Vermont’s Third New Economy Week (Oct 10-17) celebrated the steps communities have taken to strengthen local food networks, small businesses and renewable energy. It was also a time to consider what Donella Meadows once wrote, “if we human beings are ever going to live in happiness and harmony with each other and with the natural world, we will have to rethink our economics — starting with downgrading the importance of economics in our thinking.” To de-emphasize this ‘economic thinking’, our goal during New Economy week was to explore how to realign values with investment choices.
On October 14th, over 70 people gathered at the Chase Center at the Vermont Law School (VLS) and over 200 followed online as we discussed transforming investments for the sake of climate and community. It was an assembly of neighbors, friends, farmers and business owners gathered to shape their collective future together, the act itself reminiscent of our democratic beginnings. It was also testament to the success of a growing movement – where local folks lead regional economic development. The symposium was a marketplace to exchange ideas, access practical investment strategies and meet others who are working towards healthy communities and landscapes. It became clear that moving money away from global assets is ultimately a demonstration of values and an investment in well-being.
Our symposium opened with Gus Speth, Senior Fellow at the Democracy Collaborative and founder of the recently launched New Economy Law Center at VLS. He emphasized the need to change investments and magnify our impact, “whatever your precise vision of the new economy is requires some fundamental change in the management and direction of investments… I don’t think any large-scale change will happen unless we all come together.” This is already happening, as seen in emerging investment clubs, where community members pool their financial resources together and collectively decide what enterprises to invest in. Janice Onge, President of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s Flex Fund, made the point that, “another way to invest in the local economy is to offer our time, energy, and expertise to businesses, because it isn’t just about the money, it’s what comes with money that helps make these businesses successful.” There are many avenues for encouraging growth and innovation regardless of portfolio size.
Maeve McBride, Coordinator for 350Vermont, emphasized that divestment is more than finances and, “is important in giving young people more agency and political capital.” After the panel, participants joined different table discussions to talk to local investment leaders. Subjects ranged from how time banks work, to connecting with networks of entrepreneurs and investors. Some discussions even centered on the economic benefits of carbon farming. As Steve Aldrich of the White River Investment Club so aptly put it, “local folks make decisions together that are potentially transformative.” Many attendees were surprised at how many local investment opportunities were available to them, such as Milk Money VT, which matches Vermont investors with small businesses.
Even before the event was over, many participants committed to taking the next steps in their personal lives as well as their bank accounts, as one anonymous note read, “I feel proud to be part of a community addressing change…. and will invest in our local economy.” As a recent college graduate, it was inspiring to see how many people are creatively working towards an economic future that recognizes the value of well-being, and to see the many opportunities to get involved. Let’s invest in our values by investing in our communities!