Community wealth building (CWB) is a system-changing approach to community economic development that works to produce broadly shared economic prosperity, racial equity, and ecological sustainability through the reconfiguration of institutions and local economies on the basis of greater democratic ownership, participation, and control.
A new model of economic development is emerging in our cities and communities. Offering real, on-the-ground solutions to localities and regions battered by successive waves of extraction, disinvestment, displacement, and disempowerment, it is based on a new configuration of economic institutions and approaches capable of producing more sustainable, lasting, and equitable economic outcomes. Rooted in place-based economics, with democratic participation and ownership, and mobilizing the largely untapped power of the local public sector and other anchor institutions, we call this emerging approach “community wealth building.”
Community wealth building stands in opposition to the prevailing model of economic development that puts the accumulation of private wealth and profit above the basic needs of people—entrenching and exacerbating racial, economic, and geographic disparities.
There is no one-size-fits-all model of community wealth building. Rather, it is a bottom-up approach that centers democratic ownership of the economy and community self-determination. This means that each local experiment with community wealth building might be different, based on the local context, ecosystem, resources, and politics.
What all community wealth building strategies have in common, however, is that they aim at improving the ability of communities and individuals to increase broad-based asset ownership, anchor jobs and resources locally, create broadly shared prosperity, and ensure local community economic stability and democratic control. Importantly, true community wealth building must be reparative and inclusive by design so that it delivers for those who have historically been the most excluded, marginalized and exploited.
Community wealth building is not simply about correcting some of the worst injustices of corporate capitalism, or about making marginal improvements in the economic health of a few isolated communities. Instead, it is about moving in the direction of a different political-economic system, linking new bottom-up forms of development with economic and political interventions at a variety of scales to create an economy in which all can flourish.
Community wealth building is economic system change, starting at the local level.
Tools and resources
To address growing wealth inequality, and in particular the racial wealth gap, we must build wealth in our communities. Community wealth building is a new way of thinking about economic development, poverty alleviation, and wealth creation and accumulation.
New economy advocates must pivot in a new direction that blends place and the democratic economy into a holistic solution that sustains and preserves community over the individual. Ironically, this “new direction” borrows from an idea nearly 50 years old, originating in a tumultuous era of Black activism.
As our housing crisis worsens during the COVID-19 pandemic, we urgently need new approaches and institutions that center permanent affordability, community ownership and control, and the long-term goal of decommodification.
In this paper, we review and analyze the history and practice of community wealth building, including its origins in the tumult of the 1960s and ‘70s, how it has evolved over time, and how it has spread from the US to the rest of the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic could become a moment of crystallization, with communities and governments working together to build a genuinely inclusive economy. But to do so, we need ambitious interventions, both at the national level and at the level of a new common sense, built upward from community.
Drawing on the work done in the Learning/Action Lab for Community Wealth Building, Stephanie Gutierrez explores how a systemic approach to inclusive local economic development needs a process of active translation to resonate with the traditional values at the core of Native communities.
In an era of persistent urban inequality and chronic unemployment disproportionately impacting historically marginalized communities and communities of color, new alternatives to the traditional economic development strategies are clearly needed. This report responds to this challenge by highlighting best practices in inclusive innovation from twenty cities across the country, and offering a unified vision of the underlying new paradigm of community focused economic development.
Advocates of the Preston model in the United Kingdom are engaged in a conversation on how their experience wh community wealth building can inspire similar interventions in Kigoma, a city of some 235,000 in northwestern Tanzania.
The “Preston Model” is helping inspire a new conversation about the role of local government in catalyzing locally-driven economic revitalization and transforming patterns of ownership towards democratic alternatives.
Community Control of Land and Housing: Exploring strategies for combating displacement, expanding ownership, and building community wealth
How investments in the green infrastructure needed for climate resiliency can be leveraged to build community wealth with worker cooperatives and social enterprises.
Our broken economic model drives inequality and disempowerment, lining the pockets of corporations while extracting wealth from local communities. How can we reverse this?
Drawing on a decade’s worth of conversations with key leaders in the growing field, from cooperative developers and community activists to impact investors and social enterprise innovators, this book of interviews from the Democracy Collaborative dives into the front lines of the movement to build community wealth.
Low-income communities and communities of color, in challenging structural economic and social inequality, have historically grappled with tensions inherent to development. Who participates in, directs, and ultimately owns the economic-development process? This report draws on case studies of 11 different community economic development initiatives from across the U.S. to highlight a diverse set of powerful answers to this and other critical questions.
While many cities and communities rely on a “smokestack chasing” approach to economic development, others are starting to focus on a new approach to economic development that centers people and place. Instead of measuring growth by just revenue, this approach, coined “community wealth-building,” strengthens the local economy through broader democratic ownership and control of business and jobs.
An important shift brought about by the community wealth building movement is towards regionalizing and localizing financial flows and keeping money in communities through initiatives such as local currencies and community banks. This is now rapidly catching on in the UK.
Labor movements must pursue a social and economic vision that can address the deep structural inequalities these pandemic years have exposed. Preston gives a glimpse of the exciting possibilities that collaboration with unions could achieve.
The former CEO of a leading UK economic think tank will be central in helping build capacity to offer powerful new technical assistance to cities and local authorities pursuing community wealth building strategies.
The Healthcare Anchor Network (HAN) convened the “Anchoring Resilience: Aligning Supply Chains and Impact Purchasing for Community Health” summit to spark collaboration in the healthcare sector around onshoring and localizing production of PPE and other supplies, with an emphasis on equity, sustainability, and supply chain resilience.
As a new organization, HAN looks forward to deepening its impact in the healthcare sector and reaching a critical mass of health systems adopting as an institutional priority improving community health and well-being.