Big ideas + big heart @BALLE

Images from  Koy Hardy

Images from Koy Hardy

The first immersion of the 2018 BALLE Local Economy Fellows took place April 22-26 at Evan’s Mill, a nature-and-retreat center in Smithville, Tennessee, a small town that is about an hour east of Nashville.

For BALLE, this marks its fifth class of Fellows, meaning that a sizeable Fellowship “alumni” network now exists. It also means that the collective we—that is, both the organization and the network—have matured. Neither the organization nor the network has it all figured out, by any means, but gradually we are moving toward what sometimes gets called in foundation circles a “theory of change.”

—from Building the Foundations of Economies That Work For All: Reflections from the 2018 BALLE Fellows’ First Immersion

The BALLE fellowship is a cohort of rural-minded creative leaders who will gather over the next two years to expand and transform their own leadership, connect with other rural leaders, foster peer-to-peer learning, and build a common base of knowledge and skills to shift our economy. These fellows work is rooted in all or some of these eight core principles: act local first, prioritize equity, regenerate soil and nature, accelerate collaboration, share ownership, shift capital, co-create policy, and cultivate connection.

These BALLE immersions have been fascinating for me as a facilitator. I’ve been part of a team made up of some of the people I admire most in the world—together with participants, we roll up our sleeves and share our work once more.

Isoke Femi brings depth psychology, ritual, and song to the space. I’ve never seen it done better.

Jess Daniel-Hart understands deeply localist content, and was a BALLE fellow in the past. She weaves all that content expertise into what amounts to huge ambition and enthusiasm.

Gibrán Rivera contributes a view of complexity science and the need for an evolutionary leap in our connection to each other and the work. His intellect and spirit moves the room like no other.

Christine Ageton has a keen design eye to process and BALLE history, always keeping us attuned to the fullest potential in the room.

Koy Hardy has such a knack for holding the space while being really transparent about her own individual journey, and she’s got a way of leading everyone else to delve into complexity with courage.

Then there’s me. I bring a practice of shared work, systems change, and strategy-level thinking. Oh, and I’m fun!


This BALLE cohort is just kicking off two years of work together. The prep has been intense and ambitious—and when we gather together, we are as electrified by the challenges as we are by the breakthroughs.

Passionate, deeply-caring, knowledge-rich rural people like those with BALLE are working towards a new economy—inventing an unknown!—often in deep isolation. They’re creating a way out of no way, mapping a completely new territory as they go. New territory is scary for everyone.

But when a group knows what it doesn’t know—not with a fear of uncertainty, but with an affinity for all that remains to be discovered—we’re more open. Salut!