Supporting Livelihood through Local Exchange

By Stephanie Mancini

How often do we think about wider implications when we purchase a cup of coffee, groceries, clothing, or a book? These transactions are increasingly electronic – separated from the provider of the good or service. How often do we know the person, company or country where goods are made? Is it possible to recapture purchases made between people we know who live nearby? We can make intentional choices about the “who” and “where” of purchasing goods and services. This seems like an oddly idealistic concept.

Can we dedicate a portion of our purchasing to those in our community who are working to support their own livelihoods? Can we support the entrepreneurial efforts of individuals who are exploring the ideas of livelihood and production?

It can be inconvenient shopping from multiple individuals and locations. It can be harder to buy from someone we know – what if the product doesn’t meet the quality that we have come to expect from the standardized shopping culture? Locally produced goods are unique and they can lack the consistency and efficiency of larger producers. 

It takes an intentional spirit to change convenient shopping patterns to support a wider community good. We expect little from cheaply produced consumer goods that quickly become outdated, but we hesitate to invest those same dollars in someone’s locally developed product or service.

At The Working Centre we have seen the ingenuity of people working on creative livelihoods – one woman has become a local farmer, a couple turned their home into a homesteading bed and breakfast, people turning computer skills into building accessible technology, people supplementing social incomes with sewing, cleaning, baking, and people starting creative and artistic home based businesses. This is the work of building local community.

It requires intentional choice to support and sustain local enterprise. If we see the importance of small purchasing decisions and support local individuals and organizations, then we move closer to relationship-based exchanges with our neighbours. 

Livelihood can be about living with less money, but it is not necessarily about living with less. The practice of sustainable livelihoods, lived in a local way, strengthens community in sharp contrast to dislocation, isolation, and exclusion. By reclaiming local connectedness, by embedding economic exchange in relationships with people who live near us, we can reclaim our capacity to be part of a thriving community.

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