May 2016 Convening in Eastern Kentucky
The cohort met with community groups and leaders, and philanthropic and government funders to explore practical experiments to realize a just transition. Eastern KY’s economy has relied heavily on the coal industry, which is in serious decline alongside mounting national recognition of coal’s human health, environmental and climate cost. There is is a growing effort (despite entrenched coal interests in politics) to create a new sustainable economy and a more diverse energy future that works better for people and places. Community power-building and involvement of those most directly affected is a big part of the story. Young people, public-private partnerships, entrepreneurs and community organizations are creating new economic opportunities and looking for effective solutions drawing on the region’s assets (arts and culture, ecological diversity; and strong community organizations and leaders). Phoenix partnered with 2 community groups: The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) to program the learning tour.
Phoenix community economics advisor Michael Shuman gave a presentation: What If? Envisioning Possibilities for Transformational Local Investing, Nurturing Local Business and Local Wealth-Building in San Diego. Michael shared national experiments and stories to delineate a tipping point of enabling conditions that could about systemic economic change in San Diego.
Phoenix also hosted a workshop with local actors on: What does it take to govern? How is independent political power built and wielded to change a city and change a state?
Theater of the Oppressed was used the last morning to try out responses to the question: Given what we’ve seen in San Diego so far, how could a group of funders align to move forward a just transition to a new economy in the next 1-3 years?
After 1 year of learning together... what has emerged as a Phoenix view on 'just transition' & 'new economy'?
The convening opened with a shared presentation from Core Team co-chairs Aditi Vaidya, Senior Program Officer, Solidago Foundation and See Forward Fund and José A. García, Program Officer, Surdna Foundation Strong Local Economies (now program officer on the Inclusive Economies team at the Ford Foundation).
- What has emerged as distinctly “Phoenix?”
- What is the new economy we envision?
- What do we mean by “just transition?”
The cohort conversation sparked by the opening presentation focused on how funders can collaborate in the process of economic metamorphosis.
Phoenix has found it practical to to look for collaboration opportunities among institutions that hold different pieces along a spectrum of transition, ranging from:
- Reforming the old economy. Where a diverse cohort can find more convergence and collaboration to: stop the bad + move the money.
- Building the new economy is where there is more cohort divergence about what the end goal looks like. Here the cohort was exposed and open to conversations about bringing a deeper political, race, and gender intersectional analysis and frameworks to philanthropy.
A PHOENIX PRAGMATIC APPROACH: Even with divergence on the end goal, we can find ways to cooperate on nearer-term strategies.
"I am deathly afraid of final solutions coming up as something we are going to all work towards, and therefore we know what we are doing at each point. I think our capacity to see that far into the future is so drastically limited, and we often don't recognize it because all we are bringing with us is what we know from now. But what that new reality will be created of, is an emergent world of new things that we haven't even seen, coming into being."
Phoenix members are eager to continue grappling with BOTH principles AND pragmatic near-term strategies.
What to Stop
- Making funding decisions without input from impacted communities
- Massive wealth accumulation
- Profit as prime driver for basic needs (food, healthcare, housing)
- Philanthropy investing in destructive industries
- Philanthropy investing in ideas without infrastructure
What to Shift Towards
- Philanthropy in relationship to community and community self-determination
- Funding infrastructure for communities to understand and lead just transition
- Philanthropy investing in generative industries and local projects
- Philanthropy with a political and strong race and gender intersectional analysis. Keeping talking openly about ideology
- Philanthropy investing in small scale experiments. Being bold, tolerating and taking risks. Thinking about success differently and using human prosperity and equity measurements.
The New Economy We Envision and Can Work Towards Together
What do we mean by 'new economy'? 10 ideas that resonated the most across the cohort (in order of ranking).
- Return wealth to the commons (i.e., democratic public banking, developing revolving loan funds).
- Distributed, dynamic, and local solutions to the areas of greatest human oppression (i.e., energy, food, housing, finance, etc.).
- Fund interventions that build local power and promote institutions that exemplify the values of a new economy.
- Not harming the earth or vulnerable populations.
- Basic needs should be guaranteed, not driven by profit (healthcare, housing, food, etc.).
- Economy should be subsumed to communities’ political power.
- All collective decisions should be made democratically and as locally as appropriate, prioritizing the participation of those most directly impacted by the outcome.
- Workers/producers of labor should have greater decision-making power in the workplace and in the larger market place.
- Building political power in community, that reflects and serves the needs that arise for everyday people.
- What matters is eco-systems of organizations and how they work together. Not individual organizations, (c)3, (c)4, businesses, etc.
After a morning clarifying principles, the cohort took the afternoon to surface practical ways philanthropy can advance promising strategies in the near-term.
There is an opportunity at this time, when the old economic system is falling apart.
Evening Field Trip: Just Transition Work in Boston
The cohort headed for the Old Oak Dojo in Jamaica Plain, "a place where neighbors gather to rediscover how to create healthy and resilient communities." Several local actors shared promising economic justice, democracy and new economy work and how these connect to broader movement building that funders have been supporting for many years. The guests that joined Phoenix for this conversation were: M. Elena Letona, Executive Director, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, Penn Loh, Lecturer & Director of Community Practice, Tufts University/Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, David Y. S. Moy, Officer - Civic Engagement, Hyams Foundation, and Prentice Zinn, Director, GMA Foundations.
Much of what was explored in this conversation is described in the report Solidarity Rising in Massachusetts: How Solidarity Economy Movement is Emerging in Lower Income Communities of Color. The report, commissioned by the Solidarity Economy Initiative, examines eight cases across lower-income communities of color in Massachusetts from Worcester and Springfield to Lynn and Boston. Communities are organizing to resist and reform the current system, while building alternatives that go beyond capitalism. They are incubating worker-owned coops, community land trusts, and community-controlled capital. They are modeling an economy and democratic governance based on collective care and putting people and planet over profit. Communities are dreaming big, of building regional ecosystems that can scale up transformative impacts.
Narrative Strategy Workshop
Christine Cordero form the Center for Story-based Strategy offered a final narrative strategy skills and analysis building workshop. She walked the cohort through a series of steps and tools for: 1) uncovering the dominant narrative in a space and, 2) developing and introducing new narratives into spaces that make the new more possible. Three small groups worked on shifting narratives in three different arenas: worker power building, climate funding, and democratic governance.