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Local businesses make up the fabric of any prosperous community, and all have seen a profound impact from the present and ongoing COVID-19-challenged economy. 

In his recent publication, “The Case for Local Rewards (In the Post-COVID Era),” Michael H. Shuman writes, “Rewards that incentivize local purchasing and local investing are increasingly becoming the gateways for challenging economic behavior.”

We know that relationships are a foundation for resiliency and prosperity in the rural economy. As people connect to businesses and businesses connect to local initiatives, a mutual and collaborative support structure is built, creating a foundation to revive in the face of turmoil. Through the crowdfunding lens, as Shuman writes, pre-purchased rewards offer a tangible and mutually beneficial approach to locally lending a hand.

Imagine a local farmer in need of support after the pandemic’s mandated closures of their wholesale restaurant accounts. The business needs money to survive, just as the community needs access to fresh food.

The farmer can raise capital by pre-selling produce shares at a discounted rate, allowing their business to gain financial support, and the community will receive a monthly delivery of fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. Both the customer and the business benefit, thus cultivating a richer relationship and progress toward a healing community at large in a troubling time.

Read more on the power of locally owned businesses in the rural economy in the full publication, “The Case for Local Rewards (In the Post-COVID Era)” from economist, attorney, author, and entrepreneur Michael H. Shuman here

Relationships & Rewards Bolster COVID-Challenged Economy

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When we think of business, we often think of a simple exchange: a product, service, or experience in exchange for cash. We swipe our debit cards as a means to fulfill our needs and often move about our day unfazed by the impact that this simple exchange has made, without pondering why we chose to walk into the store we did. 

Beneath the daily buzz of checking our to-dos and filling our shopping carts are dozens of silent, often subconscious, exchanges made between us, as customers, and the companies we support. We reach for sustainable eggs or cruelty-free cosmetics because our values align. We buy coffee from the roaster who sponsored our child’s soccer team or toss bills into the tip jar for the musician whose performance makes us feel fired up in just the same way. We are exchanging capital in cash, as well as equity in social value, supporting business endeavors because something said blatantly or subconsciously assures us that our visions for our community’s future align. We are on the same team

In times of crisis, this social wealth we’ve exchanged holds immense value, rallying us together to face times of great challenge knowing, despite the circumstances at hand, we are not alone. 

Resilience, of people and their places, is a survival muscle built stronger through the wealth of social capital–shared values made more robust by support, showing up and lending a hand to a neighbor to lift the entire neighborhood up. 

Now, as we face the world-wide economic, health, and psychological impacts of the COVID-19 virus, we are invited to get curious and creative, knowing that despite the state of our wallets, we are rich with social capital; we are not alone. 

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Historically, three sectors of our economies have been most prevalent: the public sector, or government, the private sector, or business, and the nonprofit sector. Today we see a forceful emergence and growing power of a fourth sector made up of for-benefit organizations with mission-driven companies and eyes set on creating impactful change.

These businesses, often called social enterprises, still focus on creating a profit, while also looking beyond their capital gains and identifying the assets they’re providing socially, culturally, or environmentally. The shared values of these companies and their supporters are defined as social capital–a currency that allows consumers and producers to rally around a mission and efficiently create change.

A local theater company providing thought-provoking art, a sustainable farm offering nutrition to their community while monitoring their impact on the environment, a coffee shop serving as a gathering space for marginalized populations to share stories and connect–these are all social enterprises, exchanging capital via sales as well as beliefs.

Many businesses within your community serve as representatives of this fourth-sector whether they’re aware of it or not. Regardless of industry, size, or notoriety, what each of these businesses share is care–care for community, whether that’s defined by a downtown district or a wider net cast over those with similar lifestyles, hobbies, or passions.

At its core, the caring economy holds profound power, because that core is fabricated from a simple yet efficacious desire to be of service to people, their places, and this planet. 

The Local Crowd’s origins are rooted in supporting these enterprises, fueled by passion and care, harnessing the power of their neighborhoods and lifting our communities one purchase, pledge, or act of kindness at a time.

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As we find a semblance of normalcy in our new-for-now lifestyles self-distanced from the comforts of home, it can feel as if our power to connect and support our community has been diminished entirely. However, we can find inspiration in looking to the symbology of rural history’s barn-raisings–the gathering of many hands, shared materials, and strength built by numbers to create a structure to feed the community collaboratively. 

Today’s circumstances insist that we reach for our digital tools instead of hammers, and we gather with our peers from a distance instead of around a wooden frame, but the formula for success is no different.

Here are a few ways you can provide impactful support for the structures in need of bolstering in your community amid the economic effects of COVID-19

  • Browse your local economic development agencies press to find where they’re specifically directing the community to rally support. Many agencies are coordinating contests and campaigns to drive traffic to businesses most affected by the mandated closures and stay-at-home orders.
  • Consider how you can support the organizations you’re missing most. Is your life in quarantine leaving you desperate for live music, your local library’s book club, or a favorite yoga class? Check-in with the hosting organizations and see how they’re asking the community for support.
  • What many of the businesses need now is cash flow, however as jobs are eliminated and hours cut, budgets are tightening for individuals across the globe regardless of industry. Remember that impact does not always have to be made with our wallets, and great influence can be made by sharing promotions, leaving kind reviews, or simply sending a message of support to the businesses you love.

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We’re often forced in times of despair to inventory our blessings, taking careful note of what elements of our life nurture our wellbeing in business and health. 

The term “crisis” originates from roots meaning to separate, to sieve, a process that author Glennon Doyle compares to sifting sand. In times of turmoil, our priorities slip through our fingers, leaving behind only the substantial pieces of rock and rubble that are of great importance, allowing all the rest to float back to the earth, leaving room in our palms for what matters most. 

Now, as the world shares the heartaches of a social climate profoundly marred by the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus, our collective attention is turned to the people and places that we call home. 

We have begun to watch the gathering spaces in our towns close their doors and lay off the familiar employees who we bought our lunch from, stood across from at the gym, bumped into at the library, or joined for afternoon tea. Our streets, once lined with signs of life, sit empty and quiet, while we all notice the uncomfortable gaps left in our world from these businesses. 

Fortunately, just as the fiery phoenix rises from the ashes, rich with new life, our communities will do the same with the support of our TLC: tender loving care. In this time of economic disparity, we can’t help but look to the roots of The Local Crowd–started with the intention of supporting local innovators with equal parts heart and capital-building support.

The power of community exists in its people, and right now, our people are prompted to show up. It is together that we will move forward, together we will rebuild, together we will stitch and hem the fabric of our towns. 

With many hands, we will rebuild. Here’s how you can start to help.

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It’s great to be in Chicago at the SEA Summit touring social enterprises, learning and meeting people doing The Great Work.

Darius Ballinger kicked off the conference and encouraged us to approach our work from both the micro and macro levels. He said the micro level represents the tangible things we can do today—the actual work of creating social change. The macro is more complex. It represents the big picture—like 4th sector ecosystem development—that requires conversations with “someone else, and someone else, and someone else, and someone else….” It takes time and conversations with many people to make macro changes occur.

These are the conversations we are excited to have. I like to start with a vision of what is possible—and I would love to hear yours. What does a robust social enterprise sector look like to you?

two women standing in a garden talking

Growing Home Urban Farm produces 25,000 pounds of food on one acre in the city! They also train individuals who are eager to work but need a supportive environment to develop skills. Thanks for your great work and awesome tour!

In the summer of 1997 I sat in a circle of woman who had come together to explore the intersection between leadership and womanhood. We spent time in silence on a Wyoming mountainside, and it was there that I saw a vision unfold of a world transformed through business. I saw entrepreneurs working together to care for people, for Earth, and for healing. I wrote the vision into a book, and took it on as my assignment to make it come true.

Over the next 22 years I tried—and I had some success in bringing sustainable business ideas to Wyoming SBDC, Wyoming Women’s Business Center, ASBDC, and the University of Wyoming. Yet, I was always a bit disappointed that the ideas weren’t catching on fast enough to be considered mainstream. I now recognize that the idea of business-as-a-force-for-good needed time to ripen—and all of the early activists like me were contributors to the ripening process. Today, signs of ripening are beginning to show; for example, last month 181 influential CEOs signed on to a new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” that includes creating value, not just for shareholders, but for ALL stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. Game on!

green box with quote about power