What the New Economy Means to Democracy Collaborative

democracy_collaborative_logoWe asked The Democracy Collaborative to share their thoughts on the new economy and how it intersects with their work. The Collaborative is a national leader in the field of community development through their Community Wealth Building Initiative that sustains a wide range of projects involving research, training, policy development, and community-focused work.

Here’s what they had to say.

By John Duda

Here at The Democracy Collaborative, we’re excited to be working to build a new economy in the communities that most need one. There’s a lot of momentum building around the idea of the “new economy” as a way of referring to all sorts of experiments in democratized ownership and decommodified economic relationships, and we are excited by all of the amazing work going on across the country. But our focus as an institution is on helping build new economic institutions designed to generate community wealth among the most economically marginalized.

Part of this focus involves knowledge: How do we connect low-income communities with the kinds of comprehensive strategies they need in order to be a leading part of a new, more equitable, just, and sustainable economy?

Our Learning/Action Lab for Community Wealth Building is a yearlong project developed in conjunction with the Northwest Areas Foundation to make these kind of essential connections in Native American communities. We’re working with six organizations in Minnesota, South Dakota, Oregon, and Washington, both urban and rural, to provide education around cooperative and community-based development, and to assist with transformative business development. It’s amazing to see the kinds of “new economy” initiatives being created within and by some extremely marginalized communities, and an honor to be able to assist in their development!

Another major part of this focus on building a new economy that works with low-income communities is making sure we can leverage the kind of existing resources necessary to take community wealth strategies to scale. Our Anchor Dashboard project is an effort to help “anchor institutions”—large, placed-based nonprofit institutions like hospitals and universities—make sure they are doing all they should be to invest in and support the economic future of their surrounding communities. These institutions have tremendous resources, spend over a trillion dollars a year, and, unlike for-profit corporations that too often abandon communities as they chase lower wages and bigger subsidies, anchors have a vested interest in the places where they exist. But without understanding and measuring the extent to which they buy locally, incubate community businesses, support affordable housing development, and invest in equitable neighborhood development, these anchor institutions’ economic activity can result in gentrifying a neighborhood rather than lifting up its low-income residents. We’re building on our report, released last year, to really get this conversation going both in communities and among institutional leaders.

Finally, one of the major takeaways from our community-level work is that it’s important not just to focus on a particular strategy or kind of project, but to always be thinking holistically about the systemic patterns that shape economic and political relationships. To that end, we’re getting ready to launch something we’re calling the Next System Project, which is still under wraps for a little while, but which we’re hoping will be a powerful platform for thinking rigorously both about what it means to build a “new economy” and about how we do so at scale.

The Democracy Collaborative was established in 2000 to advance a new understanding of democracy for the 21st century and to promote new strategies and innovations in community development that enhance democratic life. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.