Supporting new businesses run by people in the BIPOC – Black, Indigenous and people of colour – community is the focus of a new organization led by a University of Guelph student.
Fifth-year business student Nabeeha Pirzada, majoring in market management and financial economics at U of G’s Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, is a founder of BIPOC Capital, an organization that distributes interest-free loans and provides business mentorship to new small and medium-sized BIPOC enterprises (SMEs).
Pirzada is collaborating with Toby Hill, an environmental science graduate in the United Kingdom specializing in the intersections between the environment and the economy, and Tasnim Jaisee, an undergraduate at the University of Saskatchewan studying political science and women’s and gender studies. The organization, Pirzada said, has been assisted in its development by Moussa Sène, a social impact specialist for the engineering firm Hatch Ltd.
BIPOC Capital recently won a major international competition to create new governmental policies that contribute to a more equitable and inclusive world. Inspired by the win, the organization has fast-tracked its development.
“We believe that economic empowerment is a great tool that can be used to help marginalized communities and uplift them,” said Pirzada, speaking of BIPOC Capital’s vision. “We see micro-financing as an effective way to do that.”
One component of BIPOC Capital, she said, is to invite established corporations to finance BIPOC businesses in return for an online workshop, hosted by their sponsored local business. The workshops are intended to help the corporation become more inclusive and diverse, more efficient or more sustainable. She called the component “a cycle of economic empowerment” for the BIPOC community involving a mutually beneficial exchange of investment for knowledge.
“We know that corporations love to invest in the future and in potential, especially with local businesses and the issues those local businesses are passionate about,” she said. “We are reaching out to several corporations that see potential in local businesses, to pool funds together and allocate those on an interest-free loan basis. We want to begin on a provincial basis, with larger goals to take it nationally and internationally.”
Systemic racism has affected many generations of BIPOC people and remains entrenched in society, Pirzada said. That is especially evident in the business sector.
“They are continuously disenfranchised and that impedes their success,” she said. “Redlining was a historic issue that took place. It didn’t allow loans for the Black community, Indigenous people and people of colour. There is racism in the system of loans, grants and opportunities. Many are left without the support to establish successful businesses and pursue their business potential. That is what we are really trying to bridge here.”
BIOPIC Capital also aims to:
- provide financial support to sustain the growth of BIPOC SMEs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic
- foster strong connections between BIPOC businesses
- reduce the racial wealth gap
- increase support for non-profit organizations by fostering growth of small businesses
- improve job creation and strengthen local economies by increasing economic activity
- reduce environmental impact by growing local economies.
BIPOC Capital received a significant profile boost when it was among three winners of the Thinkathon Online Challenge: Our Digital Future C’est ici. The competition attracted 670 participants in more than 250 teams from Canada and Europe. The winning teams each received 300 euros.
“Thinkathon is the largest policy creation competition in the world,” Pirzada said. “On the day of the competition, there were Canadian senators and members of Parliament, European members of Parliament and representatives from the United Nations and the European Union on hand.”
Teams were challenged to craft a policy to improve society by creating a more inclusive digital future. Winners will pitch their policies to governments. BIPOC Capital’s proposal policy will be discussed in the Canadian Parliament this month, Pirzada said.
BIPOC Capital’s policy proposal conformed to the organization’s mandate. It would see the Canadian government provide interest-free loans to the owners of BIPOC businesses.
“There was so much excitement for us when we won because it was something that we were working on day and night,” she said. “We were so passionate about it. Many nights we were up until 4 a.m. trying to perfect our policy and make it bullet-proof. It was a dream come true when the judges saw value in it.”
There is a great deal of potential to grow the economy in sustainable, diverse and inclusive ways, but so many opportunities are missed because of the cycle of intergenerational, racially based wealth disparity, Pirzada added. “We want to make sure that our community and our country is reaching its full potential, with equal opportunity in mind.”
The organization’s website is designed by Srosh Khan.