Community Conversation with Eva Agudelo

Eva Agudelo, founder and executive director of Hope’s Harvest RI, joined Local Return director Jessica David to talk about the importance of a strong local food ecosystem. Hope’s Harvest mobilizes volunteers to recover surplus food from local farms and distributes it to local hunger relief agencies. The organization has expanded rapidly over its three years, and it played a vital role in providing healthy food during the pandemic.

Standing up such a top-notch gleaning operation requires incredible attention to logistical details, which Eva demonstrates in spades. She sees her work, though, as continuing an ancient practice of justice and love. “When we’re nourishing our community, it’s an act of love,” Eva asserts. “We do it as an act of love, because we know that it’s something that makes people healthier and happier. And it’s an act of care.”

Kudos to Hope’s Harvest for stepping in to fill an important gap in our food system. There are lots of ways to support Hope’s Harvest (getting your hands dirty is optional)!

Community Conversation with Andy Posner

Andy Posner, president and CEO of the Capital Good Fund, joined Local Return board member Jessica David to talk about the lessons he’s learned over 12 years of providing an alternative to predatory payday loans. Capital Good Fund has saved clients an estimated $5.5 million, and borrowers increase their credit scores by an average of 75 points.

Andy covers the challenges of growing the Fund to sustainability, his goal to democratize impact investing, and how we might change the narrative around financial management. “The problem is not that poor people don’t know how to manage money,” he points out. “They’re amazing at it. What they don’t have is money to manage.”

Building community wealth requires practical solutions to the very real barriers to financial stability. Thanks to Capital Good Fund for developing a creative solution that offers affordable credit and accessible investment.

Guest commentary: The Economic Progress Institute

 For local communities to fully reclaim finance as a tool for generating prosperity, we must remove the obstacle of payday lending. Disproportionately concentrated in majority Black communities, payday lenders like to claim they are providing much-needed funds to people who have no other recourse. This claim is wrong on two counts. First, payday lenders are not offering genuine assistance, but rather setting a debt trap with interest rates above 200 percent, luring people into a cycle of debt that can last years and ruin lives. Second, alternatives are available. For instance, the Capital Good Fund, Navigant Credit Union, and Bank of America all offer small loans, with low fees and interest rates ranging from 5 to 30 percent.

Rhode Island remains the only state in New England with no protections against the payday lending debt trap. It is time to prohibit payday lending and for finance to help local communities build wealth.

The Economic Progress Institute – formerly The Poverty Institute – is a nonpartisan research and policy organization dedicated to improving the economic well-being of low- and modest-income Rhode Islanders. Since the organization was founded in 1999, it has become a respected authority on issues impacting the economic vitality of our residents and our state.

Guest commentary: Jo Detz, ecoRI News

eco-ri-news | Plastic Oceans International

When I read your call to action, I immediately thought of South Providence and the consistent disinvestment in that community, which is bearing the brunt of many polluting businesses along the Port of Providence. There has been much attention to environmental racisism, equity, inclusion, and equitable solutions at the city level with respect to communities bordering the port, but so much feels like lip service with no real action taking place. For there to be real opportunity for those neighborhoods to thrive and have power, they need an economic leg up. (The level of pollution experienced in South Providence would never happen on the East Side of Providence, which holds so much wealth.)

I wonder what real investment would look like in South Providence—investment that actually comes from the community and not from gentrifying forces…

Joanna Detz is publisher of ecoRI News. ecoRI News covers environmental news for southern New England. Sign up for their weekly e-newsletter at http://ecori.org/read

A Call to Action: Building Local Wealth and Resilience

COVID has changed us. The global pandemic has hit home — for many of us, quite literally, in sickness, death of a loved one, loss of a job or business, or drastically different daily realities. We are hopeful to see vaccinations and signs of reemergence, but many of us are still grieving, exhausted, and wary of an uncertain future. For Black and Indigenous people, people of color, and poor and working-class people, the impacts have been felt even more acutely, as was true of the recession a decade ago.

And yet at this time, we must look forward. There is no going back to normal. The damage has been too deep, plus normal wasn’t very good for many of us. COVID has revealed much; as Rhode Islanders, no longer can we claim not to see the disparate outcomes and burdens that persist across our society, fragility of neighborhood businesses, ways systemic racism has been baked into our economy, and even unintentional effects of misguided actions or failures to plan in ways that support all members of our community. And the full economic impact of the pandemic has yet to be felt; there are more challenges ahead for small, locally owned businesses. 

This is our moment to move toward a stronger future, to build deep and wide community wealth and resilience. Wealth allows us — individually and collectively — to control our own economic destiny; it is necessary for resilience: our ability to withstand challenges and persist, adapt, and transform ourselves.[1] Building community wealth and resilience starts small and local. It will require deep stores of imagination, agility, collaboration, patience, persistence, and courage.

A large influx of stimulus money is quickly arriving, and we need to be prepared.[2] Learning from the past, we have an opportunity to ensure that the coming economic recovery period is more just, more inclusive, and better able to build sustainable, shared prosperity for all Rhode Islanders, especially the most vulnerable. In that spirit, we humbly offer the following eight principles to guide Rhode Island’s path forward. 

  • People and place at the center. Regardless of race, gender, class, or zip code, people should have power, choice, and ownership.[3] Wisdom and resilience abound within communities who have faced oppression. Prioritize places that have experienced decades of disinvestment, and let the people who live in those places guide decisions. 
  • Local first. New and existing programs, policies, and spending should be designed and implemented to connect and build upon the assets we already have: the small businesses that drive our local economy, places that make our state special, and groups working to make our state better. 
  • No silver bullet. Economic self-reliance requires a diversity of sectors, size of companies, and types of jobs. It also requires an ecosystem of supports. 
  • Define value. Markets aren’t neutral or inevitable, and all economic activities aren’t equal in value. Our policies and programs should incentivize environmental sustainability, inclusivity, racial justice, and innovation — and we should be able to see these benefits in our community.[4] 
  • Ownership is fundamental. Wealth comes from ownership of assets. Local ownership means local decision-making and local benefits; studies have shown that money spent at local businesses generates as much as a 76% greater return to the local economy than money spent at national chains.[5] Policies and programs should prioritize ownership of assets and invest in locally owned enterprises.
  • Collaborative governance. Too much done under the cover of economic development is about exclusion. People know best what they and their communities need. Decisions for how resources are allocated should be made as close to the ground as possible. 
  • Reclaim finance as a tool for community. Most of our financial investments don’t touch  the businesses and communities we care about. Nationally, Americans invest nearly $56 trillion in stocks, bonds, and other funds, almost all of it in global corporations.[6]  Let’s develop new ways to connect capital to our own communities.
  • Assume abundance rather than scarcity. Focusing on and building the assets in our communities, we can grow an inclusive economy and shared prosperity. 

We offer these principles to help spark a new conversation. We’re committed to listening and learning, and we hope our public systems, institutions, and every household will join us. There are appropriate roles each of us need to play. Rhode Island has been here before, in this moment between crisis and recovery. We have the opportunity to learn from our past experiences and prepare for a better future. 

Signed,
Local Return Board of Directors
Sue AnderBois, Josh Daly, Jessica David, Carmen Diaz-Jusino, Raul Figueroa, and Lisa Raiola

Local Return seeks to build community wealth in Rhode Island, particularly in neighborhoods that have experienced historical disinvestment. We are a new organization focused on building the local community investment ecosystem, advocating for local policies and practices that support a vibrant and just local economy, and increasing community consciousness. 


Footnotes:

[1] Our gratitude to Marjorie Kelly for this definition of community wealth-building
[2] H/t Bruce Katz, Colin Higgins, Andrew Petrisin, Michael Saadine
[3] Our gratitude to Common Future for this apt aspiration
[4] H/t Mariana Mazzucato
[5] H/t Institute for Local Self Reliance
[6] Thank you, Michael H. Shuman