Adelante Mujeres at the 2011 BALLE Conference

Last week Adelante Mujeres attended the 9th annual Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) conference in Bellingham, WA. Thanks to a generous scholarship from conference sponsor RSF Social Finance, an Adelante Mujeres team member was able to attend the conference to represent the organization and the community Forest Grove.

Adelante Mujeres joined finance professionals, community organizers, non-profits, entrepreneurs, and journalists from all over the US and around the world who came to share best practices and innovations in creating a sustainable economy through the lens of this years' topic "Place Matters".

Considering the common needs and opportunities for us all while recognizing the unique character of each place, the BALLE community spent the four days of the conference examining three topics very important to our work here at Adelante Mujeres: agriculture and food systems, access to capital, and community organizing.

Our motivation for attending the conference was to learn relevant information and best practices for a number of new Adelante Mujeres initiatives. The first is our capital initiative, the Capital Exchange Project, which rallies community support around emerging small businesses and creates an alternative source of capital to the micro-entrepreneurs we work with. And the second is our new food systems project which will expand the support we provide to small agricultural and food-based businesses.

Our take-aways?

1. We have inspiring peers. Entrepreneurs from all-over the Portland metro area attended the conference and we form a network of strong voices to support the local small business community. (Check out Supportland, GO!, and Independence Gardens).

2. Securities laws matter. Those blazing new trails out of the traditional capital structure and towards more community-oriented finance schemes - beware! Securities laws may put out the spark if we don't inform ourselves about them and make sure we're covered. So we'll consult professionals and resources like this blog post by Jenny Kassan of the Sustainable Economies Law Center.

3. Food systems are more than just the dinner table. They are a complex web of value chains and distribution channels, and they are governed by cultural expectations, government regulation, and ecological capacity. At Adelante we are poised to fill critical gaps in our local food system, and there are great guides to advise us along the way, like the La Montanita Coop of New Mexico.

4. Big things are coming. Speaker and author Naomi Klein emphasized the point that it is time for a major paradigm shift in our economy and society, and her message was echoed time and time again by other conference presenters and attendees.

As Clayton Burrows of Growing Washington wisely urged, "start small but start something". Whether sewing the humble seeds of school gardens, reinventing the way cities are built, or empowering people through education and enterprise (as we do every day at Adelante Mujeres); there is a growing movement to shift the way our economy functions.

Following the lead of the mantra of the 2011 BALLE conference: the place is here, and the time is now!