Community Development Field

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. […]

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.”

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