Blogs >> Kickstarting Local Economic Transition - Jay Tompt suggests a four point framework

Kickstarting Local Economic Transition - Jay Tompt suggests a four point framework

If we're concerned about global warming, biospheric damage and social inequality then the globe-sized ‘elephant in the room’ is the current economic system. 

It’s a system powered by fossil fuels and predicated on endless consumption and growth.

It's efficiency-oriented and centralising and it is concentrating ever greater economic and political power in the hands of oligarchs and autocrats, which means change will not come easily.

But change must come.

Experts warn we must rapidly reduce the energetic and material throughput of the global economic system by orders of magnitude in the coming years or face severe consequences.

These consequences will hit people in communities in towns, cities, and surrounding regions. This suggests what's needed is a radical reconfiguration of how we meet our needs. There is no bigger innovation challenge.

At least part of the solution to this problem lies in developing alternatives to this system - alternatives that are fair, ecologically wise, socially regenerative, diverse and resilient.  And perhaps de-centralised - shifting economic and political power back to communities and democratic institutions. And all of this in the context of dramatically less consumption of energy and material.

If want these kinds of alternative economic systems, we must create the conditions for new economic actors, relationships, and models to develop.

Local and regional economic systems, while complex, are typically human scale and intuitively graspable. The logic is straightforward and guiding, suggesting a theory of change and development. 

But what about existing actors, relationships, and models – shouldn't they change, too? Obviously yes, and regulation, legislation, litigation, boycotts, and campaigns might compel change. All welcome efforts. The ethical consumer movements suggest that making better buying choices provides market incentives to producers who rationally respond by becoming greener and more ethical. It has given rise to corporate social responsibility and corporate sustainability industries employing thousands. Walmart may be the exemplar corporate case. But progress is too little and too slow. Besides, the business models of many large companies, such as Walmart, are inherently unsustainable, and possibly unethical, too.

This brings us back to new models and relationships that could contribute to economic alternatives. There's an abundance of workable co-ops, commons, local entrepreneur forums, social enterprise, mutual credit systems and currencies, circular economy and industrial symbiosis, biomimicry, permaculture, agro-ecology, Community Land Trusts (CLT’s), The New Economics Foundation’s Green New Deal, carbon taxes and also Gross National Happiness – which views happiness as the goal of governance rather Gross Domestic Product.

While some of these alternatives require change at the macro and State level, citizens can and must take actions beyond the occasional trip to the voting booth. After all, the negative consequences of our current system will affect all of our communities.  And if we're to radically reduce the size of our carbon and ecological footprint, (something like 80% over the next couple of decades) the solutions will be found at local and regional scales. Therefore all these communities, towns, cities, regions represent the innovative edge-space of economic transition.

The actions citizens can take to create the conditions for change fall into these four categories:

  • catalyzing a transition-oriented entrepreneurial culture – if we want new actors, relationships, and models, people will have to start new firms and projects, whether cooperatives, solidarity or commons projects, anchor institution plays, peer-to-peer, social enterprise, sole proprietorships, partnership, etc; whether the goals are creating livelihoods or de-coupling from the corporate global supply chain; whether within a market system or outside it. This means redefining entrepreneurship, investment, 'incubation', as well as the social norms and stories giving meaning to these processes and the roles required to animate them.
     
  • mobilising local and regional social and financial capital – in every place, there are people with skills and know how and financial assets of whatever modest or abundant quantity. Mobilising these assets for economic transition may not be sufficient for achieving all aims, but it's necessary for getting started, involving the community, building community wealth, creating local accountability, and creating the conditions for attracting more from other sources, such as foundations or government. 
     
  • building supportive and regenerative 'enterprising ecosystems' – transition-oriented enterprises start up in the context of cast of supporting players – networks, co-working and incubation spaces, training programmes, banks and financial institutions, etc. An interconnected constellation of such spaces, institutions and structures forms an ecosystem providing tangible, useful pathways for starting new ventures. It creates the conditions that makes visible and possible the idea of transition-oriented entrepreurship.
     
  • weaving 'convergence networks' of diverse individuals and organisations across localities and regions – building horizontal networks comprising diverse actors in the landscape of economic alternatives is essential for creating the conditions for connecting people, resources and ideas, for innovations to emerge and spread, and movement to develop.
     

This framework provides a conceptual map that can guide development strategy and action for citizens, whether acting as entrepreneurs, community groups, or within the context of an NGO or local authority. Working in this systems context can create the conditions for the emergence of, not just a single new enterprise or project, but many.

There are examples of successful initiatives that can be understood within this framework, such as the Totnes REconomy Project, which has developed the Local Entrepreneur Forum, Project Design Hackathon, REconomy Centre, and Devon Convergence. There are variety of other initiatives that are also working in this way, such as Calderdale Bootstrap, Berkshares, Boston Impact Initiative, Cooperation Jackson, Cooperativa Integral Catalana, and 'the Preston Model', demonstrating a diversity of specific projects that fit the framework.

But these positive exemplars shouldn't be fetishized, rather, the innovations that are working should be spread, adapted and multiplied. The vast permaculture community, reknowned for 'systems thinking', is well positioned to adopt this framework and extend the thinking and practice of permaculture to include local economic transition.

The Transition Towns movement is composed of over a thousand local community groups who could begin working on economic transition – the Totnes REconomy Project is part of Transition Town Totnes and there is an emerging international REconomy Community of Practice. The 'Preston Model' has created curiosity and growing interest among local government actors in the UK. And there are many other networks that could be mobilised for economic transition, including the Schumacher College alumni network, Degrowth, RIPESS, Social Enterprise UK to name a few. This suggests the need for cross-pollination and, perhaps, breaking down silos and overcoming fixed identities, something that convergence networks, such as the emerging CtrlShift Emergency Summit for Change is trying to address.

Further to that aim, we are partnering with Andy Goldring of the Permaculture Association, to lead a short course at Schumacher College that will develop and elaborate this framework for use by permaculture practitioners, community development organisers, local government economic officers, Transitioners, cooperators and commoners. Maybe it will kickstart a broad, diverse, and aligned movement in this direction. There's never been a greater need nor a better time to transition our local and regional economies toward alternatives that are fair and inclusive, ecologically wise and socially regenerative, diverse and resilient. We invite you to join us.

Andy Goldring and Jay Tompt will be teaching on Kickstarting Economic Transition in your Community which begins on August 20, 2018.

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