Incubating the local economy
2. In January, we were approved as a flexible purpose corporation in California (one of six in the state) that has a nonprofit-oriented mission to incubate local companies that provide sustainable import substitution and market and sell goods for them. It’s a corporation though with no shareholders controlling it for profit.
3. A nonprofit, fiscally sponsored by Community Ventures of Oakland to apply for grants and do public education, training, local economy analysis and mapping.
Shareable: What impact has it had on the local community and economy?
Rajala: 330 local artisans sell through the store that wouldn’t have been able to grow their business. There's no place for them to sell on a small scale on a regular basis, like a grocery store, especially outside areas they have contact. They couldn’t afford to have store on their own. Through our co-working space and small business incubation program, we’ve supported entrepreneurs that just had an idea to get the next step of launching and growing until they can be independent businesses.
Shareable: Do you see specific benefits of shared physical space?
Rajala: A virtual network is important, but face to face interaction is necessary for rebuilding community relationships. For selling or bartering local goods, physical space is going to be important for creating a sustainable local economy. Physical interaction can’t be replaced through online networks. According to ecopsychology, people need to actually be in nature and experience it. I believe it's also important for people to have real face to face interaction and shared experiences to bond.
Shareable: What are your biggest challenges?
The public has a hard time grasping such a comprehensive endeavor. We work on a long term vision and most people think short-term. Members of the chambers of commerce, the economic development community and city officials don’t seem to get it and so don't support our work, since we don’t produce high wage jobs directly. Our support and inspiration comes from BALLE and Transition Towns.
Our organization is very complex and because we are so collaborative, we have unique challenges of getting people on the same page, being flexible and adaptive to make sure everyone is happy. Even though we don't use consensus, we take feedback seriously.
Shareable: What are some success stories?
Rajala: A member started a bilingual tutoring company in our coworking space and now has a fantastic company with its own office, computer lab and a mobile classroom.