Anything I Can Do, We Can Do Better: Shared Learning for Building Community Wealth

During this first decade of Thunder Valley CDC’s operation, there has been a key component to any program or project in which we’ve experienced any measure of success: learning. Whether we are learning about our own community through a community engagement process or approaches to community wealth building from other organizations, a shared learning process has been an integral component of achieving our goals. As our Social Enterprise Initiative continues to identify how it will function and best serve our local community, the shared learning experience provided by the Learning Action Lab provides a sounding board for organizations to discuss their successes and challenges.

Spearheaded by the Democracy Collaborative and supported by the North West Area Foundation, the Learning Action Lab is made up of a cohort of Native organizations from Washington, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Working on building community wealth, the Learning Action Lab brings together aspiring community wealth builders at regular intervals to discuss their ideas, learn from each other, and identify current best practices that are succeeding in other places.

“The Democracy Collaborative has been humbled to see both the powerful visions driving the organizations in the cohort to build innovative social enterprises and the ways in which peer learning across the cohort has enabled these organizations to help and inspire each other,” says Sarah McKinley, Manager of Community Development Programs at the Democracy Collaborative. “The process has been a testament to the power of collaboration both within and between communities.”

Thunder Valley CDC’s Stephanie Gutierrez, and Democracy Collaborative’s Marjory Kelly presented a short panel, which reviewed of community wealth building principles, framework, and toolkits on how we are implementing a community wealth building model rooted in Lakota values. Our model takes the seven “drivers” of community wealth building (place, ownership, multipliers, collaboration, inclusion, workforce, and system) and pairs them with the seven Lakota values (prayer, respect, compassion, honesty, generosity, humility, and wisdom). This approach honors local value systems while utilizing best practices for social enterprise.

"The group was definitely interested in our Lakota Community Wealth Building model. Since we are still refining it I didn't present the whole frame work, but I think we are on the verge of seeing this really take off," says Stephanie. "And I think it's important to understand that all of this took a lot of preparation –– we have to be clear on where we want to arrive. We have to put our people first and know where they stand so we can put things in place to support that."

Sarah expresses that the Democracy Collaborative has a similar sentiment on honoring community, saying, “The Learning Action Lab has worked to develop place-based solutions to pressing challenges facing Native communities, helping guide and support the development of new institutions designed to build community wealth as they create jobs, strengthen the local economy, restore food sovereignty, increase access to housing, and broaden ownership.”

Members of the cohort aim for similar goals, such as building equity, disrupting cycles of poverty, and empowering our people, but how each of us arrives at those conclusions is different for based on our homes and communities. That is why this shared learning is vital –– we can recognize the variety of approaches available and find that which is best suited to our land, people, and needs. So while on our own we may be able to accomplish goals, we have found much greater success in thoughtful collaboration with others.

"I think the work has finally sunk in and we can grasp it so that we might work from that community wealth building framework," says Stephanie. "Social Enterprise can be a slow moving process anywhere, not just on the reservation, but I think we all came back to our communities with the idea that it is innate to who we are to create systems that care for our communities."

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