The quiet investments that keep us all going
More and more of us are beginning to realize that we can?t deny the effects of our financial decisions any more than we can live in this country and not share some responsibility for our government?s dealings. Where we shop and bank, what products we buy, and how much money we need to feel secure?indeed, how we define security?all these choices directly influence the financial structures that shape our society.
What?s heartening is that everywhere I turn, I hear talk about new financial forms and structures. From a growing interest in ?slow money? venture capital funds that build enduring institutions of value to the fast-growing national BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) movement to people exploring new kinds of corporate charters, new ways of looking at currency and credit, and new hybrid organizations that are part for-profit and part nonprofit, I see some tender but sturdy sprouts of hope.
We?ve been nurturing a lot of seedlings ourselves. We?re more than two years into a three-year company reinvention. We began by cutting costs, looking for new ways to build circulation, and asking our readers for help as we took a fresh look at what was then a 17-year-old company in a somewhat troubled adolescence. We then embarked on a major relaunch that saw us refine the company?s mission and redesign our magazine and Web site. We knew we had to expand and diversify in order to survive. But we also wanted to prove that growth and independence could coexist.
Situated as we are in the heartland, we draw from farming metaphors: A publishing monoculture with just one crop?our magazine?is simply unsustainable, so we have been cultivating diversity in the last year. We created our first-ever newsstand special issue?a yearbook of arts and culture. We produced two books with New Society Publishers. In a copublishing effort that led to a new national literary magazine, Speakeasy, we showed how our experience could benefit other small publications. We cosponsored an insert in our May/June issue with the Rudolf Steiner Foundation that gave us another way to deliver important content we couldn?t otherwise afford to produce. We also hold a minority stake in an exciting young company called In Radio. We?re betting that the small, innovative ventures we nurture today will someday nourish us.
Our next step is to explore our company?s formal structure. We?d like to become one of those nonprofit/for-profit hybrids I mentioned. We hope to meld a foundation partnership with family ownership, employee participation, and some sort of co-op mechanism involving our readers. Our wish list also includes shared ownership and investment with other mission-driven companies.
We see this moment as an opportunity, a chance to call upon almost 20 years of credibility and connection?a form of wealth that can?t be manufactured overnight. We?re convinced that our ability to thrive will depend on the relationships we?ve relied on from the beginning.
Our central relationship remains with, you, our readers. In every issue, we cover a vast array of ideas, thanks to our collection of almost 2,000 independent publications. Many of our mission-driven advertisers connect us with their own diverse worlds. But that?s nothing compared to the cultural network created by the nearly 500,000 readers who, our surveys tell us, see each issue of the magazine. You are change agents situated at the intersections of disparate and overlapping networks. And because others consult you before making decisions, you are instrumental in spreading ideas through the culture. Factor that in, and what emerges is a fascinating map of economic and political possibility.
It is time for all of us who believe that we live in an era of shifting paradigm to understand more deeply that the changes we are advocating are predicated on relationship?that the wealth of the future and our ability to work efficiently and effectively are all about accessing webs of relationship.
We?ll keep you posted as we attempt to embed our mission within this network. Until then, we hope our coverage on money (see page 56) will inspire you to think more deeply with us about how to use the real source of wealth?relationships?as a vehicle of transformation.