Event Recap: Piloting Community Innovation and Building New Economic Models

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Stephanie Ung leads the 2022 NEW Fellows and audience through a series of hand gestures from traditional Khmer dance.

On May 22, 2023, People’s Economy Lab invited community partners, funders, government leaders and staff, and other folks in the PEL network to a showcase event. We packed the classroom at Othello-UW Commons and even had to find some extra chairs at the last minute to make sure everyone had a place to sit. The showcase included presentations by the second cohort of New Economy Washington Frontline Community Fellows and a panel on Community Wealth Building.

A few dozen people sit around tables in a classroom with a string of balloons hanging above them.
A packed house at Othello-UW Commons

PEL’s Deric Gruen and New Economy Washington Funders Collaborative’s Sherry Richardson set the stage with an introduction to People’s Economy Lab, brief grounding in the Just Transition framework, and overview of the New Economy Washington vision.

The stars of the event, the 2022 NEW Frontline Community Fellows, followed Deric and Sherry with ten-minute presentations about their Fellowship projects. Maria Ramirez spoke about Duwamish Valley Affordable Housing Coalition’s research on cooperative, community-owned housing and its potential to rival the affordable housing industrial complex. Mario Sanchez and Gavin Amos presented about Food Oasis, their South Seattle-based food hub that provides infrastructure and resources for BIPOC-owned food businesses, from farms to restaurants. Dana Wu and Stephanie Ung spoke about Apsara Palace, a Khmer restaurant in White Center recently acquired by Dana, and their efforts to turn Apsara Palace into a gathering place for the community, in particular to connect Khmer youth and elders through Khmer cuisine. Last but not least, Hoda Abdullahi presented about Living Well Kent’s efforts to secure land for immigrant and POC farmers, as well as to organize a food access conference.

The Fellows highlighted the value of networking with one another, learning about the Just Transition framework, receiving one-on-one support from story-based strategy trainer Dante Garcia, and the experience of collectively deciding how to distribute a shared funding pot–the New Economy Washington Fund–among themselves.

Five people sit in tall chairs at the front of the classroom, and one person stands. One of the seated presenters speaks into a handheld microphone.
Community Wealth Building panel

After a short break, we settled back in to hear from a panel on Community Wealth Building, which included Jackie Mena from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Njuguna Gishuru from People’s Economy Lab, Cyndy Wilson and Matt Ecohawk Hiyashi from Headwater People, and Yoni Blumberg from WEPOWER St. Louis. Jackie, Njuguna, Cyndy, and Matt shared about the Department of Neighborhoods’ generational wealth building research project, which is supporting Community Wealth Building pilot projects led by BIPOC community-based groups this year. Yoni shared about WEPOWER’s Community Wealth Building work in St. Louis.

Feeling energized and inspired by the program, we continued the event with a networking reception across the street at Bang Bang Kitchen.

Thanks to all of our presenters and attendees! We look forward to hosting another event with the New Economy Washington Funders Collaborative soon.