New Economies and Community Economic Development: For People, Place and Planet – An interview with Mike Toye

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This blog is part of the 'Voices of New Economies' series within Cities for People - an experiment in advancing the movement toward urban resilience and livability through connecting innovation networks. 

The Voices of New Economies series is collectively curated by One Earth and The Canadian CED Network

This series is an exploration of what it takes to build the economies we need - ones that work for people, places, and the planet. We are connecting key actors, finding patterns, noting interesting differences, and highlighting key concepts and initiatives. Together, this series offers insights into the new economies movement as it develops.

By Jane Zhang Mike Toye

  1. In your view, what are some key elements of "new economies"?
  • Holistic measures of progress: There are many new measures bubbling up (eg. Gross National Happiness), but they need to take a more central place in decision-making, and they need to be refined and expanded in what they measure and how well they measure.
  • Respect natural limits: I see this as one of the central flaws of our current economic system. Environmental goods and their externalized costs are a major blind spot; we need to internalize those costs and respect natural limits, especially in the context of climate change. We have to work with nature, not against it.
  • (Eco)systems thinking: the recognition of the influence of relationships, and that human beings are not only part of the world, but connected to the world. This includes relationships between people and nature, but also between people, including the new connections that technology is facilitating. Taking a systems lens to thinking about economy and society is a foundation for understanding the impacts of decisions and actions.
  • Democratizing the economy & localizing control: New technologies can facilitate crowdsourced investment, connections and participation, but in-person communities, human and social capital are crucial. We are experimenting with the new ways technology allows us to connect, and re-discovering some older wisdom about organizing. The bottom line is that there’s an essential role for human connections in democratizing the economy.
  1. Why is neighbourhood-level development important? 

I think “communities” is the term most often used in CCEDNet, in part because it’s widely applicable, from geographic neighborhoods to communities of identity or interest. A community is a venue for people to get organized, connect and learn about each other, identify shared interests, challenges, opportunities to cooperate, and to change. For example, an immigrant community has specific needs – developing language skills, getting help to reach out to employers or starting businesses – and the foundation is that a community acts as an organizing vehicle to address those needs and create change.

  1. How do these relate to cities? 

Since cities have the highest concentrations of people, they are among the most dynamic places for connections, opportunities, and possibilities to be created. But the way they’ve been built has disconnected us from nature and each other. Cities need to be understood as part of broader regions. We need to recognize urban-rural relationships and the flows of goods and services, including ecological services, that a broader region provides. On the human side, there are many ways that cities can be better designed to deliberately create opportunities for relationships and cooperation, and connect the different spheres of our lives. Much of today's built environment was created when zoning and building practices reflected an older mentality of separation. Integrating systems thinking into the design of cities can create opportunities for people to relate and care for each other better.

  1. What are some major challenges to enhancing sustainable local economies?

In the New Economies world, there is a significant focus on business & finance, with valuable attention paid on growing more blended business models (social enterprises, BCorps, co-ops) and new finance models (impact investing, new types of investment capital, crowdfunding). These are creating lots of local opportunities for transition, which is exciting. However, I'd say there is less attention on places and people, from our angle of community economic development. Ideally, we should be connecting the dots between all four pillars: business, finance, places and people.

Another one of our biggest challenges is communicating these opportunities to a wider audience, both professionals in various sectors and the general public, in a way that is meaningful and engaging.

A good example of a places- and people-centered project is the Quint Development Corporation in Saskatoon, which has a mandate for the city's core neighborhoods. Among the local residents, there is a large Aboriginal population that has particular needs, so the employment and housing opportunities are combined with outreach that is tailored to their needs.

  1. What does real wealth mean to you?

Real wealth means freedom, well-being, and happiness, for current and future generations, and fairly distributed for as many people as possible.

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Michael Toye became Executive Director of CCEDNet in August of 2008, bringing a deep background in community economic development (CED) to the Director's chair. Upon earning his Master of Social Work at McGill, Michael helped set up two worker co-operatives that provide research, consulting and training services related to CED and the social economy. Michael's involvement with CCEDNet dates back to 2000 when he helped organize CCEDNet's National Policy Forum while serving as a coordinator with the Coopérative de consultation en développement La Clé.

More recently Michael has deepened his knowledge of Canadian social policy and parliamentary process serving as a policy analyst at the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, while teaching courses on CED and social enterprise at Concordia University. Michael has written a number of articles and other publications on CED and the social economy, including co-editing the book, Community Economic Development: Building for Social Change.

Ushering in the New Economy at the Local Level

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Thrive Calgary introduces new learning community in January

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

If more people have access to community economic development learning opportunities, more community economic development action will emerge in Calgary.

That’s the bet, if you will, that Thrive Calgary, the city’s community economic development network, is making as it prepares to launch a new learning community early in the new year.

It’s a big and exciting shift for the network, though Thrive has always sought to be a relevant, effective force for ushering in Calgary’s new economy.

In the past, however, the work has centred on collaborating to put community economic development on the local policy map. In the last few years, that goal has largely been achieved.

Thanks to Thrive and others, community economic development is now a part of the city’s new Enough for All poverty reduction strategy as well as the economic development strategy hosted by the conventional economic developmental agency, Calgary Economic Development.

Now Thrive is sharpening its focus in 2015: Community economic development leadership and learning is its refreshed mandate.

The shift builds on a number of education achievements Thrive has already spearheaded. As an example, in 2014, a big focus was bringing the Simon Fraser University Community Economic Development certificate program to Calgary for the first time.

The 21 graduates of this program are now acting to improve the local community in many concrete ways. For instance, one graduate is preparing to launch a co-operative housing project in Ogden. The idea is to make it easy for seniors to establish income suites in their basements so they can live longer in their homes.

Another graduate led the development of the Calgary EATS! Strategy which was just approved by city council. This strategy for a local, sustainable food system includes community economic development as a core principle.

A third graduate works at the Calgary Regional Partnership, where community economic development is emerging as an important focus area for the region. This means that community economic development could become part of the fabric of how the 11 municipalities in the region interact.

Thrive has determined to make learning its official strategic focus following a series of community consultations and discussions with various partner organizations over the past several months.

Shaping this new effort is a belief that the most effective learning both builds human capital and creates a frame for political empowerment.

“It’s one thing to move people through a curriculum and learn what’s on the page,” says Barb Davies, Thrive’s community economic development co-ordinator, who over the past few months has done some great work herself building community economic development capacity in the community. She has taught introductory community economic development workshops to18 students at the faculty of social work and 23 community members through the Ethnocultural Council of Calgary. She aso co-hosted Calgary’s first Social Impact Failure Wake, a celebration of community economic development projects that didn’t work out as expected.

Barb Davies

“We’re really trying to inspire people to question the frame we live in in the first place and really seed a broad, diverse community of leaders who are ready to take action in their own communities,” Barb says.

Thrive’s learning community will offer a balance of opportunities for people to learn from those who hold new knowledge, as well as to create their own knowledge as peer learners.

Again, this is an approach it’s taken in the past. In 2014, for instance, Thrive provided Calgarians the opportunity to learn from well-recognized community economic development thought leaders such as Charles Eisenstein, Michael Shuman, and Anne Docherty. The graduates of the Simon Fraser University Community Economic Development certificate program now support each other with implementing community economic development strategy and ideas.

“We want to create the most permeable membrane between a learning environment, action environment and community as we can,” says Barb, noting a key inspiration for the effort is the Storytellers’ Foundation in Hazelton, BC.

The shaping of this learning community comes as Calgary moves into the next phase of actualizing its Enough for All strategy – a bold plan to reduce poverty in the city by half within the next 10 years.

Momentum’s community relations director, Carolyn Davis, sees the learning community as one strong path to realizing that goal.

Carolyn Davis

 “I really believe that we’re not going to be able to do that unless there is a sea change in the way that we think,” she says. Her sincere hope is that through the learning community people are empowered and inspired to take the kind of action that generates a shift in systems and root causes leading to significant change for people.

The time is also ripe for an effort of this sort as local energy grows around new economy concepts and action, thanks to people and groups such as REAP Business Association actively bringing them into the mainstream.

Thrive wades into this new effort with a collection of robust assets, including an engaged and committed network as well as steering committee that brings a rich diversity of perspectives on community economic development. Thrive’s parent organization Momentum, which has both a sturdy reputation and significant support from the community as well as a great team, is also a solid asset.

Thrive also counts itself blessed to have the funders it does — Family and Community Support Services of Calgary and the United Way of Calgary and Area. Both put forward visionary leadership in understanding that reducing poverty ultimately comes down to creating an economy that works better for more people.

Looking ahead, the opportunity and challenge is to present the intent and possibilities in this learning community in a way that reveals it as a real and concrete force for good, Carolyn says.

“One way this has worked so far is through partnership with post-secondary institutions and community organizations,” she adds. “In the last six weeks of 2014 Thrive reached over 120 people through learning events and workshops. This gives me energy as Barb and I develop the learning calendar for 2015.”

Committed to walking the new economy talk with respect to how it ensures the sustainability of this effort, Thrive is moving to a revenue model that includes both funders and participation from those who join its programs and events. In this way, it is striving to create a balance between ensuring a level playing field and accessibility.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 7 January 2015. We received permission to re-post.


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Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.


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‘At the Centre of Our Moment in History’ – Highlights from the CommonBound Conference

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By: Michael Toye, Executive Director, CCDNET
Cross-Posted from the Canadian Community Economic Development Network blog

You may have seen from some of our 15th anniversary blog posts that the concept and practice of community economic development originated in the United States. 

Although the tools and strategies for creating inclusive and sustainable communities are constantly evolving differently in different places, the values and principles guiding those efforts remain remarkably perennial. 

Those tools and strategies are constantly evolving because CCEDNet members, being a pragmatic bunch, tend to be continually learning, innovating and building on what works to enhance their impact and improve community well being. 

But in recent years, we have increasingly realized that CED alone is not enough to create the inclusive and sustainable communities our members' seek.  We need to be part of a bigger framework for systems change, and a broader coalition to make that happen. 

So it perhaps shouldn't be surprising that when the mainly-US New Economy Coalition (NEC) formed last year, we immediately saw many similarities in vision and a parallel evolution of thinking.  We were pleased when they agreed to accept a Canadian member, and when their President, Bob Massie, came and gave a rousing talk at a reception for CCEDNet members during the Social Enterprise World Forum last fall.  The significance of this connection is reflected in our 2013 Annual Report.

With that background, hopes were high for NEC's first conference and Annual General Meeting that took place over the past weekend in Boston.  The ambitious program included two sessions we had proposed, one by Mike Lewis from the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal on scaling up community economic development to co-operative economic democracy and one by Béatrice Alain from the Chantier de l'économie sociale on the history and success of Québec's social economy.  But those were just 2 of 46 (!) remarkable workshops with something for just about everyone. 

The diversity of perspectives and insights in the plenary panels and workshops was outstanding.  To give just one example, in the opening plenary, Ed Whitfield of the Fund for Democratic Communities went beyond his powerful critique of the 'Teach a Man to Fish' parable to the illustrative 'Teach a Man to Ham Sandwich', drawing on the philosophy and social analysis of James Brown. I encourage you to skim through the program to see the titles of the other plenary sessions and workshops. 

Among the 650 participants, there were a good number of Canadians present, many of whom gathered on the grass outside the main plenary hall for our regional caucus on Saturday afternoon to share resources and ideas.

The opportunity to meet in person so many people I know only by name (and so many others I should) is one of the best parts of these events like this.  I was amazed when on the first day, Clare Goff of New Start Magazine in the UK happened to sit down at my table – after we had first met by phone just a month earlier for an interview

The New Economy Coalition is still in its early stages.  But if the people at this conference are any indication, Bob was exactly right when he described the NEC as a "vast and diverse force for transformation operating at the centre of our moment in history."  We are #CommonBound for a very promising future.

Congratulations especially to the extraordinary NEC staff team who pulled an amazing conference together, and the many others who helped make it happen. 

Our friends at The Extraenvironmentalist were livestreaming the conference, so at some point there should be more video available, but in the meantime check out some tweets for a sense of what happened.

(@NewEconomics, #CommonBound, @CCEDNet_RCDEC)