Although every U.S. community is different, some systemic inequities that have plagued the nation have impacted many American cities similarly.
One of the most considerable inequities from place to place is the gap in wealth accumulation. For years, BIPOC community members have been left out of conversations and plans that would amplify their voices and ability to generate wealth. However, some leaders have taken a communal approach that involves several actors across industries and sectors to help level the playing field for historically underserved communities.
Committed to being a force for good, Mastercard has intentionally put its focus on bridging the wealth and opportunity gap for the Black community and on supporting underserved businesses by investing in programs and people that promote wealth building and financial security. Mastercard has partnered with Next Street and The NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to develop NYC Funds Finder, powered by NXST Scale and the City of Birmingham’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, two leading examples of how targeted initiatives and partnerships at the city level can change the trajectory of their communities.
Headed by Michael Roth, Co-CEO of Next Street and former Interim Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration appointee, NXST Scale is a programmatic initiative of Next Street – an organization that helps every small business realize its potential
The NXST Scale program is a white-labeled program that can be seamlessly integrated into existing online resources offered by local governments, non-profits, or corporations wanting to help small businesses access the information they need to launch and grow. Next Street partnered with SBS to implement NYC Funds Finder where small businesses can review funding options, including loans and grants, and request free 1-on-1 financing assistance from the SBS team.
Roth’s approach to this work is centered around personal experiences with entrepreneurship and a realization that justice is not realized for all.
“Before 2021, just through the Small Business Administrations’ existing programs, less than 9% of money from the federal government reached BIPOC entrepreneurs” he said.
Understanding this significant gap in access to funds, Roth sees the role of NXST Scale as a mediator for elevating underserved businesses and programs through resources that help them achieve their goals.
“First, we meet businesses where they are. We connect with them through the places they already go. NYC Funds Finder is integrated into nyc.gov along with local community partners and advisors where BIPOC entrepreneurs specifically go,” Roth said.
“Second, we aggregate and simplify key services and opportunities from access to capital to connecting with financial advisors – essential things small business owners are looking for. As part of our vetting process, we partner with responsible capital providers to ensure entrepreneurs have access to fair and quality financial products,” he continued.
NYC Funds Finder, powered by NXST Scale officially launched in late September to much success. To date, over 1,500 businesses have registered on the platform with more than 20% connecting with a financial expert and more than 1,000 referrals to responsible funding options. The platform has taken the time for a small business to connect with a financial expert from six to eight weeks down to two clicks, upending an antiquated process. This is the power of access. The program is a technology that provides ease of use and eliminates barriers, but it’s the ecosystem and support that Roth believes is the real value add for NXST Scale.
In addition to support from the Biden-Harris Administration, Department of Treasury, the Economic Opportunity Coalition, and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, NXST Scale has the backing of more than 30 local community organizations across NYC and more than 1,000 across the country geared explicitly toward regional economic mobility. The organization aims to meaningfully integrate and engage local partners on the platform by leveraging their on-the-ground expertise and knowledge as they have the community’s trust and best understand the needs and nuances.
Community alignment and support can maximize potential and bring the desires of the community to life. This is evident by the work in the City of Birmingham.
Housed in the Southern city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, Deputy Director Coreata’ R. Houser is leading the charge to ensure Black business owners in the south have access to opportunities to build wealth in the communities they serve.
The current mayor of Birmingham, Randall L. Woodfin, for example, was putting his ear to the streets to become uniquely knowledgeable about what was happening in the business ecosystem.
“I think one of the most important things he did was create a small business advisory council. The idea behind the council is representative of those minority-owned and female-owned businesses here in Birmingham, which is 70% Black. They’re able to have a seat at the table,” Houser explained.
But Houser and the city’s work doesn’t end with just listening. A study done last year outlined the systemic challenges plaguing the city and who it affects most. Now armed with data, policy and legislative solutions can be implemented to create spaces and policies that promote equity and inclusion
The work does not come without challenges. Understanding the history of a place like Birmingham is essential to understanding that implementing policy change is necessary but not easy work.
“In our administration, we go by what we call CEETA: customer service, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and accountability. Although we are 70% Black, it’s not all Black. So, how do we serve everybody? How we do that is by being transparent about the fact that for far too long, the Black, brown, woman-owned communities have been excluded from certain conversations,” Houser noted.
“It’s about making sure that there’s a diverse pool of businesses and vendors in place to ensure that what we are doing here in the city with policy and programs look like and reflect those in these communities.”
Much of the work is accomplished in partnership with core community partners who are on the ground but could use additional assistance to make their efforts more impactful. One of Birmingham’s programs that fits this need is the BOLD (Building Opportunities for Lasting Development) funding program.
BOLD was created by the Woodfin administration and aimed for creative, evidence-based proposals to provide programming and/or services that advance BOLD objectives for Birmingham residents. Still, with greater tools around access and transparency and shared data metrics, the program has a 5 year impact of funding 43 partners with a total capital investment of $255M. In those same 5 years, 5,552 Birmingham residents and 2,176 Birmingham businesses were served, ~$2.5M funding was accessed by businesses and much more.
Programs like BOLD are changing the game for grassroots community organizations, allowing them to scale their operations while directly serving Birmingham residents.
The work people can experience through organizations like Next Street and municipalities like the City of Birmingham is only amplified when strategic collaboration strengthens that work and becomes partners in change.
Mastercard’s multi-million-dollar commitment to equity has shown up for both Roth and Houser through the intentional work they are leading and has been pivotal in elevating it.
“Mastercard was intentional about understanding Birmingham’s unique ecosystem, the challenges and opportunities ahead as we work to revitalize neighborhoods,” Houser noted.
Mastercard asked the right questions to work with the city. Using a data centered approach to become a part of a solution-based strategy. In 2022, the Mastercard Impact Fund in collaboration with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth developed the Data for Equity Program.
In partnership with the Center for Public Impact, the program was a learning mechanism for city officials to leverage specific data that intentionally met the needs of city residents, with a primary focus on racial equity and closing wealth and opportunity gaps.
One of the Birmingham’s implementation tools from the program included:
“Focus revitalization efforts by using results from the citywide disparity study and the Inclusive Growth Score to identify census tracts where there are strong areas of inequity that align with Birmingham’s Geographic Priority Areas.”
In addition to their dollars, the financial services company provided resources and assets like video and marketing to businesses without access through the Mastercard Digital Doors Program.
Roth and NXST Scale had a similar experience with Mastercard.
“Mastercard supports our work in ensuring these communities have access to the resources to help them start, grow, and create thriving businesses. Our mutual partnership with the White House Economic Opportunity Coalition strengthened our bond, given our mutual focus on serving these communities, specifically small businesses facing systemic barriers and unequal access to capital and resources.”
The work happening in New York and Alabama only scratches the surface of Mastercard’s commitment. Click here to learn more about how Mastercard is partnering with changemakers, organizations and small businesses by creating access for all.