Building Regional ‘Economies of Network’

November 25, 2020

Image of geese flying by Charles Jackson via unsplash.comAt EconoUs2017, I hosted Dave Mowat from ATB Financial in a fireside chat about what’s needed to grow the good work of community economic development and the social economy across Canada. He raised an idea during that final plenary that has continued to ring in my mind – that in this alternative economic development model we’re all building, we need a new concept of scale and growth. 

Economies of scale are not traditionally good community wealth builders – they often end up concentrating power and benefit, and inevitably begin to blur the distinctions of place, context, and local need for the sake of growth. As the intertwined and ever more urgent crises of inequality and climate change sharpen into focus for more and more people, it is increasingly clear we need a new logic, a new way of understanding economy, of development and community. 

So, to move towards our vision of sustainable and inclusive communities, we’ve long been aiming at a strategy to build regional economies of network. 

Our Network has been slowly developing a regional networks approach over our 20 year history. Sometimes it’s been mightily successful — I’ve had the distinct pleasure of experiencing the sense of movement and connection this brings every year at our family reunion, The Manitoba Gathering of Community Builders. But often it feels slippery, hard to grasp and understand and sustain. 

Enter the federal government’s Investment Readiness Program, where we have been given an opportunity to focus effort on this strategy in the context of building regional leadership and ecosystem support for social innovation and social finance.

Since last September, I have been meeting leaders across the country in efforts to bring regional conversations together, instigate the development of shared priorities, and weave people and ideas together as best I can. It’s been a treat and a challenge. 

  • In Manitoba, there have been challenging adjustments as the provincial government moved away from stable support for community-led efforts. But we also saw the beauty and resilience of the Network as they pull together to do essential work supporting people through the pandemic. We are moving together, calling for support because Community is Essential.
  • We have forged a new, deepening relationship with SETSI — supporting the inclusion of BIPOC leaders in the Investment Readiness Program and examining our own internal biases and the places where racism shows up in the social economy and social innovation. The brilliance and generosity of these developing friendships are generative and pulling us deeper towards intersectional and anti-oppressive work.
  • The regional leaders around the new AB SEED (Alberta Social Economy Ecosystem Development) table have been knocking it out of the park — they insightfully used previous regional gatherings, Econous 2017 in Calgary, leveraged organizational contributions, and a well-crafted plan for development to jump the moment resources became available. Their monthly meetings are quickly developing a shared sense of movement, action, and potential.
  • A small group of members in Atlantic Canada has burrowed into an emerging strategy, bolstered by a sense of urgency to save local economies at risk due to both an oncoming wave of retirements and the uncertainty of global pandemic. They are pulling together the best resources on the concept of ‘social acquisition’ where a retiring or struggling business is transitioned to a community business and will work with three local communities over the next year to put this strategy into action.
  • Network members have elevated community investment in the federal social finance conversation, bringing in new resources to gather regional learning communities and build back office tools to accelerate development of this part of the ecosystem. In community investment, not only do local enterprises and social purpose initiatives get financing they need, the funds are also raised locally by community people. Local folks decide through co-operatives and nonprofit loan funds where to invest this ‘repatriated’ capital that would otherwise be contributing to leaky bucket economies.

And, there’s more to come as more regions coalesce and this work gains momentum.

So, as we continue building the infrastructure of solidarity for community economic development and we find new meaning in this work during a time of global crisis, we are grappling towards a powerfully aligned set of strategies. 

I believe as we weave these regional initiatives together, we can move toward a deeper networked approach that balances local autonomy and alignment across key national priorities, contributing to an economy of network that will scale impact out towards a future where there is enough, for all, forever.

*The opinions expressed in blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of CCEDNet

Sarah Leeson-KlymSarah Leeson-Klym is CCEDNet’s Regional Networks Director. She believes that communities are the experts of their lived experience and that CED provides great approaches for them to develop creative and grounded solutions to the biggest challenges we collectively face. She first obtained an Arts and Cultural Management certificate from MacEwan University, then worked and volunteered in a range of capacity building programs before graduating with a BA (Honours) degree in Social Justice Theory and Practice from the University of Winnipeg in 2012.

Starting in 2011, her previous position as Learning and Engagement Coordinator focused on engaging CCEDNet’s Manitoba members, creating learning programs, coordinating The Manitoba Gathering, and the Enterprising Non-Profits program for social enterprise development. Sarah is active in her neighbourhood as a board member of the Daniel McIntyre St. Matthews Community Association. She is also a dedicated board member of the growing Rainbow Trout Music Festival and a regular volunteer for the LITE Wild Blueberry Pancake Breakfast.