The Nation’s First Democratically-Governed Investment Fund Passes $1 Million Deployment Milestone
Boston, MA — Boston Ujima Project has officially deployed $1.3 million to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) owned, socially impactful businesses in Boston’s working-class communities of color through the Ujima Fund. On the occasion of this historic milestone, Nia K. Evans, Executive Director, said, "That we are now going into our eighth investment vote, having surpassed $1 million invested, shows that we are concretely rethinking, reevaluating, reframing and redefining the rules, customs, and norms that shape our lives. Real power and democracy are becoming more and more normal as we continue to practice better ways of being."
Over three years, Ujima Fund has made seven investments democratically approved by Ujima’s voting members. These investments encompass a diverse range of companies, including Cero Cooperative, an award-winning commercial composting company based out of Dorchester, MA; Dorchester Food Cooperative, a cooperatively owned and operated grocery store soon-to-be-open in Dorchester, MA; Jazz Urbane Cafe, a Roxbury, MA-based venue blending performing arts and local cuisine; Kush Groove Clothing, LLC an apparel and accessories brand with retail locations in Greater Boston; Comfort Kitchen a cafe by day and restaurant by night celebrating "global comfort food," the flavors and ingredients of the diaspora, from Asia to Africa to the Americas; Cupcake Therapy a premium nut-free allergy-friendly cupcake company; and The Pearl South Bay, a contemporary seafood grill and raw bar. The success of these investments showcases the effectiveness of Ujima's democratic decision-making process. The involvement of voting members, who come from diverse backgrounds and possess a deep understanding of our communities needs, ensures that investment decisions align with the values and aspirations of the people.
Launched in 2018, the Ujima Fund is the first democratically-governed investment fund in the country, governed by over 400 active voting members. Most of Ujima’s voting members (between 80% and 90%) identify as people of color and/or working-class living in Boston. It took years of hard work by Ujima staff, Ujima’s Community Standards and Investment Committees, voting members, volunteers, community partners, and solidarity members to get to this moment.
Community wisdom is the heart and soul of Ujima’s democratic process. Ujima sources standout companies based on nominations from members through Ujima’s assembly process and a decentralized online platform. From there, the team compiles the businesses named by members into neighborhood lists that members can vote to ratify as formal neighborhood investment plans. Almost every neighborhood in Boston – from Allston to Roslindale – has a ratified investment plan approved by residents.
All businesses seeking investment must become members of the Ujima Good Business Alliance, a community of companies committed to Ujima’s 36 Good Business Standards spanning sustainability, worker power, racial equity, and more. "I really like the standards around protections for all people, irrespective of their documentation status or gender identity, which forced some great conversations among more traditional mom and pop businesses that may not have considered it otherwise. Underlying all of these standards is a basic respect for individuals as humans," said Luis Cotto, Community Standards Committee member, in Ujima’s Spring ‘23 investor report.
Businesses interested in investment meet with Ujima’s Business Alliance and Fund Management teams, Investment Committee, and technical assistance partners to start due diligence. These bodies hand off the baton to Ujima’s voting members, who complete due diligence with their review of each business’s financials, model, leadership, and community impact. "For me, the Good Business Alliance is about learning from people who are ahead of me and already doing the things that I want to do. I enjoy being able to learn from those entrepreneurs while sharing what I've learned about running a good business. Even when we talk about what we learned from entrepreneurship, whether it's in business school or through accelerators, you don't learn how to be a good business in the sense of fair processes. You may learn of financial and legal matters, but not how to be a good business in terms of people, environment, and values," said Shironda White, Founder, Cupcake Therapy.
The success of Ujima’s investment votes is also a testament to the work of the Ujima Fund Investment Committee. The Ujima Fund Investment Committee is a team of experts from various sectors. From conventional lending to alternative forms of finance, Ujima’s investment committee members are committed to cooperative economics and strengthening community power through the voting process.
The Ujima Fund will only allocate investments to businesses upon the approval of voting members. To genuinely reflect the desires of our communities, Ujima has established an ambitious quorum requirement of 50% plus 1 for investment decisions to hold validity. Notably, each investment vote has consistently surpassed the required quorum threshold, with an impressive level of participation from over 300 individuals residing in the Boston area. These engaged individuals have expressed their opinions across seven distinct investment opportunities, reflecting their deep commitment to the process. As Cierra Peters, Ujima’s Director of Communications, Culture, and Enfranchisement, explained in a recent newsletter, "This pattern of steady growth in participation by our membership is an affirmation that we can design and fund our communities. We are freeing ourselves to do us, uninterrupted."
As we celebrate this historic milestone, we recognize that our work is far from over. The Ujima Fund remains dedicated to continuing its mission of returning wealth to our communities, fostering economic democracy, and challenging traditional norms. We extend our gratitude to the Ujima Fund's voting members, volunteers, solidarity members, and partners for their tireless efforts in making these investments possible.
From the Ujima Ecosystem:
"Ujima exists at the intersection of social movements and the business community and tries to build those connections between organized people supporting the business community." Micha Josephy, Cooperative Fund of the Northeast
"Ujima fills a vital role in Boston’s social justice movement ecosystem: it is a gathering place for neighbors, a space to participate in Boston’s rich arts and cultural life, and a hub connecting grassroots organizations and issue campaigns. Through Ujima, communities of color have a place to co-create the new society that we are all building." Lisa Owens, Executive Director, Hyams Foundation
"Even if you didn’t grow up investing or owning property you can grow and learn and see that so much more is possible. Patience and clarity are virtues in figuring out one’s place in this space that can indeed be empowered and joyful. Boston Ujima Project definitely makes that possible for me." Tomashi Jackson, Ujima Fund Investor.
"If we repeat the same habits of capital gains, of past white generations, we're just perpetuating and passing on the same class divides and habits to new generations of people that might be of different races and colors but will perpetuate many of the same inequities. And if we can stay grounded in people and in relationships, and in the songs and stories, then my God, we have to do it differently." Eric Leslie, founder of Union Capital Boston.
"Being a young, Black investor means paying attention to a long-term strategy that contributes to Black wealth. So even though the Ujima Fund isn’t my only investment, it’s important for me to participate in political experiments." Alua Aumade, Ujima Fund Investor.
"I learned early on that sometimes the best investment you can make is in people. [...] The Ujima Fund isn’t just a good return on investment, but it also supports the wealth of Boston’s communities of color." Corey J. Allen, Ujima Fund Investor.
About Boston Ujima Project
The Boston Ujima Project is a Black-led democratic organization building cooperative economic infrastructure in Boston with a mission to return wealth to working-class communities of color. Ujima is bringing together neighbors, workers, business owners, investors, grassroots organizers, and culture makers to create a community-controlled economy in our city.