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What the heck does Community Wealth really mean?

It’s funny how worlds sometimes collide, bringing a new lens to a familiar concept. Many of us who have read Bill Shore’s The Cathedral Within learned to think of Community Wealth as: Revenues generated to promote social change through non-traditional sources such as earned income, social enterprise, corporate partnerships and cause-related marketing. These resources are …

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It’s funny how worlds sometimes collide, bringing a new lens to a familiar concept.

Many of us who have read Bill Shore’s The Cathedral Within learned to think of Community Wealth as:

Revenues generated to promote social change through non-traditional sources such as earned income, social enterprise, corporate partnerships and cause-related marketing.

These resources are generated because there is market that values the assets or services of a nonprofit and is willing to spend their discretionary funds (as opposed to traditional philanthropic funds) to avail themselves of that value.  Community Wealth, therefore, is created as people from varied backgrounds (i.e. corporate and nonprofit leaders, nonprofit supporters and volunteers, clients or constituents of nonprofits, etc.) share their strengths to advance worthy causes that lift up our communities.

I have been thinking about what Community Wealth means to my own work for some time now.  Recently, Community Wealth Partners has expanded our work to address strategies of sustainability, growth, and innovation in the social sector.  During this past week, however, three completely unrelated experiences helped me clarify my thoughts.

1. Last Monday I had the pleasure of attending the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation’s annual grantee conference in Philadelphia.  Surrounded by experts and practitioners in the field of Community Development, my ears perked as the keynote speaker Bill Traynor, Strategic Advisor to Lawrence CommunityWorks Inc., shared one of the central ideas to his work – true community-building only occurs when people in the community feel “connected and engaged.” He asserted that:

  • The community development programs and strategies designed to make us feel this way often fall short despite the best laid plans, and that it is more often generated by creating space in our lives to build real relationships with our neighbors.
  • People actually begin to feel a sense of community when they understand the stories of who their neighbors are and where they came from, and then have courage to both give and receive help to/from people who may be very different from themselves.

I was not only touched by the stories he shared of neighborhood transformations one neighbor at a time, but also intrigued by the language he used to describe this new form of wealth – the feeling of being “connected and engaged” to those around us.

2. You see, I had just spent time in Cincinnati with the leaders of ArtsWave, a nonprofit organization that supports and collaborates with arts and culture organizations across the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region.  Through extensive research and a community-driven process to articulate the impact of the arts on the community, ArtsWave reached the same conclusion.  The arts are critical to society because they create a “connected and engaged” community – diverse groups share common experiences, hear new perspectives and understand each other better. The arts are a stepping stone to creating dialogue and relationships between diverse groups of people.

3. Fast forward to last Thursday evening when I was yet again struck by the same underlying theme as I attended the eighth grade graduation ceremony of 64 scholars in the Higher Achievement Program in Washington, DC.  Higher Achievement is an after-school and summer academic enrichment program for middle school youth in underserved communities.  As the delegates from each class shared their stories of the impact the program has had on their lives – they talked about the support they received from their personal communities: the mentors for the program from local universities and businesses; their parents, family members, and neighbors; the passionate Higher Achievement staff; and most importantly — their fellow scholars and friends who encouraged them along the way.  Community Wealth was palpable as each scholar proudly walked across the stage of the Lincoln Theater to accept their diplomas in front of hundreds of program participants, family members, and supporters.

At the end of the week, I reflected on the expanded definition of Community Wealth that these three diverse causes brought to life for me and realized… perhaps my new understanding of Community Wealth was not so far off from where I started?   Community Wealth is in fact created as people from varied backgrounds share their strengths to advance worthy causes that lift up our communities. These strengths not only have the potential to generate monetary wealth and positive change in the world around us, but also to create relationships that yield new perspectives and enrich lives.

How do you think about Community Wealth?

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