Black people have long been cut off from creating, maintaining, and sustaining generational wealth and participating in America's economic structure for hundreds of years. Throughout history, we see this from slavery to the destruction of Black Wall Street and the present disparities of the pandemic where 60% of Black businesses closed their doors. We realize that the wealth of a White family is 10x that of a Black family. As a result of this massive social injustice and human rights violation, Black entrepreneurs create opportunities to counter this economic disenfranchisement through companies like Collab Capital and Black Girl Ventures.
A Black ecosystem is more than purchasing Black-owned products and keeping the dollar in flow with the community. It's about creating wealth and rebuilding Black communities. Essentially, a thriving Black ecosystem is looking to answer the question of how do we break the economic paradigm that keeps money out of reach for the Black community to build multi-generational wealth? A Black ecosystem is a community within the Black community that is financially self-sufficient. Before dive deep into the elements of a thriving Black ecosystem, we first need to look at how we got here in the first place.
Several systems at play have created these inequitable systems that have Black business owners climbing uphill—each of these three factors listed below impacts Black ecosystems' ability to thrive.
There needs to be an examination between the intersection of the individual and systemic levels of oppression and how it plays out in people's individual lives and the institutions where they live, work, and play. Much of this has to do with the impact of micro-aggressions that Black people have and will continue to experience.
Next, there needs to be a hyper-focused review of the institutions that are further deepening the barriers. Because these barriers begin in elementary school, then continue through higher education and places of employment. Let's look at the institutions that continue to perpetuate oppression. This could be biased policies and practices (e.g., in hiring, teaching, funding, family support) and other negative experiences that disproportionately impact Black people.
Lastly, we need to examine the different policies and practices and how they work together to add to these systemic issues—for example, considering the historical oppressive practices and policies and the barriers to structural opportunities for improvement (e.g., changes to federal policies around student loan forgiveness). The problem in developing thriving Black ecosystems lies in education and access, support, and system disruption. It's a multi-pronged issue that needs multi-pronged solutions.
For a community to be considered an ecosystem, it must have coherence and interrelationship among all its parts. For a community to have shared prosperity, they must collaborate, mutual understanding, and the belief that what's suitable for one is right for all. The lack of a Black ecosystems has stifled the growth of Black businesses, entrepreneurs, professionals, and non-profiteers. If we are serious about addressing the wealth inequality in Black communities, we must get in the business of developing and supporting our own communities. However, we cannot do it alone.
Here are 5 elements of a thriving Black ecosystem:
More conversations around inclusion are happening more frequently. But as we discuss the various approaches to include our historically marginalized communities, we must recognize that this work is rooted in cultural competency and not just inclusivity. The latter is not enough. We must be sure that stakeholders have a real understanding of the issues at hand and the impact their work may have if they don't address these issues thoughtfully.
The idea of prosperous Black communities is directly related to economic development. Economic development is critical to a healthy and thriving Black community. It means that the community is creating businesses, jobs, and wealth within their communities, leading to economic transformation. Economic development also ensures a community's progress--edging out any negative stereotypes or misconceptions some might have about the particular area.
In regards to partnerships and collaborations, Black founders must assess whether these partnerships have an in-depth understanding of the economic development and progress of Black communities and that they are interested in genuinely collaborating, not to come into a situation to shift the power dynamics. For instance, they aren't looking to take over but to serve and want to be dedicated liaisons for the cause while putting the Black community's agendas ahead of their own. The vision is clear: Black communities should benefit from outside investment without losing their original and authentic culture.
3. Funding and 4. Support
Conventional wisdom is that a lack of access to capital and access to risk capital, mentors, role models, and other non-finance resources are vital determinants of Black entrepreneurs' access. This lack of equity in these ecosystems reduces the probability of entrepreneurial success. Equity also looks like requiring that specific entrepreneurial support organizations, like incubators, offer services at no cost to entrepreneurs from groups who have historically not had access. But to also provide them in distressed communities who may not have access to attend such incubators. Entrepreneurial support organizations and funders that support them must be willing to allocate a specific percentage of funds to programs that foster inclusion.
5. Data Collection
Lastly, data collection plays a critical role in the development of thriving Black ecosystems. Black history itself has been kept out of the history books in the American classrooms, so it's crucial to recognize that pivotal data information about Black communities' health has been withheld or not researched enough.
The lack of a comprehensive national data set that provides reliable and accurate information on the Black entrepreneurship community is a significant deterrent in accurately tracking the sector's status and progress. The essential data points will provide the benchmark or baseline to measure success in the future.
"The first step is asking the right questions that define the community, its success, and how it all can be measured. So there is a need for dedicated initiatives that will ensure the required data to measure the health and progress of the Black tech community is being collected." Black Tech Mecca
The concept of a thriving Black ecosystem is not complicated. It only requires a renewed focus on equitable hiring and funding practices and all the other strategies necessary to ensure an economy that's inclusive for Black entrepreneurs. This applies to both the public and private sectors. The best way to achieve this is by creating an inclusive community and inviting stakeholders from different social networks, leading to collaborations and partnerships between companies and organizations. It's about aligning together to fight against the social injustice of inequity in the Black community.