The economy, business and social enterprise theme session started off by sharing success stories such as Sustaining Dunbar and 9carrots in Birmingham amongst several others! We then split to smaller groups to discuss specific topics.
We discussed Transition’s experiences of dealing with Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs), who are important and powerful members of a community. Business owners want to know what’s in it for them (e.g. reduced costs or increased sales) but also want to engage positively with their local community. Although that makes them quite receptive to working with Transition groups, it’s even better to find somebody “on the inside” who is doing something positive. Even if it’s just one person who makes sure the lights are off at the end of the day, find a way to facilitate them in engaging others in Transition topics. Start with the “mouthpieces” of the local business community as they have the most potential impact.
One group looked at how to get consumers to disobey price mechanisms by raising awareness that the price tag might not represent the true cost of a product of service. Consider quality and the increased choice and power that you have when you make ethical purchasing decisions. We can use our collective action to lower price, with purchasing and bulk-buying co-operatives and encourage councils and local businesses to change their purchasing policies to consider local benefits within their criteria.
To make Short Economic Circuits, look at the necessities of life (food, energy, transport) and try to make sure those are available locally. Look to models from the past, where these were always available locally.
One group looked at how to raise finance from financial institutions to enable large-scale projects. Investors will want a portfolio of investments, from low to high risk, but you should try to get a portfolio of investors, too, and be sure speak to them in their language. Use a constitution as part of initiatives to ensure money is reinvested and also look for community investment or cooperative business models, where appropriate.
In another of the smaller groups, we were asking how Transition Initiatives can seed social enterprises, and heard lots more specific stories from Sustaining Dunbar. They have chosen appropriate structures for their renewable energy company, local food cooperative, energy auditing and advice company, and a bakery, which will all feed their profits back into an investment fund for further projects. They look to start economically sustainable projects which fill a local need, and therefore consider each project’s long-term prospects before going ahead.
Simeon Jackson & Jonathan Melhuish