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As the end of the working day nears, I can’t help but think about what an exciting morning I had: I was fortunate enough to attend the Visions Session as part of the BALLE Conference on Thursday, June 13. At 9:00AM I joined a room of several hundred people from across the country, each in some way or another involved in local business, to hear from Janine Benyus (Founder of Biomimicry 3.8), Judy Wicks (Author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business, Founder of the White Dog Café and Co-founder and Board member of BALLE), Nipun Mehta (Service Space), Michelle Long (Executive Director, BALLE) and Mark Brand (CEO of Mark Brand Inc.). Each speaker, a guru in their respective fields, treated us to engaging and inspirational discussions of their journeys through the business world.
From Ms. Benyus, we were invited to view business in direct relation to nature. She stressed the importance of symbiotic relationships and how, after hundreds of years of viewing ecosystem in terms of competition, scientists are finally starting to change their lenses and look at mutualism as the driving force of nature. According to Benyus, we need to do the same in business.
I had the pleasure of hearing Judy Wicks speak a second time, and she reiterated her philosophy that one’s family practices should not be removed from one’s business practices. Wicks related to us all that in order to achieve a sustainable system, our work must be based on cooperation and compassion. She observed that the main reason her café flourished was because she shared her lessons on environmentally friendly practices such as supporting local agriculture with her community, instead of keeping them as a competitive advantage. In teaching others goodness, Wicks gathered support for her business.
Nipun touched all of our hearts with his story of Karma Kitchen and the concept of Service Space. It was incredible to hear about how successful his restaurant was based solely on paying it forward. It was a happy reminder that there is plenty of goodness in people, you just need to look for it. Nipun shared with us some insight from Ghandi throughout his presentation, commenting on how we need to lead with transformation in order to create awareness and impact. The key is to act with love, and trust that you will be taken care of. Proof of this can be seen in his movement Service Space and how an entirely volunteer run organization can successfully connect people across the world in acts of generosity.
By the time it was Michelle Long’s turn to speak, we were all swelling with emotion, including Ms. Long. Through teary eyes, Long stressed to us that it is severely necessary to reorient business to what makes us well: the feeling of purpose, the feeling of generosity, the feeling of being connected to one’s community and the feeling of being connected to nature. These four sensations relate directly to the movement to revive local economies. Long acknowledged that we are facing difficult times with the environment, but the question is whether we are going to turn to each other or put up walls. Her words focused on the simple need for love in the world.
Finally, entrepreneurial addict Mark Brand left us with some closing stories about his creations and the work he put into each. Brand’s biggest point was that if we do anything in life, it should be to help a friend succeed; that this is one of the most satisfying things. One of his stories was about the meal program he worked on with a transitional housing complex in Vancouver. In providing people on the lower East Side with healthy meals, Brand was instrumental in lowering the number of 9-1-1 calls to the building by 35%. That was just three months after starting the program. In closing, Brand made us promise to “do better by each other and the planet,” initiating a standing ovation for the end of the Visions Session.
On a more personal note, this being my first BALLE Conference, I was hugely inspired by all of the calls to act with love and compassion and bring business back to the community. From a young age, I developed an image of business portrayed by suits and competition, causing me to shy away from ever pursuing the field. But after sitting through the morning session of this conference, I was overwhelmed with inspiration and in all honesty, astonishment. I had no idea such individuals existed in the business world; but now, more than ever, I want to be a part of the localism movement.
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On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, the Growing Working Group held their regularly scheduled meeting. The key focuses of this meeting were:
- Special presentation on WNYEA Advocacy Process by Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby
- Review the Growing Group’s 2014 Action Agenda goals & discuss next steps
- View Ron Finley’s TedTalk on YouTube about guerilla gardening and discuss
Micaela Shapiro Shellaby shared about the WNYEA advocacy process and referred to resources on the GrowWNY website at http://www.growwny.org/organizations/process-groups/908.
She recommended that when formulating our Action Agenda/Advocacy Goals, she recommends we consider whether items address PRIMO points:
- P = Precise
- R = Realistic
- I = Inspiring
- M = Measurable
- O = Outcome-oriented
Regarding the Growing Group’s 2014 Action Agenda Goals, the group determine that all Growing Group members are asked to review the 2014 action agenda and rate topics/issues that we, as a group, would like to raise up to the WNYEA Board using the PRIMO method. This will be discussed in greater detail at the next meeting, so members are encouraged to come to the next meeting prepared with ideas.
To equip the group with content to write a blog article for the GrowWNY website in June, the group watched a ten-minute TedTalk by Ron Finley, a “guerilla gardener” in South Central Los Angeles. The talk can be found on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzZzZ_qpZ4w.
Members are asked to watch the video, answer the following questions for their agency or organization (in a sentence or two), and send their answers to Rebekah@mass-ave.org by end of business on Monday, June 10th. Rebekah will format the group’s answers in to a blog article.
- How do the issues Ron Finley brings up about food deserts, gardening, land use/access, or health relate to the work you or your organization does?
- Finley is very passionate about guerilla gardening. What are you passionate about regarding these issues? Why is this work important to WNY?
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Grow or Die?
Judy Wicks presenting at the "Get the Rust Out" Speaker Series.
The BALLE (Business Alliance for a Local Living Economy) Conference got off to a big start in Buffalo last night, June 11, as Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center hosted an evening with Judy Wicks, co-founder of BALLE. Wicks spent the evening discussing her new book Good Morning Beautiful Business
, as a part of the Get the Rust Out Speaker Series.
BALLE is about developing local economies and Wicks story is both archetypical and inspiring for the aspiring entrepreneur and localism activist. In 1970, after a stint as VISTA volunteers Wicks and her then husband Richard Hayne, both 23, took their combined $3,000 of VISTA pay-out and started a small store in a declining Philadelphia neighborhood. It was called the Free People’s Store. “What we thought at the time” Wicks told the 75 or so people at Hallwalls, “was that you buy something at a certain cost, and sell it for a little more.” They sold products associated with the under 30 crowd including new and used clothing, candles, houseplants, and “hip housewares.” That first year was full of challenges. It wasn’t as simple as buy low sell high. She told the story about how at one point she wanted to buy 12 pairs of satin bell-bottomed jeans that were the most expensive products they had purchased. She bought 6, sold a few pairs, and bought some more. “One day a group of high-school kids from the neighborhood came in, distracted me, and ran out of the store with one of them wearing a new pair of my satin bell-bottoms. I ran out the door, locked up the shop and chased her down, tackled her, and took the jeans off, leaving her in the middle of the street in her underwear. I got the jeans back, that’s what mattered to me.”
The two lived in a small apartment behind the store “which helped keep the costs down” said Wicks. But within a year the couple divorced. Hayne changed the name of the store to “Urban Outfitters” and today remains CEO and President of the well-known chain that today has a net worth of almost $2 billion. He is one of the richest people in the world. A few years later, Wicks started a restaurant called the White Dog Café, which catered to a healthy foods, localist clientele. “We believed in humanely treated food resources such as free range animals, local farms, and fair trade coffee, chocolate, and tea.” Wicks told the crowd. The restaurant, located on Sansom Street in Philadelphia was in a building originally slated for demolition for a new mall. Wicks rallied the neighbors and the restaurant became a hotbed for progressive activism and localism. Speakers including Amy Goodman, Lester Brown, Helen Caldicott, and others helped focus the community on issues ranging from local engagement, health, environment, and the evils of corporate globalization. “These view differed significantly from her former husband,” she told us.
The restaurant became a huge success, and the neighborhood was saved from the mall developer. She was able to buy her building and invest in the neighborhood, expand, and move into other entrepreneurial businesses. She was asked to join the Social Venture Network by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. SVN expanded into international support for localist and self-reliant businesses in Chiapas Mexico, Cuba, and Vietnam among other places. One thing that bothered her was that even the socially responsible businesses relied on the old model of economics, which promoted growth as the predominant paradigm. Grow or Die, she told the audience, that was the model. “I was more interested in social value beyond the dollar bottom line.” Soon Ben and Jerry’s, Odwalla Juices, Stoneyfield Farms, and Toms of Maine, SVN leaders and icons of the social venture movement were bought out by multi-national corporations.Eventually she helped to co-found BALLE and has inspired countless people to consider business as a vehicle for social change. Buy her book, available today at local bookstores for more details.
The question and answer session provided several enlightening exchanges. One woman asked if her success in the Sanson Street neighborhood created an opportunity for “gentrification.” It was hard to dodge that question, and Wicks did not. “If you invest in a neighborhood, make it more livable, property values will increase.” Wicks declared.How did you avoid “Grow or die” asked another woman in the audience. “I decided not to franchise, and instead invested in or started other business’s” she said. Today I am retired and living mostly off rental income from the Philadelphia properties. Another question: “Can you identify one secret to your success?” Wicks responded quickly- “I lived upstairs from the store, and then the restaurant, I lived and worked in the same neighborhood, grew my kids there, and that saved a lot of time because I didn’t have to commute.” Indeed.