Recently, I had the privilege to participate in the Rural Wealth Creation and Livelihoods Conference sponsored by the USDA Economic Research Service and the Ford Foundation.  This conference convened researchers, practitioners, and public policy folks to discuss basic questions around creating wealth in rural communities:

  • What does it mean to say “wealth”?
  • How can we create wealth?
  • What is currently being done that we can lift up as best practices?
  • How does current policy affect the ability of communities to create wealth

Through many rich (pardon the pun) conversations, we did our best to answer those questions.  While we did not always succeed I think we came away with several “take home” points that help give a view of what a path to wealth creation may look like.

What is wealth anyway?

Throughout the conference, I heard several times that the term “wealth” is slightly misleading and I tend to agree.  When you use the word wealth, the mental image almost always gravitates toward people who have a lot of money.  This is not the connotation in which we want wealth to be perceived.  Therefore, I tend to prefer “capital” which most people are more familiar with and more easily lends itself to nuanced differences among difference types.  There are, in fact, several types of capital that can be nurtured and utilized to create a vibrant community (for the full descriptions. see “Keeping Wealth Local“.)

  1. Individual – the stock of skills and the healthiness (both physical and mental) of people in a community.
  2. Social – the stock of trust, relationships and networks that support civil society.
  3. Intellectual – the stock of knowledge, innovation and creativity in a community.
  4. Natural – the stock of unimpaired environmental assets in a community or region.
  5. Built – the stock of physical infrastructure.
  6. Political – the stock of power and goodwill held by individuals, groups, and/or organizations in a community.
  7. Financial – the stock of monetary assets in a community.

What does this mean for communities in Michigan?  Well, that’s hard to answer.  All the forms of capital are important and those communities that are thriving tend to have all or most of them.  However, in the current economic conditions, it is difficult to move beyond financial capital and focus on building other forms when there are so many without jobs or solid economic standing.  Tell us what you think.  How do you view and work with different forms of wealth/capital in your day-to-day work? 

The last three questions are still unanswered by the participant community.  However, you have a chance to shape the answers!  An outgrowth of the conference is the Wealth Creation and Rural Livelihoods National Community of Practice.  This is an online place where researchers, practitioners, funders, intermediaries, policymakers and others can learn from and work with each other to advance what works.  Membership in the Community of Practice is wide open and anyone is invited to participate.

Help build the Community of Practice!  Join anytime – and feel free to invite your colleagues and friends. 

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