Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A New Geography of Hope?

The following is derived from an introduction I gave for Marjorie Kelly, who was a keynote speaker and guest at the annual convening of the Intermountain West Funders Network (IMWFN) this spring. 
Good morning and welcome to our annual convening. The website says "the Intermountain West Funder Network is a unique opportunity for funders to join together to engage residents in strengthening their communities, supporting research and learning, and building a philanthropic community that will leverage funding and support for one of the nation’s most iconic and fastest-growing regions.”

Today is a day for sharing and learning about community wealth building from one of the real experts in the field, Marjorie Kelly. This is my first convening, and I hope it represents a beginning for our foundation… a chance to collaborate with others here to do real work throughout IMWFN’s region and network.

"Community---Wealth---Building"- we will explore the meaning of these three words today. To start, we can acknowledge the paradox that we now confront- that one of the great drivers of building wealth, markets, may also be one of the great destroyers of communities.

In Stephen Marglin's wonderful book- The Dismal Science- How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community" he says: 
“economics relies on value judgments implicit in foundational assumptions about the self-interested individual, about rational calculation, about unlimited wants, and about the nation-state, and it is these assumptions that make community invisible. In arguing for the market, economics legitimizes the destruction of community and thus helps to construct a world in which community struggles for survival.”
This group comes from, and is based in, a place called the "Intermountain West." As our website says, it is "iconic and fast growing" and this creates unique challenges for building communities. Just as there are aspects of markets that undermine community, there are aspects of our "Westerness" that exacerbate this problem. One of my favorite writers, Wallace Stegner, is famous for his line that the West’s wilderness is “the geography of hope” for America. As he got older, Stegner became increasingly uncomfortable with this view, and spent much of his writing analyzing the unique social and environmental challenges facing communities in the West: 
“Visionary expectation was the great energizer of the westward movement, and something like it still drives the rush to the Sunbelt. But exaggerated, uninformed, unrealistic, greedy expectation has been a prescription for disappointment that the West has carried to the corner drugstore too many times. Ghost towns and dust bowls, like motels, are western inventions. All are reflections of transience, and transience in most of the West has hampered the development of stable, rooted communities and aborted the kind of communal effort that takes in everything from kindergarten to graveyard and involves all kinds and grades and ages of people in a shared past and a promise of continuance.”
Which brings us to our keynote speaker, Marjorie Kelly. She has been writing about the effects of markets on communities for many years. In her books, The Divine Right of Capital and Owning Our Future, she has critiqued “extractive ownership,” and studied regenerative models of capitalism. What I find so helpful about her work is that she does not take the easy posture of critic and cynic, but instead the posture of searcher, learner and teacher. She has also searched the world for the outliers, the organizations and institutions, the cities and companies, the cooperatives and foundations, that are taking paths less traveled. As an Executive Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Democracy Collaborative, she is mapping out new models for communities, under the concept of Community Wealth Building. 

I think this map sets the vision for a new “geography of hope”… of hope for more connected, resilient and healthy communities. In the Intermountain West, in our nation and around the world.  Please welcome Marjorie to lead us in a day of exploring this new geography, and the paths and pioneers that are rebuilding American communities.