Assure a seat at the table for the community ‘doers,’ not just the donors

December 18, 2015
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Grand Rapids Business Journal made a point last week of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce advancements in planning and programs for increasingly large Hispanic-owned businesses, and spending less time in discussions that result only in checking off (someone else’s) box on a form labeled “diversity effort.”

The Business Journal also gives pause for last month’s announcement of a $50,000 grant from Grand Rapids Community Foundation to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce “to support the design and development of methods to grow sizable minority businesses.” The Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce was formed for exactly those reasons, while the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses organization promotes and assists entrepreneurship and startups.

GRACC may be the best able to afford such a program, but whether it serves to bring these groups together for a common goal using established networks within the minority community is to the Business Journal point.

Certainly, GRACC’s work with Melvin Gravely, who leads the Institute for Entrepreneurial Thinking in Cincinnati, centered on strategic growth for minority entrepreneurs, provides new member services for GRACC, based on Gravely’s guidance, but leaves one to question whether the grant serves GRACC or regional minority entrepreneurs, whose most-identified issues to approach second-tier growth include supplier diversity, financing (especially second stage) and recruitment.

Grand Rapids Foundation noted support from its board providing the grant to duplicate Gravely’s success through the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

The foundation noted Gravely’s Cincinnati program targets specific types of companies; those to “support and grow are second-tier companies that have potential for additional growth, reaching beyond small or retail businesses.”

It’s the same group promoted by the Black Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Business Journal questions whether it might be better to establish incubator space for minority businesses’ administrators and leaders — or startups — in the central business district to advance diversity efforts rather than checking a diversity box offering only a downtown window dressing sign. Gravely speaks nationally with equal passion for black entrepreneurs. Creating partnerships based on the strengths of each group is a pattern already well established in West Michigan.

The issue doesn’t need dozens more cheerleaders — it needs actors and doers. Sitting on a board isn’t the same as championing diversity; occupying a seat at the table is not same as leading a new endeavor and outcome. The issue doesn’t need another program; it needs action on the items already clearly identified by minority businesses. Business community leaders can co-create such a model.

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