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It’s All Connected: Local Economy Ecosystems Come to Life

The Ujima Project in Boston brings together local ecosystem stakeholders

BALLE Fellow Aaron Tanaka knows what it means to weave “from the edges,” as a permaculturist might say. The Ujima Project that he has helped design and nurture is engaging neighbors, workers, business owners and investors to build a People’s Economy in one of the most unequal cities in the United States: Boston, MA. Depending on the source, the average net worth of a black family in Greater Boston is as little as $7, and for white families, goes up to $250,000.

The work of connecting and nourishing a local economy ecosystem isn’t easy, or fast — and the Ujima Project shows it is possible. For over two and a half years, Aaron and Deborah Frieze (a BALLE Local Economy Investors Circle member) have evolved this concept into a staffed organization with a robust group of community leaders speaking a shared language.

Aaron, far left, at an Ujima Project community meeting.

Ujima (oo-JEE-mah) is a Swahili word, and the celebrated Kwanzaa principle for “collective work and responsibility.” Ujima inspires us to take responsibility for our communities, to see our neighbors’ problems as our own, and to build collective power to solve them together. The Ujima Project is rooted in and controlled by the community. Each person has equal say regardless of their share of ownership.

Aaron, Deborah, and dozens of leaders in Greater Boston have been collaborating for years, helping hospitals and schools direct buying power to local businesses; connecting technical service providers and investors with entrepreneurs ready to launch and scale; and engaging neighbors to identify the services and products they need. Prioritizing cooperative ownership models and businesses owned by women and people of color — along with the use of its own Capital Fund — will ensure that resources can flow directly to parts of the ecosystem that have been historically under-resourced.

Any good permaculturist knows that diversity creates fertility, and that you can’t change one thing without affecting everything; and those who are weaving healthy, equitable local economies know the work means seeding, sparking and deepening relationships. What is your role and relationship, to your ecosystem? What are your “edges”?

Watch Aaron share more about the Ujima Project and how it is connecting local grassroots organizations with local institutions and investors to build a healthy, equitable local ecosystem. Consider and share this opportunity for Ujima Project’s Fund Manager position.