Our economy “has become more and more centralised…and as power becomes centralised, ordinary individuals feel as if they have less and less influence over critical decisions…and that when decisions are made, they are not responsive to local situations and local needs”
The man who said this was Professor Gary Hamel, described by the Wall Street Journal as ‘the world’s most influential business thinker’. The problem he describes is raised by all sorts of other people from regeneration practitioners, community groups, the Occupy movement and economists; one which is at the root of social and economic exclusion and inequality across the world, and certainly here in Birmingham.
Too often, when we talk about social inclusion, we talk as if communities don’t do economics, they get economics done to them, while we try to fit social inclusion around the aftermath. But can we not organise our economy so that we involve people, so that more of them have a stake, so that they are involved as collaborators and not as pawns: as owners, financers, buyers, sellers, makers, providers and as community activists? And if we did this, doesn’t it in itself create stronger, more inclusive communities and greater equality in which economic participation becomes more immediate and accessible – even to the habitually excluded?
LWM has recently won funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust to address exactly this – not only to identify good practice but to learn from it how such approaches can be integrated into the macro and mainstream economy. There are good examples everywhere. America, in particular, has a thriving Community Economic Development movement helping communities lead their own economic change. Closer to home, regeneration projects in Atwood Green, Castle Vale and plenty more have aimed to grow the local economy through developing local supply chains, businesses and skills, involving local people at every stage. Less intentionally, our city’s wholesale markets and their customers are a diverse, proactive range of suppliers, middlemen and buyers making up an informal network that is essential to the more accessible, affordable and diverse parts of Birmingham’s food supply. Sandwell Council is working on food sector economic development that combines benefits to health, food access, and, all importantly, self-led enterprise and job creation.
These good examples can be ignored by or supported by policy and by what mainstream economic development does and it is these wider changes that we will identify. We are looking forward to feeding in this thinking to the Social Inclusion Process key line of enquiry on an inclusive economy over the coming weeks.
Coordinator – Localise WM
Localise WM promotes a localised approach to supply chains, money flow and decisionmaking for a more just and sustainable economy. More about Localise WM and their research project can be found at www.localisewestmidlands.org.uk/mainstreaming_CED. The Barrow Cadbury Trust is an independent, charitable foundation, committed to supporting vulnerable and marginalised people in society. The Trust provides grants to grassroots voluntary and community groups working in deprived communities in the UK, with a focus on Birmingham and the Black Country.