Community Wealth Building and Decent Work: From Conversations to Collaborative Action

10C Shared Space and the Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination (PTF) are hoping to find opportunities for action on Community Wealth Building in Guelph and Wellington County. Community wealth building is a place-based approach to local economic development that aims to keep more capital and resources in the hands of local people.  

Watch the event recording here.

A Partnership Rooted in Local Action

The Why and How of Community Wealth Building 

Community Wealth Building is not a new idea. Successful models have been implemented in Cleveland (Ohio), Preston, (England) and Chicago (Illinois). In Canada, community wealth building initiatives have emerged in Parkdale and Kensington Market in Toronto as well as Windsor and Peterborough. In all of these communities, stakeholders have identified opportunities to leverage local investment, institutional purchasing power and infrastructure projects to benefit communities, especially those who are often most economically marginalized. 

Through their partnership, the PTF and 10C hosted an event in Guelph that brought together expert speakers with varied perspectives and experience with Community Wealth Building projects. The panel was moderated by Dr. Audrey Jamal, Assistant Professor in the Department of Management and the interim Assistant Dean of Strategic Partnerships and Societal Impact in the Lang School of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph. Audrey’s research has focused on Community Wealth building as a key strategy for local economic development. The expert panel included: Rosemarie Powell, Executive Director of the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), Nicole Norris, Director of Social Innovation at Georgian College and Nate Ferhman Founding Partner of Michael Clark Construction. The expert panel brought a range of perspectives on why CWB is important and how it can be practiced. 

Rosemarie brought a depth of experience from crafting Community Benefit Agreements (CBA) that bring opportunities to communities, not only in the development of new infrastructure and housing but in the creation of decent jobs and economic opportunities right from the beginning. Rosemarie also shared experience of driving, community-led organizing for the development of a Community Benefit Agreement for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project. Rosemarie’s work emphasized the importance of direct community engagement, and engaging partners early so that community benefits become a binding part of the project’s contract.  

Nate brought experience from the private sector from the perspective of a general contractor with an interest in community initiatives. Micheal Clark Construction was first introduced to CBAs through their involvement in a project with the London Children’s Museum. This work was supported locally by Inclusive Economy London who played a key role as intermediary in the CBA development process. Nate and his team ran into some challenges working towards implementation of their CBAs. Through a survey of sub-contractors and suppliers they discovered that there was limited knowledge and resistance around disclosure of key information. 

Nicole brought an institutional perspective, sharing how Georgian College, which is the first College in Canada to receive the Ashoka U Changemaker Campus designation, has navigated their journey towards social procurement. Nicole described how Georgian is exploring their role as an anchor institution which can leverage purchasing power within a region to support an emerging social enterprise ecosystem.  

Barriers for Community Wealth Building: What did we learn? 

Lack of knowledge awareness: It was clear that the barrier may not be a willingness to advance community benefits, but in knowledge about how these benefits can be achieved. There is deep work to be done across the supply chain and within the public and private sector to educate and raise awareness about the roles each partner can and must play. 

Institutional structures and business as usual mindsets: Community Wealth Building and achieving community benefits requires systems change. Nicole talked about working inside a slow moving institution navigating the checks and balances and massive power structures to demonstrate where change is possible. The key is finding opportunities to connect and identify where opportunities for change exist – it is all about finding common ground. 

Community relationships and trust: Achieving success when it comes to Community Wealth Building requires work a lot of trust and collaboration. This can be a barrier but also a huge opportunity for getting people to understand one another’s perspectives and build more trusting relationships so that community benefits can be defined and achieved!  – CWB requires community relationships to be built between workers, employers, materials suppliers, institutions and its about rebuilding supply chains around these loca relationships 

Towards a Shared Understanding 

The community action conversion was designed to begin building a shared understanding of what is possible and what roadblocks or barriers might exist when it comes to Community Wealth Building in Guelph-Wellington. To help build awareness in the room and support future conversations about how community Wealth Building project partners created a custom that highlights the key elements of Community Wealth Building and poses critical questions to support future action. 

Understanding Community Wealth Building 

  • Pillars of Community Wealth Building: The 5 pillars describe how community wealth building is put into practice. They describe an locally embedded economic system where fair work is the norm, land, capital and finance is democratized and communities prosper. 
  • Tools and Strategies: Sharing the proven models and policies that create opportunities for community wealth building locally. 
  • Opportunities: Identifying local development and investment opportunities where community wealth building can be actioned.

Supporting future conversations and shared learning the worksheet also makes space to explore key questions that can support local action on Community Wealth Building: 

  • Seeing Local Opportunities: Opportunities to take action on Community Wealth building exist in our communities today. Whether it is new housing or infrastructure projects, institutional procurement or community development – there are investments being made locally that could be leveraged for the benefit of the community. 
  • Connecting Key Partners: Partnerships and collaboration is at the core of Community Wealth Building models. Identifying who needs to be at the table for these is critically important for taking the next steps.  
  • Gathering and Sharing Resources: Community Wealth Building requires new approaches to local economic development and doing business. Understanding where people are at and connecting them with the resources they need is critical to this work. 
  • Defining Community Benefits: Through the conversation, we learned that success requires efforts from all stakeholders. We also learned that “community benefits” can’t be universally defined and must be articulated by communities as part of building agreements and policies.