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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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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Kim and I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Electric Cities of Georgia Forum. We met great folks from Georgia’s communities (including our own Sadie Krawczyk from Monroe!), and squeezed in some walking/talking time along Jekyll Island’s awesome beaches. We talked about our new NSF research project and how excited we are to work with social enterprises. These innovative companies are transforming business into a force for good and activating a culture of caring—caring for one another, for community, for the planet, for our future.

Diane Sontum on stage giving a presentation

One of the speakers at the ECG Forum helped us to crystalize our thoughts. Mayor Tommy Allegood of Acworth, GA challenged everyone to identify the one word that describes their organizational culture. Instantly I knew the answer for TLC—a word that our initials have been hinting at since we began—Care. We have always been TLC; but our new NSF work, and my own personal journey, have made us acutely aware that Tender Loving Care is an intention we want to deeply explore, live and amplify. If our culture really is the “stories we tell ourselves about ourselves,” then this story, the story of human beings caring for one other, may be the most important story we’ll ever tell.

selfie of Kim Vincent and Diane Sontum on a beach with ocean behind
blue box with quote from anthropologist Clifford Geertz

Larta Institute, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the commercialization of innovations, released their annual report this week. The report profiles the work of six of their portfolio companies including The Local Crowd.

The Local Crowd founders have worked with Larta Institute consultants to develop commercialization plans and strategies as part of their Phase I and Phase II USDA Small Business Innovation Research Grants. “Larta consultants have provided us a step-by-step process that helped to put flesh and bones on our vision. The process moved us forward in our planning, decision making and business development,” said TLC Co-Founder Diane Wolverton.

Larta Report about The Social Entrepreneur featuring The Local Crowd

The Larta Annual Report explained how they selected the featured companies. “We profile companies in our portfolio whose success demonstrates our influence and their impact on society. They run the gamut of real-world solutions, using the tools of science and technology: diagnosing citrus greening, promoting cancer cell death, transforming CO2 into valuable products, retarding the spread of rodents, and empowering rural communities through crowdfunding. They do us proud.”

Wolverton commented, “It’s an honor to be part of this report. It really emphasizes the great work of our partner communities and the need to bring financial resources to rural America.”

See the full report: Larta Institute 2016 Annual Report