problem.

In 2006, OFN President Mark Pinsky related in a speech titled “Grow, Change, or Die” that a board member said that he felt community developers were “working in a hall of mirrors … self-referential and isolated” and needed to learn to “work in a hall of windows.”

And, in 2012, well, maybe we face mirrors more than windows still, but three films this year shine new light on our work:

The first, Fixing the Future, premiered in 60 cities in July. Produced by PBS’ David Brancaccio and based on a TV documentary of the same name, the film focuses on what have been called localist efforts to build a new economy based on local ownership, production, and exchange. The film features Hours Exchange Portland (Maine) a time-banking group; Bremer Bank, a Midwestern bank operating in three states that is co-owned by 2,000 employees and a foundation; and Cleveland, Ohio’s network of Evergreen Cooperatives, among others. The film also highlights support groups, such as the Austin-based Cooperation Texas and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

A second film, We the Owners, highlights businesses that share profits with workers. Developed by the Foundation for Enterprise Development, the film will be released this fall with a distribution strategy that will target business school classrooms. Three companies are featured: Namasté Solar, a Colorado-based worker cooperative solar installation company with over 60 employee-owners; New Belgium Brewery, a Colorado-based employee-owned brewery with more than 400 employee-owners; and California-based DPR Construction, a 1,200 employee, $1.4 billion construction firm.

Finally, Shift Change, premieres October 18th and aims to tell “the little known stories of employee-owned businesses that compete successfully in today’s economy while providing secure, dignified jobs in democratic workplaces.” Featured businesses include Equal Exchange coffee, six bakery co-ops and six green housecleaning co-ops in the San Francisco Bay Area; Cooperative Home Care Associates, a 1,600-person worker cooperative home care agency in the Bronx; Isthmus Engineering, a custom automation machinery design firm in Madison;, and Excellence by Owners in Ohio, a company that produces tunnel boring equipment, medical stretcher-chairs, solar energy equipment and hybrid vehicle cooled electric drives. 

Step by step, our work is gaining visibility. Shift Change producer Melissa Young sounds a hopeful note: “I know that these stories will change the way that many people think. I believe that the visions of success we are presenting in Shift Change will mobilize people to seek new possibilities in their own workplaces, businesses, communities, and lives.”

Steve Dubb is senior editor of Nonprofit Quarterly. Formerly, he was director of special projects at The Democracy Collaborative.


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