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Our History

Jump to:          Founding Leadership


The Center for Economic Democracy was founded as the Economic Justice Funding Circle (EJFC) in 2012 to provide a space for Boston’s grassroots leaders and funders to develop shared vision, strategy and practice for transformational movement building in Massachusetts and beyond. With support from its founding donors, EJFC’s steering committee of grassroots organizers stewarded $500,000 in grants to advance racial and economic justice organizing in the community.


Between 2013-2014, CED staff was subcontracted by the Participatory Budgeting Project to help design the City of Boston’s “Youth Lead the Change” initiative, Boston’s first participatory budgeting process and the first citywide youth-led democratic budgeting process in the country. As Lead Organizer, CED helped design the process and support over 1,200 young people ages 12-25 to propose and/or vote on how to spend $1 million of the City’s annual capital budget.

Between 2013-2015 EJFC convened, funded and launched the Boston Jobs Coalition, a citywide network fighting to ensure that employment opportunities generated by Boston’s construction boom benefitted local residents. After protesting unfair worksites and passing requirements for hiring in key neighborhoods, Boston Jobs Coalition’s multi-year campaign culminated in 2017 with the passage of a new city law that established the most inclusive racial and gender hiring policies for private construction in the US.​


In 2014, EJFC transitioned its name to the Center for Economic Democracy (CED) to represent a broader vision for our role in the movement for justice and liberation in the United States. CED co-founders included members of EJFC, additional leaders of local nonprofits, and several graduate student fellows from MIT and Tufts urban planning departments.


Members of the Boston Community Finance Study Group (2014).

In the summer of 2014, CED convened and co-hosted the Boston Community Finance Study Group with local investment fund Boston Impact Initiative, housing justice organization City Life/Vida Urbana, and two dozen other organizers, funders, business owners and nonprofit staff from aligned organizations. The group hosted eight sessions exploring alternative financial institutions and economic power building strategies. 

Co-founders of the Solidarity Economy Initiative in Buffalo, NY.
SEI Buffalo.jpg

Meanwhile, in late 2014, CED and Access Strategies Fund co-convened three additional aligned funders and eight of Massachusetts’ leading community organizing groups to launch the Solidarity Economy Initiative (SEI). A hub and community of practice for both grassroots organizers and movement funders, SEI was designed to strengthen the grassroots ecosystem across Massachusetts in response to five themes that were identified through a multi-month listening process led by CED staff:

  1. Our movements are losing courageously, badly.

  2. We need a long term vision for the transformation of capitalism. 

  3. We need to build on elements of solidarity economy that already exist. 

  4. We must evolve the methodology of the organizing sector, especially in the areas of:

    1. Healing and cultural organizing

    2. Cooperative economic development

    3. Growing multi-sectoral organizing

    4. Political power building innovations​

  5. We need to strengthen the capacity of grassroots nonprofits by building shared organizational infrastructure. 


In 2015, the Solidarity Economy Initiative formed a pooled grant-making vehicle hosted by the Solidago Foundation to resource the learning and incubation of new grassroots strategies to advance a Just Transition to a Solidarity Economy in Massachusetts. To help seed the Solidarity Economy Initiative Fund, CED committed EJFC's final grant of $250,000.

Building on the learnings of the 2014 Boston Community Finance Study Group and the efforts of dozens of founding volunteers throughout 2015, CED launched the Boston Ujima Project. Centering Boston’s Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, Boston Ujima Project was conceived as a cooperative economics ecosystem that connects small business owners, impact investors, residents and anchor institutions to grow and circulate local wealth; expand the community’s capacity to govern their own economy; and model democratic control of finance.


From Ujima’s Solidarity Summit pilot investment day in 2016 through Ujima’s formation as a membership organization at its first general assembly, Dreaming Wild in 2017, CED provided support to the Ujima staff team with fundraising, direct staffing, strategic technical assistance and co-design of Ujima’s participatory investment processes.


Beginning in 2018 and with support from our founding donors, CED began an 18-month transition from a volunteer driven organization with one full time staffer (Aaron Tanaka) to a team of six full-time employees, a small board of practical visionaries, five inaugural CED Fellows, and a robust range of partnerships with organizations in Massachusetts and across the US.


As of mid-2019, CED supported the successful launch of the Ujima Fund, which raised $500,000 from 100 investors in its first 100 days and aims to raise $5 million through 2020. The Solidarity Economy Initiative has expanded its membership of grassroots organizations and funders and helped train and inspire hundreds of local activists to build the next economy today. The Solidarity Economy Fund has made $612,000 in total grants to grassroots organizations to date.

In addition to supporting its two core programs, in 2019 CED helped launch the Massachusetts Employee Ownership Table,co-convened a study group on democratizing Boston's City Charter, helped establish the Boston PILOT Action Group, co-convened the Boston Divest-Reinvest Network and continues to advise foundations and wealth holders to adopt "Solidarity Philanthropy" practices while providing trainings and workshops for progressive networks across the United States.

“No idea is original, there’s nothing new under the sun.

It’s never what you do, but how it’s done.” 


-Nas “Lost Tapes”

Founding Leadership

Dozens of volunteers and funders helped launch our early programs, lay the groundwork for our organization, and continue to support our work today.

Economic Justice Funding Circle

Founding Donors

David Ludlow and Joann Gu

Center for Economic Democracy

Founding Steering Committee

Aaron Tanaka, Director

Center for Economic Democracy

Chuck Turner

former City Councilor


Curdina Hill

City Life Vida Urbana


Juan Leyton

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative


Kalila Barnett

Alternatives for Community and Environment


Lisa Owens Pinto

City Life Vida Urbana


Lydia Lowe

Chinese Progressive Association


Mel King

former State Representative


Nene Igietseme, CED Fellow

MIT Department of Urban Planning and Studies


Penn Loh

Tufts University Urban and Environmental Planning


Rebecca Tumposky

Tufts University Urban and Environmental Planning


Xau Ying Ly, CED Fellow

MIT Department of Urban Planning and Studies

Early Funders

The Arnow Family

Chorus Foundation

David Ludlow and Joann Gu

Echoing Green

Fund for Democratic Communities

Hyams Foundation 

Nathan Cummings Foundation

Novo Foundation 

Solidago Foundation

Solidarity Economy Initiative

Founding Steering Committee

Alexie Torres-Fleming, Co-chair

Access Strategies Fund

Aaron Tanaka, Co-chair

Center for Economic Democracy


Deborah Frieze

Boston Impact Initiative


Aditi Vaidya

Solidago Foundation


Penn Loh

Tufts University Urban and Environmental Planning


Trina Jackson

TSNE MissionWorks

Founding Grassroots Cohort

Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE)

Boston Workers Alliance (BWA)

Chinese Progressive Association (CPA)

City Life Vida Urbana (CLVU)

Ex-prisoner and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement (EPOCA)

Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N)

Neighbors United for a Better East Boston (NUBE)

New England United for Justice (NEU4J)

Founding Funder Cohort

Access Strategies Fund

Boston Impact Initiative

Center for Economic Democracy

New Economy Coalition

TSNE MissionWorks

Solidago Foundation 

Boston Ujima Project

Founding Steering Committee

Aaron Tanaka

Center for Economic Democracy 


Darnell Johnson

Right to the City Boston

Deborah Frieze

Boston Impact Initiative

Hendrix Berry

Balanced Rock Investments

Libbie Cohn 

MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Lisa Owens

City Life Vida Urbana

Lor Holmes



Maya Gaul


Nia Evans

NAACP Boston

Sarah Jimenez

Tufts University Department of Urban and Environmental Planning


Stacey Cordeiro

Boston Center for Community Ownership

Teena Marie Johnson

Youth on Board

Founding Leadershp
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