The Bronx Community Enterprise Network started with a question: If community members collectively owned and governed key assets in the Bronx, could we create an economy that invests in human dignity, fosters community well-being, and supports a larger movement for self-determination?
In 2011, grassroots organizations began convening under the banner of the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI) to answer this question. We were encouraged by the fact that the Bronx already boasts incredible assets. It houses some of the region’s top hospitals and universities, which collectively purchase over 9 billion dollars of goods and services each year; many successful commercial corridors, including the third largest in New York City; and the Hunts Point Terminal Market, the largest food distribution center in the world. Not to mention, it is home to some of the country’s most sophisticated community-based organizations, which have fought disinvestment and secured critical policy wins for their members.
Despite this, the Bronx remains the poorest urban county in the US, a fact that reveals a structural failure of coordination. As BCDI, we believe the Bronx already has many of the resources it needs to address its greatest challenges, and that people of color and women can and should lead the change.
So, in order to better coordinate Bronx resources to build wealth and ownership for low-income people of color, we invited Bronx-based institutions, elected officials, labor leaders, and finance partners to join BCDI. We also partnered with MIT Community Innovators Lab, to provide technical support. Through years of planning and studying similar models, including the Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain, we developed a borough-wide, multi-stakeholder strategy for economic development that is integrally connected to the broader movement for economic democracy. We call it the Bronx Community Enterprise Network, and in 2014, we developed CommonWise Education to lead its implementation.
All together, the Bronx Community Enterprise Network is a transformative model for urban economic development that can serve as an example for other communities across the US and the world.