Rewriting the Story of Community Wealth

I recently watched the movie The Hundred Foot Journey for the third time. It’s a charming story of cultural collisions, good food and community. In the movie, as expected, the brilliant chef Hassan leaves his family and the tiny village to pursue a higher level of success and acclaim, which he achieves. He eventually realizes that wasn’t giving him what he really needed to feel successful.

Towards the end of the movie, the characters of Hassan and Marguerite have this exchange:

Hassan: Remember that perfect recipe for the raw cepe ravioli? Did we sweat the onions in oil or butter?
Marguerite: Hassan, it's not how you sweat the onions, it's where you pick your cepes. And the good ones, they grow here.

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For me, this short exchange summed up the power of reconnecting with your community roots to gather the elements needed generate a purposeful life. The core of a thriving community lies in the power of family, expressed in the sharing of history, values and hope for the future. Traditionally the next generation is children, but it can also be ideas, services, products or anything that fulfills the story the community wants to tell as part of a generative economy.

Generative Economy is a term coined by Marjorie Kelly to define "a living economy that is designed to generate the conditions for life to thrive, an economy with a built-in tendency to be socially fair and ecologically sustainable.” Generative economy attempts to reorganize the purpose and structure of an organization, to the extent of being self-organized around serving the needs of life, i.e., human centric. Generative economy aims to be based on designs that are rich in biodiversity, not monoculture. Examples of these types of organizational designs are employee ownerships, cooperatives, credit unions, community land trusts, co-housing communities, community wind, family-owned businesses, and foundations-owned companies (common in Northern Europe). Its goals are to create fair and just outcomes, benefit the many rather than the few, and enable an enduring human presence on the planet Earth.

Scaling back from the big vision of planet Earth and focusing on the local community, it’s easy to understand why it’s so important to keep the next generations engaged in the shared purpose of the original community makers. Since the beginning of time, community members have invested their hardest to measure, yet most personally felt capital (e.g., time, wisdom, empathy, relationship, emotion, etc) into the next generation who, in turn, become their greatest measure of wealth. As noted by Neal Gabler in his recent article, The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans,  “People want to feel, need to feel, that they are advancing in this world. It is what sustains them. They need to feel that their lives will improve, and, even more, that the lives of their children will be better than theirs, just as they believed that their own lives would be better than their parents’.”

So, what happens to communities as this ‘wealth’ is forced to leave to pursue education, work, and other experiences and opportunities…yet doesn’t come back? Well, those communities slowly fade away and become places which trigger memories of the past but don’t inspire visions of the future.  There is no next generation, without which, the story ends.

Fortunately, with the advent of technology, those stories can now be rewritten to not only inspire the return of that generative wealth, but also to create scenarios in which they don’t leave at all. Some frameworks that can work to keep Generation D (i.e., Generation Distribution) invested in their communities include:

1.      Distributed Learning – Dr. Sugata Mitra

a.      School in the Cloud

b.      SOLE: Student Owned Learning Engagement

c.       TED Talk: Hole in the Wall

2.      Distributed Manufacturing – GE + Local Motors

a.      FirstBuild – This co-create platform was made for makers. It is the place where all of our community's ideas come together.

3.      Food Production – Michael ShumanNational Good Food Network

a.      FarmWorks Community Economic Development Investment Fund (CEDIF)

b.      Slow Money Beetcoin Program

                                                              i.      Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms

                                                             ii.      New Roots and Barbour Farms

                                                           iii.      Sustainable Iowa Land Trust

This is only a tiny sample of the opportunities that exist, there are more coming to light every day, thanks to the ever-expanding technology options. Although some folks fear that technology will separate the generations, it is clear from these models that when used to increase the human engagement potential, much stronger community bonds are generated and roots are deepened. And, as we all know, that makes for a much more interesting story.