Procurement & Representation to Grow the Black Business Ecosystem
- The Black Canadian community should be represented in leadership positions across the country in both government and industry.
- Black Canadians represent 3.5% of the population and should be included in 3.5% of municipal, provincial, and federal procurement programs.
- Corporations and the government need to make clear statements on their values and impact with regards to Black Canadians and anti-Black racism because change must come from the top.
The Canadian government at all levels should incorporate Black-owned businesses across Canada into their procurement processes. Canadian investors must also recognize the innovative Black businesses across Canada to create mutually beneficial opportunities for all.
What are the main gaps that exist for Black Canadians and how do they impact our economy?
Unfortunately, there are many. When we meet new members or speak with our current members, there are a few things that are always mentioned. One, which never fails to come up, is access to capital. I once had a federal politician tell me that he knows that the Black community has a precarious relationship with the banking system. Historically, there have been examples of Black Canadians who have been denied loans, and there are even examples of people who have gone into banks to withdraw money from their own bank accounts and have encountered resistance. So, access to capital is definitely an issue.
Another gap that we hear about a lot is procurement. The Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce does advocacy at all three levels of government, and we try to stress the importance of giving the Black business community the opportunity to participate in the public procurement process. We see government as the biggest and best customer, and if we had more Black businesses in that pipeline, it would be beneficial for our community.
“We try to stress the importance of giving the Black business community the opportunity to participate in the public procurement process.”
When it comes to leadership, I always say you cannot be what you cannot see. Our community needs examples of people who look like us in various positions of power—at all three levels of government, and in all industries—because that is something that we find is lacking. One of the things we still hear about is “the first Black fill-in-the-blank.” It’s 2020, we should no longer be hearing, “She is the first Black CEO.” The day of the first Black should be behind us, but we are still there. There are many areas of the economy where there are still no Black people, and we are highly underrepresented across the board.
What must be done, and by who, to better support and empower Black professionals and businesses?
If we had more opportunities and people could see and acknowledge that Black businesses exist, we would be better off. For example, in Canada we do not collect any disaggregated data, so we do not have race-based statistics. As the President of the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, I know there are black businesses right across the country but because Canada does not collect this information, nobody sees us. We have written to the government to work with Statistics Canada so that we can prove that Black business owners contribute significantly to the Canadian economy. Black business owners are in every city, but because we do not have this information, I feel we are not taken seriously.
The Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce also asks for a seat at the table. Everyone needs a seat at the table so that we have diversity of perspective in the decision-making process and executive boards and the government should better reflect our diverse society.
“All corporations, including the government, need to send a message down through their organization on their values and how they impact the Black community.”
Ultimately, change needs to start at the top. All corporations, including the government, need to send a message down through their organization on their values and how they impact the Black community. We go to school together, we live amongst each other, we are each other’s consumers and customers, and we need to recognize and use the appropriate language when talking about race issues. We need to talk about anti-Black racism, we need to talk about white privilege, and those in leadership positions need to take a look at the policies and procedures they have in place and the message they are sending, from their C-suite to their frontline staff.
What is your vision for the future of the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce?
I would like our chamber to be seen like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. There is a lot of support and many organizations working with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and I would love to see the same thing for us. We want people to get to know who we are and our suppliers, vendors and business owners. I think there is great opportunity there.
It is also possible for the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce to become a feeder chamber for all other chambers. As a national organization, we have chapters and members right across the country, so I sometimes think of our Toronto chapter as the feeder chamber for the Toronto Region Board of Trade. One day, all of our members will be part of bigger chambers, and we will get to the point where when you turn to your left and to your right, you see a business owner—irrespective of ethnicity.
“There needs to be a paradigm shift where we encourage, support and foster entrepreneurship in all communities, including the Black community.”
Our society is like an organization. The more Black business owners that are thriving and surviving and succeeding in the economy, the better it is for them personally, their family, their community, and ultimately the Canadian economy. We need people with different backgrounds and innovations, and there needs to be a paradigm shift where we encourage, support and foster entrepreneurship in all communities, including the Black community.
What supports are currently available for Black entrepreneurs across the country? What additional supports would you like to see, and from who?
Right now, I describe us as being in a post-George Floyd moment. People have stopped and they are taking stock of their situation based on seeing the murder of a Black man on television. Corporations are stopping and taking notice, and there are big social media campaigns and movements happening globally. I see a lot of positive and encouraging movements happening throughout corporate Canada.
For example, our chamber has been the recipient of a donation from a Canadian company, which we are very grateful for. Prior to this, we were not on anyone’s radar—people did not know we exist. I think Canadians are now taking the time to find out how they can help. As a corporation, what is my role? How can I end anti-Black racism? How do I help my fellow business owner or my fellow neighbour deal with what is going on?
In terms of additional supports, we always ask for procurement, especially now in the pandemic. We know we will eventually come to a post-pandemic stage, and we identified government procurement as one of the best ways to get a company thriving. If you become the government vendor and supplier, that will help take care of your business.
“If you become the government vendor and supplier, that will help take care of your business.”
We also work very hard on visibility, so that people realize there are Black businesses out there. It is a huge country, and if you are not used to or aware of Black business owners in every profession and industry, we want to get that exposure. Visibility and representation are things that are important to us and which we are striving towards for our members.
We also encourage trade among the Black diaspora, both within Canada and internationally. That is something that has been lacking, so we encourage networking. Networking is an important tool, and it is a simple way to keep your business growing. We see this in other communities—they support each other, they network with each other, and they grow their businesses. We are learning to be better with that both in Canada and internationally. When you travel the world, there are black entrepreneurs everywhere and we want to tap into those networks and resources globally. It will make us all stronger.
Do you expect this Black Lives Matter momentum to stay and ultimately to have a long-term transformative impact on the economy, on the business ecosystem and on our society?
We cannot just look at things in the moment. We have to look at what is happening in the next two, three, or five years. I am an eternal optimist and I believe that things are different now. I believe that we are really at a pivotal point in time. The pain is so real, everyone is feeling it and they want to help. I believe that we are making change now and I do believe that this will be long-term. The important thing is that we cannot take our foot off the pedal—we have to keep going, we have to keep pushing our message.
“I believe that we are really at a pivotal point in time. The pain is so real, everyone is feeling it and they want to help. I believe that we are making change now and I do believe that this will be long-term.”
Supporting one business, one time, is not enough—you have to incorporate it into the way you are running your business. We ask corporations to keep Black Canadians and businesses top of mind all year around, instead of doing something extraordinary for Black History Month. We ask that corporations have a look at their boards, management, supply chain and customers, their messaging and language, and be mindful of anti-Black racism throughout the year. We do not want a one-time show of support. The work culture—and even the government culture—needs to change and be more inclusive and supportive of Black people.
“We ask that corporations have a look at their boards, management, supply chain and customers, their messaging and language, and be mindful of anti-Black racism throughout the year.”
Corporate Canada and the government should know that there are fantastic and innovative Black-owned businesses right across the country. We have a history of being denied access to capital, and we are coming to you asking for your help. We are asking for your support to invest in our businesses. Invest in us, and we will show you how we can innovate and create positive impacts for the Canadian economy.