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Luz Zambrano: Harnessing the Power of Cooperativism for Equality and Opportunity

Luz Zambrano: Harnessing the Power of Cooperativism for Equality and Opportunity

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hey there! Spiffy here, back again with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Luz Zambrano, co-founder and general coordinator of the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity-CCDS. Let’s learn what’s happening at the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity-CCDS and how Luz is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Hi Luz, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity-CCDS?

Luz: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! We aim to address the social, racial, and economic inequalities—in particular, among the Latino immigrant community in our neighborhoods—which can prevent immigrants moving ahead in life, in the workplace, and in society. Right now, our neighborhood is going through a rapid gentrification and as a result our community is getting displaced, the Latino immigrant community is going down from 56% to 40% as of today. Our community historically has jobs that do not pay well and are labor intensive and without benefits. As immigrant workers, most of the time we think we don’t have the power to make changes within the companies we work for or the neighborhoods we live in.

Spiffy: That’s amazing and impactful. What motivates you to do it? 

Luz: I come from a country where cooperativism was part of my life and my family. 

I knew firsthand that being part of a cooperative, people can have many more opportunities to get ahead in life because it gives us freedom to create and develop our own structures, in our own way and with our own ideas, talents and resources. So, when I thought of this idea, I knew we can replicate my experience growing up in the cooperativism system here. With that in mind and with the help and support from other community members, CCDS was created in 2016 as part of a community-wide effort to advance sustainable and permanent solutions to the growing inequalities as immigrants we faced.

Spiffy: I love your passion for community and equality. Tell me about the impact of your work.

Luz: As immigrants affected by the issues mentioned above, we are creating our own solutions to those problems. We are developing worker-owned cooperatives within the solidarity economy framework, where humans come before profits. For us, this is a real alternative to solve the disparities in our community. Our work in cooperatives open spaces for low-income immigrants to use their experiences, knowledge, and skills to promote positive changes in our community, participate in the solidarity economy, and become owners of our own cooperatives. After seven years of building our cooperative ecosystem, CCDS has seven worker-owned cooperatives: from, elder care, childcare, food preparation, cleaning to mental health and language interpretation.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your community?

Luz: In February 2023, CCDS received great news. The Common Future Accelerator selected us (from 264 applicants nationwide) as one of 10 organizations led by BIPOC women who they truly believe are developing models to close the racial wealth gap in the nation. Through their support, CCDS is getting organizational support to help us remove some of the social, financial, and political barriers that stand in the way of transformative change. The impact that this program is having in our work is immense. It is helping our organization develop stronger organizational structures, programs, and founding venues. Also, it is giving us national recognition and visibility to our work.

Spiffy: Congratulations! Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Luz: The majority of CCDS staff and leadership are Latina immigrants living in East Boston and neighboring communities who have been affected by economic inequality and rapid gentrification. We envision that low-income communities of color can continue being part of the fabric of our neighborhood despite all the obstacles that we face. We strive for a cooperative community where people are respected, happy, healthy, and have what they need to live dignified lives, so that all of our community members can thrive as human beings. With that in mind, we continue to empower our community to believe that their current cooperative projects can be a reality and that we will transform ourselves and our community in the process.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Luz—it’s been an honor!

Luz Zambrano is an immigrant from Colombia, mother of two children and resident of its beloved East Boston. She spent most of her professional life in the US developing the leadership and organizing capacity of immigrant individuals, organizations, and movements to overcome social, racial, and economic injustice. (Nominated by Andrea Perdomo of Common Futures. First published on the Ladderworks website on May 17, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Lindsey Brannon. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.