by Ajax Greene
In 2000, at my second of many Social Venture Network conferences held that year at the Mohonk Mountain House (localism has deep roots right here in the Hudson Valley), I responded to an announcement by Judy Wicks about starting a new organization. Over a two-year period and after two retreats at Judy’s weekend homes in the Poconos, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) came into being.
The recent conference in Buffalo, with hundreds of amazing attendees, was BALLE’s 11th annual conference (described by Bloomberg press as “Davos for Main Street”). Several things struck me while in Buffalo at the conference: first, Judy’s original vision of an economy based on interlocking local economies is stronger and more important than ever—encouraging massive changes in how experts, business owners and shoppers nationally and globally view the best way to spend their hard-earned dollars. My next observation is that we will not only think our way out of the economic mess we find ourselves in—being heart-centered and doing some deep inner work is a necessary part of the dynamic, vibrant new economy that is emerging. Being fearless in the face of a world undergoing massive transitions is not easy, but vitally important. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of people bravely affecting positive economic change in their local communities.
Under Judy’s leadership (something I have always been drawn to), BALLE is not against things so much as it is about having a vision for positive change in the world. Where others find problems, Judy’s guidance for BALLE has been about small-scale, proven strategies that work. Historically, economic development has been about doing the “big deal,” a very male-oriented “size matters” approach. We find that many women are drawn to Judy’s brand of wisdom because they historically have been the folks most connected to place, doing great work that at least begins small (nothing I might say is to suggest that growing a locally owned independent social enterprise to scale is anything but a good thing). It’s amazing how many people are truly content with their modest-sized business; they enjoy owning and operating what they are able to infuse with their values, and connect with their community. Now that is the new sexy.
As an imperfect interpreter at this point, I would love to invite you to hear directly the BALLE Mama’s own words. Judy Wicks will be speaking at a Re>Think Local event on July 17 from 12-3pm at the Buttermilk Falls Inn + Spa in Milton, NY. Learn directly from Judy how BALLE originated the term “Think Local First,” and if you’re lucky you might just get a hug. There will be signed copies of her inspired memoir, Good Morning, Beautiful Business. This is a must- attend event for current or aspiring women entrepreneurs and business owners, restaurateurs, and anyone who thinks that Localism and having your values reflected in your business are worthy goals.
With over 80 networks around the country (like Re>Think Local), representing some 30,000 businesses, when Judy launched BALLE she launched a movement that is transforming the way the world does business. I find people are hungry to be part of something larger than themselves, where prosperity and caring for both people and the planet are included.
For me it is tremendously comforting that thousands of really smart, heart-centered people are working so hard to save the world from an economic system run amok. Much to my personal chagrin, last year I discovered what a nerd I am by how much I love discussing economics. Please go beyond any jargon in this article and if you remember nothing else, find the joy in connected communities that care, as envisioned by Judy.
Here in the Mid-Hudson Valley we started losing IBM 20 years ago and continue to lose if we bet on their economic model—while at the BALLE Conference I saw another announcement for an additional 700 layoffs in Dutchess County. Places like Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit have hit bottom and by force were required to find new ways forward. My sincere hope is that we here in the Hudson Valley get smart long before we find anything like a bottom, and take advantage of all the amazing opportunities for locally owned independent businesses to thrive in our region. Come get inspired and learn some practical BALLE steps from The BALLE Mama, Judy Wicks. rethinklocal.org/events/judywicks (If you can’t make it on 7/17, she is also speaking the evening before at an event hosted by our friends at Hawthorne Valley Farm, linked to from our website.).