Local First is the Midwest’s largest organization supporting and advocating for locally-owned businesses, serving as the Midwest regional hub for the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). Founded in 2003 as an informal group of seven business owners, Local First now represents over 800 member businesses throughout West Michigan. Local First works to help local businesses connect with each other and pursue a triple bottom line: people, profits, and planet; while working with consumers to drive the demand for local businesses. West Michigan has one of the largest clusters of family owned businesses in the country, and Local First works to connect these businesses, allowing them to learn from each other, respond to issues together, and build a more vibrant local community.
What inspired Local First to join a Measure What Matters program using B Analytics and the B Impact Assessment?
We started our Local Motion awards to recognize businesses who were doing good for our community. And we realized that there was a big appetite to learn more. Only two of our 800 member businesses had sustainability reports, and we didn’t know where to start: what do we measure, who can measure for us, and how do we measure? And we were happy that B Lab already had tools to start with.
The value of B Lab’s tools is in their ability inform and enable our local businesses to assess business practices across a range of issues and compare themselves directly with their peers. It allows our members to measure what works, and pursue improvement and innovation that can help all members of our community.
How have you designed and executed your Measure What Matters program?
We have integrated Measure What Matters into all of our work as we pursue an economy grounded in local ownership that meets the basic needs of the community. We run INsight, a six workshops series that provides a forum for entrepreneurs to exchange ideas and discuss their solutions and struggles. The series aligns with the subject matter contained in the B Impact Assessment, as entrepreneurs discuss issues such as how to create a more inclusive workplace, best recycling practices in a rented space, and generally becoming culturally important neighborhood businesses.
We have also integrated the Impact Assessment into the Local Motion awards, as all nominees must take the Impact Assessment to be considered, and we always encourage our businesses to take the Impact ASsessment and use it as a valuable tool in developing best practices and discovering avenues to improvement.
What were your results?
Our use of the Impact Assessment has proven powerful in two key fashions: shaping discussions with our local community and empowering businesses to make better decisions. In the past we could point to economic data as to how local businesses influenced their communities, and because of the Impact Assessment we now have impact data that shows how local businesses affect their neighborhoods. The data gives us new evidence that locally owned businesses are good for the community, are a good investment, and can help move the needle on significant community issues.
Moreover, the power to directly compare businesses and practices empowers our members to make better decisions. It fuels the competitive drive between entrepreneurs, and helps people realize that the work they are doing is wonderful and unique. Even when businesses are humble about the work they do, the Impact Assessment calls attention to the positive practices of our businesses, and allows for them to spread.
What would you say to other organizations who are considering starting a MWM program of their own?
First, recognize that one of the keys to successfully driving this kind of program is having a small group of businesses who are willing to champion it. The most powerful source of change is peers reaching out to peers, and business champions can lead the way. The role of the partner organization is to identify that peer group, and facilitate their activities while connecting businesses and creating a welcoming community.
We feel that there is a need to inspire and not to regulate, which makes peer leadership and sharing inspirational stories vital. Our local businesses can be held up as examples, and as they succeed they can inspire those around them to use business as a force for good. Similarly, the ability to point towards and compare business practices and impact with the many recognizable and successful names within the B Corp movement has allowed us to keep our local businesses excited about the MWM tools, and has helped persuade them that it is worthwhile to take the Impact Assessment and take a deeper look into their practices.
The value of B Lab’s tools is in their ability to inform and enable our local businesses to assess business practices across a range of issues and compare themselves directly with their peers.
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