Education for Economic Democracy
by Christina A. Clamp

Proponents of economic democracy foster economic institutions that enable the poor and other marginalized groups to increase their participation in the local economy both as stakeholders and as owners through individual, cooperative and community asset building. Economic democracy emphasizes core values of equity, democracy and equality. This is the story of how we educate practitioners for this work at Southern New Hampshire University’s School of Community Economic Development (SCED).

SCED celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. The program is well respected both nationally and internationally. It recruits community activists, and development workers for masters’ and doctoral studies in community economic development (CED) in three degree programs: a residential MS in International Community Economic Development (ICED), the nonresidential MS in National Community Economic Development (NCED) and the MA/PhD Program in Policy and CED (PACED) All three programs foster leadership skills for promoting alternative approaches to local economic development that are community controlled and owned. Both the ICED and the NCED programs are designed to build the skills of practitioners while PACED is designed to build the professional skills of practitioners who wish to go on in the field as policy analysts and academics. This article examines the NCED program, specifically.

The NCED program is a cohort program for working adults from across the United States and Canada. Student enrollment is usually spit evenly between men and women. Over half of the enrollment is African American, Latino and Native American. The NCED curriculum emphasizes a practical focus both in the course content and in a field based community project in lieu of a thesis. Students complete 12 field-based credits by working on a community project. Students attend classes one weekend per month. They stay in contact with faculty and other students by participation in web based discussion groups. This format allows students to remain active in their own community.

The curriculum centers on three core areas:

1. Community Economic Development Theory, Finance and Sectoral Interventions.

This area addresses how CED is defined both as a movement for economic justice and as a professional field or industry. Courses in this area orient students to what CED is; examines specific sectors and target populations; and how it addresses problems in the areas of housing; and economic development. There are required courses in CED theory, Business Development and Financing CED. Electives include: Microenterprise Development, Cooperative Development, Housing Development, Social Policy Analysis; Perspectives in International Development, Indigenous Economics and Faith Based CED.

2. Capacity Building For Community Based Organizations.

These courses strengthen managerial skills in capacity building for community based organizations, including: managerial accounting; organizational management; financial management; diversity in organizations; nonprofit management; law and CED; fundraising; negotiation skills; marketing and strategic management for faith based initiatives.

3. Project Design And Management Skills.

This area is structured around the development of a community project. Each student conducts community research to identify an issue or problem with community residents. The course work prepares students to design and implement a project. Some students may work on projects as an intern or volunteer; others may work on a project at their workplace. The expectation is that all students will be involved in a project that has ongoing meaningful community participation of residents.

In practice, this can be challenging since students enter the program with quite a range of abilities and experiences. Some may be experienced managers of community organizations and others may have little or no experience with accounting and finance. Each year, students who are about to complete their degree meet with members of the faculty and staff to discuss how well the program has worked for them. Students tell us that this model makes it possible for them to remain active and involved in their community while building more effective skills for working in their community. They also tell us that the experience of studying together in a cohort builds strong community networks. Alumni tell us that these networks support them in their work after they have graduated.

Graduates work in community development and social service organizations where they are able to incorporate an economic dimension to their work. They have developed and work in community development corporations (CDC’s) and other nonprofits; cooperatives and land trusts; credit unions, community loan funds and other community financial institutions. Alumni work at all levels of government and the private for profit and nonprofit sectors.

Laurie Holmes, the executive director of Harbor COV, a domestic violence program in Chelsea, MA, and a graduate of the NCED program, developed a microenterprise training program for women at Elizabeth Stone House as her community project. Her work was groundbreaking in the field of domestic violence. What she was able to demonstrate is that women need not only social supports but also opportunities to build better economic options for themselves in breaking out of their roles as victims. The McAuley Institute profiled Laurie’s work in a recent book.*

Gentrification of Washington DC threatens the ability of low-income renters to remain in their homes. Linda Leaks, an African American woman believes that housing cooperatives are a solution for low-income families. She attended NCED to strengthen her skills for her work with Washington Inner-city Self Help, a housing cooperative organization in Washington, DC. Linda Leaks with another NCED graduate, Pat Kinch and Ajowa Ifateyo, a current NCED student recently celebrated the groundbreaking for the Ella Jo Baker Housing Cooperative, a 15 unit limited equity co-op in Columbia Heights.

NCED students develop skills for working effectively in grassroots interventions to increase local ownership and control of resources. They not only learn about successful models of community building but go on to create programs in their own communities. The community project is key to our success. Students are able to apply what they learn to their project work. Practical community work is valued and integral to the curriculum at SNHU!

* Marilyn Gittell Isolda Ortega-Bustamante and Tracy Steffy (1999). Women Creating Social Capital and Social Change: A Study of Women-led Community Development Organizations or go to

Chris Clamp is a Professor at Southern New Hampshire University Graduate School of Business, and academic coordinator of the school's national Community Economic Development Program. She can be reached at .

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