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

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)

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