The First Standard Bank, an African American-owned bank which operated in the prosperous Walnut Street neighborhood of Louisville prior to its closing in 1931. The bank and the community prosperity it helped nurture are reminders of both what’s possible when grassroots economic development is allowed to flourish – and what can happen when local economies are undermined by external influences that reduce local ownership and control. (photo credit: //uofllibraries.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/old-walnut-street-african-american-businesses/)
At NC3, we’re grateful for all the activists, journalists, community leaders, artists, educators, and others who have, in recent months, focused and held our attention on America’s long and terrible history of racism. They’ve sparked important conversations; they’ve raised awareness about the current inequities and injustices embedded in our systems; they’ve brought us to deeper understandings of the causes of those inequities and injustices; and they’ve encouraged folks across the county from a wide variety of walks of life to question their assumptions and reassess their beliefs, their practices, and their roles both in the world at large and in their communities.
We’re also grateful for (and inspired by) the stories we’ve been hearing of entrepreneurs of color (past and present) who have overcome massive systemic barriers and managed to establish thriving enterprises and build prosperous communities. Their stories are reminders of the tenacity of American entrepreneurs and the power of what can happen when the system works as it should and converts the inspiration and perspiration of enterprising visionaries into businesses that generate community vitality and create wealth.
And we’re exited to see folks across the country questioning the way our capital markets work – and committing themselves to doing what they can to make them more inclusive. Though we hope folks avoid the temptation to focus solely on the symptoms (like the misallocation of capital) and fail to address the underlying systemic problems as well. Of course it’s wonderful to see so many people focused right now on the reallocation of capital. A massive reallocation of capital is both long overdue and essential to catalyze the shift to a more inclusive, just, and democratic economy. Though durable change will require something much greater. It’ll also require the removal of the systemic barriers (both cultural and logistical) that are currently preventing the emergence of a truly democratic economy – where everyone has the freedom and opportunity to vote as an investor for the kind of economy they want to see – and where everyone has an opportunity to build wealth doing so.
It really is beginning to feel like a transformative time for our democracy. People around the country are engaging more in systems thinking, they’re questioning their impacts, and they’re identifying new ways to work together to unlock grassroots power. And we’re excited about the community capital innovators who are pioneering new ways of channeling this national awakening to usher in an era of greater local collaboration and more widespread prosperity.
Though of course systemic change is so hard, the levels of wealth inequality are so great, and the power of the establishment to resist change and maintain the status quo is likewise so great that the fight to guide our economic system in a more democratic, inclusive direction; reverse the trends of local economic atrophy; and reach beyond symptom-oriented approaches to transform the foundation of our economy in ways that open up greater opportunities for building healthy communities and generating genuine shared prosperity will require a massive lift. The sort of lift that’ll require millions of hands reaching out and leaning in and bearing the weight together.
Fortunately, support from the Aaron Family Foundation has recently boosted NC3’s capacity substantially, and we’re looking forward to stepping up our support of coalition members in the months ahead as we help them collaborate more effectively – and meet the demands of systemic change with a robust, coordinated response that’ll lay a foundation for durable change.
(Of course if you’re not yet a member and you want to help with the massive lift and participate in collaborative systemic change, we hope you’ll join the coalition! If you are a member and haven’t seen the recent survey asking for your input about how NC3 can best support your collaboration goals, please let us know!)
At the end of the day, we all want to live in healthy communities where everyone has genuine opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and where everyone is empowered to effect change. And we all want our kids to grow up in communities where people know each other and work together and share resources in ways that foster health, wealth, and wisdom.
Yet somehow, over the course of recent decades, as wealth, power, and control have steadily leaked out of American communities and accumulated in relatively few pockets and concentrated piles, food deserts have expanded; the racial wealth gap was continued to widen; small, local businesses have struggled to keep their lights on and their people employed; the social fabric has deteriorated in many unfortunate ways; and communities across the country have struggled to realize the sort of vitality that ought to be more accessible and more widespread as we head toward the middle of the 21st century.
So what do we need to do? Basically, we need to create better opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors from various walks of life to come together to share resources and deploy capital collaboratively in smart, inclusive, community-oriented ways that grow both community and individual wealth. That’s what crowd investing is all about, what community investment funds are designed to do, and it’s the special sauce of local lending circles, local investment clubs, cooperatives, credit unions, community banks, CDFIs, community foundations, etc.
Ultimately, in this time of divisiveness and contention, by bringing people together to address community challenges and create community enterprises together, perhaps community capital will not only solve some of our economic challenges. Perhaps it’ll also build healthier relationships and kindle greater community cohesion – and deliver some intangible, lasting value of the greatest kind.