Community Economic Mobilization Initiative (CEMI) Technical Assistance Resource Center
The Center at Sierra Health Foundation launched the Community Economic Mobilization Initiative (CEMI) to assist nonprofits in building their knowledge and capacity so that they are poised to participate in funding opportunities. CEMI is a $17.7 million and growing fund focused on diversifying the nonprofits involved in receiving and directing federal and state climate-resilient economic development initiatives. The Center at Sierra Health Foundation has partnered with experts from the Institute for Social Transformation at UC Santa Cruz, the Equity Research Institute at USC, and PolicyLink to launch a Technical Assistance Resource Center to develop and deliver trainings and tools for underserved and BIPOC-led community organizations to effectively engage in community economic development.
Leadership for the Technical Assistance Resource Center (TARC) will include renowned inclusive economic development leaders Dr. Chris Benner and Dr. Manuel Pastor, and national research and action institute PolicyLink, to offer a training curriculum that includes resources on race equity in the current economy, understanding economic development decision-making, commercial district revitalization, organizing social and economic movements and more.
The overall goal of the technical assistance, training, and capacity building efforts will be to help strengthen the ability of underserved and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)-led community organizations to leverage public investments to address disproportionate and historic economic disparities. This training is designed to be integrated with other work of the Sierra Health Foundation’s Community Economic Mobilization Initiative in supporting community organizations throughout the state in creating and implementing roadmaps for economic recovery and inclusive economic development. Much of the training is focused on strengthening community organizations’ knowledge of the nuts and bolts of implementing community economic development initiatives, and on taking advantage of public sector infrastructure and economic development spending.
Central to this effort, however, is the recognition that we are in a moment of multiple interdependent crises–of racial inequality, climate change, and erosion of democratic practices. Thus, what we need is not simply a return to normal economic practices that have driven these crises. We need to reimagine and restructure our economy in a way that directly challenges inequality, centers racial justice and anti-racism, lifts up our commonality, and contributes to crafting a new economic story that can become common sense in our language, policy and practice.
Our approach for economic development is centered on the framework of Solidarity Economics, which has three central points.
- First, it is our economy, not the economy. We have to understand that economic processes and structures are not the result of laws of nature, but the laws of people. Markets are created by people, organizations and institutions, and as such, reflect the values and power relations embodied by those actors, privileging some and excluding others.
- Second, mutuality actually drives our economy, and we do better when we invest in that mutuality. While traditional economics stresses individual actors (consumers, businesses, workers) responding to prices signals, in fact economy prosperity is also deeply rooted in collaborative processes: innovative industry clusters, public-private partnerships, public infrastructure and public goods, community economies and intersecting land, housing, and transportation systems. There is also widespread evidence that those places that invest in mutuality actually do better economically as well. Less economic inequality, racial segregation, local government fragmentation and political separation have all been shown to help contribute to stronger economies.
- Third, because some people benefit from the current state of affairs, social movements will be necessary to generate change. Investing in movements not only help shift economic structures, but also helps reinforce habits of solidarity and intersectionality.
In providing technical assistance and training for this initiative, we will reflect this framework in a combination of formats that includes:
- developing online training and resources materials
- conducting both on-line and in-person training workshops
- developing cohort programs that help facilitate group and peer learning
- building linkages and connections to support organizing and power-building goals
An initial cohort of 17 grantees embodies CEMI’s intent to increase opportunities for community organizations to decide how public funds are spent and diversify who receives those funds. Grantees are located throughout the state, with an emphasis on California’s inland communities that have historically been overlooked for inclusive economic development opportunities. These organizations will be part of cross-sector decision-making groups and bring their commitment to dignity for all work and workers to the public funds that are helping communities create more equitable and resilient economies.