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Nov 19
2009

Providence & Beyond with Doug Hammond - Part 1

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DH: There were a lot of streams, but I started to see myself as a 'community systems engineer'. Education and social services, but also economy and the environment. All of the organizations I've been part of are about helping community manage their resources more effectively. My education is a duel degree in business and political theory, polar opposites.

What is Social Enterprise?

We have the corporate responsibility issues on one side, and the economic factors on the other. On the business side, it was difficult to do the social change stuff under those corporate rules, it was for non-profits to do, not us.  So we started some non-profits, but now we're trying to develop structures that are revenue neutral (self-sufficient). There's a dynamic where social ventures can only survive with their 'startup capital' - which are really grants - and what happens in year 3 when they have to stand on their own.

How do you live that role?

1979 - I was just starting to work in the social services industry. You need 24/7 coverage for a lot of these social programs. How would those be staffed? We went to the Commonwealth with an idea for a non-profit to handle that issue, but they weren't interested. So we started a company to find and manage a pool of trained workers in an on-demand basis, much like a temp service. We were entrepreneur, but we were in the social services sector. 

What is Alive Communities?

In 2000, we created BALLE to respond to the corporate social responsibility world's shift away from supporting local economies and small / micro-business. The BSR found its natural role greening big corporations. But we still had these informal networks that we wanted to keep held together. In the evolution of BALLE, it held onto its prescriptive nature - that is, it had a clear definition about what it was and how you got from here to there. I could see as a founder that there was a lack of porosity. And it was very US-centric.

I wanted my next organization to be more international in focus. What has made communities thrive for centuries in all kinds of places? It doesn't always have to be new and hi-tech. So our first function is to find the best practices, then we want to integrate those practices and deliver them to communities in need? Also, how do we bring practices to communities without being "the new guys with the next great idea".

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Could you give an example?

In application, let's look at Fort Bragg in northern California . I only just met Fort Bragg, an isolated town of about 6,000. Everywhere I go, in every room, somebody has a relationship to Fort Bragg. There's something about this community that wants to function as a case-study or example of how things can work. FB is an old lumber town. The two mills got bought up, then shut down, leaving an environmental mess. The competing employer is growing marijuana. So that became the only source of income for the town. 

The town was negotiating with Georgia Pacific how to deal with the 450 acre brownfield that actually connects to Main Street. GP fought responsibility for years, but then they decided to create an exit strategy to deal with the site. Our role is to help manage those conversations, including a kind of economic anthropology to reconnect the guys at the bar with the land where they used to work. 

What's your toughest personal challenge? What makes it so?

For 30 years, I knew the context of every minute of every day. I knew what I was going to do. But now I'm "untethered" and there are a lot of choices. I literally need a "possibility manager" because I've been in the industry for so long, and so many other leaders are recently untethered. What has the biggest impact? My day is: Doug, how do we think about moving faith-based capital into the social enterprise space? Not a small question.

What is a "local, living economy"?

It's what we all know: it's how we experience a sense of place. It's an integrated set of practices that looks at economics, ecological, spiritual, political. All of those processes come together in a way that creates a positive for the community, in a way that adds value. Also, we see living economies as opposed to suicide economies. 

Local food plays a huge role in making this happen. Another key factor for a living economy is local ownership.

What is integrative economic design?

As we look at community systems evolution, we see hip, cool practices, and they can blind us a bit to the less sexy, more practical stuff. Integrative design starts the conversation between the cutting edge and the nuts-and-bolts? There's a growing awareness in the progressive capital space that they need to provide "slow money" with less immediate returns. It gives the companies a chance to accomplish their mission without pushing them too fast. About 3% is a 'sustainable return', which is a lot lower than most investment returns. 

What are Quality of Life indicators? Why don't we have them around here?

There's a unique window now in response to the current economic problems. A lot of the rememdies are about high-growth results. It's not a lot different from the Bush adminstration post-9/11. The QoL measures non-growth factors like the Gross National Happiness. We're looking at intangibles to see what, if any, financial benefit they create. Is there correlation? Is there causation? We're trying to move away from quantitative measures toward qualitative measures? There's no full-cost accounting - we can't negative impacts as positives in the GDP. 

RL: Movements take a long time, especially when they approach big issues. We're still living through the issues of creating true civil rights. That movement is not complete. At the start, BALLE was a bunch of hippies, now they all wear suits. NESEA was the same way. These issues are just gaining traction, so you have to look for the example site - Burlington, VT; Bellingham, WA, even Bristol, RI which is still a very local economy.

DH: You look for cracks. Look at what's happening with the national chamber of commerce. Nike and Apple have pushed back against the climate change agenda, and now the chamber 'blinked'. So something's happening. At the "Road to Copenhagen" conference, I had an epiphany - sitting there listening to what Chevron was doing with impact beyond what they had expected - "they" have become "us".

AUDIENCE CHALLENGE: I don't believe Chevron has any idealism.

DH: We tend to make different things into one thing. Chevron is not Monsanto. What is making some companies move more quickly into sustainability? We're not sure, but we want to have a conversation to see why and what. 

=== Break Time ===

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