Prosperity For All scholars expand the conversation at BALLE 2014

(For BALLE – Business Alliance for Local Living Economies)

The Prosperity For All Scholarship Fund works with funders and foundations to grant BALLE Conference attendance to emerging Localist leaders from diverse backgrounds and historically underrepresented communities. BALLE recently caught up with Scholarship coordinator Zac Taylor to chat about how the program works, and what impact the Scholars –  both past and future – are making in their communities, building #ProsperityForAll.

BALLE: Prosperity For All Scholarships are a great concept. Could you provide a run-through of the program and how it applies to the BALLE conference?

ZT: Our goal is twofold. 1) to identify and cultivate emerging Localist leaders and potential Local Economy Fellows; and 2) to make sure that we bring local entrepreneurs and connectors to our conference – particularly people who reflect BALLE’s commitment to Prosperity for All: Members of the LGBT community, people of color, women, and leaders who are small business owners, heads of nonprofit organizations involved in community development and organizing, and others historically left out of leadership conversations around economic development.

This second goal has been a big focus for this year’s Scholarship fund – getting the local Bay Area  network engaged with our work, in this core community that comes from far and wide. Our goal is to change the complexion and character of the Localist community to embody Prosperity for All and to make sure that these conversations about community change reflect the diversity of the communities we work in. We are not only building the Localist movement, but building capacity in different communities.

We also want to create and hold the space for learning. I like to think of this as a virtuous circle, where our goal is to share best practices and make sure that they reach new communities, and be sure to learn and think differently about what challenges and opportunities face communities at the grassroots level.

BALLE: When you say “build capacity” – could you explain that?

ZT: Well, this conference is really targeted at leadership. But unlike most leadership conferences, we believe that anyone can be a leader in the community – anybody can be a Localist leader – and putting the great potential of locally owned business at the heart of that leadership. This process can be both a technical thing and it can be a deeply personal thing – building leadership from within. That dovetails with the different types of conversations we host at the conference.

BALLE: What’s the reach of the scholarships?

ZT: Applicants came from all over the country, coast to coast, and from several different countries.
Since 2007 we’ve awarded hundreds of different scholarships and have given over $125,000 in funding. This year, our goal is to award more scholarships than we ever have. So far we have made over 140 awards and we intend to make several more. That’s worth over $50,000. Scholarship support comes from individual donors who dedicate a part of their registration to the scholarship fund, from scholarship sponors, and from larger foundation partners. About 60% of conference scholars are from the Bay Area and they reflect the rich diversity of this community.

BALLE: As Scholars move on after the conference experience, what have they been able to do?

ZT: Scholars continue to contribute to this community, in very profound ways. James Johnson-Piett, for example, went on to become a 2013-2014 BALLE Local Economy Fellow and is one of six Vision Speakers at this year’s conference.

Zandra Cunningham, a 13-year-old small business owner in Buffalo, NY who shared the main stage with Eileen Fisher at last year’s conference, gave her support in raising funds for this year’s scholarship fund. We’re building a national community with deep roots.

BALLE: What has surprised you in the 2014 scholarship process?

ZT: I’ve been energized by the kinds of connections we’ve made through the scholarship process and some of  the conversations that have emerged about the conference and who will be there as a result of our local outreach.

One recipient has stepped up to facilitate a conversation at the conference with BALLE Fellow and Local Host Erin Kilmer Neel about gentrification in Oakland. It’s exciting to see people step up and want to contribute to this conversation around access and experiences of change in this community, to bring that perspective and hold a space for others to engage.

We’ve seen that, through the scholarship process, we’re building channels for different types of critical conversations to happen that may not have happened otherwise. There’s a huge range of social justice, equity and inclusion issues out there that Localists face in their places, and we’ve begun, through the Scholarship outreach and application process, to collect stories and impressions on how the conversation around Prosperity For All looks and feels in hundreds of different communities.

We’re excited to highlight these stories at this year’s conference and beyond.

BALLE: So just the act of applying is enriching the conversation.

ZT: Yes, I would say so!

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