Friday, October 13, 2006

Communities Should Fight Back

my latest email list rant...


this is long. caveat emptor.

one of my pet peeves - no, major soapbox rants - is the way (in particular but not always limited to) corporations spam and price bully their piggish selves into our lives.

i mention this because everyone i know is fed up with the direction our country is headed. what's needed? among the necessities, here are a few i think are required:

1. motivation: a knowledge base of real-world, concrete examples of individuals and communities doing real things to sustain and empower local communities. i am particularly interested in entrepreneurship that energizes communities through letting ideas from the grassroots flower.

2. networking - a consistent platform, not only virtual but real-world, for people to come together and experience the unique dynamic of synergy. i believe synergy is the one thing that local communities and those individuals possess that is our greatest resource - but also the most under-developed. during the dot-com boom, there was a now legendary tech group that met in santa monica quite regularly - VIC, or the Venice Interactive Community (later, the Virtual Interactive Community, i believe, when it grew). their gatherings were thick with the buzz of "something's in the air." some entrepreneur MUST be out there who can figure out how to cater to a comparable audience around sustainability issues and community empowerment.

3. capital - this may be too obvious but i think the approach to capital is soft-peddled and not met with force in the non-profit or community-based realm. financially struggling is no one's idea of a good time, and i've seen it time and again with non-profits and entrepreneurs. one of the problems is that there is no community-based approach to capital - it's always tied in one form or another to corporations. if an idea is funded, say, by relatives and friends, their concentration is so small as to make it a fairly sizable risk. this is what a lot of filmmakers run into - i hear it all the time.

there is a tribal community in africa i heard of years ago that had a novel - and synergistic - approach to capital. when one of the community members had an idea for a business, the rest of the community would pitch in and fund it. then later, when another had an idea, it would make the same rounds. i'm assuming the ideas had to of course pass muster, but the point is they practiced sound investment fundamentals: minimizing risk by spreading it around in small amounts and diversifying their portfolios. simply: by playing the odds via diversification, their bets (investments are bets) are hedged toward probability.

and the more good bets one places, the greater expectation one has. that is what "odds" are about. this is what professional gamblers do. and make no mistake, investors are no different - they are gamblers. (there are of course contextual distinctions...)

one exciting, community-based approach to capital is MICROLENDING. if you're unfamiliar with the subject, there is perhaps no better example of its power than Vinod Khosla.

what this asian brotha has done is nothing short of miraculous; empowering the poorest of the most oppressed and disenfranchised (ie: third world women of color) - and local communities here need to pry open their minds and begin looking for entrepreneurial examples outside of their narrow confines. khosla's story is nobel prize worthy, and one that i'm confident e.f. shumacher would smile at.

for those of you in LA or who know folks here, there is an event this saturday - local, community-based...

eso won books is an institution in LA's black community, and they are having their opening this saturday - tomorrow - in their new location. what's significant is that their new home is in la's black capital - leimert park.

i mention this not just because i support eso won, but i heard a piece this morning where a local leimert park entrepreneur was talking about the changes in the community - developers gentrifying, raising leases and pricing out locals (residential and commercial) and bemoaning the general decline in the community, mostly due to these changes brought on by the pursuit of profit over communities.

so, support this event (take an umbrella tho, there's a small chance of rain) - who knows, you'll get out and see LA, have a good time in one of the jewels that is our city, and hopefully connect with folks who see it the way we do.

gamblers want action, they seek it out and approach it strategically: i think community-minded folks could learn something from that.

thanks for reading.