Supporting Community Equity as an EDO
A key priority for most communities is to provide equitable opportunities for all residents. Whether you are actively promoting human rights, supporting inclusivity, or holding a strong stance against racism, misogyny, homophobia, and ableism, this promotes community equity.
It might seem like these issues are beyond the influence of an economic development officer, but that’s not true. Diversity in the workforce is a good thing for economic growth, and can help drive prosperity in your region and empower disadvantaged groups. The International Economic Development Council says that currently, trends show increasingly unequal income distribution across North America. Disparity is not good for economic development because it can drive up unemployment, underemployment, and poverty rates. The gap between the haves and have-nots only gets larger every year, making it ever more difficult for those near or below the poverty line to improve their lives.
The concept of Inclusive Growth is getting attention for just those reasons. It’s difficult to nail down a solid definition, and challenging to measure the success of the concept, but it’s increasingly important. The Canadian government has a mandate for inclusive growth that focuses on supporting women. While the popular concept isn’t perfect, it is a great starting point. There are ways you can promote these values and foster inclusivity in your local community.
Why You Should Support Diverse Community Equity
Women, people of colour, and those with disabilities experience significant disadvantages in life. Those challenges carry through to business ownership as well. Being an entrepreneur is challenging enough, but discrimination and an unequal playing field make that battle even more difficult.
Having strong and successful minority business owners in your community is important because it helps to better distribute wealth amongst disadvantaged populations. Representation matters, and minority business owners become role models in their communities. A strong female POC business owner in your community can inspire the entrepreneurial spirit in other youth and adults. Diversity in business builds a stronger community.
Take for example sisters Bea and Leah Koch. In 2016 they opened The Ripped Bodice, the first romance-only bookstore in the northern hemisphere. Romance novels hold down 23% of the US fiction market, second only to genre fiction. That’s a lucrative chunk of national book sales. The sisters crowdfunded the money needed to open their store, and have been successful since they started. They also release an annual report titled “The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing”, and they have signed a contract with Sony Pictures Television for TV projects. Not only are they making an impact on their local community, they’re pushing change for more diversity in the larger world of publishing, too.
How to Support Minority Owned Businesses
Supporting minority owned businesses starts by changing the narrative in your region to help businesses, political leaders, and residents think differently about inclusive growth. Changing the way we think and broadening perspectives can hopefully lead to new partnerships and strategies to address these issues.
If you have a solid BR+E strategy, you probably have a complete list of businesses in your community. Your best bet is to review the list from a few different perspectives. Identify all the female business owners in your community, identify all the businesses owned by POC, identify businesses whose aim is to better support the community as a whole, whether that's by supporting local causes, hiring women, POC, or workers with disabilities, focusing on environmental development, or supporting marginalized groups.
These existing business owners need your support. Work at building strong relationships and clearly explain how you can help them. Keep in touch to make sure they have the support they need to succeed.
And don’t forget to identify business potential. Find the women in your community that have always dreamed about owning their own business, but have been reluctant to do it. Encourage them. Learn more about newcomers to your community and help to initiate discussions about entrepreneurship.
Supporting diverse businesses, business owners, and investment also supports the larger goals of your community as a whole. Being able to tie your work to the overall goals of your community is important to maintain support for the EDO office.
Make Sure Your BR+E Strategy is Robust and Inclusive
Neil Lee (2019) Inclusive Growth in cities: a sympathetic critique, Regional Studies, 53:3, 424-434, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2018.1476753,