Why Community Wealth Building?
For the past year Walnut Way and other community organizations in Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood have advanced Community Wealth Building (CWB) as a key economic development strategy. Rather than relying solely on external investments with questionable benefits for residents, CWB supports neighbors who want to grow their skills and talents, thereby increasing their income and wealth. Connecting resident skills and talents with resources and opportunities defines this asset-based approach to economic development. It means cultivating what neighbors have, not just focusing on what they need.
How it Works
Discovering residents’ skills and talents – their assets – requires relationship building and the commitment of Neighborhood Connectors. These trusted and dedicated residents conduct “asset inventories” through one-on-one meetings and then share those findings so that the neighbors’ assets can stimulate economic and community activity. For example, a group of residents have joined together to support growing their food related businesses. They have utilized a commercial kitchen in the neighborhood (another asset) and have collaborated on catering jobs. Other neighbors have won projects for their home improvement company, sold hair and beauty products at community markets and found employment.
To date, eight Neighborhood Connectors have conducted 61 resident asset inventories, an increase of 60 percent since October 2019. Neighbor interest groups have shared their skills and talents around cooking, arts and crafts, and construction/landscaping. This has increased business opportunities and community cohesion. A “Side Hustle Workshop” series has launched with support of Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. to help educate residents on business basics. A recently won Fresh Food Grant from the City of Milwaukee will support the creation of a community wealth kitchen and café, a business incubator for resident food entrepreneurs and a community gathering spot.
Moving Forward with COVID-19
As our world has abruptly transformed, we are now thinking through how to move CWB forward in an environment filled with more stress and less face-to-face interaction. In response, we are developing:
- A skill, talent and side hustle directory for neighbors to publicize their businesses and interests
- A resource for credit and personal finance coaching
- Online business education classes and coaching
- Training for Neighborhood Connectors
- Hiring a new Community Wealth Building Coordinator position
At the same time, we know in this new environment that CWB will require new methods and services such as:
- Health and mental health services available online as well as in-person
- An accessible online marketplace focused on neighborhood businesses
- An online approach to community engagement and organizing
- Accessible technology to connect neighbors and resources
- A technology platform that can integrate CWB’s multiple services and networks
- A micro loan/grant program to sustain entrepreneurial activity and address emergency needs
As an asset-based approach to economic development, Community Wealth Building has shown how engaging residents around their skills and talents can address the historic disinvestment that has resulted in pervasive poverty and social disparities. Covid-19 has exacerbated these conditions requiring an even more robust Community Wealth Building effort moving forward.
For more information about the Community Wealth Building Program, contact Rusty Borkin at email@example.com.