big thanks to Punita, Dr. Fisher and Kandace for their inspiration and useful tips...Read More
Milken Institute - Coming Together
This past week I had the honor and pleasure to share the stage with two of my esteemed colleagues in the small, minority business space. Excited to be one feature panelist for the Milken Institute, I shared the virtual podium with my brothers, Ron Busby of the US Black Camber and Ramiro Cavazos with the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Ron and Ramiro, along with myself are strong advocates for small and minority business; we work tirelessly for our small and minority business members to provide them with the opportunities availed by our relationships to big business and Fortune 100 corporations. It was an honor to be included with them.
The Milken Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that reached out to me earlier this month; I was honored to accept and speak on behalf of our Pan Asian American community. The Milken institute works to educate people and help them access the financial and educational data and resources to improve people’s lives through their data and resource network. The topic for the conversation: Strengthening Minority Owned Businesses During (and After Covid-19).
I said it at the beginning and I will repeat it here once more, “This is like the family reunion,” and it was indeed. I have known the moderator Eugene Campbell, for some time, and watched him grow in his career with the Small Business Administration to where he is now with Milken Institute. And of course, Ron and Ramiro are two true friends and compatriots in our work to strengthen the minorities we serve along with our communities.
Asked to speak on the current state of Asian American business right now, I had to first acknowledge that this is our 35th Year Anniversary, our Jade Jubilee CelebrASIAN, that in spite of the Covid-19 impact, we are running our months-long anniversary, albeit somewhat differently than planned. We have of course pivoted and innovated our programs to take place virtually and online, running all summer long spanning the months of July to our final event in October.
USPAACC and I have worked with the US Black Chamber, National Hispanic, National Gay and Lesbian chambers of commerce to bring our small business constituents and communities a chance to sit at the big business table, for more opportunity. It was good to sit at this table with both Ron and Ramiro. Not only was I present to share my insights of our Pan Asian American business community, but I learned quite a bit as well from my friends.
The three of us gave our communities’ history, as well organizations’ missions. The focus for my segment of the discussion as noted above, was to report on the state of the Asian American community and our small businesses. The three of us addressed the following:
- What was the most unexpected impact of Covid-19 on your community?
- If you had the chance to make, eliminate, or amend one local, state, or national policy, what would it be and why?
- What do you want our audience to know as they explore opportunities to invest in and strengthen capacity of minority entrepreneurs and business owners?
- How do we get our voices heard outside the Milken Institute echo chamber?
- Has there been a silver lining in this crisis?
The prevalence of Asian American healthcare workers runs deep within the industry, and because of that we were at risk of greater infection by Covid-19. Also shared by my two colleagues, frontline workers in all minority groups have been affected by Covid-19. Thirteen percent of the nation’s doctors are Asian American, 9% of physician assistants and 10 % of nurses are Asian American. They have not only been subject to environments where Covid-19 can be contracted, but our community has had to juggle work and family responsibilities while attending to their jobs safely, during this time.
Most especially though, I shared our current battle with discrimination and anti-Asian sentiment that has resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic. Within months of news that the Coronavirus came from Wuhan, China, over 2000 cases in 45 states of verbal, physical assault and anti-Asian sentiment have been reported. This anti-Asian sentiment spread and has flared up, turning into a national incident. I provided report of two of those instances, though regrettably. Asian Americans that simply look Chinese have been accused of the Coronavirus and been told go home.
Also, through the economic impacts of the Coronavirus, Asian American small business has suffered. Many of us immigrate to the United States, investing our life savings, other times borrowing from family and friends, or a combination of both, with the goal of starting and running small business. The current downturn is affecting all businesses, which includes the 2 million small Asian American business community as well.
Minority businesses want more transparency into the business opportunities that should or could be available to them! Corporations should divulge a detailed “minority” spend, to show which small minority businesses are truly benefiting. I proposed an amendment to any existing policy to require corporations who sell to the government to increase their purchases from minority businesses, especially at this very difficult economic time where small businesses hurt the most. I would amend the policy to corporations unbundle their procurement practice, and that should apply to government as well. When they unbundle a large contract and break it down to smaller contracts, it makes easier entry for small businesses who in this day’s end, could often do as well as large businesses, but for the relationships and the old boys and old girls’ network.
I was happy to answer this question as it pertained directly to all minority businesses, including USPAACC’s Asian American business members. I hope that my answer was heard by corporations.
Many of our Asian American businesses seek investment and funding from the bigger, commercial banks. Our community needs to know about the smaller financial institutions, like Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDI). There is additional support and resources out there, that many minority communities do not know about. An obstacle for Asian American business owners, is the language barrier that blocks them from fully taking advantage of this support, as they are too busy trying to keep their businesses in order. I am glad there are organizations like the Milken Institute that serve as an additional resource and form of support for our respective minority communities.
SA: Create a whitepaper and present to Financial Services Round Table. Meet with them. Propose to them, ask them and Congress to start there.
RB: Transparency. There is no data, except for orgs like Milken. Shouldn’t stop in DC either. Work with your local chambers and small, minority businesses.
RC: Community service. Encourage best and brightest of our minority groups to embrace public service.
In the midst of this pandemic crisis, as Americans we are forced to take a good look at ourselves. Americans are skilled in research, though we have allowed other nations to continue and overtake us in other areas of education. China continues to improve in the sciences and engineering, for example.
Directly related to the pandemic, the United States’ reliance on PPE is another issue. In months since the pandemic hit the US, PPE was a major issue for everyone. As PPE requirements came into place, shortages were noticed. Many hospitals and companies had to scramble, either modifying existing manufacturing processes, or by outsourcing to other nations.
We have really had to take a long look at ourselves during this time. What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? How are we taking care of our own community and nation? These are just some of the questions I believe we should be asking ourselves today. I believe the answers we come back with to those and other questions, will help us answer, “Where do we go from here?”
Serial entrepreneur Elnaz Sarraf is the founder and CEO of ROYBI, an edtech company that offers interactive, personalized language and STEM learning experiences for children. Elnaz was one of the 2019 What’s Your Pitch competition winners. She shares her company’s story, as well as advice for future contestants.Read More