Entrepreneurship: It’s the ability to conjure, implement and grow a great idea into a successful enterprise.
It drives our economy. It creates the products and services we never knew we needed but can’t live without. And it’s what has made this country the land of opportunity for so many.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we must ask: Is everyone given equal opportunity to start and grow their big dreams into something real, lasting and meaningful?
A historic lack of access to capital and social networks, uneven educational opportunity, less philanthropic funding and fewer seats at the decision-making table are just some of the hurdles entrepreneurs of color confront when pursuing change.
We want to learn from and with these entrepreneurs about the work they are undertaking and what they need to succeed.
These are universal truths, whether you are a small bakery in Mississippi feeding its community; a school leader who lacks funding to bring culturally appropriate curriculum into the classroom; or an independent fisher seeking a fairer price for your catch.
It’s why in our new five-year strategy, the Walton Family Foundation has made a renewed commitment to supporting entrepreneurs of color across our three program areas – K-12 Education, Environment and our Home Region of Northwest Arkansas and the Delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi. More importantly, we want to learn from and with these entrepreneurs about the work they are undertaking and what they need to succeed.
Helping Entrepreneurs of Color Thrive in Our Home Region
Not only is Northwest Arkansas the birthplace and headquarters to multiple Fortune 500 companies, it’s also becoming exponentially more diverse, with communities of color expected to grow to 31% by 2024, up from just 5% in 1990.
Much of this growth is occurring in the Hispanic community. But while Hispanic residents over the age of 25 make up 13% of the population, they own only 2% of the region’s small businesses. With support from the foundation, national organizations like EForAll have opened up shop in Northwest Arkansas, helping Hispanic entrepreneurs bring their businesses to life through bilingual mentorship and intensive professional training.
The foundation also supports efforts to help entrepreneurs like Laura and Sandra Carrasco-Quezada overcome inequity by increasing access to “Kiva Hubs” in Northwest Arkansas and the Delta. These local organizations offer business owners no-fee, no-interest crowdsourced microloans of up to $10,000.
After they were rejected by several banks, Laura and Sandra leveraged Kiva Northwest Arkansas to crowdsource loan capital for equipment and marketing to enhance their food service business, Bites & Bowls.
In the Delta, organizations like Higher Purpose Co. are on a mission to build community wealth with Black residents like Theodore and LaTanthony Strong. To get their bakery off the ground, both participated in Higher Purpose’s business fellowship, a six-month program guided by a culturally relevant curriculum, business growth support and funding opportunities.
Eliminating Barriers to Innovation in Education
When it comes to identifying and accelerating meaningful breakthroughs in student success, who better to look to than the nonprofit entrepreneurs driving community-designed educational change in schools across the country?
It is well-documented that more diverse, equitable and inclusive education organizations improve student learning and build stronger community connections.
But entrepreneurs of color face significant barriers to creating school ecosystems that reflect the communities they serve. Our partners at the Bridgespan Group and Echoing Green find that Black and Latino leaders receive only about 4% of philanthropic funding during the expansion stage of growth.
We are committed to ensuring community voices have a seat at the table when creating solutions that will shape the trajectory of their lives.
In the nonprofit sector, 75% of executive directors identify as white, despite the country’s growing diversity. They attribute this in part to the unconscious bias of funders who don’t share lived experiences, social capital and cultural familiarity with the communities they support.
At the foundation, we are actively working to better understand our own role in this system. We are committed to ensuring community voices have a seat at the table when creating solutions that will shape the trajectory of their lives.
Our work with Camelback Ventures is one example of how we are seeking to learn from those closest to the challenges facing entrepreneurs of color. Camelback identifies and empowers underrepresented local leaders to enact change within their communities through coaching, capital, connections and curriculum. To date, it has provided more than 80 fellowships to entrepreneurs of color in education.
One fellow is Vincent Cobb II, founder of the Fellowship for Black Male Educators, who says the organization’s work is “showing a generation of young men that teaching isn’t just a strong career option, it’s an act of social justice.”
The 1954 Project is another partner. It increases economic mobility for students of color by investing in innovative and culturally affirming approaches to teaching and learning and expanding educator and leader diversity.
Forging a Sustainable Path for the Environment and Communities
Whether along the banks of the Mississippi River or the fishing cooperatives on the coast of Mexico, fishing communities disproportionately experience the most severe impacts of climate change, from flooding and drought to shifting fishery patterns. By working with those closest to these challenges, the foundation is supporting lasting solutions to an economically and environmentally sustainable path forward for our planet.
In Mexico, for example, SmartFish is implementing a “value-rescue model” that makes it easier and more profitable for local, entrepreneurial fishing co-ops to adopt sustainable practices. Not only do these practices earn fishers up to 200% more for their catch, they also recognize the value of women in this work in a more visible way, through formal training and fair payment.
On a local, national and global scale, entrepreneurs of color add vibrancy, bolster the economy and contribute innovative concepts to the greatest challenges we face. The foundation is committed to ensuring these bold change-makers receive an equitable shot at success. By listening to them, learning from them and supporting their big dreams, there will be more opportunities for each of us to live self-determined and fulfilling lives.