We use terminology that is already defined and codified (see our Resources section), and to ensure that CCI contributes meaningfully in circulating powerful terms, we want to be transparent in explaining what we mean when we use certain, essential terms.
There are a number of terms that we align with (e.g., new economy, just transition, solidarity economy, degrowth, green economy, etc.), but we use the broadly encompassing term “Alternative Economy” to explicitly acknowledge that the current understanding of capitalism is outdated and flawed. We want to recapture an understanding of capitalism and market systems as no longer based on wealth and profit but rather based on enabling structures that are relational, localized based on place- or identity-based cultural communitites, and interdependent among people and the planet. There are numberous efforts underway to enact new economic paradigms and financial systems, and where we double down is in supporting localized, values-based efforts that work better for those who have been harmed by the prevailing paradigm of deregulated, profit-oriented, neo-liberal capitalsm. This is the right moment to act boldly–to not just be financially inclusive of under-served communitites, but rather to afford them the opportuitites to start, own, and author their financial institutions and economic identities.
We use this term to mean many types of artists, including artisans, creatives, creative entrepreneurs, cultural producers, culture-bearers, cultural anchors, craftspeople, and makers. In other words, this is a broad group of individuals, sometimes working independently or to manifest a community identity, whose deep creative or cultural practice sets them apart and makes them essential in shaping society, culture, and communities. We take a broad definition of artist to get away from the conventional definition that only recognized artists who are professionally degreed as “fine artists.” Our usage of this term includes them plus so many more. The United States is an exciting, thriving, and vibrant country made so because of the diversity of its people and their varied forms of expression. Our definition, therefore, makes room for artists who move our hearts and minds through aesthetics, social relevance, and community connectivity.
Economic change cannot happen in a vacuum. Communities of color that have long suffered from marginalization, exploitation, or extraction need support to shift their realities. If we want to shift the prevailing economic paradigm to be less dependent on non-local corporations and more reflective of the heterogeneity of our nation’s many communities, then economic transformation must be rooted in their social and cultural transformations. We have seen how efforts, such as starting a community-owned bank or increasing the number of jobs, do not magically result in a healthy and thriving community. We have also seen how art used to beautify a neighborhood without investing in shaping that community’s shared cultural identity foster conditions for eventual gentrification and displacement. We believe ownership of financial institutions should be localized, and this requires governance based on trust, shared goals, and interdependency. In other words, how people come together, work together, and eventually express unique characteristics and practices is cultural work. A community’s culture is what can make or break economic experiments and interventions. For many of the economic trailblazers AmbitioUS funds, our support is tailored to validate and encourage how their economic work manifests as cultural practice.
In order to change the current economic paradigm, there needs to be massive changes that shift how the market works and how things are valued. These changes need to happen across the entire economy, including in the nascent digital space. The cumulation of changes that shift how the economic system works is disruption. When we talk about disruption we are referring to disrupting the current economy, which works for too-few people, in order to create a system that will work for everyone. We see that we are in an already disrupted moment due to a combination of demographic shifts, generational attitudinal changes, technological advancements, and unrest due to growing inequality, thus making this moment optimal for enacting systems that effect economic justice.
Charity and philanthropy often respond to immediate problems and needs. For example, helping an artist afford pursuing an artistic project that the artist could not have afforded on their own. Even support that is characterized as teaching beneficiaries “how to fish” (i.e., capacity building) is project based, working to fix a knowledge or network problem. CCI believes that we as philanthropic support need to move into the realm of creating financial independence for those we serve. It’s not enough to afford an opportunity, fix a problem, or teach them how to fish: We need to build structures of support at systems levels that ensure that people can realize financial self-determination so they don’t have to jump through funders, lenders, and other supporters’ hoops to pursue the path they should have the right to set for themselves. For us, attending to financial self-determination sets a high bar to move from project-based, transactional investing to unconventionally supporting people’s potential that extends beyond our own initiative’s timeframe and reflects an “upstream” approach.
We use this term to describe communities on the front lines of our current economic crisis. We believe that communities who have been left out of the current economy or forced to suffer through massive debt and an inability to participate in economic growth understand how to build an economy that will work for everyone. These communities are often predominantly African American, Indigenous, immigrant, or Latinx. AmbitioUS is aimed to support these endeavors and these communities.
We borrow RSF (Rudolf Steiner Foundation) Social Finance’s term “integrated capital” to describe how AmbitioUS provides many forms of support–grants, investments, and loans–in order to be helpful to investees as well as incubate the various approaches conventional funders might use in moving beyond nonprofit-only grants. Nonprofit financial models need to be disrupted as the lack of capital customized to needs and opportunitites has undermined the possibility of realizing systems change. Put another way, systems change will not happen through conventional project- or contract-based support. If we want healthy, enabling systems, then this takes an agnostic and experimental approach. It is for this reason we are open to supporting nonprofits, cooperative businesses, hybrid social enterprises, individuals, and collectives, and willing to provide support through investment notes, crowdfunding platforms, loan products, grants, etc.