Dr. Steven Green, Associate Profession for Soil and Water Conservation at the Arkansas State University, took this photo of Camelina pods just before harvest.
Practitioners of community development tend to organize around issues; they focus on empowerment and voice as vehicles for change. They rarely engage market forces, except to demonize them. Practitioners of economic development tend to focus on jobs and income without much consideration for who provides those jobs and who gets them. They assume benefits will “trickle down.”
Over the past six years, we at WealthWorks in Arkansas have been working with the Ford Foundation and a host of grantees to build a bridge between community and economic development. WealthWorks emphasizes connecting economically marginalized people and places with markets in ways that create and maintain multiple forms of wealth that lead to upward mobility.
In Arkansas, alt.Consulting is creating a WealthWorks value chain around biofuels that connects economically marginalized farmers and communities with a range of local and regional buyers of fuel produced from waste oil and a new crop (camellia, as shown in the image above) that grows during the winter season when nothing else is being grown. The fully-automated, small-scale biofuels production technology was developed in the Delta and investment in the value chain is coming from local investors. New structures of shared ownership are being created to attract investment that will stay local, and entrepreneurs are emerging to fill gaps in the value chain. The Arkansas Green Energy Network works on the policy side to create an environment that supports the value chain. The WealthWorks value chain creates and measures seven forms of wealth: individual, intellectual, social, financial, natural, political, and built while striving to do no harm to any.
One of the powerful lessons emerging from this work is this: markets can provide real and meaningful opportunities to transform lives if there is a strong coordinating organization with a bold vision and a competent staff to bring multiple stakeholders into alignment by understanding their self-interests and shared interests. Economically marginalized people and places can benefit from market connections, but only if the coordinating organization lifts up their interests intentionally from the start.
Are you interested in other emerging economic development models? Learn how Craft3 in Oregon and Washington has created innovative financing products to advance environmental and equity goals while creating new metrics and expanding its relationships to effectively implement and track outcomes from these new initiatives.
Post by Shanna Ratner.