National Coalition for Community Capital
First published in March 2020
The term “community empowerment” usually sparks images of sit-ins, protests, rallies, campaigns, elections, and a thousand other actions associated with politics. You’re probably not imagining a half dozen smart people sitting around a table and planning how to creatively invest the pool of several million dollars gathered from local investors. But look at the missions of funds like PVGrows or the Boston Ujima Fund, and you see a radical effort to help revitalize distressed neighborhoods by supporting struggling small businesses, often led by women and people of color. Funds like these are increasingly being used to open grocery stores in food deserts, build affordable housing, launch worker cooperatives, and enhance the energy efficiency of old commercial and residential structures.
Capital is a critical tool for community problem-solving. Advances on paychecks help families put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Student loans allow talented young people to attend college. Municipal bonds underwrite vital infrastructure, everything from local water and sewer systems to roads and internet. Crowdfunding enables entrepreneurs to develop new businesses that bring new income, wealth, and jobs into their communities. While money alone cannot solve every local problem, it’s a necessary component for any serious approach to community empowerment.
This handbook shines a spotlight on an emerging generation of practical, intelligent activists who are reinventing local financial systems. Even as they criticize capitalism, they are using – and mastering – its financial tools to solve local challenges. In the pages ahead you’ll find an emerging set of tools we call community investment funds. Our purpose and hope in preparing this guide is that you’ll consider creating one of these funds for your own community.