Defining Community Wealth Building

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.