February 14, 2023
In May of 2017, the Community Foundation held an Innovation Breakfast at which the Democracy Collaborative presented on the burgeoning concept of community wealth building. In short, the discussion was around “using the economic leverage of local anchor organizations like local government, hospitals, universities, housing associations, or large local private sector employers, to tackle longstanding systematic challenges and structural inequities within communities,” as defined here. In the United States, that might look like employee ownership of a small business, or community-run funds for mutual aid.

In that audience were representatives from the PHILLIPS Programs, who saw the opportunity in the plan, and launched immediately a feasibility study, looking at how community wealth building could address issues for people with emotional and behavioral health needs. Eventually, the PHILLIPS Programs settled on the Multi-stakeholder cooperative approach- using the model set up by the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western, and others. "We had been doing hydroponic farming for sometime- the idea that really jelled at that conversation was the business model for the scaling of the farm- and most imporantly, the employee ownership." said Piper Phillips, President and CEO of the PHILLIPS Programs.

The Community Foundation partnered with the PHILLIPS Programs through the years to advance social and economic mobility in Northern Virginia. The PHILLIPS Programs were awarded our Innovation Fund grant in 2019 to bring its urban vertical farming program to its Annandale location. CFNOVA’s relationship to the PHILLIPS Programs has grown and evolved over time. Add these experiences to that conversation almost six years ago, the PHILLIPS Programs have expanded, and founded a new nonprofit, SpringForward Ventures. SpringForward Ventures’ mission is to incubate employment social enterprises for individuals who encounter barriers to employment, anchoring themselves in different communities by funding and seeding actual businesses and organizations around human centered design. The focus for SpringForward Ventures is on fair wages and building wealth through employee ownership. With the nonprofit funding, businesses are supported financially, and ownership shifts to its employees when it becomes possible.

The PHILLIPS Programs’ SpringForward Ventures initiative will move into constructing a high-tech four-bay greenhouse in Baltimore, Maryland, with the goal of selling produce to distributors, hospitals, restaurants, and similar organizations. They've partnered with the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health on a project to make hydroponic produce available in Baltimore's corner markets. The Community Foundation’s mission is to advance equity by advancing social and economic mobility, and this ongoing partnership with the PHILLIPS Programs is an example of this. Helping to ensure stability and opportunity for community members with disabilities or behavioral differences creates more equitable, more inclusive, and better-functioning communities for all.