Ecolution #2: The Flavor of Money

Ecolution reporting made possible by Seward Co-op, which has been a community-owned grocer since 1972: Together, we continue to cultivate a cooperative economy.

In the words of Native American philanthropist Edgar Villanueva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth,” “when it comes togetting or giving access to money, white men are usually in charge, and everyone else has to be twice (or more) as good to get half (or less) as much.”

When Villanueva published “Decolonizing Wealth” in 2018, he pointed out that:

  • 92 percent of foundation CEOs are white, 89 percent of foundation boards are white — and that only 7 to 8 percent of foundation funding tends to go specifically to people of color. 
  • The management of financial services is 81 percent white; 86 percent of venture capitalists are white, as are more than 96 percent of angel investors.
  • Loans are denied to 42 percent of minority-owned firms but denied to only 16 percent of white-owned firms.
  • 1 percent of venture capital funding goes to African American and Latino entrepreneurs.

Villanueva is a nationally recognized philanthropist, and an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe. As he wrote: “All of us who have been forced to the margins are the very ones who harbor the best solutions for healing, progress, and peace, by virtue of our outsider perspectives and resilience. When we reclaim our share of resources, when we recover our places at the table and the drawing board, we can design our healing. We can create new ways of seeking and granting access to money. We can return balance to the world by moving money to where the hurt is worst.”

Money is like water. Water can be a precious life-giving resource. But what happens when water is dammed, when a water cannon is fired on protestors in subzero temperatures?

Money should be a tool of love, to facilitate relationships, to help us thrive, rather than to hurt and divide us. If it’s used for sacred, life-giving, restorative purposes, it can be medicine.

— Edgar villanueva

We are the ones who give money its meaning and power, he says. “What is money but a way to measure value, to facilitate exchange? And what is exchange but a type of relationship between people?”

How to Restructure the Narrative

Villanueva points out that money is not the root of evil. “Materially, it’s a bit of nickel, zinc, copper. It’s a little linen, mostly cotton, some ink. It’s basically Kleenex adorned with dead presidents. Actually, today mostly it’s a series of zeros and ones. Bytes, data on screens. Imaginary. Harmless.”

The problem is when we make money more important than human life, rather than remembering that money is a concept that people made up.

To restructure the narrative about money, he implies, requires — as a start — recognizing that: “European white imperialism spent centuries marching around the world, using whatever means necessary to amass and consolidate resources and wealth. Now, adding insult to injury, those who were stolen from or exploited to make that wealth — Indigenous people, people of African descent, and many other people of color — must apply for access to that wealth in the form of loans or grants; we must prove ourselves worthy. We are demeaned for our lack of resources, scrutinized, and often denied access after all.”

[Read more from Villanueva]

Our second series in the Ecolution Collective is about money. Specifically, how the “eco” — the root word for house or dwelling — is part of economy. And, importantly, how people are reshaping the narrative around money to be that of cooperation and collaboration.

Visit our conversation about collective economies with Angela Dawson, founder of 40 Acre Co-op

Co-operative enterprise has been part of the American economy since its beginnings, especially important in rural communities. Today, 1 in 3 people in the U.S. are co-op members. Co-operatives enable people to work together to meet their needs and goals, providing themselves with everything from farm supplies to groceries, good jobs to financial services, and shelter to electricity.

What are some of the ways that co-operatives have been used in the past, and how can they help us build stronger, more resilient and sustainable communities?

This webinar from National Farmers Union offers an introduction to the history and nature of cooperatives

Coming up from National Farmer’s Union: “How Black Farmers Reclaimed Economic Power with Cooperatives,”October 27, 1pm CT.