Category Archives: Community

Community Capital: Economic Development With a Sense of Place


It’s the economy, stupid.

In 1992, political strategist James Carville coined his catchy admonition ostensibly to keep his staff on message, arguably helping pave the way to Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Carville’s “snowclone” phrase has since been bent and contorted into service across a wide swath of issues.

It’s time to bring the expression home.

“It’s the local economy”

While nuanced in its definition and application, the concept of community capital is fundamentally straighforward: local wealth and resources circulating through the community from which it derives, to the benefit of all within that community.

Typically referring to economic capital, community capital encompasses one of the most common sense examples of the triple bottom line. People, planet (or community), and profit.

Ultimately, any economic activity that does not account for the “Three Ps” is not sustainable, even if wildly successful for a time economically. It won’t last. In the process, people suffer and ecosystems collapse. Needless to say, the business buckles under the weight of its own short-termism.

Like the triple bottom line, community capital is a framework for equitable, sustainable, and conscious capitalism.

It’s the local economy, stupid.

ComCap17

ComCap17

Portland-based Hatch Innovation launched the ComCap conference in 2015 as a one-day “Oregon-only” forum on community capital. In 2016 ComCap expanded into a two-day event hosting experts and business leaders from across the nation.

The City of Monterey, California and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies are co-hosts to this year’s ComCap conference.

In addition to the growing participation and interest in the annual event, ComCap now offers a digital learning library and podcast.

How a community thrives

We’ll be at ComCap September 11–13, talking with innovators, businesspeople, scientists, social advocates, and policy experts. All are passionate, dedicated leaders, working on-the-ground to make their communities better. In the process, they are setting a standard for others to follow.

Among these leaders are:

Community capital puts “community” before “capital” for a reason. It focuses on community resilience through cooperative effort and stewardship. It’s economic development with a sense of place.

The Message of a Better Tomorrow Resonates Across the U.S. (and the globe)

Last month I spoke with Cyril Dion, a French filmmaker, writer, and activist. Dion co-produced the documentary Tomorrow with the actress, director, screenwriter, and musician Melanie Laurent.

Tomorrow won the 2016 French César for Best Documentary. After a successful release in more than 20 countries, the film made its U.S. debut in the Bay Area the weekend of April 14.  When we talked the following Monday, a tired yet determined-looking Dion said he was encouraged by the overwhelming enthusiasm for the film’s message of solutions and empowerment.

That enthusiasm continues. In a nation beleaguered by uncertainty and antagonism, Tomorrow has clearly struck a chord across the U.S.

As of this writing, Tomorrow is held over in  NY, LA, San Diego, San Francisco, among other cities.

The road to Tomorrow

Like any mother, Melanie Laurant wants a better future for her childrenShortly after Laurent gave birth to her first child, she learned of the  2012 Nature article, Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.  Co-authored by Anthony Barnosky,  a paleobiologist, professor emeritus of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and currently executive director of the Stanford Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve, the paper’s stark warning of a rapidly approaching biological tipping point was an alarming awakening for a new mother in the 21st century.

We can avoid the severely – and suddenly  – altered world that potentially awaits Laurent’s child and the two billion other children expected on the planet by 2050. But the time to act, the article warned, is now. Waiting until after an ecological collapse to find viable solutions will be too late.

Fighting catastrophe fatigue

With that dire message, Laurent, Dion and a crew of four set out to tell a different story. We can imagine a better future for our children. If that sounds improbable, we need only look at what people all over the world are doing right now to shape the future of their families, communities, and the

The film acknowledges the urgent message from Barnosky’s work, and that of many others, but doesn’t dwell on the darkness. Instead, it focuses on active solutions.

Filmmaker Cyril Dion“People feel helpless… that they are too small to do anything about it,” Dion says.

“I really wanted to make a tool to empower people. To show them that we can start where we are and we can also build a movement.”

A better world, the film posits, can rest on four pillars, looking at each one in turn:

    • Agriculture:  For anyone living in the industrialized world and born after 1950, the idea of anything other than industrial farming is an esoteric “niche.” It’s hard to imagine that the exact opposite might be true.

    • Energy: A low carbon energy economy is the right side of history. A continued “business-as-usual” reliance on high-carbon, extractive energy sources is the wrong side of history. Everybody know that. Well, almost everybody.
    • Education: The chances of success for a single individual, and thus an entire society, rests on a good education.

    • Democracy: How we choose our leaders demands an informed and engaged citizenry (see above). Oligarchy is what happens when people don’t know or don’t care, allowing fear and emotion to dictate their decisions.

There are innovative solutions for each. Solutions not only “being tried,” but working and expanding.

People from all walks of life making a better Tomorrow, today

A world reimagined

In another interview yesterday, Barnosky told me he remains optimistic. Messages like the one in Tomorrow are important, he says. It demonstrates  the groundswell of community action globally, suggesting a different narrative for a “global economy.” One that starts with people and communities, connected through a shared belief in their own power to effect change. Not by “saving the world,” but by working in their own communities, their own little plot of land. Think globally, act locally.

But it’s also about being present, here and now, and imagining the kind of future we want.

“If we can imagine the world differently,” says Dion, “it’s going to have an impact on the economic and political structure.”

“We are human beings, so we imagine first. We first need to change the vision, the narrative of the world.”

Tomorrow shows a world reimagined, but real.

Tomorrow – Trailer from Under The Milky Way on Vimeo.

The Future of Sustainable Development : A Citizen Journalism Project

Beacon is a crowdfunding platform for journalists. For more than two years Beacon has supported hundreds of worthwhile projects, adding a perspective to journalism free from the internet echo-chamber or vagaries of the advertising business model (here’s one we recommend and support).

We’ve just launched our own campaign on Beacon to help fund a series of articles and interviews exploring the future of sustainable development. The capstone of this series is one-on-one discussions with global leaders in government, business and academia at the GRI Global Conference in Amsterdam this May.

We’ll look at the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN last year as well as the Paris Agreement signed at COP21. We want to examine how these frameworks create a platform for progress, not only as aspirational goals but by defining steps for real action on the ground.

The revelations last week from release of the Panama Papers is clear evidence of how a lack of transparency leads to increased economic and social disparity.  It’s no surprise that the among the world’s most wealthy and powerful people, including top business and government leaders, use whatever means at their disposal to protect their wealth from the vagaries of economic, social and policy constraints.

On the other hand it is a stark reminder of the need to redouble our efforts to align our values with our functioning global economy if there is any hope of achieving the aims of our higher aspirations. 

The importance and nature of the “socially conscious enterprise” is changing rapidly and along with it sustainability reporting. Information exchange is opening up opportunities for sustainable investment and increasing corporate and government transparency.

Is all this just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric to greenwash us into believing such a change is possible? Can we possibly “consume” our way out of the challenges we face? Is the “Triple Bottom Line” (people, planet, profit) an effective business strategy? 

Help us find out!

From my previous conversations over the years with business leaders, scientists, engineers, NGOs and policy wonks, one thing is for sure: business-as-usual is fast becoming untenable. But as we acknowledge this urgent need for change, we need to define a clear and sustainable path forward. 

Help my colleagues Andrew Burger, Richard Matthews and I explore the changing business and public policy landscape in an ever more crowded, resource-constrained world. 

Support citizen journalism!

Contribute to Making Sustainable Development a Reality today!