Marjorie Kelly is a Senior Fellow and Director of Consultancy Services at The Democracy Collaborative, a research, consulting, and training organization that led development of the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, Ohio, and is a national leader in spreading a new paradigm of community development. This new paradigm, Community Wealth Building, is aimed at broadening ownership, stabilizing communities, and creating inclusive and sustainable economies.

A Sampling of Kelly’s projects

The Learning/Action Lab Team at their first gathering in Denver, CO.

The Learning/Action Lab Team at their first gathering in Denver, CO.

The Learning/Action Lab for Community Wealth Building

Kelly is Project Director of this project, which is a year-long collaboration, spearheaded by The Democracy Collaborative and supported by the Northwest Area Foundation, designed to help Native American communities better engage in comprehensive community economic development. Working with six organizations in Minnesota, South Dakota, Oregon and Washington, this intensive training, advisory, education, and business development program empowers participants to build and retain wealth by developing effective strategies that foster ownership of enterprise, increase access to local assets, and create and anchor jobs locally. Participants engage in one-on-one tailored coaching sessions; on-line webinars to examine a specific innovation in-depth; two-day group workshops and training sessions, with the opportunity to engage with experts as well as peers; and high-impact site visits to centers of community wealth building activity.


For many years, Kelly was a member of the Resource Team of consultants assisting with this Ford Foundation project, which aimed to articulate and test a new systems approach to rural economic development, as part of the foundation’s Expanding Livelihoods for Poor Households work. Kelly co-authored two reports, “Keeping Wealth Local: Shared Ownership and Wealth Control for Rural Communities,” looking at alternative ownership models at use in rural areas; and “Impact Investing for Rural Wealth Creation.” She worked with Emerging ChangeMakers Network of Alabama to launch a new community investing fund. And she worked with other grantee projects within the initiative to assess how best they can attract investments.

  • From left, Phoebe Hodges-Carter of ECN, Marjorie Kelly, Robert deJongh of Red Mantra, and Jessica Norwood of ECN, in Mobile, AL.

    From left, Phoebe Hodges-Carter of ECN, Marjorie Kelly, Robert de Jongh of Red Mantra, and Jessica Norwood of ECN, in Mobile, AL.

    Press Release, Oct. 2, 2012
    The Emerging ChangeMakers Network (“ECN”) announced the launch of a rural wealth creation initiative to create a community loan fund targeted to Alabama’s historically under-served Black Belt. This is a project with which Marjorie Kelly worked for many years, and where she continues in an advisory capacity.

Corporation 20/20

This multi-stakeholder initiative aims to envision and advocate new enterprise designs that incorporate social, ecological, and financial aims at their core. Kelly co-founded it in 2004 with Tellus colleague Allen White, former co-founder of the Global Reporting Initiative. Corporation 20/20 has involved hundreds of leaders from business, law, labor, government, and civil society, who have met through in-person gatherings and on-line dialogues.  The project in 2007 and 2009 held a Summit on the Future of the Corporation, at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall. Kelly and White co-authored the Summit report “Corporate Design” and co-edited the “Paper Series on Corporate Design.” View a video of the 2007 Summit.

Ownership and financial design for social mission

With attorney Jenny Kassan, president of Cutting Edge Capital, Kelly worked with a variety of private businesses to design ownership structures, social enterprise hybrids, governance designs, and stakeholder finance approaches that help keep social mission healthy and thriving over the long term. She also led workshops on ownership design. One particular focus was the “mission-controlled corporation,” a term Kelly uses to describe foundation-owned, trust-owned, and family-controlled models that employ design elements (such as super-voting shares, or bicameral governance structures) to keep control in mission-oriented hands even when ownership is widely held.

Worker equity practices at the 100 largest U.S. companies in food and agriculture

Kelly was director of this research project, undertaken for the Rockefeller Foundation. Report was released to the public in October 2012. See press release or download the Executive Summary or full report.

  • The slides from Tellus Institute and Sustainalytics’ webinar presentation on November 13, 2012 are available here.

Boards and committees

Kelly is on the advisory board for the Sustainable Business Academy in Boston, aimed at bridging the gap between business people, academics and social innovators working to promote a new economy. She is also a director of Salem Alliance for the Environment in Salem, MA, where she lives. Kelly previously was president of the board of the William Street Grocery Cooperative, in Madison, WI, and was director of a nonprofit real estate developer in Minneapolis. She has served on advisory boards for the Center for Corporate Governance and Accountability at George Washington University Law School, the Strategic Corporate Initiative, and the Newsweek listing of “Greenest Big Companies in America.”


Upcoming events

Money Talk - Financial Literacy Conference

October 15, 2016, Roxbury Crossing, MA

Marjorie Kelly joins John Barros (Director of Economic Development for Boston), Melvin Miller (Publisher Bay State Banner), and other experts to discuss building community wealth. Specifically, the panel will focus on concrete strategies for Black families to build wealth in Massachusetts.

Vermont Employee Ownership 2017 Conference

June 2, 2017, Burlington, VT

Marjorie Kelly will keynote the annual conference held by the Vermont Employee Ownership Center. Check back soon for more details.

More Events ...

“I’m hopeful because of young folks like Nick Tilsen. Nick built a community center that uses spiritual and cultural teachings to help young people stay off drugs and their parents live healthier lifestyles. It’s making a difference. Today he’s building something bigger, a clean energy community that will provide affordable housing and help more Lakota small businesses get off the ground. Day by day, family by family, community by community, Nick and his nonprofit have helped inspire a new beginning for Pine Ridge. Nick says we decided as a community to take ownership of our own future. And that makes me hopeful.”

— President Barack Obama
The White House Tribal Nations Conference, Dec. 5, 2012

Pulpit rock

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, on Pine Ridge Reservation in S.D., is one of the participants in the Learning/Action Lab. In addition to being project director, Kelly is providing one-on-one coaching to the TVCDC team, headed by Executive Director Nick Tilsen, as they work to build a Regenerative Community. The community will feature affordable homes and rentals, pow wow grounds, skateboard park and ropes course, light industrial space, retail and business incubation spaces, spiritual spaces, and an aquaponics greenhouse. “Every house is positioned to take in the maximum amount of passive solar,” Tilsen said. “There will be 100 percent water reclamation. Building materials are sustainable. It will be a net zero community, producing all the energy it uses. Even roads are being built using recycled materials for structural fill.”

A two-page progress report on TVCDC can be found here.

Read a recent story about Thunder Valley’s Regenerative Community that appeared in Fast Company on November 7, 2014.