Boston Ujima Project

LOCATION: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

SUMMARY: THE BOSTON UJIMA PROJECT is a democratically governed multi-stakeholder organization, building a community-controlled business and finance ecosystem in Boston. We are challenging poverty and developing our communities by pooling our investment, consumer and political capital, to grow local wealth and ownership while meeting our own needs.

PROBLEM SPACE: “Good Jobs for Working Class People of Color: Metropolitan Boston is one of the wealthiest regions in the world, but over half of Boston’s working residents earn less than $35,000 a year. Meanwhile, 2 out of 5 children in Boston’s communities of color live in poverty.

Thriving Minority and Worker Owned Businesses: While Boston is 53% people of color, only 32% of businesses are minority owned. These minority owned companies only capture 6% of the Cityäó»s $40.5B in private sector revenues.

Value Aligned Investment Opportunities: On average, minority enterprises are three times as likely to be denied a loan compared to white owned businesses. In Boston, companies in 3 low-income communities that do access funding receive 20-45% less dollars than borrowers in majority white communities.

Public Policies to Support Local Businesses: Public policies and traditional development practices favor the use corporate tax breaks and real estate subsidies to attract large, (multi)national corporations. This leaves socially responsible local companies with multiple disadvantages.

Boston is the most economically stratified City in the US. Poverty persists, not from a lack of capital or human resources, but from a misaligned ecosystem that favors extractive corporate development over community controlled wealth creation.””””””Community Standards: Public laws do not ensure that full time workers can survive or support a family in Boston. Insufficient labor, ecological and real estate standards allow for predatory businesses and developers to grow wealthy by exploiting customers, workers and local land.

Finance Capital: While there is an appetite for investing into äóìMain Street,äó there is a lack of infrastructure to allow non-accredited, high net-worth individuals, and institutional investors to finance local high impact businesses and cooperatives in Boston. Meanwhile, public assets, endowments, and private savings remain invested in extractive corporations like Exxon and Walmart. The lack of community controlled finance perpetuates the upwards extraction of capital.

Private Ownership: While local land and business owners help retain neighborhood wealth, their employees or tenants can skill be underpaid or outpriced. Alternative models for distributed ownership like worker and housing co-ops face barriers to scale, lacking access to capital, public subsidies and consumer support.

Local Spending: Boston’s consumer spending, institutional purchasing and public procurement are being directed with minimum care for the labor, ecological or local footprint of their vendors. The absence of value based spending leaves good companies disadvantaged in a race to the bottom economy.”

SOLUTION: “Boston Ujima Project is working to unite working class residents, small businesses, grassroots organizations and other local stakeholders to forge a new circuit of investment, production and consumption that meets consumer needs, creates jobs, distributes wealth, and models a New Economy.

As an cooperative economics infrastructure project, Ujima is forming a democratically controlled community investment fund, an Ujima äóìGood Business Certification, and a local currency that incentivizes spending at community companies.

The establishment of Good Business Certification allows members to set collective standards to decide who is in, and who is out of our ecosystem. As a strategy, Ujima members boycott extractive corporations, while feeding Ujima Certified companies with capital, technical assistance, purchasing dollars and political support. Ujima seeks to end handouts for big business and developers, while creating advantages for locally owned, high road social enterprises, land trusts and co-ops.

Each of Ujima’s programs help our communities leverage our assets and better meet our own needs. As an interlocking system, Ujima’s mutually reinforcing infrastructure allows low-income communities to govern and model a transition to a more just and sustainable local economy. Ujima is a Swahili word and the Kwanzaa principle for “collective work and responsibility.”