A Wealth of Relationships

The quiet investments that keep us all going

| July / August 2003

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.

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