Featuring Zita Cobb, Founder & CEO, Shorefast Foundation; Ted Howard, President & Co-Founder, The Democracy Collaborative; Colette Murphy, Executive Director, Atkinson Foundation; and Rosemarie Powell, Executive Director, Toronto Community Benefits Network
How Can We Build Community Wealth as Our Economies Recover?
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. Bounce back or bounce forward?
Community wealth advocates are counting on the current crises to be a catalyst for a transition to a more equitable economy. There is an opportunity to not just return to business as usual, but create a “new normal,” when the current economic development paradigm is supplanted. We’ve seen this play out before, in the 30s and the 80’s – where “vulture capital” comes in and buys-up the local economy at rock-bottom prices and re-concentrates the wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer. That’s something we surely want to avoid. “If we miss this opportunity, shame on all of us.”
2. The chickens are plotting
One of the panelists likened the collective awakening to the possibilities of community-centric wealth-building, to the movie Chicken Run – where the humans noticed that the chickens were beginning to organize. Economic activity used to be the life-source of a community, but today “on a good day, it’s agnostic, and on a bad day its downright hostile.” A truly localized economy will “take care of every person, one at a time.” But first, we must ensure that any recovery funds do not become “bailouts,” but rather taxpayer investments with the community receiving an equity stake, to ensure a lasting legacy.
3. Show me the money
The number one issue identified by all the panelists, was access to financial capital. “There is some algorithm somewhere in Toronto that decides who gets a loan”. In other words, lending decisions are not conducted by sentient beings, and they certainly don’t consider the community in which the money is needed. “We don’t have our hands on the economic levers, we don’t follow where and how the money circulates, and we generally do not collaborate well.” There are different types and sources of money – not all of it comes from Wall Street. Public banks, which are gaining traction, capture and keep the money in community.
4. A hand-up, not a handout
A great social experiment is underway, with the creation of Community Benefit Agreements, and equity-seeking neighbourhood groups across the country are watching closely. Partnerships with major infrastructure projects and big development aim to harness the influx of capital by “multi-solving” previously intractable issues of poverty, disadvantage and marginalization. CBAs ensure commitment to local hiring in construction and operation, thoughtful amenities and social procurement. We need to stop “socializing the risks and privatizing the returns.”
5. Bring the money home.
The evidence is in: employee-owned companies “across the board” are generally better than investor owned companies on all kinds of metrics – wages are better, jobs are more fulfilling, productivity is up and layoffs are lower during times of crisis. Canada has some of the largest pension funds on the planet but they invest overseas, chasing high returns. Redirecting the investment’s focus back into communities allows “money to flow from big pockets to small pockets” and locals can return to owning the businesses they labour for.