Last week, we looked at ways that social enterprise can pursue authentic community transformation by working to create pathways of opportunity in communities where folks experience a lot of brick walls and challenges to economic stability. In the main, creating opportunity is a work that happens at the individual level, impact people in the community. This is critical work, and a good start in the process of thinking through how to evaluate your actual impact in a neighborhood.
It is important, though, to hold the impact on individuals and families together with a view to the impact on the neighborhood itself. Its probably a generalization but if creating opportunity has a primary impact on people, what can we use to think about the impact on the place? This is where we do well to consider the markers of economic development. There are a lot of ways to use the term development, but in our case, we would use the markers of development to refer to tangible evidence of the transformation of the community, primarily from an economic perspective.
One example of how we might track economic development in a neighborhood is charting the increase, over time, of community owned businesses. These businesses would ALSO be evidence of opportunity for the business owner, but the impact of a locally owned business extends beyond the individual owner themselves. It allows money to circulate locally which helps guard against continued economic extraction which is an unavoidable byproduct of business owned outside the community. That the economic potential of a neighborhood can remain in the neighborhood serves to strengthen the overall outlook in the community.
Another marker that shares similar effects would be an increase in the tax base due to more owner occupied housing. People owning their own home is a great example of opportunity but the ripple effect goes out to impact other community institutions, like the local school system for example.
Over time, we might expect poverty markers to decrease and expect to see an increase in generative community activity through neighborhood associations or local business development organizations. In my community, the west side business development center is not only mentoring individual entrepreneurs they are advocating for the development of a more whole and healthy economic ecosystem in a neighborhood that has experienced at least two generations of economic vulnerability. They are a great example of how we might hold together the tension of seeking individual opportunity and community wide development.
Admittedly, these are big concepts, and concepts which could be intimidating if your group is just starting out. A good first step would be to think about the potential ripple effects of your business venture and how the business itself could contribute to the overall ecosystem of the neighborhood. Charting out a few ways you hope to champion community wide development from the beginning will help to orient the work in a way that doesn’t fall prey to tunnel vision and remembers that any business venture should seek to participate meaningfully in the overall life of the neighborhood.