Common Language, Common Movement

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Excerpted by Marjorie Kelley from “Keeping Wealth Local: Shared Ownership and Wealth Control for Rural Communities

A Common Language to Describe the New Economy

Various evolving terms such as shared ownership, Triple Bottom Line, person-in-community, and natural capital are all part of the search for a common language to describe the new economy being built today. The exploration happening in rural communities is part of a larger movement underway around the world. New forms of ownership can be seen in the movement for nonprofit-owned “social enterprises,” which operate profitably while pursuing social mission. In Denmark, there are cooperatively owned “wind guilds” that helped that nation transition to wind power more quickly than elsewhere. Across northern Europe, there are foundation-owned corporations – like Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company with 5.6 billion Euro in revenues – where formal governance is structured around the Triple Bottom Line. In the U.S., there are emerging hybrids like Google.org – a model dubbed “for-profit philanthropy” – where a budget of $2 billion is employed for philanthropic ends, through an entity that pays taxes and makes both grants and investments.

These hybrid ownership models bear a family resemblance to older community models like cooperatives, which now enjoy global membership of 800 million people – more than double the total three decades ago. More Americans hold memberships in co-ops than hold stock in the stock market.

These developments herald a worldwide economic design revolution, yet to be recognized as a unified phenomenon because it lacks a common language. In the progressive U.S. business community, one hears about local living economies, or for-benefit enterprise. In Latin America the preferred term is solidarity economy.] In other cases the chosen phrase is common assets. In Quebec, the preferred term is social economy, which has brought official recognition to cooperatives and nonprofits as a significant sector in Quebec’s economy.

Common language helps create common purpose, which is critical in movement building. In the 1970s, when girls’ athletics struggled with under-funding, women faced harassment in the workplace, and wages for women remained below those of men, these movements gained power when they were unified under the name of feminism.

In community development, the phrase that’s best positioned for wide adoption seems to be community wealth. Among the tools for keeping that wealth local are shared ownership and community wealth control designs. These simple concepts may have the capability of being the girders of a framework that can unite a community wealth movement.