Event Recap: Creating a Just and Democratic Economy with Aaron Tanaka

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  • Post published:January 23, 2020
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Adapted and posted with permission from Communities of Opportunity

On October 28th the People’s Economy Lab, with support from Communities of Opportunity, the New Economy Coalition, and other event partners, brought Aaron Tanaka, founder of the Boston Ujima Project and Director of the Center for Economic Democracy, to a dialogue with local grassroots organizations, philanthropy, small businesses, and government about developing economic models that are rooted within our communities for greater well-being. A community capital fund that uses a participatory budgeting process to make investments in local businesses, the Ujima Project operates using the principles of economic democracy — that people and communities own and decide together how to manage collective needs (housing, food, energy, health, etc.) for a just and sustainable future for all. The Ujima project also serves as inspiration for developing and experimenting with investment tools that directly benefit local community and cooperative economic infrastructure.

The discussion with Aaron was designed to support the power of working across sector groups (philanthropy, capital, development, government and community-based groups and non-profits) and was intentionally inclusive of the local small business community. Business voices are often missing from discussions about barriers to equitable and sustainable economic and community development but are central to the conversation. These local leaders were able to talk about their perspectives and interactions with the economy and identify different capacities to catalyzing new and alternative governance, development and financial structures.

The convening highlighted specific limits within current structures, laws and regulations impacting how different entities have adapted to address current disparities within investment and capital funding approaches and the larger economic ecosystem. For example, the Boston Ujima Project can use a non-accredited investor approach for its community-centered economies project – allowing investors who don’t meet the wealth and income requirements to be an “accredited investor” to participate in capital financing projects for small businesses, real estate and infrastructure projects in Boston’s working-class communities of color. This is an investment structure that Washington state regulations currently prohibit, whereas a donor-advised funding approach may work to the same end goal of equitable, local and regenerative economic models here. As local communities continue in their own work to envision and experiment, understanding the local context and decision-making process of others is important to creating truly local, equitable economies, and to enhance national movements for democratic economies.

At the public evening session moderated by Deric Gruen for the People’s Economy Lab, Aaron was joined by local leaders, Trae Holiday of the Africatown Community Land Trust and Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman of the Refugee Artisan Initiative, who discussed their own work to shift resources toward community control and impact. The presentation and subsequent conversation included an emphasis and acknowledgement of the historic and continuing practices of racial and ethnic disenfranchisement and structural oppression that make community-driven capacity building critical to stabilizing the housing, business, and cultural institutions that create thriving, equitable communities. It is within this context that the intention for the day was formed — to create time and space for the development of stronger social networks and the cross-pollination of ideas, projects and resource investments that can transform our current policies and practices for greater equity.

We look forward to continuing to provide forums for conversation and actions to build a community centered economy subscribe below or follow us on facebook to stay up to date on what’s happening.