Re>Thinking Localism in the Hudson Valley

In less than five years of existence Re>Think Local has been instrumental in changing the conversation in the Hudson Valley, creating a deeper understanding of localism and introducing the concept of triple bottom line, socially responsible business into common business and economic development vernacular.

You may not have heard much from us lately. Let me tell you why. I’ll start by first highlighting our work over the last couple of years — and then hint at where we may be headed.

Re>Think Advisory Council member Melissa Gibson leads an activity to demonstrate the “multiplier effect.”

Events + Programs

In 2015-2016 we continued to host events and programs in Orange, Ulster, and Dutchess counties — we focused on Newburgh and relocated our office there, but we remain a regional organization — to deepen partnerships, build community, and promote our message to a broad audience: through networking events (Re>Mixes/Co>Mixes), training/education workshops, forums and speaker events.

We partnered with groups as varied as Good Work Institute (formerly etsy.org), Newburgh Illuminated, Orange County Citizens Foundation, Hudson Valley Current, BEAHIVE, and Hudson River Housing. We explored themes like: “Creating Thriving Main Streets in a Changing Economy”; “Financing for Healthy Communities and Social Enterprises”; and a “Business Model Canvas” workshop.

And we continued our support of Social Venture Institute / Hudson Valley in partnership with Omega Institute and the “Impact: Crafting a Thriving Venture for the New Economy” workshop series in partnership with Etsy in Hudson.

We invited Michelle Long, the executive director of our affiliated national group Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), to keynote a well-attended and received fundraising event in Kingston.

In December 2015 we hosted a holiday market featuring products and services of our member businesses, as well as vendors from Newburgh Professional & Business Association and Latinos in Business Succeeding Together.

GO LOCAL Hudson Valley

Our primary initiative the last couple of years has been GO LOCAL Hudson Valley, a platform to help local entrepreneurs build their businesses, while together building a movement — equal parts public awareness campaign and business promotion. We launched it with a dynamic event in Newburgh in the spring of 2015, two front-page articles in the local paper, a radio interview, and sponsorships.

Since then we’ve educated the public on the benefits of localism — mostly using the results of our Indie Impact study and the value multiplier effect. We’ve inspired citizens and organizations to shift 10% of their spending to support local independents through events and monthly ads in Chronogram — all while increasing exposure for Re>Think and our members.

Strategic Directives

Based on an organizational assessment and strategic planning process conducted by the NY Council of Nonprofits, in late 2015 we finalized a three-year strategic work plan with three main strategic directives:

  1. Clarify, simplify and solidify our purpose and who we serve.
  2. Clarify, simplify and solidify our governance, operations, and creative processes.
  3. Clarify, simplify and solidify how we fulfill our mission: programs, social enterprise, membership, etc.

One of our main strategic objectives has been to launch at least one mission-aligned, community-impacting, revenue-generating social enterprise. We envision pollinating a number of enterprises over the coming years in which Re>Think will be involved in some form.

To that end, we hosted four town halls around the region (Newburgh, Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Beacon) to promote the idea and gather research and ideas. We followed those with a business plan competition (Re>Think Community Business Collaboration) to solicit specific ideas and potential partners; we awarded prizes to three businesses.

Midway through 2016, however, we were surprised by a critical budget shortfall. Consequently we had to restructure, and we’ve spent the time since reevaluating our strategy and rethinking (ahem) our direction.

Future

“There are lots of models that can advance localism, in addition to the network model on which BALLE was originally set up to teach. Examples include micro-enterprise, technical assistance groups, food hubs, social justice organizations, local investment clubs, place-based impact investing and more.”
— Michelle Long

At a board retreat last summer we identified our value proposition as “conveners of exchange.” We believe that this is a critical, supportive role that is lacking for triple bottom line businesses in our region — and it can take many forms.

When we started Re>Think Local in early 2012 there were arguably only a couple of other values-aligned organizations in the Hudson Valley. Today there is a big handful of localism leaders, all with seemingly aligned visions and values and overlapping constituents and missions.

For a number of reasons — namely, a changed social, political and economic landscape, local and national — we felt it was time to gather the key players to discuss how we can all collaborate to best achieve our vision.

So on Monday, Feb. 6 we convened 18 localism luminaries from these groups and facilitated a rich, engaging discussion in an intimate setting over dinner:

  • Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley
  • GCSEN
  • Good Work Institute
  • Hawthorne Valley Association
  • Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corp
  • Hudson Valley Current
  • LIFT Economy
  • Local Economies Project
  • Luminary Media
  • Poughkeepsie Farm Project
  • Re>Think Local
  • Sustainable Hudson Valley

(Thanks to Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley for helping to sponsor the dinner and to One Epic Place for hosting.)

A few themes arose that night:

  1. We need to articulate a strong localism narrative to a broader audience and change the conversation — and need a common script and language to do that.
  2. We need to develop deep relationships.
  3. We need to engage more influencers (including “small giants”).
  4. We need to support entrepreneurs in a holistic, impactful, scalable way.

We’re still digesting that rich dinner discussion and considering our next steps as we continue working towards a prosperous, human-scale, place-based economy that strengthens our Hudson Valley communities and environment.

We value your support and suggestions. Feel free to email any thoughts you may have or leave a comment below.

About Scott Tillitt

Scott is a co-founder and the Board Chair of Re>Think Local, as well as founder of BEAHIVE, spaces for work and community collaboration, and Antidote Collective, which does communications and projects for a better world (bio). He moved to Beacon from Brooklyn in 2006.
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