Be a Localist – Business Alliance for Local Living Economies

The first Art of Hosting for The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE – link) was held in Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, Sept 22-24.  Christine Ageton the Managing Director of BALLE brought together Fellows, Staff, Board, and Network members.  I’ve always admired BALLE’s work and ran my first Open Space meeting with them in 2003 here in Seattle.  BALLE now is North America’s fastest growing network of socially responsible businesses, comprised of over 80 community networks in the US and Canada.

Their work relies on building strong relationships and being able to work well together as self-organizing teams.  It involves convening local leaders and community, and together envisioning and creating emergent solutions that meet our local needs and address systemic issues right here.

During the AoH we looked at the leadership paradigms of Hero and Host.  What is the frame of leadership that works from a living systems perspective and from a network perspective?  We used a Collective Story Harvest practice to explore leadership and change.  Leaders of the networks told stories of their work and lives as BALLE fellows. 

I had the gift of listening to Ellen Shepard the Executive Director of Andersonville Chamber of Commerce as she told the story of all that had happened in Andersonville in recent years.  The story illustrates many key concepts of change from a living systems paradigm.

Systems Self Organize to Higher levels of complexity (Emergence):  The founding story of today’s Andersonville network goes back to a women who opened a storefront that was home to a handful of small businesses sharing the same store.   You could see various generations of the work in the community and how in each phase more was possible.  For Example this storefront became an incubator for businesses, as they grew they expanded to their own spaces in Andersonville.  Over time there became an ecology of businesses in Andersonville and specific businesses like a local bank and coffee shop were attracted to strengthen the whole.  You could see a core group of individuals who worked over these generations and notice how leadership continued to show up in unexpected places.

We organize around Identity & the system gets healthier as it connects to more of itself:  When all this started Andersonville wasn’t a well-known place to live or work in Chicago.  It’s now got a reputation and lots of pride.   Ellen told many stories of key meetings (many informal) where people got connected.  They got asked what they want to see for Andersonville, they got invited to be part of things.   They passed out flyers, they knocked on doors, they built relationships with the business owners, they attracted desirable businesses. They worked in friendship behind the scenes with the heart of the community in mind.   As Andersonville’s identity strengthened and the bonds of relationship in the system strengthened, more and more became possible.  People support what they had a hand in creating.

I love BALLE’s new branding, “Be a Localist.”   It invites people into an identity which I think will powerfully strengthen the movement.  It’s not just about the business alliance– it’s about all of us shifting our identity to our local place and doing our part to build resilience.

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