Educate and Empower: Tools For Building Community Wealth

Educate and Empower: Tools for Building Community Wealth

Keane Bhatt
Steve Dubb
August 10 2015

How do low-income communities learn to advance economically and build wealth? Low-income communities and communities of color, in challenging structural economic and social inequality, have historically grappled with tensions inherent to development. Who participates in, directs, and ultimately owns the economic-development process? In creating and sustaining new, inclusive economic institutions, how do community members cultivate and pass on skills, commitment and knowledge—especially among those who have long faced barriers to education and employment? And how should communities strike an appropriate balance between utilizing local knowledge and accessing outside expertise?

Our new report Educate and Empower, authored by Keane Bhatt and Steve Dubb, draws on case studies of 11 different community economic development initiatives from across the United States to highlight a diverse set of powerful answers to these critical questions.

If you'd like printed copies of this report or the accompanying poster, please email

Highlights from our 11 case studies:

Cooperation Texas
Market Creek Plaza
Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative
Near West Side Initiative
People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH)
Cooperative Home Care Associates
St. Joseph Health System
Wellspring Collaborative
Ohio Employee Ownership Center
New Community Corporation

More updates

Launch webinar: Educate and Empower

September 9th, 2015

Watch the recording!

Join the Democracy Collaborative's Keane Bhatt and Steve Dubb, co-authors of our new report Educate and Empower: Tools for Building Community Wealthfor an online discussion with leading practioners on the practical strategies to empower residents to engage and participate in community economic development.

Eventbrite - Webinar: Educate and Empower — Tools for Building Community Wealth

Springfield's Wellspring Collaborative featured in report on initiatives that spur economic growth in low-income areas

Laura Newberry

From an upholstery cooperative to a worker-owned greenhouse, the Wellspring Collaborative is rebuilding the economically struggling communities of Springfield, MA. This article from MassLive, a local news site for Western Massachusetts, reports on the Wellspring Collaborative—one of eleven case studies from our newest report, Educate and Empower: Tools For Building Community Wealth.

The upholstery company is the umbrella organization's first business, with a worker-owned greenhouse in the works. While building a small but dependable staff has proven more difficult than expected, according to Wellspring's directors, the upholstery company has been able to rope in loyal and repeat business from what economists call "anchor institutions," namely hospital groups and colleges such as Baystate Health and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

"With a modest amount of start-up money—about $160,000—Wellspring incubated an upholstery cooperative currently employing five individuals, two of whom are citizens returning from the incarceration system. Six people are expected to become cooperative members in the first year, with further build-up over the second," the report goes on to say.

The Democracy Collaborative has been helpful to Wellspring from the get-go, Kawano said. The organization was heavily involved in the formation of the Cleveland Evergreen Cooperatives, which provided the inspiration and framework for Wellspring.

News and Updates

Get the poster!

To accompany our new report Educate and Empower: Tools for Building Community Wealth, we've produced this oversized doublesided 30" poster broadsheet, with the aim of distilling the key lessons of the report into an accessible and engaging format for broad distribution. 

How Communities Can Build Wealth by Knocking on Doors

Oscar Perry Abello
Next City

In Next City, Oscar Perry Abello looks at how our new report Educate and Empower highlights key strategies for building stronger community wealth building initiatives.

“People know that there are door-knocking campaigns and community organizers do it all the time, but have they thought of this consciously as a tool for economic development,” explains Keane Bhatt, senior associate for policy and strategy at the Democracy Collaborative, based in Takoma Park, Maryland. Bhatt is co-author of Educate and Empower: Tools for Building Community Wealth, a report released today that features profiles of 11 organizations includingPUSH Buffalo.

“What we’ve done is go around to 11 different community-wealth building institutions to try to seek out from a broad diversity of initiatives some kind of underlying themes that are crosscutting in nature,” Bhatt says...

Read the rest at Next City


Communities Building Their Own Economies

Steve Dubb
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Steve Dubb writes for the Stanford Social Innovation Review on the importance of having access to tools that educate and empower low-income communities to shape their economic future.

Empowering communities to take control of economic development is slow, patient work—and people funding or supporting it need to take this into account when assessing success. Long-term, place-based commitments are critical; parachuting in and out does little to build local capacity. And the metrics we use need to take into account the often intangible relationship-building that weaves together a truly empowered community; shortcuts and quick fixes can cause real damage.