(Summer 18) Hannah Diaz, G, Commonwise Education/CoLab, NY

Part I

Hey everyone,

Over the course of this summer, I’ve been working with the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative/Commonwise Education (BCDI) and MIT CoLab on their Bronx Innovation Factory (BXIF) project. BCDI is a community organization that is focused on the local economy, specifically on building in equity, democracy, and sustainability in order to grow community wealth and ownership for low-income people of color who call the Bronx home.

As one of the five New York City boroughs and home to 1.5 million people, the Bronx is often defined more often by its negative reputation and aspects than its positive assets. Alongside communities, BCDI works to flip the Bronx narrative and use the borough’s institutional, economic, physical, community, and cultural assets to redefine the economy. In doing so, BCDI is investing in community health and well-being as well as supporting efforts towards self-determination.

Guided by strengths, power, and vibrancy that exist within the Bronx, BCDI has undertaken the immense task of building the civic infrastructure to support these goals of economic democracy. Currently, BCDI has implemented four of its six infrastructure projects – a marketplace for Bronx institutions to purchase locally from Bronx-based organizations (the BronXchange); a center for advanced manufacturing and digital fabrication, education, and business incubation for cooperative businesses (the Bronx Innovation Factory); a learning center focused on training external partners and community leaders in principles of economic democracy (the Economic Democracy Learning Center); and a strategic policy and planning center that works alongside community leaders to ensure equitable development (the Policy and Planning Lab).

Over the course of 10 weeks, my summer project will consist of conducting research and forming recommendations for the Bronx Innovation Factory that considers how BXIF will build out its community-oriented operations, connect with borough and New York City-wide partners, and evaluate its progress along the way. Using my background in workforce development and education evaluation and my urban planning knowledge and coursework, I hope to learn more about how BXIF and BCDI as a whole are establishing equitable tech-based education and contribute the existing ecosystem. Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m very familiar with the ways in which tech exerts its economic dominance, often at the expense of existing communities, and in my work with BCDI, I’m hoping to learn more about how this dominance can be reclaimed for true equity, increased democratic voice and power, and sustainable community and economic development.

In the next posts, I’ll describe my work more in-depth and paint a richer picture of how BXIF is turning its goals into reality.

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