A Globe of Villages: Interview with Neil Seldman, Co-founder and President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, D.C. by Willi Paul. Presented by Permaculture Exchange
“It seems oxymoronic to argue that the federal government can promote self-reliant communities. Yet we are at an important crossroads in world history. People are clamoring for a more effective voice in government at the same time as the management of corporations are moving farther and farther away from their workers and their communities. The federal government can play a key role in mediating between local demands and global realities.
We believe in the ARC of community: Authority, Responsibility, Capacity. Without authority, democracy is meaningless. Without responsibility, chaos ensues. Without a productive capacity we are helpless to manage our affairs and determine our economic future. International, national, state and local policies should be evaluated on the basis of how it strengthens all three cornerstones of strong communities.”
-- Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)
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Interview with Neil by Willi
Please define “Local Self-Reliance” and give us some examples from your work.
Local self-reliance is a strategy that underscores the need for humanly scaled institutions and economies and the widest possible distribution of ownership. ILSR works toward the maximum efficient use of resources (materials in ‘waste stream’, sunlight), capital and labor to benefit local residents and businesses.
ILSR challenges the conventional wisdom that bigger is better, that separating he producer from the consumer, the banker from the depositor and lender, the worker from the owner is an inevitable outcome of modern economic development. Surprisingly little evidence supports this conventional wisdom. In every sector of the economy the evidence yields the same conclusion: small is the scale of efficient, dynamic environmentally benign societies.
And unsurprisingly, we make better and more informed policies when those who design those policies are those who feel their impact.
We believe in the ARC of community: Authority, Responsibility, Capacity. Without authority, democracy is meaningless. Without responsibility, chaos ensues. Without a productive capacity we are helpless to manage our affairs and determine our economic future. International, national, state and local policies should be evaluated on the basis of how it strengthens all three cornerstones of strong communities.
Does the burgeoning global Transition Movement mesh (or not) with the goals at Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)?
Yes the goals of both do mesh. Local self-reliance is the foundation for climate and environmental as well as economic and social issues that the US and world face. We see local self-reliance as the end and the means of transitioning to a fair and ample economy for all.
Coherent, self-conscious communities need not be parochial, isolationist, or inefficient. Singapore, Quebec, and the Mondragon cooperative in the Basque region of Spain are three examples of linguistic or culturally based communities. Each favors its primary ethnic group. Yet each has developed a vital, vibrant, innovative, cosmopolitan economy whose enterprises successfully compete with those in the rest of the world.
Moreover, the increasingly ubiquitous Internet with its ability to encourage horizontal communications unmediated by corporate media or big governments plus the introduction of new technologies such as rapid translation will inevitably and inexorably overcome the inward looking nature of even the most parochial community. We might envision a time where two metaphors guide our thinking: a global village and a globe of villages. Products made of molecules will travel ever-shorter distances while ideas delivered by electron or photon will be exchanged on a planet-wide basis.
What is your understanding of permaculture? Is this an economic pathway in the sustainability sector there?
The proper use of materials and energy - an environmental policy based on the efficient use of all molecules- is essential for the survival of the earth and its burgeoning population of 7 billion plus.
Are the original core values of ILSR challenged due to citizen protests and movements? No. ILSR depends on strong grass roots organizations to promote and support decentralized economic development. In cities and counties we work in, ILSR is as influential as the local organized citizens and small businesses are influential.
Where does ILSR want us to be in 25 years? Will any groups oppose this vision?
Twenty-five years is a long horizon. If local self-reliance becomes the conventional wisdom, ‘new rules’ for sustainability will have to be adopted and implemented.
Many groups will oppose this trend. Large corporations that do not want competition will be against it. Example: community owned broadband systems are cheaper, more technologically sophisticated and add new technology faster than giant companies. They also support local democracy. Over 20 states have banned community owned broadband because of heavy lobbying by major communications corporations. Example: recycling, composting and reuse are less expensive and build local economies, yet landfill and incineration companies oppose these developments. Virgin materials companies hate competition from cities, which generate secondary materials, which are alternatives to virgin extraction.
For more examples please go to Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
How is residential recycling an economic engine now?
Residential and commercial recycling, composting and reuse are the least expensive and least polluting for managing materials in the ‘waste’ stream. Cities have reached over 70% diversion from landfills and incinerators.
Recycling 10,000 tons of materials creates 10 jobs immediately and hundreds of jobs when materials are delivered to industry and agriculture. For every 10,000 tons of materials landfilled or incinerated only one job is created.
Do you have any economic localization strategies? Please share specifics.
Yes. Part of ILSR’s mission is to identify and design the new rules necessary to channel entrepreneurial energy and investment capital and scientific genius toward the creation of a global village and a globe of villages.
ILSR has helped start and/or expand and works with dozens of other businesses that have created jobs with good pay and benefits. Examples include:
+ Saint Vincent De Paul has created 400 jobs through the refurbishing and resale of cars, appliances, furniture, books and textiles. Pay is $14 per hour with health benefits.
+ Second Chance - a building deconstruction company - has grown from 7 to 75 jobs in 8 years.
Both non-profit companies hire their workers from unskilled low- income residents in their respective cities. During the current economic downturn, both companies have been hiring.
Is composting one the strategies that ILSR provides? How about aquaponics?
ILSR works extensively in the fields of composting (large and small scale) grow houses, and aqua culture. These technologies are essential for proper use of ‘waste’ materials generated in each city. Organic matter is half the ‘waste’ stream. The use of these materials allows for fresh, nutritious food to be grown locally and at low prices. Urban agriculture and aqua culture also addresses food deserts and nature deficiency disorder among children. We work with large companies such as Peninsula Compost Company in Wilmington, DE, Blessing Greenhouse and Compost Facility, Milford, DE, as well as small-scale greenhouse enterprises such as ECO in Hyattsville, MD and Bioponica, Inc. in Atlanta and the Zero Waste Zone in Atlanta.
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Neil Seldman Bio -
Neil Seldman in co-founder and President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which was started in l974 as a community development organization in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. He specializes in business start up and expansion. Prior to co-founding ILSR, Seldman was a manufacturer in NYC and a university lecturer in political science at The George Washington University. Seldman has a BS in Industrial and Labor Relations School, Cornell University, MS in International Communism, The George Washington University and a PhD in International Relations, The George Washington University.
Nseldman at ilsr.org