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Wealth Works

Submitted by Amy Zoethout on August 16, 2016 - 1:36am

WealthWorks is a new approach to local and regional community and economic development that aims to connect community assets to meet market demands while building lasting livelihoods.

Shanna Ratner, of Yellowwood Associates, joined Vibrant Communities' Small/Rural Community of Practice to share more about this approach that aims to advance a region’s overall prosperity and self-reliance, strengthen existing and emerging sectors, and increase jobs and incomes for lower-income residents and firms. Started as an intitiative with funding from the Ford Foundation, WealthWorks was formed from their fundamental belief that poverty is a function of all forms of isolation - isolation from markets, ideas, financial resources, different walks of life, etc.

"Until we can overcome lots of forms of isolation, folks will continue to be economically disempowered and not able to maintain sustainable livelihoods," said Ratner.

The guiding principles of WealthWorks include:

  • wealth creation is demand driven
  • wealth creation is intentionally inclusive
  • wealth is tied to place by wealth creation value chains
  • measurement is integrated into the entire process as a tool for planning and adaptive management
  • wealth sticks in rural areas through attention to structures of ownership and control
  • the wealth creation approach is strategically flexible while doing no harm

In a powerpoint presentation shared with the group, Ratner outlined that wealth, broadly defined, is the foundation for prosperity, adding that poor places and people will stay poor unless they are connected to larger economies. That rural places have assets which, if properly developed, can contribute to larger regional economies.

Ratner also shared with the group what exactly they mean by 'wealth':

  • Intellectual capital – ideas, imagination, the things that allow us to think about the world in new ways. For example, investing in arts, research and development.
  • Social Capital – networks and trust among people – without this you cannot get to scale.
  • Individual Capital – skills and physical and mental health of individuals, which are foundational in development and community change work
  • Natural Capital – environment, habitats, etc. These are not a wealth creation unless they are healthy.
  • Built Capital – buildings, information and agricultural capital – must be healthy to be a form of wealth
  • Political Capital – ability to influence resource decisions – can you use social capital to move this
  • Financial Capital – not income, but savings (unimpaired resources) to be able to be invested
  • Cultural Capital – this is the place where all of the other forms of wealth live, helps to define what is considered the other forms of capital. This is a positive and a negative – try not to measure this as it is very complex

The traditional model of supply chain starts with producer supply, measured by net income produced, everyone is in it for themselves, power determines who who gets paid how much for their role, participants try to pass on costs to others within or outside the chain, and tries to influence policy to create advantage and maximize short-term income.

By contrast, the Wealthworks Value Chain starts with consumer demand, is measured by wealth created/retained, everyone is in it together, intentionally balances mutual benefit of all in the chain, all known costs are considered and addressed, and tries to influence policy to level the playing field and maximize long-term and widely shared wealth.

With a strong agricultural history, Ratner shared a story from the Deep South where WealthWorks and the related value chains have successfully helped bring farmers together to give them access to larger markets, engage young people and redefine farming as a path to prosperity. Using this approach, she explained that within one year, this group improved growing practices, met with buyers, and gained access to markets they had never encountered before. For more about this story and other success stories from regions in the United States where WealthWorks projects are currently operating, visit here

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