Community Wealth Blog

Founded in 1980, Self-Help works to create and protect ownership and economic opportunity for all, especially minority, women-headed, rural and low-wealth families and communities.  In 2006 Self Help expanded into California, and in 2008 launched Self-Help Federal Credit Union to increase access to affordable, responsible financial services in low-income communities.

Grocery or “natural food” co-ops pioneered promoting local and organic foods, helping to propel these concepts into the mainstream. But spurred by expanding consumer demand, large corporations now dominate the market and have increased pressure on independent, grocery co-ops around the country. Today, the labels of organic, local, or natural do not necessarily reflect a more equitable distribution of wealth and profits.

This past summer, in a sea-side town in Maine, the state’s largest worker cooperative was created. As a retirement gift, small business owners Vernon and Sandra Seile turned over ownership of their retail businesses to their 40 employees. Ashley Weed, a dutiful worker of the Seiles for 11 years, stated, “I am happy they actually sold it to us, so we don’t have to start at the bottom again.”

In the United States, there is one state, and only one state, where every single resident and business receives electricity from a community-owned institution rather than a for-profit corporation. It is not a famously liberal state like Vermont or Massachusetts.

According to the Foundation Center’s 2014 Key Facts report, community foundations today have nearly $65 billion in assets, more than 9 percent of all foundation assets ($715 billion). As noted at a recent White House conference, over 700 community foundations operate nationwide. Yet while the first community foundation inCleveland was founded in 1914, their present-day prominence is fairly new. As recently as 1990, U.S. community foundation assets totaled $6.6 billion.

You can feel the toe of the tsunami,” said one person in the circle. “There’s a great wave rising, and you can feel the power of it, even though it’s just beginning.” The time was mid-December 2014, and I was seated with 20 others in a circle at a San Francisco gathering of community foundations wanting to learn more about impact investing as a tool for building community wealth. Someone else shared a new report on Millennials, and how they are seeking jobs and investments with meaning.

More than a decade ago, my colleagues and I at The Democracy Collaborative began using a term for a new kind of economic development – Community Wealth Building. For years, the term was so uncommon that it almost invariably appeared within quotation marks when used.

This position would support The Democracy Collaborative’s Community Wealth Building Initiative—community-wealth.org—with a primary focus on connecting the fields of community economic development, public health and healthcare. This position offers a unique opportunity to advance innovative, multi-sector policy and best practices that can have a transformative impact on local economies and low-income communities.

If you’re planning to host foodies for a holiday dinner this winter, you’ve probably already got your eye on the nearest farmers market, community supported agriculture (CSA), or co-op bakery. You know these are where you’ll find the freshest, most sustainably grown foods. Luckily for you, and for all of us, the opportunities to shop in this way are expanding daily.

The time is now for community foundations to embrace a new vision that accelerates social progress and rebuilds local wealth.

The good news is that a new roadmap for community foundations is contained in a just-published report byThe Democracy Collaborative,  A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community Foundations Deploying All Resources to Build Community Wealth.

The Democracy Collaborative, a national research institute developing new strategies to build community wealth and exploring systemic transformations to a more democratic economy, is pleased to announce a one-year paid Junior Fellowship. The selected candidate will work alongside our communications and research teams.

This year, community foundations turned 100.  But while the hundreds of placed-based philanthropic institutions in cities and towns across the country have much to celebrate, they also have much to worry about.