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Casa de Salud

Casa de Salud

Bringing dignity and humanity back to affordable healthcare.

Topahkal or, House of Medicine, was the original name given to the clinic that began in a two-bedroom casita in the heart of South Valley, Albuquerque. Nearly twenty years later, that clinic stands as Casa de Salud—its new name voted for by the patients themselves—a pioneering alternative healthcare provider that treats thousands of low income and uninsured patients each year, trains medical professionals in human-centered and dignity-based clinical care, and coordinates action to eliminate structural barriers to their community’s best health.

When it first opened, the clinic offered affordable services, human-centered care, same day medical services including evenings and weekends, and non-Western healing services such as límpias, reiki, and massage therapy. Shortly after its founding, Casa became more deeply engaged in substance abuse treatment and recovery services and is now one of the most accessible medical clinics for opiate addiction treatment providing buprenorphine (suboxone) medication services. 

In 2018, the clinic exchanged over 1 million syringes, enabling community members to use more safely and reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. Casa’s commitment to dignity-based care is evidenced through their drug use and addiction treatment services. Although the practice has now been adopted nationally, the clinic was among the first to provide suboxone for take home use so that patients could opt out of direct observation as they coped with withdrawal. 

Today, sixty-five to seventy percent of Casa’s patients are monolingual Spanish speakers, 15% are either active drug users or individuals in recovery or treatment for various addictions, and Casa is one of the few healthcare providers that offer gender and sexuality affirming care and treatment to LGBTQIA2S+ community members in Albuquerque. Seventy-five percent of Casa’s patients are uninsured, roughly 20% are enrolled in Medicaid, leaving only about 5% of their patients who hold private insurance policies.

When they began, Casa charged its patients 25$ per visit. Patients paid if they were able and suffered no consequences if they were not. The organization has never and will never send a patient’s account to a collections agency for failure to pay. In this way, Casa provides a transformative and revolutionary model of what it looks like to provide quality, low cost and culturally competent healthcare to patients who are uninsured or under-insured and in most need of care.  

Anjali Taneja, MD, MPH , who participated in the organization’s founding returned to Casa later in her medical career to serve as the organization’s Executive Director. Dr. Taneja has always known that the organization was called to do more than provide exceptional clinical care. With the support of the current governor and under Dr. Taneja’s leadership, Casa has worked with community leaders to craft legislation that can expand access and make health outcomes a priority for New Mexico’s legislature. It’s taken years for some of their policy interventions to gain momentum, but Casa proudly reports that three major pieces of health equity legislation that directly represent the community’s voice and communicate its needs have gotten a step closer to being signed into law.

Casa’s apprenticeship program ensures that the organization’s values will live beyond the clinic’s walls. Health Apprentices at Casa are trained as medical assistants and learn skills such as how to draw blood or perform an EKG. The bilingual high school and college students from the surrounding community—the overwhelming majority being young women—dedicate 500+ hours of service to neighbors, relatives, and other community members they know who receive healthcare services at Casa De Salud.

Graduates from the apprenticeship program leave Casa dedicated to treating and healing the underserved. Whether they become physicians, researchers, pharmacists, or physical therapists, each finds a way to apply what they learned at Casa about stubborn structural barriers to healthcare equity and how healthcare professionals can practice medicine with respect and preserve the dignity of all patients.

 The Covid-19 pandemic exposed fractures in our healthcare system and led many Americans to reevaluate its merits. Casa has emerged as one of the most revolutionary healthcare models available and people are hungry to learn how to transform healthcare in their respective communities. For Casa, this is the path forward. If more individuals and organizations adopt their model of human-centered healthcare, the more evidence we have that low cost, dignified healthcare can be made widely available to all.

Learn more:

https://www.casadesaludnm.org/

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Springboard to Opportunities

Springboard to Opportunities

Radically transforming affordable housing access by putting residents first.

Mississippi represents the extreme of Southern society when measured by the history of race relations. Today, Black Mississippians are still fighting to survive. Just this year, thousands of Jackson’s Black residents, who make up over 80% of the city’s population, went for weeks without clean, running water. The legacy of racism, disenfranchisement, and divestment remains abundantly evident particularly as low-income, Black Mississippians work to pursue their goals for themselves and their families in the midst of broken social safety net systems and structural barriers. . When Aisha Nyandoro established Springboard to Opportunities she wanted to change that – starting with the stories and experiences of families themselves.

While affordable housing can be a starting place for many low-income families, it is not enough to provide families with all they need to reach their goals. When residents struggle to find childcare or reliable transportation, it makes it impossible to obtain and keep a job. Past predatory debt or complicated applications make it challenging to go back to school to advance one’s career. The lack of a supportive social network or awareness of available resources make it even more challenging to know where to turn or to find the next step towards one’s dreams. Springboard to Opportunities was built on the premise that affordable housing combined with strategic, resident-engaged services can provide a platform for low-income people to advance themselves in life, school, and work.

Nyandoro designed Springboard To Opportunities to be responsible for and accountable to the individuals and families it serves above all else. Participatory planning, transparent dialogue, and resident organizing are key pillars of the organization’s “radically resident driven” approach. Springboard’s programming is centered on a spectrum of resident-reported issues. But despite these sustained efforts, in focus groups and conversations with residents, Springboard staff would always hear the same thing from residents: what they needed wasn’t another program; what they needed was cash.

In the fall of 2018, Springboard to Opportunities announced The Magnolia Mother’s Trust. The trust was established to provide low-income, Black mothers in Jackson, Mississippi $1000 cash on a monthly basis for one full year with no strings attached, making it the first guaranteed income initiative that targets e affordable housing residents living in households headed by Black women. In a state where the minimum-wage is still seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour, The Magnolia Mother’s Trust not only provides the funds families need to survive, but also stands in direct contrast to a paternalistic and overbearing welfare system that requires hours of paperwork and appointments for families to receive assistance and then limits their assistance to only cover items deemed worthy or necessary.

    The women who received the cash payments used the funds to pay past due bills, buy clothes for their children, finish school themselves, and even pursue entrepreneurship. And as byproducts of relief from financial stress, participants gained confidence, the opportunity to dream, and the energy to pour into themselves and their communities. 2020 brought new challenges to Mississippi’s residents. But because of Nyandoro’s pioneering vision, Springboard To Opportunities was already poised to address their community’s new and pressing needs.

In March 2020, days before social distancing measures went into effect in Mississippi, the second Magnolia Mother’s Trust cohort received their first monthly payments. Springboard To Opportunities provided a lifeline for these mothers as they struggled to find reliable childcare options, were laid off, or were forced to risk their lives by remaining employed.

All of STO’s programming is designed around three programming pillars, as identified by residents, that target residents’ hopes and ambitions and addresses the obstacles that stand in the way of their success. Springboard to Learning emphasizes education for young people and provides resources for family-supported learning; Springboard to Success empowers residents to create plans and take action in service of their short- and long-term goals; and Springboard to Community creates a safety net for residents of affordable housing with immediate assistance and helps create a network of support throughout the community that residents can rely on. Through their comprehensive, responsive, and adaptive programming, Springboard to Opportunities intervenes to improve the immediate realities of Mississippi’s low-income residents and supports them on their journey to self-efficacy. 

Learn more:

https://springboardto.org/

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Valley Community Interpreters

Valley Community Interpreters

Answering Unmet Language Needs with Untapped Language Assets in New Mexico

Well into a career in nonprofit management, Cecilia Portal went to a conference on court and medical interpretation in 2008 on a whim. She ended up with a new calling. A bilingual Cuban refugee with experience in Nursing who had lived among and served many different communities in the United States and Mexico, her unique background and life journey had prepared her to recognize both the unmet language needs and the untapped language assets in her community.

New Mexico is home to a constellation of different language groups. Residents speak English, Spanish, Navajo, and Arabic; they speak Pueblo and Vietnamese; they speak Mandarin. Non-English speakers without access to language services experience a tremendous social and  bureaucratic “isolation.” How do you register the birth of a child? How do you consent to medical decisions? How do you open a bank account?

If the need was high in New Mexico, so too was the capacity. Many New Mexico residents were, like Portal, fluent in more than one language. Yet, no one was training interpreters. New Mexico was a state with high need for language services and a large group of language-equipped individuals capable of meeting that need. Moreover, it was a state that suffered from high unemployment rates and language services was a growth industry. Why wasn’t New Mexico a leader in this field?

With this vision, Portal launched Valley Community Interpreters and With this vision, Portal launched Valley Community Interpreters and began teaching courses in community interpretation. VCI has since trained more than 250 individuals, mostly women of color. Portal is proud that VCI is really a “pipeline” to the profession: their graduates are working at area hospitals, at the university; they are contracted with city government; they are performing telephonic services across the country.

    Recently, VCI’s work has evolved with the launch of professional development training to help their graduates prepare for work beyond the institute. While there are some full-time permanent positions available in the field, much work in language services remains contract-based. The new curriculum helps students understand the terms of contract employment and its vulnerabilities, offers classes on financial literacy, and provides assistance from a consultant with expertise in small business development. After success with a pilot program, they are excited to begin offering this intensive training to their current students and graduates.

The creation of a language service agency, staffed largely by VCI institute graduates, has been another stage in the organization’s journey. The language service contracts with local service providers and government agencies, providing a source of work for graduates run locally, fairly, and transparently. As an integral part of the VCI nonprofit, Portal hopes that the agency will help make VCI’s broader work and their institute sustainable and self-sufficient by providing a reliable financial stream to fund their work and offer scholarships to the institute. 

VCI has also become a vocal public advocate for language services. Many service providers, like hospitals, city governments, and even the state itself, continue to completely neglect the language needs of residents and clients.This is both inefficient and functionally illegal. Language access is guaranteed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act’s protection from discrimination based on national origin. Language services in medical circumstances are further protected under the ACA. Access to language services is the law. VCI is working to remind these agencies of the language rights of residents and show them how language services can make them more effective and efficient.

At the same time, they have made community education on this issue a priority, recently launching a language access rights initiative to educate residents on language rights and empower them to demand needed services. Their programming identifies all of the local agencies that are governed under Title VI and distributes ‘I speak’ cards that note the holders’ need for an interpreter – and their right to one.

Portal believes that their three-prong approach – training translators, community education, and government advocacy and accountability – is essential. Why have laws ensuring access to language services if people are unable to invoke them? How do you demand state agencies spend on legally-required language services if there are no translators who can perform those services? Why train language professionals if the major employers won’t hire them? By striking at all three at once, VCI hopes to begin a revolution in New Mexico’s language culture. 

Learn more:

https://www.vcinm.org/

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Ujamaa Place

Ujamaa Place   

Tuning the rhythm of life to the key of progress

Rhythm. That is a word that employment coach Stevenson Morgan uses frequently to describe the work of Ujamaa Place. Ujamaa evolves “with the rhythm of the young men that [it serves], the rhythm of the community.” Ujamaa was formed in 2013 in recognition of an urgent need for services for young Black men with a history of contact with the Minnesota criminal justice system. The organization’s work initially focused on education, supporting young Black men in obtaining GEDs. But Ujamaa’s mission has evolved over time–“with the rhythm” of the Ujamaa men themselves.

The core of Ujamaa’s work is what the organization terms the Individual Transformation Plan and high-contact coaching. When young men come to Ujamaa, they are often suffering from housing insecurity, lack of employment, and recent experiences with arrest or incarceration. They are also dealing with the reverberations of centuries of racial discrimination embedded in the nation’s social, economic, political, and educational systems. In consultation with a coach, Ujamaa men lay out the steps they want to achieve in their personal transformations. They are then encouraged and mentored as they advance along an individualized plan at their own pace. Ujamaa’s high-contact coaching model ensures that every man has the support he needs during every step along that journey. It is also what allows the coaches to stay in tune with the “rhythm” of the community, responsive to the individual desires and needs of each Ujamaa man.

Since its inception, Ujamaa Place has taken on a more holistic character. Instead of one pillar of work, there are now four: education has been joined by employment, housing, and wellness. Even within education, Ujamaa has substantially broadened the scope of its services. The organization now offers tutoring and preparation the GED, college courses, and even the state driver’s license exam. Under the pillar of employment, staff perform career readiness assessments, offer a robust catalog of courses, and connect men to job opportunities. In terms of housing, Ujamaa operates a number of houses where participants can live safely and comfortably as they move through their personal transformations. Wellness entails coaching around mental health, trauma, and personal care, with connections to psychiatrists when appropriate. Says Morgan, “People identified what they needed,” and Ujamaa Place answered.

Many of Ujamaa’s most innovative programs and remarkable successes have emerged out of that responsiveness. Ujamaa’s driver’s license course was developed in response to a clearly expressed need. Morgan also runs a stipend program that incentivizes employers to hire Ujamaa men by subsidizing on-the-job training. A few years ago, Ujamaa started a film club with the individual who owns Twin Cities Media. Last year, staff formed the Ujamaa music group for men who expressed an interest in or talent for music. Since then, the group has performed all over the Twin Cities, including at Paisley Park and the Minnesota State Fair. Driving, music, training, film: all interests expressed by the Ujamaa men, now opportunities to cultivate artistry and expertise. 

Such programs are also part of a flourishing and multifaceted entrepreneurship program under the education pillar. Ujamaa Place has formed a fruitful partnership with NDC and Thrive, hosting the Ujamaanomics 2021 Hackathon, which awarded a cash prize and business development to the “most innovative concept which serves to transform the lives” of young Black men. Another enterprise that emerged from the entrepreneurship program, a restaurant, has been going strong for two years. Developed in response to unmet needs and unrealized ambitions, such successful and innovative programs encourage creativity, dedication,and joy among Ujamaa participants. Above all, they encourage hope.

The work can sometimes be heavy, but Ujamaa’s focus on the men’s “transformation” evokes a fundamental optimism. “Through all of our pillars,” Morgan says, “is that independence, courage, and confidence.” The culture of community built at Ujamaa Place is a big part of nurturing that courage and confidence. As Morgan puts it: “We provide that brotherhood, that sense of family. You feel the love when you walk through the door.”

Learn more:

https://ujamaaplace.org/

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Power Coalition for Equity and Justice

Power Coalition for Equity and Justice

Executing A “People’s Agenda” for Louisiana’s Future Amplifying Voices, Expanding Power

In Louisiana, Black-led social justice organizations are tackling big problems. Dismal facts and figures lay bare the interconnected structures of discrimination and exploitation in Louisiana, which has the highest rate of incarceration in the country. Residents frequently confront the devastating consequences of climate change, facing off against extreme weather and heat that threatens their lives and communities. More than two hundred thousand Louisianans live in extremely low-income households. The state is one of only five in the United States that does not have its own minimum wage. Unemployment, high across Louisiana, disproportionately affects the state’s Black population and caps benefits at $247 a week maximum, the lowest in the nation. It should be no surprise, then, that the state leads the country in food insecurity. The challenge is formidable.

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice understands and respects the often-unheralded work of the grassroots BIPOC-led organizations confronting these enormous challenges in Louisiana. Wanting to elevate and nurture that work rather than duplicate it, the Power Coalition formed as a statewide POC-led civic engagement umbrella organization. The Power Coalition focuses on coordinating with, advocating for, and building capacity among grassroots activists working throughout the state, bringing people-centered organizations together in order to amplify their voices and expand their power.

The Power Coalition’s strategy and agenda are entirely informed by the collective expertise of a core set of “anchor partners,” organizations across the state active in advancing the cause of equity, justice, and liberation for Black and brown communities. Those anchor partners include organizations working in criminal justice reform, voting rights, worker’s rights, and housing.

Broadly speaking, the Power Coalition’s collective agenda, called the “People’s Agenda,” is centered on two deceptively simple ideas: equity and justice. Equity, as director of strategic partnerships Morgan Shannon explained, “is making sure that folks have what they need to be able to thrive and survive,” while justice is “righting the wrongs of the past.”

The coalition, then, wants to empower citizens to confront the overlapping structures of racial and class discrimination and marginalization in their communities. Its agenda works to challenge public policy that privileges corporations over community, impoverishes and targets Black and brown communities for over-policing and mass incarceration, and leaves citizens hungry and living in unsafe, tenuous conditions. Those values are reflected in the four core pillars of the coalition’s work: true economic opportunity, sustained criminal justice reform, fiscal fairness, and equitable redistricting.

The Power Coalition functions as an organizer and executor of the People’s Agenda. It builds coalitions across the state and within local communities among activists and justice organizations. It serves as policy advocate, engaging with elected officials to advance policy changes and coordinating statewide campaigns on issues like voting rights, criminal justice reform, and minimum wage instatement. It also acts as a research hub and information clearinghouse, gathering data, providing training, and amplifying programs and resources serving Louisiana’s citizens.

For Power Coalition leaders, capacity-building represents an underappreciated but deeply impactful area of the coalition’s work–with massive reverberating effects. One program, the She Leads: Community Activist Fellowship, reflects the organization’s significant investment in the leadership of women of color. Participants are active and engaged advocates in their own right, precisely the sort of leaders that the Power Coalition seeks to cultivate and support. Fellows are granted a small sum of seed money, technical assistance, leadership training, and mentorship opportunities as they take on big fights.

The Power Coalition knows that to invest in Black female leadership is to change the course of life in under-resourced communities. Shannon cited one recent fellow’s work as a ringing example of the fellowship’s potential revolutionary impact. As executive director of a prison reform coalition, the fellow successfully blocked the opening of a prison in her parish and is now leading the search for a new sheriff. Cohort by cohort, the She Leads: Community Activist Fellowship is building a network of Louisiana Black female leaders on the bleeding edge of transformation in the state. 

The Power Coalition’s collaborative model keeps them rooted in the lived experiences and values of grassroots organizers. Working together, the coalition can have an impact greater than even the sum of its formidable parts.

Learn more:

https://powercoalition.org/

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Hmong Farmers Association

Hmong Farmers Association

An Act of Self-Determination. A “Whole Food” Model for Equity and Justice in Farming

Executive director of Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) Janssen Hang calls the organization’s founding “an act of self-determination.” Hmong farmers in Minnesota had long experienced considerable discrimination and barriers to accessing land, credit, markets, and training. In 2011, a small group formed an organization dedicated to working together to confront those barriers to their livelihoods, increase their self-efficacy and, ultimately, build community wealth.

Minneapolis/St. Paul boasts a large Hmong immigrant population. Many arrived in the United States as political refugees in the 1970s, fleeing persecution after the Vietnam War. As Hmong refugees resettled in the Twin Cities region, they turned to farming, drawing on a long history with agriculture, a deep understanding and respect for the land, and an ethic of hard work. Hmong farmers quickly became integral to the Twin Cities food economy, revitalizing the area’s once moribund farmer’s markets. Hmong farmers provisioned the staple crops that sustained the city and even introduced new specialty crops into the foodways.

Hmong farmers reaped fewer benefits than they sowed. It was common for Hmong farmers to have only oral leases, which made them vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of their landlords and prevented them from getting access to capital to expand or develop their businesses. Income from farmers’ markets could be uncertain. On average, Hang says, Hmong farmers paid more than four times per acre for their land relative to white farmers and made between one half and one quarter of the dividends.

HAFA takes a holistic approach to farming reform. Their “whole food” model is focused on making the four pillars of farming (access to land, credit, markets, and training) freely and simultaneously accessible. 

   The HAFA’s primary mechanism for addressing land accessibility is its farm, which also serves as a training ground for many members. A 155-acre property leased for minimal cost by an interested supporter, the HAFA farm boasts 125 acres in active production, subleased in 5-to-10-acre plots to HAFA members. The organization uses the remaining acreage for growing cover crops and modeling other sustainable farming practices. While not large enough to provide desired acreage to all members, the HAFA farm does allow the organization to offer members long-term affordable access and promote better stewardship of the land.

Additionally, HAFA has developed programs to help make the other three prongs of the “whole food” model more accessible to its members. Chief among these programs is the Food Hub, which develops alternative markets for Hmong-grown foods. HAFA secures contracts with local institutional buyers and arranges to sell CSAs directly to consumers, and HAFA farmers then fulfill these orders. Farmers who participate in the Food Hub gain access to new markets as well as valuable exposure to trainings on food safety and agricultural sales.

Expanding access to credit and capital is another major aspect of HAFA’s work. Its core learning curriculum helps farmers to build farm business plans, which they can leverage to acquire lending for essential farm asset purchases. In the past, HAFA has been able to offer one-to-one matching Individual Savings Accounts to help farmers save more for those purchases. For longtime career farmers stuck in a cycle of subsistence, these programs can make the difference between mere stability and success.

HAFA has also recently begun working towards systems change through advocacy work. After urging the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to offer more support for immigrant and minority farmers, the organization joined a recently announced working group to research best practices for addressing those farmers’ needs. They see such efforts as necessary counterparts to their direct service and capacity-building work with members.

Indeed, the organization can show no better proof of concept than the farmers themselves. HAFA farmers have cultivated considerable material and community dividends in the short time they have been working together. Not only has HAFA “able to bring most farmers to parity [in per-acre income] with mainstream white farmers,” Hang says, but also all HAFA farm cultivators have embraced cover crops, crop rotations, and water conservation measures. For HAFA farmers, that means sustainable livelihoods and sustainable farming.

Hang says HAFA is a cooperative enterprise with a culture built on shared knowledge, growth, and mutual respect, where “everybody is an educator, everybody is a learner.” At the HAFA farm, the community has built a place of belonging and a farming culture to carry them into the future. 

Learn more:

https://www.hmongfarmers.com/

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Custom Collaborative

Custom Collaborative

100% Ambitious. Creating Opportunities to Match Their Ambitions

Ngozi Okaro founded Custom Collaborative in 2015 to offer professional training and opportunity to poor women and women of color interested in the fashion and clothing industries. Pursuing a holistic model for a sustainable, equitable fashion industry, Custom Collaborative now runs a Fashion Training Institute, a small business incubator, and a development program for cooperative enterprises.

The fashion industry is notoriously exploitative and insular. Sweatshops are not a relic of the past – they still operate in this country and many others. Many, many toil at the bottom of the employment ladder for dismal wages and with few hopes of advancement. At the same time, powerful barriers exist to good jobs in the industry, particularly on the creative side. People interested in a career in the fashion industry often have to serve in unpaid internships or have personal connections. In other words, they must already possess wealth or the right social capital to have a chance at making a career in fashion.

These facts have informed Custom Collaborative’s vision of sustainable practices in fashion – a vision which combines the care and stewardship of natural and human resources. The former means uplifting the principles of refashion, recycle, and upcycle and the replacement of fast fashion with well-made and durable pieces. The latter means that sustainability must include, “by definition, living wages.” I don’t care “if your linen is organic,” Ngozi says. “If it is not living-wage then it is not sustainable.”

Custom Collaborative’s first initiative, the Training Institute, remains a cornerstone of the organization’s work. For several months, students attend classes full time, where they learn the skills to design and manufacture high-quality clothing. They enter the program in cohorts, which builds a thriving and supportive community of learners. A business plan consultation is also part of the Training Institute’s curriculum in order to prepare those who will go on to launch their own businesses. Most significantly, Institute trainees are paid a stipend- an arrangement that provides essential income for the participants and, crucially, models that “your time and work is valuable,” Ngozi says.

Custom Collaborative sees that message as a particularly crucial one to send to their students. Institute graduates come from a host of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but are predominantly women of color with limited economic means, outside familial responsibilities, and exposure to violence and educational disinvestment. Some are immigrants and refugees who have faced additional linguistic barriers in this country. In short, they are women who have long struggled against racism, sexism, exploitation, and prejudice. Mindful of the many challenges facing their students, Custom Collaborative has sought to build a robust support system, partnering with other organizations to bring their students more opportunity and community.

Ngozi believes that Custom Collaborative’s successes “demonstrate what can happen when society invests in” these women. She insists that, whatever the challenges or discriminations they have faced, these students are, to a person, “changemakers” – they are “100% ambitious.” She has witnessed Custom Collaborative’s “whole person” and dignity-forward approach reap enormous dividends in bringing their confidence and opportunities in line with their ambitions and dreams. They learn sewing and construction skills, but they also learn that “you have something to say.”

The Institute is designed to prepare their students either for jobs with established companies or for entrepreneurship, and Ngozi sees Custom Collaborative’s cooperative infrastructure as an important part of that. Because their infrastructure offers administrative and business development support, cooperative organization under their umbrella lowers the barriers of entry for women’s entrepreneurship.

Custom Collaborative also recognizes that workforce development and fashion education efforts alone cannot hope to solve what ails the industry. To get at the organization’s broader mission of fashion sustainability, practices in the industry must also be confronted on a broader scale. When Custom Collaborative arranges internships for its students, it works only with companies that agree to pay a living wage. They also work to “prepare industry” for Institute graduates and others like them by advocating fair wages and promoting their expansive definition of sustainability. 

Looking towards the future, Custom Collaborative are hoping to obtain a large, central workspace in New York City fit for an expanded program. They are hoping to extend enrollment in the Institute, as well as launch a Spanish-language Institute and an evening-based program. “We know that there is a desire and a need for our work,” Ngozi says. Just look at “what can happen when people invest in women who are low income and low opportunity.” They might not have much, but they are, after all, “100% ambitious.”

Learn more:

https://www.customcollaborative.org/

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Collaborative Healing Initiative Within Communities

Collaborative Healing Initiative Within Communities

Healing communities in need by harnessing the power of women

On the national stage, Denver is perceived as a city-on-the-rise, brimming with opportunity for young, ambitious migrants. Six Fortune 500 companies call Denver home. And yet the history of extreme wealth inequality in the state of Colorado makes these opportunities inaccessible to many of its residents. As it had in cities like Harlem, segregation engendered a cultural renaissance among Denver’s Black community in the vibrant Five Points District, which lead to the adoption of the district’s affectionate moniker: The Harlem of the West. Despite this rich social, cultural history, Denver’s Black residents continue to struggle to achieve financial affluence in the context of severe economic inequality.

The founders of CHIC (Collaborative Healing Initiative Within Communities) Denver recognized that the struggle to address long-standing and deeply rooted disparity began with stabilizing the family and amplifying the key roles women of color play in developing healthy and thriving communities. They have set out to build women’s economic, social, and cultural capital so that the promises of the city might become available to all.

To work with women, we also need to work with families.”

When women of color make their way to CHIC’s doors, they’re often traumatized by their experience with government institutions and personnel, including their children’s schools and the people running them. When their children struggle to master curriculum that is culturally incompetent and facilitated by instructors who have divested from their learning outcomes, women of color carry additional an burden. And as they manage household finances using a combination of low-paying jobs and social services—making the most of what is never enough—they are suspected of exploiting the system.

CHIC’s leadership has bridged the gap of distrust that widens further each time women of color are unfairly scrutinized and ridiculed, or casually disregarded by the very institutions that should be designed to nurture and uplift them. By listening, providing meaningful incentives, and creating space for healing from emotional and psychological trauma, CHIC makes it worthwhile for women of color to show up and to keep coming back. When they leave, they, their families, and communities, are closer to a life of financial security.

CHIC’s story is one of being called into new spaces.”

CHIC has engineered community responsive and highly adaptive strategies to serve the community of women of color in Denver. The organization’s four programming clusters now include education, workforce development, reentry programs, and family and community engagement.

Impact Youth builds positive identity, mindfulness and self-efficacy to increase school engagement through tailored and community-responsive curriculum. Women at Work provides  women access to high-earning, high-demand, and low barrier positions and prepare them for success. Enter to Thrive offers women and young people exiting the prison and juvenile justice systems mentorship and intensive case management. Finally, Community at Work brings families and service providers together to identify and leverage community resources and, most importantly, harness the power of social cohesion. For example, Chic’s construction apprenticeship program connects women of color to new employment opportunities arising from a shortage of labor in Denver’s construction industry. 

The Educational Justice for Black Coloradans (EJBC)  Initiative calls to action any and all stakeholders in the state of Colorado to put dollars behind their good-natured support for educational equality. EJBC means exactly that. In the effort to achieve sustainable racial and multi-generational economic equity in the state, Chic Denver calls for guaranteed no-cost access to state-funded post-secondary degree and credential programs to ensure that their educational program of choice is entirely cost free and debt free.

“Our duties naturally emerge from such fundamental relations as our families, neighborhood, workplaces, our state or nation. Make it your regular habit to consider your roles—parent, child, neighbor, citizen, leader—and the natural duties that arise from them. Once you know who you are and to whom you are linked, you will know what to do.” (Epictetus)

Chic’s co-founder and Chief Executive Director Sadé Cooper operates from this core philosophy when leading and serving others. Denver’s ecosystem of institutions and service providers is missing this critical link. By offering culturally-relevant, whole-family, female-focused supports and intervening in the systems that persistently fail Black women and families, Chic makes Denver’s communities of color more sustainable, equitable, and resilient.

Learn more:

https://www.chicdenver.org/

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Change Labs

Change Labs

An entrepreneurial vision for a new Navajo future

Heather Fleming and Jessica Stago, co-founders of Change Labs have spent the last decade accounting for the damage done by generations of displacement and dispossession to the spirit of entrepreneurship in their home. While news reporting agencies recently boasted that 90% of the country’s adults aged 25 and older have graduated high school, less than half of the adult residents of the Navajo Nation have earned a diploma. The unemployment rate, which has continued to dip since the late 1980s, sits at around fifty percent and nearly half of those who are employed work for the government. Over 90% of the Navajo Reservation legally belongs to the U.S. government, from which the Navajo Nation and individual or family occupants lease their land. “Fee simply property,” land that is owned by individuals and can be sold at will, comprises less than one percent of property in the reservation. 

The most important legacy of the nineteenth century treaties between the Navajo and the United States federal government is that they have created a strict regulatory environment that discourages potential small business owners from seeing the value in entrepreneurship. Small businesses are central to the health and vitality of the national economy, and Change Labs believes the same can be true for the Navajo Nation. Additionally, Navajo people themselves have been reluctant to embrace small business ownership as a pathway to economic development for their community. For the Navajo people, individualism and the pursuit of capitalistic gain are principles that belong to colonizers and have no place in their community. Fleming, who serves as Change Labs’s current Executive Director sees this collective distrust of Western European concepts as one of Tuba City’s lesser understood barriers to community economic development. 

In 2018, Change Labs convened a group of enterprising folks from various tribes around the Southwest at a series of sessions called the Lexicon Workshops to reconcile entrepreneurship with Native American identity. During the workshop, they deliberated over words, concepts, and symbols that better reflected their aspirations as small business owners. They shared phrases that meant to work for yourself; signified one who makes work; and one phrase that meant to live in harmony. Participants left the Lexicon Workshop with a new framework for understanding and articulating the power of entrepreneurship to foster prosperity, ownership, and self-sufficiency for all of Tuba City’s residents.

The Change Lab’s Business Incubator teaches new entrepreneurs how to launch businesses on tribal lands. After completing the program, small businesses can apply for up to $10,000 in seed funding. Change Labs guarantees ongoing mentorship and lifetime access to their stakeholder network. 85% of Change Lab’s Business Incubator graduates are still in business today. The Business Incubator gives native entrepreneurs access to coaching; operations and financial support; comprehensive branding and marketing support, and even workspace to meet each business’s needs. In addition to opportunities for seed funding, Change Labs has made business loans available to Navajo entrepreneurs through its partnership with Nusenda Federal Credit Union. Kinship Lending offers low interest, relationship-based loans of up to $5000 that require no credit check, fees, or costs to apply.

Change Lab’s leadership also mobilizes strategic partnerships to ameliorate the strict regulatory environment that stifles entrepreneurship in Tuba City. An alliance forged with economic evaluation firm, Casual Design, has produced an assessment of Tuba City’s business landscape based on a set of indicators established by the World Bank. Native entrepreneurs can use the report as they identify best practices for operating their businesses in the city. Change Labs and Casual Design have also published public policy recommendations to improve the business environment for native entrepreneurs in the short and long term. To support this advocacy work, Change Labs partnered with the Dineh Chamber of Commerce and the ACES School to form The Native Entrepreneurship Coalition, which brings together leaders, entrepreneurs, and change makers to reimagine the policies and systems that support business startup and growth on the Navajo Nation.

Change Labs leadership brings their diverse training and expertise to bear on economic stagnation in the Navajo Nation. The nation they are building will not only have the capacity to feed its native inhabitants, but also to nurture and activate their talent, creativity, and resilience. Change Labs encourages native entrepreneurs in Tuba City to re-imagine themselves and build a new reality on the Navajo nation, which will create pathways for those who have joined the native diaspora to come home.

Learn more:

https://www.nativestartup.org/

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CCDS East Boston

CCDS East Boston

“A co-op neighborhood, a co-op world”: unlocking community and opportunity through solidarity.

In 2015, when Luz Zambrano first considered cooperativism, her community was in crisis. An historically immigrant, blue-collar neighborhood, East Boston had long struggled against declining and even dangerous conditions, as well as a sense of powerlessness when it came to municipal decision-making. Specifically, residents faced displacement from their homes and communities through gentrification.

Inspired by the collective potential of her friends and neighbors, Zambrano and Liliana Avendaño launched the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity, an experiment in cooperative enterprise. For Zambrano and Avendaño, employee-owned cooperatives mean that the fruits of workers’ labors are owned by the workers themselves. A cooperative economy builds value for workers’ families, their neighbors, and their community. Instead of expropriation, cooperative enterprise creates investment. Instead of competition, it empowers organized community.

CCDS’s first effort was an educational program in a cooperative organization. Students are taught the basics of cooperative organizing, including philosophical, legal, and financial foundations. Participants are also immersed in the organization’s vision of what Zambrano calls “a co-op neighborhood, a co-op world.” For CCDS, cooperative business organization is about “sowing into” your own community, as well as collective agency and solidarity. The organization encourages participants to explore business ownership while simultaneously thinking in terms of households and communities rather than individuals–to think, in cooperative program coordinator Catalina Rojas’s words, of “‘we’ instead of ‘me.’” 

CCDS has since run six iterations of this program in Boston, as well as programs in St. Louis, Chicago, Central Falls, RI, and Lynn, MA. The program remains a major focus for CCDS, offering training opportunities to many interested in cooperative businesses in East Boston and beyond. For those who have completed the program and wish to continue developing their skills and projects, CCDS also offers a holistic slate of programs to incubate and launch cooperative organizations and foster skill and educational development.

For cooperative organizations, CCDS has adopted an umbrella-style framework for providing legal assistance as well as support, follow-up, and guidance to independent cooperative businesses at various stages of development. That ecosystem currently includes food project Sazon, cleaning and maintenance cooperative CleanGreen, early childhood education center Resplandor, immigrant women’s seamstress cooperative Puntada, elder care project Renacer, soccer cooperative TaborKids, and interpretation company ENES. More such enterprises are in development.

CCDS has also been able to develop and support programs for educational accessibility that will help prepare community members for cooperative ownership and economic advancement. Twenty-five women are currently studying ffor associate’s degrees in education on full scholarship through a partnership with Urban College of Boston. Eight more individuals are obtaining certification in elder care to prepare for a cooperative enterprise. CCDS also now offers a three-year course in learning English with a focus on language useful in cooperative enterprise and business ownership. Some of the participants in these educational programs will go on to start or join a cooperative enterprise, while others may not. But the programs offer residents a foundation of knowledge that will help them thrive. 

The CCDS leadership believes that cooperative organization can mean more than simply a business opportunity: it can mean community transformation. Education and outreach coordinator Liliana Avendaño calls CCDS’s work with cooperative organization “a healing process, a transformation process, an inspiration process.” Through cooperative work, participants change the way they see themselves. CCDS hopes their cooperative ecosystem will produce the culture of solidarity necessary to battle legacies of dispossesion, dislocation, and discrimination.

In a solidarity-driven economy, as the individual goes, so goes the community. The flowering of interest in co-ops in East Boston reflects the CCDS values of “turning crisis into opportunity” and of giving people the “capacity and the skill to analyze and improve their situation.” East Boston was a community struggling against racial and linguistic discrimination, financial exploitation, and geographic marginalization. Yet, buoyed by a renewed spirit of resistance, the community was determined to, according to Zambrano, “insist, persist, and press on.”

Though under-resourced, East Boston is and has been a community endowed with skills, dreams, and knowledge that were hard-earned and valuable. For Zambrano, the recognition of both the challenges and assets of her own East Boston has led her to the belief that the “immigrant community is both at the bottom and at the top.” There is much need, but also great opportunity. With solidarity, it can be unlocked.

Learn more:

http://www.ccdseastboston.org/