The Insight Center believes that strategies for asset building at the individual and family level must be accompanied by asset building at the community level. There are many approaches to community asset building, including community-development corporations (CDCs); social enterprise; community-development financial institutions (CDFIs); community land trusts and co-housing; cooperatives; and neighborhood-based commercial and cultural centers.
The Insight Center helps community economic-development organizations build community assets by conducting research and advising on the formation and replication of social enterprises, worker-owned cooperatives, and second-tier service cooperatives, especially among immigrant communities or in rural areas. One example of this is our assistance in the formation of a worker-owned cooperative
in Providence, RI. This work is important to community economic-development strategies because:
- Social enterprises are an important part of transitional jobs strategies, offering a more supportive work setting for workers struggling to re-enter the labor force.
- The micro-enterprises assisted by CDCs or second-tier service cooperatives often are a means to family self-sufficiency, giving producers more control over their work than if they were paid employees. In rural, isolated regions, they allow families to continue living in a dignified fashion rather than being displaced to a larger city or metropolitan region to find work.
- Community asset building is one strategy to pressure a low-wage industry sector to create better conditions for its workers.
An example of our work to assist the formation of social enterprises is the research we conducted for the nonprofit HandMade in America
. This research provided a framework for structuring a social enterprise and providing second-tier services, such as marketing, to a network of micro-enterprises operated by women in western North Carolina. The women produce handmade crafts, clothing, and fabrics. The report was based on interviews with four organizations that produce handmade products. Two fair-trade organizations that sell products in both a wholesale and retail fashion were interviewed in order to gain ideas on organizational structures and marketing strategies.