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Community Wealth Building

Fighting inequality with comprehensive and transformative solutions for community economic development

Since 2000, The Democracy Collaborative has been working to dissolve our nation’s broadening economic gap by returning wealth to individuals, families, and community-based organizations. It has shown that, by restoring local banks, broadening ownership over capital, and refocusing public and private resources, we can end generational poverty and create high-quality jobs that will enable workers to support their families while stabilizing their communities and environments. This is Community Wealth Building.

The Community Wealth Building field is comprised of a broad range of models and innovations that have been steadily building over the past 30 years or more – various forms of cooperatives, employee-owned companies, social enterprise, land trusts, municipal enterprise, community development financial institutions, community banks, and more. These structures and models are part of a growing ecosystem that aims at improving the ability of communities and individuals to: (1) increase asset ownership; (2) anchor jobs locally by broadening ownership over capital; (3) help achieve key environmental goals (including decreasing carbon emissions); (4) expand the provision of public services by strengthening the municipal tax base; and (5) ensure local economic stability. Such strategies are also designed to draw and keep dollars within the community: first by preventing local financial resources from “leaking out” of an area; and second by leveraging the use of procurement and investment from existing local “anchor institutions” such as hospitals, universities, foundations, cultural institutions, and city government for community-benefiting purposes.

We believe that a unique opportunity now exists to dramatically advance the Community Wealth Building field over the next 5-10 years. This opportunity stems from a combination of negative and positive trends that are creating great possibility for change. Negative trends include a deepening distrust in financial institutions and large corporations, the ongoing fiscal crisis and the impact it is having on our core urban areas, and a stagnant economy that is seemingly incapable of creating high-quality jobs, protecting the middle class, or reversing the trend of increasing wealth inequality in our country.

One the positive side of things, we see an increase in sustainable new approaches to the economy: Impact Investing, the “move your money,” movement, a renewed emphasis on “buy local” strategies and living local economies, innovative new corporate structures (such as B Corps), and promising shared-ownership models such as Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperative Initiative. In this tension between old forms and new solutions, we see great potential for implementing and growing effective Community Wealth Building strategies.

To learn more about Community Wealth Building, visit our research website: community-wealth.org

Cities Building Community Wealth

Cities Building Community Wealth

In cities across the nation, a few enjoy rising affluence while many struggle to get by. This situation is created in part by the practices of traditional economic development. Current trends threaten to worsen, unless we can answer the design challenge before us. Can we create an economic system—beginning at the local level—that builds the wealth and prosperity of everyone?

Inequality’s Dead End—And the Possibility of a New, Long-Term Direction

Gar Alperovitz
Nonprofit Quarterly

It is easy to be distracted by what passes for economic news these days, focused as it is on short-term fluctuations and assurances of recovery and revitalization. The simple truth, however, is that year by year, decade by decade, life in the United States is steadily growing ever more unequal.

A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community foundations deploying all resources to build community wealth

It was in 2005 that the highly regarded Monitor Institute report declared that the field of community foundations was “On the Brink of New Promise,” and in the decade since, there have been countless working groups and initiatives to introduce innovative approaches to the field. At the same time, largely beneath the radar, a small but growing group has begun pursuing the innovative path we explore here. Mostly in small steps—but sometimes in larger ways—they are adopting elements of what could emerge as a new anchor mission to deploy all resources to build community wealth. Read more about A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community foundations deploying all resources to build community wealth...

Policies for Community Wealth Building: Leveraging State and Local Resources

The Democracy Collaborative

Fostering resilient communities and building wealth in today’s local economies is necessary to achieve individual, regional, and national economic security. A community wealth building strategy employs a range of forms of community ownership and asset building strategies to build wealth in low-income communities. In so doing, community wealth building bolsters the ability of communities and individuals to increase asset ownership, anchor jobs locally, expand the provision of public services, and ensure local economic stability. 

Building Community Wealth: An Action Plan for Northwest Jacksonville

Like many American cities, Jacksonville—the largest city in Florida—faces some serious problems regarding unemployment, disinvestment, and concentrated generational poverty— and, like most cities, has only a limited set of resources available to tackle these problems.  Are there strategies and models that can help Jacksonville build community wealth more effectively in the neighborhoods, like Northwest Jacksonville, that need this help most? Read more about Building Community Wealth: An Action Plan for Northwest Jacksonville...

Indian Country the Site of New Developments in Community Wealth Building

Five projects seek to launch social enterprises and employee-owned business in Native American communities
Indian Country is the site of some exciting new work taking shape in social enterprise and employee ownership. Five Native American projects are being developed as part of an initiative managed by The Democracy Collaborative and funded by the Northwest Area Foundation, known as the Learning/Action Lab for Community Wealth Building.

What Then Can I Do?: Ten ways to democratize the economy

Gar Alperovitz and Keane Bhatt

A new article by Democracy Collaborative co-founder Gar Alperovitz and community development associate Keane Bhatt provides ten concrete action steps that individuals and groups can take to foster democratic economies and build community wealth. Using on-the-ground examples, this article shows how to engage credit unions, build employee-ownership structures, work with hospitals and universities to forge community partnerships, invest money responsibly, support thoughtful economic development, and encourage a green economy. Integrating these action steps into daily life will help change the nature of wealth and asset ownership in a way that is more responsive to community need.

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