WEDI’s mission is to strengthen communities through a continuum of educational and financial resources, removing systemic barriers to economic equity for all Western New Yorkers. Founded in 2006 by members of the Westminster Presbyterian Church to improve the quality of life for residents of Buffalo’s West Side, WEDI (the Westminster Economic Development Initiative) has two focus areas—Education and Economic Development—and numerous programs including the West Side Bazaar. This dual focus makes WEDI unique among its peers. With a passionate, diverse staff that is representative of the constituents it serves, WEDI is well-poised to realize its vision that all residents of Western New York can succeed and thrive in a culturally inclusive community.
Lack of access to quality education is one of the main contributors to the cycle of poverty. This is especially true for non-native born people who struggle to attain even the basic level of literacy they need to succeed in school and in life. WEDI’s Education focus area addresses this critical issue by supporting 1-11th grade English Language Learners (ELLs) through four programs: ENERGY (elementary-aged students), FLY (middle schoolers), Launch (high schoolers), and Boys Club/Girls Club (peer support groups). Taken as a continuum, the programs scaffold the building blocks of literacy—reading, writing, and speaking English—with increasing social-emotional support to help students achieve academic success, navigate higher education and career opportunities, and achieve economic stability and independence. The programs also support families to navigate and acclimate to life in Buffalo while maintaining their own cultural identities.
WEDI’s Economic Development (ED) focus area provides multi-faceted support to aspiring and early-career entrepreneurs, helping them gain access to capital and resources, address challenges, and incubate concepts. ED offers two programs available to underserved residents of all races, ethnicities, and genders: Microlending (modest loans to entrepreneurs) and the West Side Bazaar (a small business incubator and community gathering space). A certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) since 2016, WEDI is the only lender in Buffalo offering capital to our target population, who might otherwise borrow from predatory lenders. ED clients are supported by both staff and volunteer professional mentors who help them navigate the day-to-day challenges of running a small business.
West Side Bazaar
WEDI’s West Side Bazaar (WSB) is a small business incubator where aspiring entrepreneurs incubate retail concepts and learn the fundamentals of running a business. It is also a community gathering space where people of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds share a love of delicious food and unique products. The Bazaar boasts six food kiosks and five retail kiosks representing cultures from all over the world. Located in a developing area on Grant Street, the Bazaar has played an important role in restoring the surrounding neighborhood to its former state of vibrancy. WEDI provides WSB entrepreneurs with one-on-one coaching; support in developing their business plan; access to capital and markets; workshops, training, and educational resources; marketing and branding support; access to a shared commercial kitchen; and subsidized rent. Since 2011, more than 40 businesses have been incubated at the Bazaar, 26 of which have graduated to their own storefront. The Bazaar has been featured in The New York Times, NPR, and Yahoo News along with other international, regional, and local media.