There is a growing collective agreement of needed change to the current economic model. Jay Tompt, coordinator of Totnes REconomy, teams up with REconomoy Luxembourg to exchange ideas and share a vision that nourishes and supports local, engaged, community-driven entrepreneurs to take the lead in creating a better world.
“REconomy is about citizens getting involved to make change. It’s about citizen-led efforts where the most important component is to create relationships and bring people together.’’
Jay, how did you get involved into the REconomy project? Can you share the story behind your involvement with the movement and why you decided to fight for change? Jay Tompt: I always considered myself an environmentalist – I was involved in activism as a student in university. However, my wake up call was at the Battle of Seattle, in 1999 at the World Trade Organization protest. It was at this time that I realized that corporations were becoming too strong, they were negatively influencing democratic institutions and processes. It seemed that globalization was dominated by these corporations. I came to the conclusion that the problem was the economic system itself. I asked myself what I could possibly do about it and began getting involved in green and social enterprises. Do you consider that you fight the system?
J.T.: No, not at all! We are often called out to “smash capitalism!”, but I am not motivated by this at all. I am much more interested in innovation in a new way, getting to a new place that is not defined as capitalism or socialism. Even though there are good things about both approaches, surely, we are at a time where we can use a dialectical process, to borrow a concept from MARX, and get to a place that is synthesizing the best of multiple points of view for a more pluralist kind of regime. Or perhaps we can get to the kind of political economic paradigm that can allow for many models and many arrangements to exist. This idea is founded upon some very clear ideas about what it means to be just for both people and all living things on the planet. Today, 10 years after the first Local Entrepreneur Forum, what are some of the results and successes that you are proud of? Do you feel you now, where you wanted to be when it all started?
J.T.: We didn’t really have a goal going in, but I always considered the role of entrepreneurs as a part of the solution. My questions at that time were:
How can we create the conditions for entrepreneurs to come forward?
How can they find ways of getting they projects started?
How can we get more people involved in the community to become investors and to support this process?
We thought about an incubator as a one-day process. This was the origin of the Local Entrepreneur Forum. Now, after 10 years of this method: · 44 projects have been pitched as well as many open spaces and hack-o-thons. · We have supported many projects; some have failed and some have been very successful. · Currently, we have around 270 or 300 people in our community playing roles of investor and; · We have raised 150K or 200K £ directly as investments or cash infusions into these companies. · We’ve gathered 30K to 40k £ of business services provided such as advertising, consulting advice, business plan development, websites, videos…
PLUS we have helped to animate people in the community to come together and to just give of themselves, to invest themselves in the local community! It is all intangible in terms of the way that the culture is shifting, in the way community is growing around what we are doing. I am also critical of the process, though. We would like to see more people in the towns who have wealth to be more involved. This is not happening as much as I would like. It’s often mostly the little people coming together to make big things happen.
There are many cities throughout the world that are using this model for change. Can you tell me about these places?
J.T.: Here in Luxembourg, our friends helped to organize our first online forum in 2020. As well, in Rio De Janeiro we conducted a forum where the network has been growing and has been very successful. We also have friends in Switzerland and in Japan in the Bay of Tokyo. In the UK, we are bringing this model to a place called Torbay, an town of about 170.000 residents. This project is called local Spark Torbay. We have been able to build relationships with the local council and other NGOs of the region as well as have earned significant funding to start an incubator for social enterprises. How can the RECONOMY model be replicated successfully in larger cities? J.T.: The local entrepreneur forum is participatory method to engage communities. But there are many other ways to involve the community for change. The process revolves around culture changes and endogenous regenerative activities. There needs to be a shift of cultural impressions of the place. For example, the history of Esch is a familiar story. The patterns of problems are similar to many other places and many others have thought of how to make changes within their own communities. However, the visual deprivation is such that making assumptions about the place is common. The trick is to tell new stories about the community and businesses that can help the community. These are the stories that need to circulate. The more stories that circulate the better.
And then actually doing something. Having a visible place for people to see change. By building the ecosystem pathways, mobilizing the know-how and capital in the community. For example, writing business plans or building furniture and finally looking for investors. All of this together is a good formula for making change.
There is a lot of academic work around this type of endogenous economic regeneration that is focused on entrepreneurship. To find the solutions, we need to look at the patterns of the problems. If the solutions begin to work on these patterns, this is a good indication that we have the right kind of models in place. And yet, each place is unique and solutions must be adapted. The people of Esch will need to build the ecosystems in their own way. There is a toolbox of methods available that can help to make the change happen. But each place is different and the solutions must be adaptable. What solutions can we offer for people who are interested in becoming an entrepreneur but hesitate because they are afraid of the risks? J.T.: REconomy is about citizens getting involved to make change. It’s about citizen-led efforts where the most important component is to create relationships and bring people together. It’s about running open spaces, events, hack-o-thons and networking events as ways to bring folks together who are interested in the same things. This lowers the risks for these people and doubles the capacity, potentially. A connection of two people has the potential to create new and better ideas. This is the foundation of the process of innovation.
Luxembourg is one of the richest countries in the world. Do you think it’s different here because of this? Is this an advantage or disadvantage for this type of movement? J.T.: The answer can be quite complicated. It could be considered an advantage, but also a disadvantage because of how the country benefits from a certain economic model that tends to make social problems invisible. Citizens tend to disengage from social engagement because they do not experience any problems and therefore are convinced that they do not exist. In this situation those who are motivated to get involved are those who experience ‘divine discontent’ because they see problems and injustice. I think those people exist everywhere. (...)
How do we raise awareness and make it more evident that change is needed in a place like Luxembourg?
J.T.: Opportunities to educate ourselves is important. Using the available resources to get informed on what is happening around our communities and to work to become aware of our own biases. Although it’s not an easy process, education is a key lever for change.
How does the Reconomy model contribute to building climate resiliency and protecting the environment? J.T.: The economic system that we currently have is based on constant consumption of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels powers our economic activities which is changing the chemical composition of our atmosphere. We know that this cannot continue because of how these gases are changing the patterns of the climate and the ecosystems of the planet. Consumption of material goods is also part of the problem. We need to use less stuff because of the process of production of our stuff directly damages ecosystems around us. We have to mine it, we have to cut it down, destroy its natural state and then process it. All this does damage to our fragile ecosystems.
The problems facing the environment can be a leverage point for the local economy and shift activities to more sustainable practices. FACILITEC becomes one part of that shift. We need different kinds of companies that can meet our needs differently in line with the planet’s limitations. The fact that the economy is at the root of the problem does not mean that we need to shift from black to white (capitalism vs socialist), there is room for lots of different methods. For us, the culture is changing because people are seeking us out. At first, we had difficulty finding people to pitch a business idea. It was hard for people to know where to go if they wanted to start a business.
It wasn’t obvious for people to find us for their ideas. Now, we have been doing a local entrepreneur forum for 10 years and we are part of the ecosystem of the community and are visible. This is how change happens.
REconomy Luxembourg works with society, neighborhoods and companies to enhance the local economy, create more social bonds and citizen contribution by supporting community-led changes towards a low-carbon, socially-just and happier future. The group carries 5 projects focused on social entrepreneurship including: CoCreators (the Community of eco-entrepreneurs), CoBees, (the Cooperative) and Facilitec (the Reconomy Hub) and 2 others acting directly on the territories of: Quartiers Esch and Hotspot Wiltz. Find out more