A few years back, four friends from Medellin Colombia who had each immigrated to the Boston area sat down to discuss their shared dream of becoming entrepreneurs.

As was typical, the conversation quickly turned to food. Norma shared her recipe for authentic empanadas, while Andres and Natalia discussed their artisanal juice-making techniques. As Oscar began reminiscing about his days as a chef in a busy restaurant, a lightbulb went off.

Norma had recently heard about the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity (CCDS), an organization that helps immigrants launch worker-owned co-ops in East Boston. With CCDS’s help, the group was able to incubate the Sazón Food Cooperative, creating healthy, authentic Latin cuisine for the community.

Later with the support of the Boston Immigrant Cooperative Alliance (BICA), they were able to improve their English language skills to further grow their clientele.

New immigrants have the disadvantage of being unfamiliar with the local job market and, in many cases, their academic credentials are not taken into account. Now, with help from CCDS and BICA, we’re hoping to move to a permanent space to work at our culinary passion full time.

Norma Jaramillo
Sazón Food Cooperative

Launching the Boston Immigrant Cooperative Alliance (BICA)

With $375,000 in support from MGH Community Health Impact funding, the Boston Immigrant Co-Operative (BICA) was launched in 2019. BICA is a collaboration among English for New Bostonians (ENB), CCDS, the East Boston Harborside Community School, and the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement. BICA promotes a solidarity economy in East Boston through the design and implementation of culturally relevant business management programming for residents of East Boston, Chelsea, and Revere.

Courses not only include budgeting, marketing, customer service, and safety, but MGH funding has also supported the adaptation of English for New Bostonians’ 20-week ‘English for Co-Op Owners’ curriculum. And each participant receives a stipend and Chromebook to help jump-start their business.

Co-op members say participation has given them the skills and confidence to introduce residents to their goods and services at events like “Eastie Market Days.” They have also gained new business contracts and been able to communicate their vision to state and city officials and other vendors

Since its start, 60 residents have gained co-op development and English language skills, and 6 co-ops are at various stages in development—with businesses spanning food production, sewing, eldercare, early childhood education, cleaning, and translation services.

‘Clean Green Co-op' Helps East Boston Emerge from COVID-19

Another successful co-op supported by MGH and BICA was born out of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on East Boston’s predominantly Latinx community. The virus was able to spread rapidly due to many residents working in essential services, living in crowded quarters, and suffering from pre-existing health conditions.

Recognizing an opportunity not only for themselves but to help their community, a group of residents formed the Clean Green Cooperative, a service that cleans apartments, houses, and businesses with eco-friendly products. And now, with help from BICA, the co-op has trained its staff in English and is expanding to serve larger commercial clients.

‘Fostering a Culture of Social Cohesion and Immigrant Advancement'

Going far beyond traditional workforce and business development strategies, the Boston Immigrant Cooperative Alliance (BICA) model embraces a culture of social cohesion. And its focus on economic development for under-resourced communities is fully aligned with the priorities and strategies for MGH Community Health Impact funding.

MGH support allowed us, collectively, to pilot a new model and it’s helping to level the playing field. By expanding economic opportunities for immigrants in the Greater Boston area, we are supporting a vibrant co-op economy that will thrive for years to come.

Claudia Green
Executive Director of English for New Bostonians