An Inspiring Weekend at Hello Etsy, by Karen Berelowitz

In this, our very first guest blog post, Re>Think Local Founding Member Karen Berelowitz takes us inside the recent Etsy conference exploring the Creative Economy.

Karen Berelowitz, Owner & Artist at Karmabee, with Michelle Long, Executive Director of BALLE

Karen Berelowitz, Owner & Artist at Karmabee, with Michelle Long, Executive Director of BALLE

I recently had an opportunity to attend the Hello Etsy conference at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, featuring over a dozen speakers offering a wide range of expertise, including localism! It was wonderful to spend a weekend with creative and liked-minded people and to be reminded how exciting the modern economic marketplace has become. If you’re not familiar, Etsy is a vibrant online site for buying and selling handmade and vintage items. I’ve had an Etsy shop for Karmabee since 2007, and have found that opportunities like these, and the personal connections that result, are some of the greatest benefits.

The conference opened with Etsy’s new CEO Chad Dickerson, who focused on the modern humanized workplace, so different from the bleak future portrayed in Chaplin’s Modern Times, and their recent achievement of B-Corp status. He was followed by economist Jeremy Rifkin, who set the tone for the weekend by discussing a third industrial revolution where everything from communication to information to the means of production is becoming more democratized, peer-to-peer, lateral, and non-hierarchical.

We heard from psychologist Laurie Santos, who discussed the biological tendency of humans to absorb ideas and techniques from others, emphasizing the importance of surrounding ourselves with those we respect and emulate – certainly one reason I joined Re>Think Local! Laurie shared a study about children and monkeys showing that only human children fail to make sensible decisions when they’ve been taught a specific way of doing things. I enjoyed the example of a young woman who moved into her first apartment and called her mother in a panic before a dinner party because she’d forgotten to remove the last 2 inches of the ham before putting it in the oven. Would it ruin the ham? Would it start a fire? Her mother suggested she call her grandmother, who after a stumped few minutes, laughed and said her oven had always been too small to fit a whole ham, so she’d made it fit by cutting off the end – an unnecessary step that survived two generations!

Close to our hearts, Michelle Long of BALLE gave an impassioned presentation about bringing love into the equation. She mentioned research into happiness showing that regardless of socioeconomic, geographical, ethnic or other factors, we humans are happiest when we are 1) in our purpose, 2) generous to others, 3) connected to each other and 4) connected to nature, and that we should be able to design society to align with these values. She’d just the night before started a Facebook page called Entrepreneurs in Love to encourage people to give unconditionally without expectation of return. She presented great examples of these ideas in action: a company executive lunch where they surprised the next table by buying them lunch, which felt so good that the executives shifted to a more generous mindset, cutting one of their benefits so they could offer health insurance to their factory workers, which in turn lowered production costs because the workers felt more committed to their employers; a company offering low-interest loans to small businesses, who in turn offered to pay higher rates so more businesses could benefit; a successful cafe in California where you’re fed for free and then given the opportunity to pay for the cost of the next patron’s meal; and the list goes on.

With other speakers discussing topics like a new model for personalized healthcare, solving big problems with local solutions (if you’ve not heard Majora Carter speak, look her up!), collaborative consumption, and practical tools for facing the challenges of entrepreneurship, you can see why it was an inspiring weekend. I’ll close with a quote from our own Ajax Greene’s recent blog entry: “Love, authenticity and vulnerability are not words usually used by business and economic leaders, but in our opinion they are key skills of the New Economy.”

Karen Berelowitz is the Owner & Artist at Karmabee in Kingston, NY and a Re>Think Local Founding Member. She can be reached at 845-443-3358 or karmabee@gmail.com.

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