Learning About Community Wealth Building with The Democracy Collaborative

You are currently viewing Learning About Community Wealth Building with The Democracy Collaborative

“I was inspired, I made new connections, and I learned so much. It was especially incredible to see you all’s intentionality in uplifting businesses that have engaged with community wealth building. When I think of what community feels like, I think of last week’s event and wanting to build that same momentum and energy wherever I am.” – a workshop participant

On Tuesday, March 12, 2024, People’s Economy Lab hosted almost 100 people at El Centro de la Raza’s Centilia Cultural Center in Seattle for a workshop on Community Wealth Building. Participants brought a wealth of expertise and experience. They included community leaders, changemakers, and entrepreneurs working on everything from housing to food systems to workers’ rights; representatives from government and nonprofits; funders; and more.

Familiar and new faces filled the space, and during breaks and lunch the room was filled with the chatter of people building connections with one another.

Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales stands behind a podium on a stage, speaking to an audience. There's a Powerpoint on the screen behind her.

A strong advocate for Community Wealth Building, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales opened the event, sharing how her office has supported Community Wealth Building programs across the city.

Sarah McKinley from The Democracy Collaborative spoke about increasing inequality and the racial wealth gap in the U.S. She shared a fact from Oxfam’s 2024 Inequality Report: “The world’s five richest men have more than doubled their wealth since 2020, while five billion people were made poorer.”

Sarah introduced Community Wealth Building, a term first used in Cleveland 20 years ago, as a potential solution for wealth inequality. As defined by The Democracy Collaborative, “Community Wealth Building (CWB) is an economic development model that transforms local economies based on communities having direct ownership and control of their assets.” 

Sarah McKinley stands at a podium on a stage with a Powerpoint slide behind her. The Powerpoint slide reads "What we're covering today: What is CWB?; Central Issues that CWB addresses; Key concepts for CWB; The CWB model; Case studies; Advancing CWB in your place."

Community wealth building is not a new approach, but rather a way of cohering different practices that have been deliberately stripped of their cultural and collective values.

The Democracy Collaborative’s five pillars of Community Wealth Building are fair work, locally rooted finance, just use of land and property, progressive procurement, and inclusive and democratic enterprises. Sarah presented national and international examples and asked audience members to share local examples. 

We heard from several people working on Community Wealth Building projects in King County. Jackie Mena from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and Heidi Hall from the City of Seattle Office of Economic Development spoke about the City’s Community Wealth Building research and pilot projects. Ubax Gardheere shared about Cultural Space Agency’s cultural real estate development. Pearl Nelson from HomeSight spoke about U-Lex, a housing cooperative that will be constructed in Seattle’s Othello neighborhood. Gavin Amos of Central Area Collaborative spoke about CAC’s community-controlled capital fund pilot project. And Agraj Dangal of the Office of Economic Development spoke about OED’s Small Business Capital Access Program, including financial coaching, developing Sharia-compliant financing options, and working with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle’s small business entrepreneurship center.

Ubax Gardheere stands and speaks in the middle of a crowded room. Most other people are sitting and listening to her.

At the end of the day, Sarah asked participants to work together in groups to start a Community Wealth Building action plan by identifying strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for Community Wealth Building in our region. Highlights shared included: Discussing opportunities for eminent domain and land banking to acquire vacant properties for community use; identifying gaps in capacity-building support for nonprofits and small businesses to acquire land and buildings; emphasizing the need for decolonizing language and culturally appropriate models when discussing worker cooperatives and community wealth building in general; and the importance of continued collective education on different ownership models.

Are you working on a Community Wealth Building project in Washington? Maybe a worker-owned cooperative, land justice project, community-owned real estate, or something else? We’re working on a map and directory of CWB projects. Fill out this form to have yours included.

Community Wealth Building workshop participants serve themselves from aluminum plasters filled with Filipino cuisine.

Lunch was catered by three incredible local vendors. We ate tamales from El Mixtecos Aguas frescas and more, a participant in Growing Contigo’s equitable small business incubator pilot project. We enjoyed vegan pumpkin chili, jalapeno cornbread, and a spread of vegan cakes from Plant-based Food Share, a participant in PEL’s New Economy Washington Frontline Community Fellowship. And we also devoured chicken adobo, lumpia, and pancit noodles from CheBogz, which is part of the Office of Economic Development’s Tenant Improvement Fund work.

Special thanks to Rosario Lopez from Super Familia, who provided Spanish-language interpretation. To our sponsors, the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and Office of Economic Development, Communities of Opportunity, Sonen Capital, Laird Norton Wetherby, and Humanize Wealth. And to our photographer, Tawfiq Abdulaziz from Original Studios.

We look forward to hosting more convenings on Community Wealth Building soon!

People sit in an audience smiling.