October is Shop Indie Art Month. Local artists make our local places special. They help us reflect, observe, capture, provoke, mourn, and celebrate. They’re also a major economic force. By supporting local artists, you’re contributing to the local economy and the community.
This summer, Local Return is thrilled to have on our team two Learning Fellows through the Swearer Center at Brown University. Kiera Walsh and Kritika Shrivastava are working with us to mine research and data around community wealth, investment ecosystems, and economic self-reliance. They’re enthusiastic and diligent scholars, passionate about our future. Please welcome Kritika and Kiera!
Interested in local economies and investing? Come on out to our next Local Social at the Schoolyard Market at Hope & Main on Wednesday, August 24, at 5:30 p.m. The market features live music, vendors, and food and beverage trucks. You’ll meet some fun people, experience beautiful Warren, AND support a whole bunch of locally-owned businesses at once.
Hope & Main is located at 691 Main Street in Warren. It’s accessible by RIPTA #60 and just off the East Bay Bike Path. There is ample parking across the street in the Franklin Street parking lot.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. See you then!
“When people are neurodivergent they’re often forced to think in a way that’s very normative, which can be very harmful,” said Casey Gallagher, “so we really want to create a space and support programming for individuals to be themselves and celebrate neurodivergent joy.”
Casey and Tara Boulais co-founded LUNA Community Care to provide programs and support services — such as one-on-one peer counseling, special interests groups, and a drop-in center based in the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket — for neurodivergent people.
Casey is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Casey is a Community Health Worker and Peer Support Specialist. They are both mothers. “I’ve been working in a system for the past seven years that is broken, and I would like to fill the gaps,” said Tara. All of LUNA’s programs and services are shaped and delivered by people with lived experience.
LUNA Community Care is also a worker-owned cooperative. Why a cooperative? “My favorite word is ‘synergy,’ Tara notes, “which means everybody working together for the greater good.” And Casey explains that LUNA is committed to collective liberation. “That means really means amplifying the voices of the most marginalized people in our communities, so that we all feel like we are neighbors and community members and local to one another.”
Lanre Ajakaiye is president and CEO of 25 Bough Street Development. He is also the first person in Rhode Island to do a Regulation CF crowdfunding campaign, a fundraising strategy made possible by the JOBS Act of 2012 which allows non-accredited investors to contribute.
“It’s a pathway for unlocking the community and the network, and your community and your zealous advocates,” said Lanre about Regulation CF.
25 Bough is a 22,000 square feet commercial building that takes up a corner city block in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence. Lanre’s vision is to host a Futures Hub to provide youth grades 3 through high school with financial literacy, career awareness, and more. Nonprofit partners will locate in the building, which will also house a cultural experience museum and event space. Lanre is in discussions to bring a local bank to 25 Bough; there’s currently no locally-owned financial institution within the neighborhood.
A Rhode Island native born to parents who immigrated to Providence from Nigeria, he purchased this building a mile from where he grew up. Within just a few months, Lanre raised $206,000 from “188 investors from the community who want to see this come to fruition.” As he pointed out, the crowdfunding campaign gave people an outlet to express their support for his vision.
“I’m way past community engagement,” said Lanre, “and I’m all about community activation.”
Are you a member of Urban Greens Food Co-op, the consumer-owned grocery store located on Cranston Street in Providence? Perhaps you’re a stock holder. Or maybe you’re just wondering why Urban Greens never ran out of toilet paper early in the pandemic.
Urban Greens opened its doors in the summer of 2019, after years of work by a dedicated board, including now-Chair Philip Trevvett. Since then, it’s become a neighborhood staple, thanks to the hard-working team led by General Manager John Santos.
“Sharing the wealth means sharing opportunity,” says John, and that’s really what Urban Greens is all about. They provide healthy food, purchase food from local farmers and producers, and prioritize local businesses for all their needs. As Philip describes, “there’s many ways in which the community-owned business – both through how it profit-shares and how it relationship-builds – recycles more money in the local community than a typical business might.”
Urban Greens raised money to build the store through a direct public offering, in which anyone could become a shareholder for as low as $2,000. Over 150 people and families invested, resulting in over $600,000…and a brand new grocery store.
The rest of the economy relies upon the childcare industry, and yet it’s undervalued, under-compensated, and disrespected. Dulari Tahbildar helps the 350+ family childcare providers in Rhode Island who are members of SEIU 1199 obtain professional development and training. She hears over and over “that family childcare providers do not want to be treated as babysitters. They want to be respected as professionals.”
The SEIU Education and Support Fund offers professional development workshops, technical assistance, community and network building, and workforce development. “Family childcare providers are this amazing group of mostly women, mostly Latina women, who are incredible lifelong learners,” says Dulari. “They have this true desire to keep learning, to keep developing their craft and keep developing their skills.
Family childcare providers offer a unique and critical option to parents. They care for small groups of children, usually up to six or nine, out of their homes. They offer more flexible hours than many centers, which some employees require. They may share the language or cultural background of the child. “Family childcare providers are really embedded in neighborhoods,” Dulari describes. “It’s so vital to have that access. When the person that is taking care of your child is located in your neighborhood, there is a sense of familiarity, there is a sense of similar cultural context, that really helps build connection in communities.”
What’s the first thing Dulari would do to build a more just local economy? “Change who’s making decisions, change how people listen to women immigrant entrepreneurs, and really hear what they say they need, and give it to them.”
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.
“The biggest issue facing our industry is the lack of individuals coming into the industry,” Rhode Island Nursery & Landscape Association Executive Director Shannon Brawley told our board member Sue AnderBois. “And we have such an increasing demand for our services, for our products, as we navigate climate change, as we navigate issues around food security, (and) protecting our farmland. All of these things are tied to our industry.”
So over the past few years, RINLA developed Growing Futures, a suite of career programs to connect people, companies, and training in the $2.5 billion plant-based industry. Growing Futures includes the first-in-the-country multi-employer registered apprenticeship program in the field. And part of the program included a partnership with the state’s Department of Environmental Management, which estimates that over eight weeks, Growing Futures participants contributed to a labor savings of over $100,000, reflecting 5,000 labor hours, and helped clear 18 miles of public lands.
And the reaction from both employers and job seekers was rewarding. “We got almost these love letters from people,” said Shayna Cohen, senior consultant with Karen Karp & Partners, who helped develop the programs. “We were bringing people in, showing them potential, finding where their passion was, linking it to what we had to offer, and putting them in front of employers.”
Thank you, Shannon and Shayna, for developing systematic ways to connect prepared workers with meaningful jobs that offer living wages in an industry at the forefront of some of our most pressing challenges.
Building wealth and resilience requires a true ecosystem approach. Beyond individual programs or entities, we must understand how factors and players interact with one another.
Local Return director Josh Daly sat down with two experts at systems-level work. Nessa Richman is network director and Diane Lynch is chair of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, which for ten years has been bringing people together to create a more just and resilient food system. As Nessa said, “When wealth is owned by too few people within a society, then you have injustices that you really can’t resolve unless there’s a more equal distribution of resources and a more equal distribution of power in decision making.”
The Rhode Island Food Policy Council focuses on the food system from three perspectives: environmental sustainability, economic vitality, and equity and accessibility. “Over decades, municipal and state level planning, environmental management, regulatory (entities), they’ve not risen to a level of real sophistication or expertise to meet the needs of their communities,” said Diane, getting to the heart of one of the biggest barriers to community wealth-building. “And so you find that the meta network above us is often really difficult to deal with. It is not up to the task at all.”
Not surprisingly, Diane and Nessa had some concrete ideas for investments and improvements. Nessa pointed to the Local Agriculture and Seafood Act (LASA) grant program as a success story. “I would want to see a lot more small grants flowing into our farm, fish, and food businesses to help them take their next steps toward economic viability, toward growth, toward even just getting established in the first place.”
Listen in to learn more about the network and community wealth building work of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council.