Marjorie Kelly is a national leader in spreading a new paradigm of community development. This new paradigm, Community Wealth Building, is aimed at broadening ownership, stabilizing communities, and creating inclusive and sustainable economies.
A Sampling of Kelly’s projects
Preserving local economies
With her colleagues at The Democracy Collaborative, Kelly developed the concept of local economy preservation funds, which can tap federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). The funding then can be used to support enterprises transitioning to employee or community ownership, with an emphasis one expanding ownership in communities of color. A number of cities are now working to develop these funds as part of their COVID-19 recovery strategies.
An initiative of The Democracy Collaborative co-founded by Kelly, Fifty by Fifty is aimed at creating a more inclusive economy through employee ownership. The goal of the initiative is to catalyze a movement with the knowledge, resources, and skills to grow the number of employee owners in the U.S. from 10 million to 50 million Americans by 2050. As part of this initiative, Kelly led research on the role of capital in advancing employee ownership and worked with the Soros family office to develop Guidelines for Equitable Employee Ownership Conversions. She was also part of the strategic design team for the Fund for Employee Ownership, launched by the Evergreen Cooperatives in 2018.
Under Kelly’s leadership, Fifty by Fifty launched Employee Ownership News, an online field-building publication that shares news and analysis related to all forms of employee ownership.
Kelly directed this year-long project spearheaded by The Democracy Collaborative and supported by the Northwest Area Foundation. The Learning/Action Lab was designed to help Native American communities better engage in comprehensive community economic development. Working with six organizations in Minnesota, South Dakota, Oregon and Washington, this intensive training, advisory, education, and business development program empowered participants to build and retain wealth by developing effective strategies to foster ownership, increase access to local assets, and create anchor jobs locally.
For many years, Kelly was a member of the Resource Team (a group of consultants) assisting with this Ford Foundation project, which aimed to articulate and test a new systems approach to rural economic development, as part of the foundation’s Expanding Livelihoods for Poor Households work. Kelly co-authored two reports, “Keeping Wealth Local: Shared Ownership and Wealth Control for Rural Communities [pdf],” looking at alternative ownership models at use in rural areas; and “Impact Investing for Rural Wealth Creation [pdf].”
She worked with Emerging ChangeMakers Network of Alabama to launch a new community investing fund targeting Alabama’s historically underserved Black Belt. And she worked with other grantee projects within the initiative to assess how best they could attract investments.
This multi-stakeholder initiative aims to envision and advocate new enterprise designs that incorporate social, ecological, and financial aims at their core. Kelly co-founded it in 2004 with Tellus colleague Allen White, former co-founder of the Global Reporting Initiative. Corporation 20/20 has involved hundreds of leaders from business, law, labor, government, and civil society, who have met through in-person gatherings and on-line dialogues. The project in 2007 and 2009 held a Summit on the Future of the Corporation at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall. Kelly and White co-authored the Summit proceedings and co-edited the “Paper Series on Corporate Design.” View a video of the 2007 Summit.
Kelly also was a co-convenor of Redefining Finance, an August 9, 2012, day-long invitational gathering in San Francisco, at the headquarters of Business for Social Responsibility. Some 25 participants attended, primarily from the financial, philanthropic, and nonprofit world. Attendees were provided three pre-readings, and there were three corresponding presentations. In addition to the proceedings [pdf], the pre-conference readings and PowerPoint presentations are also available at the Corporation 20/20 website.
Ownership and financial design for social mission
With attorney Jenny Kassan, president of Cutting Edge Capital, Kelly worked with a variety of private businesses to design ownership structures, social enterprise hybrids, governance designs, and stakeholder finance approaches that help keep social mission healthy and thriving over the long term. She also led workshops on ownership design. One particular focus was the “mission-controlled corporation,” a term Kelly uses to describe foundation-owned, trust-owned, and family-controlled models that employ design elements (such as super-voting shares or bicameral governance structures) to keep control in mission-oriented hands even when ownership is widely held.
Worker equity practices at the 100 largest U.S. companies in food and agriculture
Kelly was director of this research project, undertaken by Tellus Institute and Sustainalytics for the Rockefeller Foundation. The research looked a a glaring blind spot in the natural food movement: worker welfare. Workers that produce and deliver food to consumers face some of the lowest paying jobs, the highest levels of food insecurity, and some of the most dangerous working conditions in the U.S. The project report, Worker Equity in Food and Agriculture [pdf], explores this commonly overlooked issue of worker welfare practices at the 100 largest and most influential U.S. companies. An executive summary of the report [pdf] and a slide presentation from a November 13, 2012 webinar are also available.
Boards and committees
Kelly is on the advisory board for the Sustainable Business Academy in Boston, aimed at bridging the gap between business people, academics and social innovators working to promote a new economy. She is also a director of Salem Alliance for the Environment in Salem, MA, where she lives. Kelly previously was president of the board of the William Street Grocery Cooperative, in Madison, WI, and was director of a nonprofit real estate developer in Minneapolis. She has served on advisory boards for the Center for Corporate Governance and Accountability at George Washington University Law School, the Strategic Corporate Initiative, and the Newsweek listing of “Greenest Big Companies in America.”