These days, in the face of a global pandemic that is rocking our country and our world to its core, you’re probably hearing a lot about essential businesses and vital services. Yes, essential businesses are stepping up to do their jobs even in times of turmoil and terror — and we’re not just talking about healthcare workers, police and fire departments (who are all incredible and putting their lives on the line to keep the rest of us safe). We’re also talking about grocery store workers, car repair shops, pharmacies, HVAC contractors ,and postal service employees, just to name a few. We tip our hats to all of you rising to the occasion of service and support when our country needs it most.
But it’s important to note that these workers and industries are not the only ones making an impact during these uncertain times. Other marginalized businesses and communities are also doubling down on their efforts to help lift our economy and our citizens up during times of need.
It’s no secret that the US economy is crumbling, consumer spending is on a decline and many small businesses are struggling to keep their heads above water as they navigate disruptions in production, delays in supplies, massive declines in sales and ultimately facing the difficult decision to forgo salary or laying off employees.
Which is why brands and business leaders supporting other business owners during this tough time is the inspiration we all need and the effort we should all be celebrating right now.
Women Supporting Women
Does the name Sara Blakely sound familiar? If you’re anything like us then you’ve benefitted from this woman’s genius more times than you’d like to admit. Her famous shapewear brand, Spanx, is a life-saver in more ways than one. Yes, it helps tone your tummy and tuck you in where you need it most. But that’s not all. This female-run company that started as a one-product brand has grown into a billion-dollar business led by Blakely, the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. And now Blakely is paying it forward, announcing that she will be giving $5 million to support female-run small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
In her Instagram post announcing her generous gift, Blakely explained that she hopes her efforts will provide hope and help reduce some of the stress small business owners are experiencing right now. “I know first-hand what it’s like to be a small business owner. As a woman it can be lonely and scary, especially during a time like this. Small business is the backbone of our culture and I want to help,” she wrote.She has teamed up with GlobalGiving to manage the application and donation process through her Red Backpack Fund, and she will be giving $5,000 each to 1,000 female business owners in the US to help fund business efforts, support families, and employees. It’s interesting to note that the red backpack is a symbol of the hard work, hustle and humble beginnings of the Spanx brand, as Blakely had a lucky red backpack from college that she used when she first started Spanx.
In addition, Blakely knows all too well that funding alone cannot keep a business afloat, so she is partnering her financial gift with access to Masterclass, the online educational platform featuring a wide range of classes, including Blakely’s own entrepreneurship class.
And she’s not the only business leader or company to step up and help other female entrepreneurs in need. Other organizations are making a big impact as well.
Recently, Anonymous Was A Woman — an awards program that provides grants to women artists who are over 40 years of age, in part to counter sexism in the art world — announced it would be doubling its annual offering with an additional $250,000 of emergency relief grants to help those artists, museums and galleries impacted by the coronavirus crisis. There was so much demand for this funding that AWAW was inundated with applications and actually decided to close down the grant opportunity early. Recipients of the grant will be notified by the end of April.
Artist and director of AWAW, Susan Unterberg, explained that her expanded mission with these grants is in direct response to the dire situation faced by artists in these unprecedented times. “All the news coming out was dire, and I know many artists take on multiple jobs to support their practice, and these jobs were being cut. Artists needed help and I was able to help,” she told Artnet News.
Minority-Run Companies Are Being Given Much-Needed Specialized Support
It’s no secret that minority-run businesses face unique challenges where funding is concerned. And in times of crisis, such as the current state of affairs, small-business owners who also happen to be black or Latino are forced to work through even more obstacles with even higher stakes. According to a recent New York Times article, minority-owned businesses tend to have weaker banking relationships compared to other similar small businesses with white owners. Businesses owned by people of color often struggle more to get bank loans and are often started with far less capital than white-owned businesses. In fact, a 2016 study by economists at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found that “only 1 percent of black business owners get a bank loan during their first year of business compared with 7 percent of white owners.”
And while minority-owned businesses might struggle to find funding in an average fiscal year, 2020 is no average year, and these small businesses are likely to have an even harder time accessing federal aid, which will be essential to keeping the business afloat. Some prominent black investors are stepping in to address this situation head-on, such as John W. Rogers Jr., the billionaire co-chief executive of Ariel Investments, a mutual fund manager. These investors sent a letter to lawmakers expressing concern that the emergency loan program was leaving black borrowers behind and exposing “disparities within capitalism brought into relief by coronavirus.” They continued to say that “by prioritizing clients that already have existing lines of credit, black businesses and nonprofits find themselves yet again excluded from live-saving relief.”
A solution is needed, and fast. Which is what makes moves by companies like SheaMoisture all the more meaningful.
SheaMoisture, a minority-owned business creating natural, sustainably-produced hair, beauty, and skincare products, just announced a $1 million relief fund to help support women entrepreneurs and small business owners of color during this COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing that small businesses are being hit especially hard, this company has set out to use their long-established Community Commerce program to give back to business owners who have been devastated by COVID-19. In addition to offering grants to help support small business owners of color, the company will also provide educational resources through access to online learning tools with their Women of Color Businesses E-Lab. Ultimately, 10 businesses will be selected to receive $10,000 each.
And during the month of April SheaMoisture will also be providing targeted support to black-owned businesses, recognizing that during economic crises communities of color are often the hardest hit and struggle the most to find funding and support for their companies.
According to Cara Sabin, the CEO of SheaMoisture’s parent company Sundial, small businesses are exponentially more desperate for assistance during these uncertain times, and supporting small businesses is near and dear to SheaMoisture’s brand mission. “During this unprecedented time of upheaval, small businesses are being disproportionately affected. For SheaMoisture, which was once a small business, the power of community and entrepreneurship is close to our hearts. Through this fund, we are committed to giving back to the communities that have helped us become who we are,” she explained to Forbes.
With the professional and economic landscape of our country and our world uncertain, unstable and changing every day, small businesses are at an elevated risk of closing or suffering financially. And small businesses are also the backbone of our society, so we need them to survive and thrive more than ever. The good news is that other industries and companies across the board are stepping up to help where help is needed, and to offer support, inspiration and funding to keep these small businesses and entrepreneurs afloat. All hail the helpers, and let’s continue to lift each other up during these tough times.