Participatory Investment (PI), which we have also referred to as Grassroots Community Engaged Investment (GCEI), is the process of investing with meaningful input, decision-making power, and/or ownership from grassroots stakeholders. What sets these investment projects apart from traditional community development and mission-aligned endeavors is that investments happen “with” communities, not “to” them.
These grassroots-led projects build power for their communities in several ways that differ them from typical community investments. They spur new conversations that grassroots leaders are otherwise excluded from, forge productive connections between grassroots and institutional stakeholders, build community knowledge around local finance and economic development ecosystems, and fund projects that are more aligned with existing movements in the community.
In all, they fortify solidarity movements and put power back in the hands of BIPOC and working class communities. Participatory Investment can be found in many, if not all, types of projects in community development and community investment contexts.
This Learning Hub is a one-stop resource for learning about Participatory Investment. You’ll find our flagship report titled Grassroots Community Engaged Investment, deep dive videos from our 2021 Discussion Series, case studies and an incomplete list of Participatory Investment projects towards the bottom, and several other resources.
Participatory Investment is not one thing, it's a lens that can be applied across many types of investment. Below are some of the ways we see Participatory Investment happening in the U.S. To see more examples of projects, scroll to the bottom of the page.
There are several funds projects that seek to pool money from various capital sources and have grassroots stakeholders – like residents or key community organizations – steward those resources towards approved businesses. The goal of such projects is to fill capital gaps for enterprises that the community decides are important, and to build the capacity of residents and key community organizations to decide their economic destiny.
The Boston Ujima Project is a core example of such a capital fund, which practices direct democracy by its member-investors at a one investment, one vote ratio.
Many communities seek to gain control over land and stave off predatory housing market investors through PI. This can be done through pools of capital dedicated to purchasing land and taking it off the market, like the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative.
Like enterprise financing funds, these projects establish community governance in how the capital is deployed, including residents, tenants, grassroots organizations, and other nontraditional stakeholders.
Several different types of PI projects turn real estate development into opportunities for long term wealth preservation and community autonomy. Trust-based models, like the Kensington Corridor Trust, preserve land for the long term by taking buildings or entire blocks off the speculative market, placing the rights to its use in the hands of community leaders, and serving as a capital vehicle that can reinvest rental revenue into adding new properties to the trust.
Single-project development models, like Market Creek Plaza, establish community working groups to determine the use and goal of the development (and often provide ownership stakes through community investment shares).
Traditional community development vehicles like Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Community Development Corporations (CDCs) can utilize governance models that constitute GCEI.
For example, Thunder Valley CDC represents a Native-led development organization serving the Oglala Lakota Tribe’s Pine Ridge Reservation, capitalizing housing and commercial developments as well as a wide range of community projects. The governance structure is based on its community-led board and its founding by activists in the community.
Within each of those types of investments, there is a range of depth and complexity of the actual community engagement; in other words, not all community engagement is the same or will have the same outcomes in terms of shifting power. Surveys and investor-led input sessions may be used to gather some community say in how a project deploys capital, but longstanding working groups, community boards, and community assemblies can provide more ownership over important decisions in a project.
While it builds on a deep history of democratizing finance, Participatory Investment is still an emerging form of investment. Many projects are new within the past 5 years and are demonstrating new models as they work. At this stage, it’s critical for each stakeholder type to understand what role they have to help existing projects, replicate them, and build off of their learnings.
In our report on Participatory Investment, we feature several projects that are demonstrating PI in practice. This list doesn't capture every instance of PI we've seen, but covers an amazing range of investment! Check out the websites of the following projects, and case studies for several from our report.
The Boston Ujima Project is a cooperative business, arts and investment ecosystem built by and for Boston's working class Black, Indigenous and communities of color.
A project initiated in 2012 by Incourage, a community foundation, to gather community input to preserve the historical and community-relevant Tribune building in Wisconsin Rapids.
Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation makes investments by and for the Oglala Lakota tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
A national network of locally-rooted, non-extractive loan funds that brings the power of big finance under community control.
A national CDFI that helps facilitate conversions of manufactured home communities to resident ownership.
A community capital fund developed by grassroots organizations in California’s East Bay to provide equitable access to capital.
A fund that addresses the lack of access to capital for Black and Native communities by capitalizing lenders. Their community advisory board guides investments.
A community-engaged shopping plaza redevelopment that pioneered several methods of community design, governance, and investment.
A new multi-stakeholder real estate model for increasing neighborhood control and ownership over the commercial corridor in Kensington, Philadelphia.
A regional blended capital platform accelerating and expanding investment across Central Appalachia, working side by side with community partners.
Elevated Chicago is a multi-sector collaborative that promotes more equitable development of public spaces, buildings and vacant land around Chicago’s public transit infrastructure.
Mercy Corps NW founded this project, which represents an opportunity for community members to build wealth by investing in a commercial plaza.
EB PREC helps BIPOC and allied communities to cooperatively organize, finance, purchase, and steward mixed-use and residential property in the East Bay.
A historic effort to buy the Crenshaw Mall to redevelop it for the community, and by the community.
A lending program in New Mexico that uses relationships with community-facing organizations, like Native Women Lead, to source and vet borrowers from undercapitalized communities.