It takes an ecosystem to build community wealth. No person or place exists in static isolation, so we need to understand the connections and dependencies between entrepreneurs, investors, support resources, policies, funding streams, and the broader environment.
Participants in the Local Investment 101 Workshops worked together to develop a SWOT analysis of our community investment ecosystem. This gives a pretty good overview of where we’re starting — and what we have to tackle to build wealth, resilience, and equity in Rhode Island.
To build a just local economy and strengthen our community resilience, we need a more robust set of tools. Local investing is one potential solution. On Wednesday, August 4, Local Return is hosting a community planning session around local investment.
Cooperative fans and caffeine aficionados rejoiced when White Electric Coffee at 711 Westminster Street reopened in May. Over the past year, a group of former employees from Providence’s beloved coffee shop formed the worker-owned CUPS Cooperative and purchased the business from the former owner.
Worker-owner Chloe Chassaing joined Local Return directors Raul Figueroa and Josh Daly to talk about the transition. While customers probably won’t see much of a change, Chloe said, “Internally it does feel differently, because we all have a stake, have a voice, have shared decision making power and responsibilities. We’re all just personally more invested, and it feels really good. It feels like we’re modeling on a small scale some of the things we’d like to see in society.”
The group looked to a cooperative structure because they’re known to be more resilient while also offering better wages and greater dignity. And there’s an added bonus for customers: you can know that the workers you encounter are receiving living wages. “All the people you see behind the counter there working are all the co-owners,” noted Chloe, “and they’re all the ones making the decisions, and they’re all the ones benefiting from your purchase of that bagel with cream cheese and avocado.”
Rhode Island’s small businesses have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns. As we plan for the revival of our businesses, our economies, and community life, local investing is one potential solution.
That’s why Local Return is hosting Local Investing 101, a workshop series with Community Economist Michael H. Shuman, author of five books on local economies and local investment. According to Shuman, “Americans now have about $56 trillion in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, pension funds, and insurance funds—nearly all of it invested in global corporations. If we could shift even a small amount of that capital from Wall Street to Main Street, local economies could flourish.”
Special thanks to our sponsors who made this possible: Bank Newport, Delta Dental of Rhode Island, The Business Development Company, Navigant Credit Union, and Pawtucket Credit Union.
The series is built around four live sessions on June 16, 23, and 30, and July 14 from 6:00-7:30 p.m. and 15 videos you can watch independently between sessions. It’s intended for potential investors, small businesses, community officials, and anyone who cares about the local economy. Registration for the full workshop and video series is $50; scholarships are available.
“It’s really amazing to me to see how much folks are growing sometimes on very small pieces of land,” noted Jazandra Barros, Community Outreach Coordinator for Southside Community Land Trust.
SCLT would know. They’ve been around for 40 years, building infrastructure for urban gardens and farms. Jazandra spoke with Local Return director Sue AnderBois about their agricultural history and their more recent efforts to strengthen the local food system as a whole. “We’re meant to be in community by nature,” Jazandra said. “We thrive and grow in community.”
And community investors, take note! Jazandra highlighted an exciting development at 404 Broad Street, where SCLT is creating a small-scale, neighborhood-specific food hub. This hub will provide a processing facility for farmers who work with SCLT to wash, pack, and store food, and it will offer retail spaces for local food entrepreneurs. As Jazandra described, “The food is grown here, it’s processed here, and it’s distributed here.”
That’s exactly the kind of full-cycle investment we need to make, for the benefit of our people, communities, and economy.
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)!
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.