Building Lifelong Opportunity, Community, and Knowledge

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empowered_group_18528140.jpgby Sara M. Baker

Community is a concept most of us could easily define, and the same
could be said for terms such as “economic” and “development.” However,
when we put the three words together, the result is often a vague
definition based on our understanding of each individually. Community
Economic Development (CED) continues to be a rather ambiguous and
abstract concept, even for those who are considered experts in the
field.

So, what is Community Economic Development? First, we must recognize
Community Economic Development is not a noun so much as it is a verb.
CED is action taken by people locally to create economic opportunities
and better social conditions, particularly for the most underserved. CED
exists in local government agencies, churches, nonprofits, and many
other community organizations. One notable example is Eagle Market
Streets Development Corporation (EMSDC), CDC, 501c3 organization, whose
mission statement is “Transforming Individuals into Assets: Investing in
Sustainable Personal, Economic, and Community Development.”

EMSDC is modeling CED in its truest form with a promising new program
set to launch in January 2011. The BLOCK (Building Lifelong
Opportunity, Community, and Knowledge) Academy for Business Economic
Development is an innovative, non-traditional HUB Academy designed to
promote financial capability and lasting economic behavioral changes for
low-income, underserved minority populations.

While many local agencies focus on CED, EMSDC is pioneering the
concept of financial capability in Asheville. Most products and services
designed to assist low to moderate income populations rely on
traditional financial literacy education and training. However, research
indicates that in today’s economic climate, financial education alone
is no longer enough. Financial Capability is focused on changing
behaviors surrounding financial habits and attitudes, emphasizing the
consumers’ outcome—an increase in knowledge and positive shift in
behavior.

A significant focus of the program is to transform underserved
populations’ perception of “self” through the belief that every
individual is an asset – someone of value and worth with the ability to
contribute their unique skills and abilities to the betterment of
society.

This perspective creates a framework to combat factors that
prevent individuals from believing in, or striving toward financial
capability. The under-banked not only become educated on the
significance of financial capability, but more importantly, understand
the relevance and benefit to their immediate and future life situations.
These improved fiscal practices, job creation, self-sufficiency,
increased knowledge, and sustainable economic leverage benefit the
entire community.

The Academy utilizes an expansive network of community partners
and resources, including Mt. Zion CDC Inc., WRES-LP, EMPOWERMENT,
HomeTrust Bank, Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College, Mountain
BizWorks, The City of Asheville, the NC Department of Commerce, and Fox
Management Consulting. The result is a multi-faceted approach to
sustainable social and economic business development.

Through the combination of financial education and services, the
holistic curriculum covers everything from how to balance a checkbook to
writing a business plan, in addition to the importance of asset and
wealth building. The course, facilitated by Dr. Joseph Fox of
AB-Tech/Fox Mgt., emphasizes the value of social entrepreneurship,
self-sufficiency, and financial capability.

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