Citizen-Led Sustainable Change:

Innovations in North American Community Development

More than 150 community development practitioners, policymakers, researchers and funders from across Canada and the United States converged at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX) in June 2013 to explore common themes in citizen-led sustainable change through eleven case studies from Canada and the United States. Following the forum, the cases were further developed for publication in a book edited by Alison Mathie and John Gaventa of the Coady Institute and an accompanying set of learning materials.

The forum


Hosted by StFX’s Extension Department and Coady International Institute, the forum was the second part of a larger project with three main objectives:

1.   To document cases of citizen-led development that could inspire practical strategies for building “wealth” for an economic future that is environmentally sustainable and socially just;
2. To convene a forum to share insights from these cases with people from across North America; and,
3. To share the learnings, in the form of case studies and other materials, and gather feedback on how the ideas have been applied by forum participants.


Authors and community leaders presented their cases and facilitated discussions among participants. A panel discussion of citizen-led sustainable change featuring Sheila Watt-Cloutier, John McKnight and Wayne Fawbush was held in St. Andrews, a local community known for its citizen-led development.

Forum participants, including development practitioners, researchers, policymakers and funders, had an opportunity to join thematic discussion groups exploring questions, such as how can we use culture as an asset for change and what kind of wealth needs to be created for sustainable development?

A highlight of the forum was the innovations marketplace—a showcase of innovative tools, methods and approaches used in citizen-led sustainable development. This networking event generated a buzz and provided an opportunity for people to learn about what is working in other communities while sharing information about what is working in their own community. In the final plenary, people reflected on what they learned and shared ideas to put their learning into action.

The forum was sponsored by an anonymous donor, the Ford Foundation, the George Topshee Memorial Fund, and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

Please click here for the full forum report.

Wayne Fawbush, program officer with the Ford Foundation,
"We’re now exchanging ideas on how Coady and the WealthWorks group can work together over the next year to see where we can take advantage of each other’s expertise.”

Brenda Reid-Kuecks, executive director of EcoTrust Canada:
“It’s really wonderful to walk into a room of 100-plus people and the start of the conversation is ‘Where do we go to build a triple-bottom-line economy?’ and it only gets better from there.”

Michelle Decker, CEO of Rural Action Ohio:
“Whether this is a ‘movement’, or whether something formal comes out of it, we put a light on what Paul Hawken called The Blessed Unrest. It’s the work that happens quietly, everywhere.”