Last weekend concerned citizens met to discuss solutions and alternatives to the current economic model that has resulted in a troubling financial crisis, reports Kim Hardy, a CED Project Planner.

Remaking the Economy through People's Eyes: A Forum Exploring Economic Models for Today and Tomorrow provided a platform for those who feel the economy is broken and in need of solutions that serve people and preserve our environment. The forum's dialogue ranged from creating social enterprises and supporting co-operatives to establishing community capital pools to finance local alternatives.

The forum was only announced four weeks before it was held and drew a crowd of more than 200 people. The conference topic seemed to tap into citizens’ current lack of faith in the investment market and the urgency brought on by failing multinationals and global banks.

Speakers challenged the notion that co-operatives or the social economy is the “third way” and suggested that these models need to become the “first way” and become more prominent in our economy. Speakers included Donna Morton, Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Integral Economics; Dr. James Tully, Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria; Doug Wright, from the Co-operators; Dr. Mark Roseland of SFU's Centre for Sustainable Community Development; and the University of Cambridge's Helen Haugh. Speakers explored new ways to both recover and renew the economy.

Workshops provided a venue for participants to explore in more depth the concepts of alternative economic solutions. Ecotrust Canada and BC Community Economic Development Network facilitated a workshop on “Capital Pools for Community Based Ventures: an Opportunity to Rebuild BC's Local Economies.” In this workshop, research was presented from other regions having active community capital pools, including the Community Economic Development Investment Fund (CEDIF) model, which the Province of Nova Scotia has adopted to successfully redirect hundreds of thousands of RSP contributions into local ventures.

Participants were asked to think of themselves as a community with an identified local venture to invest in. A purse was passed around the room representing the community capital pool. Each participant was asked to write down on a piece of paper the personal investment they were comfortable contributing to the pool and drop it in.

Participants were also asked, “What is influencing your decision as to how much you are comfortable investing in this community-based venture?” Comments ranged from there being more control over the investment because of its local proximity to being more comfortable with their investment being in the community, particularly when their traditional investments have resulted in losses.

While all of the benefits of investing locally were mentioned, participants still wanted to have accountability and certainty in their investment. They would hold the community business to the same standards as they would any other venture. At the end of the workshop, the personal investments were tallied from the participants and $54,000 was raised towards the hypothetical community venture. That was about $2,000 per person.

Other workshops at the forum explored the role of co-operatives in building communities, an indigenous critique of aboriginal economic development, shaping the economy within ecological limits, creating a supportive environment for social enterprise in BC, food sovereignty and participatory economics. The day closed with an inspiring plenary where participants agreed that now more than ever these types of local solutions need to be brought to the forefront of establishing a new sustainable economy that works for people and the environment.