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worlds fully animated me, and that’s also what I like most about Ujima.” Ujima is a Swahili word meaning “collective work and responsibility.” The organization emphasizes the power of neighbors, workers, small-business owners, and investors to redefine local economies. Operating in three of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods — Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester — Ujima is encouraging direct private investment in local entrepreneurs. The goal is to upend a charity mindset with a “deliberately democratic process of raising and allocating capital,” Turner-Owens says. Beginning with neighborhood assemblies and partnering with grassroots organizations, Ujima staff ask residents what businesses they love, need, and want to replace. This data informs the investment process. Businesses apply for capital, their viability is assessed, and finally Ujima’s membership decides which to invest in. Any investor who has become an Ujima member, which requires contributing as little as $25, can suggest, vote for, and invest in proposals. “What’s unique about our approach is that whether members give $50,000 or $50, they each get one vote,” Turner-Owens says. “Typically this type of investment process is much more technocratic, but we know that expertise on what’s needed within Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester can and should come from within those neighborhoods.” It’s most commonly associated with developing countries, but the term “microfinance” applies within the United States as well, though loans are larger. In Ujima’s pilot phase in 2016, local businesses received $5,000 zero-interest loans; local artists were awarded $500 mini-grants. When Ujima officially launches in June 2018, its average loan size will be $50,000 to $100,000 — above what’s usually considered microfinance but less than banks typically lend. By capping interest rates below 8 percent, Ujima is trying

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to better the terms offered by most mission-based lenders. “There’s a saying: You don’t want to give someone enough rope to hang themselves,” Turner-Owens says. Lending too little money — say, $10,000, when what’s needed is $50,000 — only encourages clients to contract with multiple lenders on unsustainable terms. Under different, community-shaped terms, he sees great potential in microfinance. “What excites me most about this approach is its innovation and potential as a new model,” Turner-Owens says. “We are identifying existing local businesses and pairing them with the capital and technical assistance they need, so that they can repay our investment. That allows us to invest in the next business from the same pool of money.” Beyond financing, Ujima is connecting local businesses, business-support organizations, and community institutions such as Boston Children’s Hospital. “The organization operates

Inset: Lucas Turner-Owens ’07. Right: A Boston Ujima Project general assembly meeting at the First Church of Roxbury, Mass., in September 2017.

as a systems entrepreneur, stitching together an ecosystem to support local small business,” Turner-Owens says. The Boston Ujima Project’s Community Capital Fund will launch later this year, and he hopes members of the CA community will want to get involved.

CA’S MICROFINANCE CLUB In fall 2017, math teacher and Youth in Philanthropy (YIP) Club faculty advisor Mark Engerman proposed starting a microfinance club at CA, and he recruited five student co-heads. The club compared intermediaries and chose to invest with Zidisha, a volunteer-based organization with low overhead and interest rates of 8 percent, far less than competitors offer. Engerman says the students got off to a great start. “I was impressed by how deeply they wanted to understand everything, by the initiative they took, and by the discussions we had in deciding what to fund,” he says. Before holding a fundraiser, the club allocated seed money for a bike for a delivery business in Africa and fabric for a seamstress in Southeast Asia. “At Zidisha, there’s a rigorous process of selecting clients for loans,” club co-head Anna Sander ’20 says. “Our goal was to help get businesses going and making money in the short term.” Through Zidisha, the club is notified as clients repay, and they will reinvest the money in additional loans. Co-head Anna Dibble ’18 is interested in microfinance because of its focus on individuals and their stories. “It’s different from other philanthropic work: It’s not just charity,” she says. “Microfinance fosters partnerships with dignity and dialogue. It allows us to form relationships as lenders with the entrepreneurs and engage in a way that promotes human connection.” She hopes the Microfinance Club can encourage the CA community to consider the significant impact even a small amount of money can have.


5/3/18 12:32 PM

Profile for Concord Academy

CA Magazine Spring 2018 Issue  

The spring 2018 issue of CA Magazine highlights alumnae/i and students who are giving back, both in their communities and further afield. Ca...

CA Magazine Spring 2018 Issue  

The spring 2018 issue of CA Magazine highlights alumnae/i and students who are giving back, both in their communities and further afield. Ca...