Marjorie Kelly's latest book explores a new model of ownership where an entire community shares a business which in turn gives their best interests (and not shareholders' interests) priority and focuses on long-term growth and yield over short-term profits.
The model is already working successfully in different communities all around the world. Here are just five examples:
1. Community-owned banks – like credit unions of the U.S., building societies in the UK, and cooperative banks found across the globe, all of which are owned by their depositors. At a time when the mega-banks of the U.S. were receiving billions in bailouts, the vast majority of the nation’s 8,000 consumer-owned credit unions needed none. In Europe, the cooperative banking sector holds 21 percent of all deposits. In the Netherlands, the enormous Rabobank holds 43 percent of the country’s deposits. These cooperative banks are member-owned and run democratically in the interests of their customers.
2. Community-owned wind – like Lynneten Wind Farm, standing offshore in Copenhagen harbor, where three turbines are owned by a local utility, four by a wind guild. Wind guilds are owned by small local investors who joined together to fund and own wind installations, with no corporate middleman. Denmark today generates 20 percent of its electric power from wind, more than any other nation. And many credit that success to the grassroots movement of the wind guilds.
3. Community-owned forests of Mexico – where the rights to govern and profit from the forest are often held by indigenous peoples, like the Zapotec Indians of Ixtlan de Juarez in southern Mexico. At Ixtlan, the problems that bedeviled other forests in Mexico, like deforestation and illegal logging, have become relatively unknown. The reason is community members have incentive to be stewards, because forest enterprises employ 300 people harvesting timber, making furniture, and caring for the forest. Community forests represent 60 to 80 percent of all forests in Mexico. Worldwide, more than a quarter of forests in developing nations are managed by local communities.
4. Community land trusts – like the Jewish National Fund, a public but nongovernmental institution established over a century ago to hold land that, as its founder said, would be “the property of the Jewish people as a whole.” Today the fund still holds title to substantial land in Israel, overseen by trustees who lease portions to kibbutzim and others who use it in the public interest. Mexico once had the ejido system, involving village control over communal land. And traditions of common land ownership were known in ancient China and Africa. Today these traditions survive in the British custom of the town common in New England. There are also community land trusts in the U.S. where a cluster of families own their homes, while a community nonprofit owns the land beneath those homes. In the housing crisis that began in 2008, community land trust homes in the U.S. had foreclosure rates one-tenth those of traditionally owned homes.
5. Community-owned restaurants and grocery stores – like the County Seat Café in Gove, Kansas, which is housed next to the GCIA Grocery Store, both of which were created by the community after a local restaurant and store closed. A group of citizens formed the Gove Community Improvement Association (GCIA), and built a new building with volunteer labor, local donations, and a loan from the local electric cooperative. Local residents can join the GCIA for $25, which brings certain purchasing privileges at the grocery store, such as the right to charge. Different from cooperatives, community-owned stores can tailor their ownership structures to meet the unique needs of their communities.