Anyone who has been involved in the community economic development sector or has witnessed its evolution over the last four decades can’t help but being saddened by the recent developments with Shorebank of Chicago. On August 20th the United States’ preeminent community bank became one of the many fatalities of the financial meltdown that has been happening south of the border. The FDIC seized the assets of Shorebank and it has now been acquired and will be managed by a new entity, the Urban Partnership Bank.

While shocked and disappointed by this news, it has admittedly forced me to better understand and acknowledge the long-term impact that Shorebank founders Ron Grzywinski, Mary Houghton, James Fletcher, Milton Davis and their countless partners have had since 1973. That was the year the four of them purchased a failing bank in a declining and disinvested neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. It has been said that “they set out to demonstrate that banks can be powerful tools for creating positive social and community change”. Interestingly, in 1973 I was at university completing my last year of economics. What I was demonstrating then was my commitment to such profound topics as “how was what I was learning going to allow me to make a living” …and of course the weekly pub night at the Student Union Building (this may not have been the relative priorities of these contemplations).

I believe the four pioneers and their team successfully demonstrated what they set out to do, and this has had a ripple effect around the world. Unaware at the time, the ripple would eventually drift my way and profoundly alter the course of my working life.

While the ownership and form of the bank has changed, its legacy lives on within the vision and commitment of those who are working in many other community-based and community-connected organizations throughout North America and beyond. Some of these have been spawned directly by Shorebank (see Shorebank Pacific and Enterprise Cascadia). Many more such as Ecotrust, Ecotrust Canada and Ecotrust Australia have been launched and inspired through the embracing of such notions as community economic development, social capital, and triple bottom line investing. Interesting, I don’t remember these ever being discussed in any of my economics courses.

I do indeed share a moment of sadness with many as a result of what has happened to Shorebank. More importantly though, I cherish the other moments when I have the privilege of sharing and expressing a vision for what is possible and focusing on the work at hand. So thank you Ron Grzywinski, Mary Houghton, James Fletcher and Milton Davis and all those who have rippled into my life as a result of them. It is comforting to know that there are others who share these moments with me as well.

– Bill Girard
Program Director – Capital Management