The Northland Networking Portal Project is about developing web-based infrastructure for networking Northland businesses and organisations that support and encourage local ownership, production and trade for a resilient local economy that is self-sustaining in basics and adding much more value than at present to our currently exported raw materials. Using these tools individuals, businesses and social enterprises may build networks, communicate, identify supply-chain opportunities and support one-another to build powerful collaborative clusters. In addition this will also provide online tools that enable the public to support firms with a values-driven local commitment.
The goal of localisation is to increase community well-being by retaining and enhancing economic resilience and resource security within a local region – to provide a strong base for trade and the reduction in leakage of wealth out of the region. For this to happen there needs to be communication and the availability of information.
Our vision is to create a resource database that links up local businesses, research, education and social enterprises around this goal to retain as much as possible of local ownership and use the products and services of other local producers to reduce loss of wealth from our region.
This database/website would encourage businesses and organisations to rank themselves based on their “local” value. In other words a score similar to the energy rating labels seen on appliances – this could be displayed on their website and branding/labelling say. It would also create a space for interaction to happen around common interests – say beekeeping, organic farming, biofuels etc.
Inputs – what makes something more or less local?
The ranking survey would encompass a wide variety of inputs obtaining information on a scale how local the inputs are in terms of: within region/ within NZ/”fair trade” overseas sourced/ overseas sourced. Inputs such as:
- purchasing of materials
- professional support
- technology/capital assets
- communication/ICT services
- energy usage
What is different about this?
There are a number of campaigns and organisations that encourage buying NZ made or buying from local businesses, and these have had some success. However they tend to be scoped toward local ownership (but may well be selling imported goods), or local manufacture (but from imported materials – as most clothing is), or the “Made From New Zealand” logo where the materials and design may be local but the labour is outsourced to overseas. They are also often biased toward one sector – often food (which is a great place to start as it is so universal and is interconnected to many other sectors). Plus there are lots of online databases to find various kinds of businesses and services, but there is no indication with these as to the values, ownership and structure of the business or service, and their commitment to ethical, sustainable, community-building practices. This is what we are wanting to provide.
We are also envisaging a “whole system” view – not just say food or energy but everything that makes an economy, trying to to reduce “leakage” wherever possible. Our overall ranking takes all sectors and all these factors into account, recognising that every enterprise will be on a continuum and some things may not be practical to source locally – but there may be NZ alternatives to importing, and even for importing there are more ethical/sustainable alternatives which would be factored in.
Many companies will not score well in our ratings. We hope this may raise awareness of the value in locking in local trade and perhaps incentivising these producers to do better. However, the value of the service as a whole may be increased if we have data on these low scoring companies anyway as the service can then provide consumers and businesses with higher-scoring alternatives.
Details and distinctive advantages:
- Self-ranking scores would be “audited” from time to time to ensure that they were reasonable – plus perhaps a level of automation would be possible based on identified linkages to other businesses
- The ranking process itself acts as an incentive for businesses to think about what inputs they are currently utilising and how these could perhaps be swapped for locally sourced inputs
- Also identifies gaps in the supply chain that could be filled by potential new local enterprises
- Would perhaps suggest local suppliers previously unknown
- Encourages “clusters” of sustainable local supportive businesses – perhaps a graphical view similar to the “mind-map” concept
- Provides a “social network” element for Northland business owners – cluster level and clusters of clusters
- Encourages entrepreneurs from outside to relocate in Northland as a great place to start a business
- Draws new customers to existing locally committed businesses (via smartphone app/ public front end)
- Raises awareness of the value of buying not just from locally owned ventures, but from ventures committed to their whole supply chain being as local as possible
- Provides incentive to improve rating
- Provides a branding that could be displayed on websites and businesses
- Any business or service may be included – some for instance that may not be locally owned but do use local inputs and employ local people
- Links in to research and mentoring opportunities for new businesses to fill the gaps in the supply chain
- Does not compete with current exporters but provides a strong infrastructure for value-added exports, and a fall-back economy to cushion export fluctuations
- A “social network” for interlinking clusters of businesses on a vertical and horizontal level – forums for discussion, links to research, information about meet-ups, business mentoring and educational opportunities say
Parts to the project:
- The database itself – it is envisaged to be initially for the Northland region this will not be massively large, but obviously needs to be fast and solid – we have database specialists with considerable experience in this
- The questions and algorithm that make up the local “score” – this is probably the more innovative and challenging part as we need to “weight” different factors to arrive at a fair assessment in the light of many variables – lots of testing required
- The online networking portion – a Slack page has been set up for this
- The user interface – including a mobile app allowing access for shoppers on the go – say to find a cafe that uses local inputs – we have local graphic designers interested in helping with this
- The support system – probably using an existing help-desk (say Zendesk)
What do we need to make this a reality?
Audit Assistant Ltd has many years experience in on-line software design, and will provide project management and underwrite some of the development costs, but we need the support of others to help fund the cost of paying another developer who can spend a significant part of their time focusing on this project. We estimate a ballpark figure of $40,000.
We envisage a mock-up could be made in a month from initiation, a full prototype could be completed in six months and within two years the whole thing would be fully matured and functional. Once set up ongoing maintenance and support will likely be provided by a small subscription cost for those that use the branding on their websites and businesses – but the initial cost of development will be met through contributions and fund-raising.
We see this as a social enterprise – a product/service that serves and enhances the community but also a sustainable product with potential for adoption throughout NZ and potentially the world as a tool for redeveloping local business networks. We want to keep any profits in Northland creating jobs for Northlanders. The initial funding may be provided via community funding or by way of loans – but we want to ensure control, ownership and profits are retained in Northland.
If you can help in any way – with ideas or resources just let us know. Or pass the idea along to others.
Thanks, Clive McKegg
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