The importance of being a part of something greater than ourselves



COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for our nation, many of which are being felt right here in Genesee County. Among the startling findings of novel coronavirus is its disproportionate impact on African American and Latino populations.

And, as if the health calamity to these communities wasn’t enough, minority-owned businesses also have been devastated by the economic fallout of the pandemic. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that the number of active business owners in the United States fell by 3.3 million or 22 percent in just two months – February to April. Meanwhile, the number of African American businesses plunged by 41 percent, from 1.1 million to 640,000 over the same period. Latino-owned business declined by 32 percent.

One reason for the disparity is that there are fewer Black-owned businesses in essential industries — businesses that could remain open during governmental shutdown mandates, such as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order – compared to white-owned businesses, according to the bureau.

Nationally, philanthropic organizations have taken the lead in tackling the issues of racial equity and inclusion, focusing on the disparities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, such robust and engaged leadership is also present in Flint & Genesee, where the philanthropic community has stepped up in a significant way to address these issues locally.

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Ruth Mott Foundation contributed a combined $362,500 to Restart Flint & Genesee, special recovery program established by the Flint & Genesee Chamber to assist small businesses in Genesee County that have

suffered economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The monies by donated by the Mott and Ruth Mott foundations were earmarked specifically to help Black-owned businesses in Flint reopen safely as government restrictions eased. As a result, 75 Black-owned businesses were recently awarded grants, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

The Consumers Energy Foundation also donated $200,000 to Restart Flint & Genesee to support small businesses countywide hurt economically by the pandemic.

Separately, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint established the Greater Flint Coronavirus Taskforce on Racial Inequities in response to the pandemic’s staggering toll among African American and Latino populations. The task force members include a cross-section of the region’s public and governmental agencies, private businesses, philanthropic and community-based organizations, and religious institutions.

In addition, not long after the onset of the coronavirus’ spread across the state in March, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. established the Michigan Small Business Relief Program to speed financial aid to the suddenly ailing small businesses. Fifty-two small businesses located in Flint and Genesee County were awarded $5,000 grants from the MEDC pool of money allocated to our region.

Collectively, the initiatives by each of the organizations noted above provide an excellent example of how for-profit businesses can learn from nonprofit organizations about leading through times of change, as Gensler planning consultant Bevin Savage-Yamazaki discussed in a recent commentary.

Savage-Yamazaki identified five lessons, which are paraphrased and shortened below:

1. Create social impact by cultivating community. “Nonprofit organizations are our communities’ integral support network. They put empathy first and build unity in the face of division.”

2. Streamline your mission. “Our foundations, associations, organizations clients are using this time to clarify their mission to ensure they are making meaningful social impact that addresses the immediate needs to their communities.”

3. Encourage citizenship and create a culture of giving back. “For nonprofits, there’s a culture of philanthropy that goes beyond the specific communities they serve. These organizations have an integral and authentic philosophy that encourages citizenship and giving back.”

4. Put people first by prioritizing their health and wellness. “Philanthropic organizations are focusing on the health and wellness of their teams, who are working at the frontlines of their communities. Our nonprofit clients are prioritizing their teams’ well-being by focusing on work/life balance as team members shift to remote work. They’re also encouraging open conversations around mental health.”

5. Upend the paradigm. “When the system no long supports the needs of your community, change it.”

Savage-Yamazaki concluded by saying, “To create more equitable, inclusive cities, we need to recognize that we’re all part of something that is greater than ourselves.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s a great message not just for our for-profit businesses but for the community at-large, especially now.

Tim Herman is the CEO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.