by Long Luu, member of VietLead
Formed in 2015, VietLead is a grassroots community organization in Philadelphia and South Jersey that is creating a new vision and strategy for community empowerment and social justice in the Vietnamese community. VietLead’s mission is to develop innovative solutions to improve health, increase sovereignty, and develop Vietnamese leadership in solidarity with communities of color. We do this through intergenerational farming; youth leadership; health navigation & direct services; policy advocacy; and civic engagement.
VietLead believes that developing cooperative businesses can be the location of developing important skills and capacities while creating an alternative economy for those most marginalised in our community: youth, English-limited adults, and refugee elders. Cooperatives also build off of informal cooperative practices have been long utilized in Southeast Asian communities, such as the Vietnamese practice of hui – a form of collective micro-lending that supports entrepreneurial business investments in our community. We are also a part of a cohort that has been supported by the Asian American Solidarities Economies Project under the National Coalition of Asian Pacific American Community Development Corporations (NCAPACD).
Our members are primarily comprised of alumni from past youth programs in order to create an avenue for politicized young adults to continue their political & community leadership and development. Long Luu, who was formerly a participant in youth programs and is now currently a college student, shares about his experiences so far: “My interests peaked for the co-op study because it was a way of sustainability for people to make a living and help the community at the same time. Before even learning anything about cooperatives, my mind was only exposed to the idea of capitalism and just working a regular 9-5 job — not something enjoyable or efficient in terms of creating a living and being involved with the community.”
“Studying together in the group has led me to learn that cooperatives are just more than businesses to help with sustainability and creating a workspace catered to the community and people within the workspace. It is a space put together for people part of the cooperative to make decisions, plan, work, and support each other. I guess the main keyword to summarize everything would be TOGETHERNESS. While support is another strong word, togetherness is really what makes a cooperative, a cooperative. If we never worked with people, as an individual we would get nowhere. Being able to put resources and bringing people together is how we as individuals grow, and how the community grows.”
Our study sessions have investigated the history of coops in Vietnam and in communities of color, how to build a worker-led nonprofit with cooperative principles, and how to practice anti-oppressive cooperation. Our team has a strong focus in food-related cooperatives and we are studying cafes, street-food markets, farms, and a community kitchen.