TRUST. TRANSPARENCY. PRACTICE. This quarter for our Summer 2023 Investor Update, we sat down with members of our Investment Committee.
The Ujima Fund Investment Committee consists of experienced and like-minded individuals representing diverse backgrounds. These members share a common dedication to Boston’s growing solidarity ecosystem, bridging both traditional and alternative financial approaches. This committee takes on the crucial responsibilities of conducting thorough evaluations of each business, lending their feedback to the Ujima Fund Management Team and assisting our members in making informed investment choices.
Miriam Gee is, in a word, a powerhouse. No cubicle could contain her dynamic personality, her quick-witted intelligence, her collaborative design skill, her way with people, or her energetic pursuit of better stewardship of the planet. If you need something done, send Miriam to do it. A CoFounder of CoEverything, Miriam is passionate about architecture and development and its potential for building community. She is committed to the triple bottom line and excels in project management and community engagement. Miriam is an active board member for Boston Farms Community Land Trust and was the licensed architect at Placetailor and co-founded Build Lightly Studio — where she taught community-driven design/build courses in the U.S. and abroad.
Can you share how you first got involved with Ujima?
Miriam Gee: The first time I ever heard about the solidarity economy was back in 2017, I believe. Me and my partner at the time were working at a worker cooperative, and he brought me on board as a worker-owner. As I transitioned into this new leadership role, I attended an event in downtown Boston, and some of the early founders of Ujima were there, along with solidarity folks across Massachusetts.
There was a woman speaking who defined the solidarity economy in a simple but profound way. She said, “The solidarity economy means that when I am well, you are well.” It made me realize that when we all have enough, we can all take care of each other. Not everything must be a capitalist transaction or an exchange looking for exponential growth.
Up until then, I had never really thought about financing, funding public projects, and decision-making at that level before. After that, I attended Ujima’s neighborhood assemblies and volunteered on different projects before joining the Investment Committee. When I first joined, I knew there would be a lot of learning along the way because I’m not a technical assistance provider the way that LEAF or the Boston Impact Initiative was in the beginning. I’ve since learned so much about alternative financing and lending, which helps me understand our client’s needs at CoEverything.
Can you share a bit about how your work on the Investment Committee connects to your broader background in community-focused development and design?
So I’m a co-founder of CoEverything, a worker-owned cooperative. We have three worker-owners and usually hire one or two other temporary, seasonal interns through a grant program. We say that our mission is to bring more cooperative and community projects to life. That could look like helping people with architecture and design, helping people with real estate development, consulting, a fundraising plan, a website, or even teaching workshops to stakeholders like neighbors and community members to make a decision. We do a wide range of work.
When it comes to the Ujima Fund Investment Committee, the biggest overlap that I see with our work at CoEverything is the democratic and participatory process aspect. Working in cooperation with other people and collaborating is really where we work best. So we tend to partner with existing grassroots community organizations to help them bring their projects to life where we ourselves are not necessarily the boots on the ground, doing the everyday organizing, but they are. So when clients bring us in at CoEverything, we have this overlap with mission and values to cooperate on. Just like our work on the Investment Committee, we’re moving at the speed of trust.
I’d love for our CoEverything projects to be able to seek funding from Uima, and so far, one of our projects has. We’re the architect for the new Dorchester Food Co-op. So as a member of the Investment Committee, I had to recuse myself from the investment analysis of DFC.
CoEverything has also collaborated on a few Ujima projects, like the 1463 Dorchester Ave crowdfunding campaign. In support of this affordable rental housing project, right in Fields Corner, we led workshops for Ujima members during the last Ujima Real Estate Assembly.
We eventually raised over $140,000 in this Small Change campaign from over 80 individual investors. More than 50 of them were from Massachusetts, and more than 40 of them were from Dorchester, which was our target audience. From there, we took a cue from Ujima and nominated people who invested in the project to a project oversight committee through a nomination process. There was a community listening session for the project oversight committee, and the elected committee members helped to select the retail tenant that went into the ground floor space of the building, which is now called Words as Worlds, co-created by Porsha Olayiwola [and Bing Boderick]. So it’s a great overlap of artists and community members in Ujima’s ecosystem.
What’s your personal investment philosophy when it comes to making socially responsible investments?
I use a giving plan template that someone from Resource Generation shared around back in the day. So this giving plan is broken down into three categories: people, prosperity, and [the] planet. I try to donate whatever money I would have made from having it invested somewhere else, spread across these three categories. I usually make these donations by the end of the year, and it’s very self-directed. When I hear about exciting work happening in the ecosystem, I consider making a donation and investing that way.
What do you imagine for the future of the Ujima Fund?
I’m really excited about this idea of an online real estate investment platform for Ujima, which Nia and other staff have explored. One of the challenges with real estate projects is that you need so much more money in order for it to make a difference. The Ujima Fund right now is $5 million, but what if one day it was a $25 million fund to fund real estate and infrastructure needs like community-owned solar, for instance? With a larger fund, we’re able to make many different types of investments.
Read more interviews from the Summer 2023 Investor Update here.