Prosperity Parade — new book traces history of Digbeth Social Enterprise Qtr

I’ve just been reading David Boyle’s new book, Prosperity Parade: Eight stories from the frontline of local economic recovery. The project was supported by The Barrow Cadbury Trust and can be read in full here on the Trust’s website or here on the New Weather Institute website.

David Boyle is the co-director of the New Weather Institute, a co-operative think tank which supports the transition to a fair, ecological economy, and has written extensively on history, class and new ideas in economics. He is a frequent contributor to the Guardian.

The book offers eight stories of local recovery — people power, if you like, local grassroots economic and social activity that is helping to transform areas and buck the trend of austerity, financial crisis and declining quality of life.

I was especially keen to read its chapter on Digbeth and the Digbeth Social Enterprise Qtr, and I guarantee that anyone with an interest in social enterprise, community economics and grassroots action will find it interesting. It reminded me why the DSEQ and what is happening in Digbeth is important while also helping to set it in a wider historical context.

In a resonant phrase towards the end of the Digbeth chapter Boyle notes that traditional economists would probably say that the DSEQ is merely “re-arranging the geography of profits” and concedes that this is at least partly true.

But it is also clear that Boyle believes that re-arranging the geography of profits — determining where profits come from, where they go to and what they get used for — is central to the kind of  local grassroots mutualism being attempted in Digbeth. It may be modest in scale but, as Boyle points out, what starts local can grow. Take Quebec’s healthcare co-ops, for example, which started life as what many thought was a ‘hiccup’ during the mid-1990s. There are now around forty of them and they are an integral part of Quebec’s health system.

The introduction notes a number of characteristics that define local initiatives such as those covered here. They are defined not by politics per se but by practical optimism. The people driving such developments are concerned less with how much money flows into an economy and more with what happens to that money — where it goes, how long it ‘sticks’ and what it achieves. They tend to be entrepreneurs who also see the need to reshape local institutions to make regeneration easier. And they understand that they will need to “partner with the mainstream” if they are to avoid becoming powerless local ghettoes.

Every one of these points rang a bell with me, and I kept thinking: DSEQ — tick; DSEQ — tick; DSEQ — tick…

Very good, and a welcome addition to the literature on local and community economic development.

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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