BALLE on Equity

BALLE’s mission is to build healthy, equitable local economies that work for all. Over the years, we have become clear that to fully achieve economic systems that work for the majority of life, we must address how systemic injustice affects people related to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, geography, and other dimensions of difference.

Our focus on equity stems from a moral and economic imperative. Last year, 82% of all wealth created went to the richest 1%, while the poorest 50% saw no increase in wealth at all. Beyond that, the U.S. is rapidly advancing to a future where people of color are the majority, and they already are in many states: as just one lens on wealth and race, reports show that unless things change, the median wealth of African Americans could be zero by 2053, with other communities of color following shortly after.

The precarious economic fortunes of the new majority — a group historically and increasingly excluded from the middle class — spells trouble for the entire economy. What does it look like when the majority of our neighbors have zero net worth? To address the effects of exclusion and inequity, we can’t continue to focus on the symptoms and outcomes, we must address root causes.

In the course of BALLE’s work to create local economies that work for all, we have learned a lot, and have so much more to learn and do. Engaging with such a complex and pervasive subject requires open dialogue, continual learning, and evolution — and inevitably involves mistakes and mis-steps. We welcome input to guide our inquiry and adaptation as we address our blank spaces, and we will revisit, revise, and continue to share this statement, as well as our Commitments to quantify progress toward these ideals. We hope our journey inspires others who are also working to build an economy that works for all of us.

2016 Local Economy Fellows exploring facets of equity in economic development efforts.

At BALLE we consider our work through three filters:

  1. We look deeply at the “I,” the role that each of us play as individuals in defying, evolving, or complying with dominant systems. We offer tools for transformational development that equip each of us to shift our consciousness so we can more effectively shift systems.
  2. We emphasize the “We,” the organizations, businesses, and communities that bind us together in common purpose. In this document, the “We” is comprised of BALLE staff and the BALLE Leadership Network, a small subset of the many visionaries who are building economies that work for all across the U.S. and Canada.
  3. We consider the “It,” the greater systems, structures, and beliefs that define our world and opportunities, that we participate in creating and upholding. We champion models and solutions that address oppression in existing structures, to ensure equitable access to opportunity.

WHY equity + HOW we do it: I Level

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein

Each of us has been socialized in ways that alienate us from our own humanity and deny our connection to one another and to our environment. BALLE prioritizes inner work of reflection and conscious shifts in individual behavior to better recognize and practice interdependence instead of individualism and competition. We work to create brave spaces for self-discovery: of privilege, of biases, and other internalized ways of being that do not serve us. We acknowledge broken systems and the widespread presence of trauma. We work to develop our capacity to meet people where they are and walk together as we experience the suffering that results from inequality and oppression. Especially in difficult moments, we strive to stay present, build trust, and choose connection.

Some examples of how equity comes to life at the “I” level”:

  • A consistent programmatic emphasis on transformational leadership, and a carefully facilitated process that allows each individual to recognize and address personal bias, blank spaces, and internalized oppression.
  • Tools that support a shift from “me” to “we,” or “ego” to “eco” mindset, seeing our individual role within a greater ecosystem.
  • Support for each person’s journey and growth, while taking responsibility for personal action, in particular for white leaders and men from all backgrounds just beginning to understand the full impacts and nuances of inequity.

WHY equity + HOW we do it: WE level

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” — Coretta Scott King

Our work lives at the intersection of business and justice. BALLE staff and the Leadership Network we serve must attend to equity at all levels — especially at home, starting with our institutional practices and the way we work with each other.

BALLE has been on its own journey, since 2001. We were founded by white upper- and middle-class entrepreneurs and academics who were committed to shifting power from big business and corporate decision-making to self-determination and locally-owned enterprise, in service of more equitable economies across the U.S. and Canada. At first, we did this by supporting “Local First” programs and networks of small businesses trying to operate in a different way.

Over time we knew we could not help build more equitable local economies for all if our own staff, board, and Network were not representative of the diverse communities we hoped to support. In 2010 we moved away from just spreading a “Local First” model to instead look for where healthy, equitable local economies were already emerging, and supporting the leaders in those places. We evolved from our original structure, as a member-based organization with local chapters, to focus on naming, connecting, nourishing, and illuminating existing leaders using a variety of strategies to address their unique contexts, and we began to actively recruit for more diversity across race, class, and other identities.

We also made shifts in organizational leadership (both board and staff) in order to increase our capacity to steward this work. We have prioritized outreach to communities of color for recruitment, through engagement of our Network and partners; and recently established guidelines for contracting support that requires consideration of candidates of color and women. We have also continued to educate ourselves and explore how to broaden our representation across class, gender, and geography. Today our organization, board, and Network represent diverse identities and theories of change, toward the shared goal of locally-owned enterprises working together for the health, equity, and happiness of their communities.

The individuals and organizations that make up the BALLE Network reflect our larger society, with a range of understanding and commitment around equity and justice. Some in the Network focus explicitly on issues of racial and economic inequity. Others are not directly involved in this work. As we continue to prioritize equity internally and in our programs, we are committed to sharing our journey so we can learn from and challenge others in the Network to shift practices as well.

Some examples of how equity comes to life at the “We” level:

  • Eight years ago there was one person of color on staff; in 2018, people of color are the majority. In 2017, we moved from an all-white three-person Executive Management team to a Management team that includes four leaders of color, including our new Executive Director, and three white staff. Board composition has reflected a similar shift.
  • Our first Fellowship cohort in 2011 had one person of color; our fifth cohort launching in 2018 is more than 50% people of color serving rural communities, and represents a diversity of other marginalized identities. We are pursuing a similar evolution with the Local Economy Foundation Circle, with no people of color in the first cohort, tracking towards 30% people of color in the third cohort, launching in 2018.
  • As we develop new programs and projects, we are working to keep equity at the center, asking questions like: Who is and isn’t getting access to this resource? Who has input and power to decide what this program looks and feels like? Whose voices are being lifted up as “experts”?
New BALLE Executive Director, Rodney Foxworth, considering equity and philanthropy during his 2016 Local Economy Fellowship.

WHY equity + HOW we do it: IT level

“In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

BALLE represents a community of builders who are helping our current systems to evolve and creating new systems to serve more of us. This work is not easy, or optional.

We champion economic models that address systemic, economic, and cultural inequity: worker-owned businesses, local businesses that prioritize equity and environment, community capital, cooperatively-owned land and real estate. These models are real, living alternatives that defy “business as usual” and ultimately lead to fairer distribution of social, cultural, and financial capital.

We spark and nurture relationships among people from different backgrounds and perspectives who are working toward a future where everyone has the opportunity for health, happiness, and freedom. We highlight ways to share power and financial resources to create health for all life, today and in the future, considering race, class, and other intersections of identity, as we use business to create greater well-being.

Some examples of how equity comes to life at the “It” level:

  • We convene leaders in communities of practice that explicitly acknowledge and address the role of racial injustice, class, patriarchy, and colonialism in our dominant systems. We learn from these leaders doing systems work on in their communities, and invite others to not only understand but address the way inequity shows up in the world we share.
  • We shine a light on the solutions that exist everywhere, telling the stories that prove there are alternatives to dominant systems, and that another way is possible.
  • Our annual Leadership Summit brings together our Network and broader community to explore the many facets of equity, and then moving from shared intention to collective action, as people take lessons and models back home.

These are the operating principles that inform our efforts related to equity as individuals, an organization, and a broader community. We have also developed measurable, time-bound commitments to ensure meaningful progress toward these ideals, and will continue to share about our journey.

Thank you for your interest in our work to build local economies that work for all. We invite feedback of any kind to this statement specifically, and this humbling, necessary work, generally — positive, critical, or otherwise productive. We will continue to produce updates to this document that reflect our ongoing learning, in particular as we develop an even deeper understanding of rural and indigenous communities through our 2018 Local Economy Fellows cohort, as it relates to equity grounded in geography, class, and colonialism. Please email jess@bealocalist.org with comments.