Community Supported Commerce: What Does it Mean?

Community Supported Commerce: What Does it Mean?

by Kate Wildrick, Co-Founder of Ingenuity Innovation Center, January 21, 2015

In 2009, Aaron and I watched as the economic downturn swept across Portland, OR.  One of the most poignant memories I have of that time was an encounter we had in a local Fred Meyer parking lot. We were approached by a bright 30 something guy begging for change to help him get a place to stay for a few nights at a local hostel.  We listened to his story. He shared that he was laid off from his job a month prior.  Once that happened, he couldn’t afford a place to live and soon found himself surfing from one friend’s couch to another.  After he ran out of options, he turned to his parents, but they too were loosing their home and being forced to move in with his sister where space was extremely limited due to her new baby and two other children.  I distinctly recall seeing and feeling the same sense of desperation that I had deep down myself.  I wanted to help, but felt I had nothing to give.

Aaron and I began to talk about what we observed.  It was the first time in my personal development that I started to challenge my own set of beliefs and began to recognize that there was something else bigger going on and that it was not all my fault.  I then began to step outside of my mind and tune into the discussion of the hundreds of broke and struggling people that would frequent the sidewalks to share their sad stories with their friends and family over a happy hour menu.  There was an undeniable theme that was beginning to emerge and although we couldn’t exactly see what it was at the time, it was evident that people were waking up to the reality that the institutions we relied on for our “happiness, health and well-being” were in deed failing.

It is now 2015.  Six years have passed and there has been a massive shift in regards into exploring how our economic, educational, environmental, political, media, health care, legal, prison and food systems (to name a few) are considered unsustainable and down right flawed.  A whole new social revolution, specifically with the younger generation, is driving at creating new systems that make our old obsolete.  It is a very exciting time even though our mainstream media doesn’t exactly show what is really happening in our local communities.  People are waking up to the fact that we do not have to live in world where scarcity, competition and fear are the norm.  Instead, many individuals, organizations and communities are choosing to come together to create solutions for the community by the community.  This is what community supported commerce is all about.

The corporate “doing more with less mentality” has finally reached a tipping point forcing people to find new ways to survive.  It has forced many to reinvent themselves and find new paths that bring balance, meaning and purpose.  This shift is causing many to stop doing business as usual.  People are recognizing that working with stakeholders that have no interest in the values that connect people to themselves, others and community lead to dissatisfaction and destruction and over the long term are inherently unsustainable.  People are connecting the dots that when profit is the sole driver of decisions, many of life’s most important ingredients are left out.  This way of doing business is starting to become obsolete as evidenced by increase of non profits and the rise of benefit companies and B-Corps.  The new triple-bottom line approach that makes decisions based on people, planet and prosperity for all is now emerging and the new form of commerce and it is extremely powerful.  This is what we are defining as Community Supported Commerce (CSC).

So what is Community Supported Commerce, exactly?

CSC is creating local economic pathways that help people create solutions for the community by the community through commerce.  Here, community, local businesses and government partner on how to identify what is needed and work together to create solutions. It involves a conscious shift to buy and support local and being willing to create new ways of doing business that utilize the triple-bottom line approach while considering how decisions made presently will impact stakeholders not only now but generations to come.  One of the biggest, key differentiators, is how communities look at working with businesses whose stakeholders are not situated in the local community.  They ask deeper questions about how a business is going to be a fit both on a short and long-term basis.  Communities who are doing this are leading the way to challenge the traditional way of doing economic development based solely on profit and job creation.  It is really about looking for the right “fit” for the community.

This concept is already a growing phenomena as we see in the “shop local” or “buy local” movement.  Various economic impact research projects report again and again that choosing to support local businesses keeps money and resources in the local community. For example, according to the Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, local business generates 70 percent more local economic activity per square foot than a big box retail store.  More and more economic development initiatives are taking a serious look at how investing in already existing local infrastructure (versus trying to attract non-local and/or multi national corporations) can help generate more community wealth, abundance and stability.

What are the Benefits of Community Supported Commerce?

The benefits of CSC are huge because the value is in the network.  When people see how they are a stake holder and feel empowered to create a solution that not only brings benefit to them but all who are involved, the potential to develop local solutions becomes extremely viable.    Typically we will see:

  • An increased connection to people and businesses in a local community
  • A better understanding of how choices and decisions of buying local and investing in local community bring more resources for everyone to work with and benefit from.
  • Increase in resilience and adaptability to weather unexpected changes in markets and events.
  • The next generation(s) is/are often regarded as a stakeholder.
  • There is more long term planning that often results in Legacy Plans (strategic plans that factor the resources and impact for future stakeholders).

So how do You Create Community Supported Commerce?

Creating CSC endeavors starts with having a visionary and/or champion who can serve as an educator in a local community.  This person or group of people have a strong passion for what community can do and create by working together and often point out where examples of this are happening.  They also tend to explore and highlight where the opportunities are for more partnership are on a local level.

The most successful CSC examples can be seen in environments where people:

  • Know their neighbors and support local businesses
  • Have clear vision and values around the desired outcome
  • Value supporting community endeavors that enhance and strengthen relationships
  • Add resources and amenities that bring benefit to all
  • Create innovative solutions regardless of politics, religion, socio economic situation, beliefs / values, etc.
  • There is a willingness to try new things, even though they may fail.
  • Employ an attitude that “we can do this” and work to find common ground and see the positive aspects of all involved
  • Value difference and work to find the common good that benefits everyone involved

However even if all of the above qualities are present in a local community, there are some significant challenges that typically emerge.  Most often, the culprit is around being resistant to change.  Deviating from the status quo as evidenced by, “we tried this before and it didn’t work,” “what will others think,” and the classic “we have always done it this way” can be very difficult for some.  As a result, they may not always step in to help and may be a disruptive force.  Part of the process is accepting that will happen and to design in strategies that address and mitigate it so that when this unhelpful energy shows up, it doesn’t take everyone’s attention away from the desired end outcome.

CSC is all About Creating Using Power With versus Power Over

The whole essence about CSC is about finding how to get everyone engaged in mindful commerce and discover how they can help co-create solutions that bring about benefit for all.  Much of this movement is learning how to come back to the basics and understand how one’s choices and actions can impact the community and environment while watching how it adds or detracts from a quality of life for all.  There is no doubt that we can solve our most pressing issues by working together. According to Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”