Marjorie Kelly Joins the Democracy Collaborative

Brings with her a background in ownership design, social enterprise, and responsible business
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Sarah McKinley

As we mentioned in our January newsletter, Marjorie Kelly has joined the Democracy Collaborative as a Senior Fellow and Director of Advisory Services. Previously, Marjorie was a Fellow with the Tellus Institute in Boston, where she led a variety of consulting and research projects, including co-founding Corporation 20/20, a five-year initiative that brought together hundreds of leaders from business, finance, civil society, and law to explore how to redesign corporations to integrate social and environmental concerns into their governing DNA. For five years Marjorie was also a lead consultant with WealthWorks, a Ford Foundation initiative to develop and test a new approach to rural community development. Before that, she was co-founder and, for 20 years, president of Business Ethics magazine, known for its listing of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens.

Marjorie has authored several books and reports on ownership strategies, including:

  • The report Keeping Wealth Local which profiles dozens of models of community-based ownership in rural areas. This was prepared for the WealthWorks project, where Marjorie also led a two-year initiative to assist eight projects in finding alternative community-friendly sources of financing.

  • A recent book, Owning Our Future, published in 2012, explores many experiments with new forms of generative, life-affirming ownership, including the John Lewis Partnership, a $13 billion department store chain in London owned 100 percent by its employees; and Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative with close to $1 billion in sales, and many others. In the book, Marjorie journeys to visit emerging experiments across the U.S. and Europe to tell the story of two kinds of economies – one extractive, aimed at maximum financial extraction; the other generative, aimed at creating the conditions for life to flourish for many generations to come. She also profiles the five essential patterns of ownership design that make these models work and explores how they may hold the key to the deep transformation our civilization needs.

In January, Marjorie led a webinar, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, on her book and the critical role of community based ownership in community development. The full presentation is available on our website here.

Since June, Marjorie has partnered with The Democracy Collaborative as the Project Director for the Learning/Action Lab for Community Wealth Building, working with six Native American organizations to implement community wealth building strategies. In this role, she has been providing one-on-one coaching to the Native American Community Development Institute in Minneapolis and to the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Recently Thunder Valley CDC was praised by President Obama for their Regenerative Community project, an innovative sustainable community development project that will be created from the ground up in ways that are culturally appropriate, energy-efficient, and transformative for the community. You can find out more about this project in this memo.

Marjorie has joined the Collaborative at a time of the organization’s rapid growth –as the Collaborative’s work with the Cleveland Model continues to gain attention across the nation, and the Collaborative’s recent publications and consultations on anchor institution strategies also strike a chord. More and more communities are seeking the Collaborative’s assistance in implementing comprehensive community wealth building approaches, including cities as varied as Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, and Amarillo, TX. And growing numbers of anchor institutions like hospitals and universities are seeking the Collaborative’s guidance in developing their own anchor missions and strategies that root institutional buying in ways that strengthen local communities.

In helping guide the Collaborative’s consultancy services, Marjorie will be helping the staff build out various lines of existing work, including: conducting feasibility studies for communities, building learning cohorts among universities and hospitals developing anchor strategies, offering trainings in community wealth building from one day to one year in length, working with cities to create community wealth roundtables, and helping organizations understand how to put together “capital stacks” of financing from various sources. In her role as Senior Fellow, she will also be doing writing and speaking, and will assist with the Collaborative’s Next System project.

“In the span of my career, I’ve always loved combining theory and practice,” Marjorie said. “The range and sophistication of community wealth building activity is increasing amazingly rapidly today, all across the nation. And the Collaborative is at the center of it. It’s an exciting moment for building a new economy. And at this moment, I can’t imagine a more exciting organization to join.”

To learn more about Marjorie’s past work and her other writings, visit