How do we empower a generation of entrepreneurs and create opportunities in low-income neighborhoods? As part of its In Solidarity initiative, Mastercard has partnered with the ThinkWatts Foundation to provide a comprehensive financial literacy program called the ThinkWatts Business Builder to hundreds of small business owners in Los Angeles. Over the last year, many participating small businesses have experienced gaining access to capital, growing their income and scaling their products as a result of what they have learned through the program.

Blavity spoke with speaker, activist, rapper and founder of the ThinkWatts Foundation, Stix, who shared his vision behind the organization and what he hopes to achieve through partnering with Mastercard.

Tell us what inspired you to start the ThinkWatts Foundation.

Stix: Ever since I was a child, I always wanted to help people. Even though I didn’t have a lot of money and my mother was a single parent raising three kids, the little lunch money I would get would be shared with someone who didn’t have any. In 2019, I saw how many macro issues there were to solve and address. I had a few relationships with different brands and corporate entities, so I wondered how I could leverage those relationships to help those in need. I wanted to help empower, educate and give back to others. That’s what inspired the ThinkWatts Foundation.

If we address financial insecurities and food insecurities, I don’t think there would be any low income neighborhoods in the nation.

How did you first get involved with Mastercard?

Stix: A friend of mine at one of my climate justice partners referred the ThinkWatts Foundation to Mastercard and after a few conversations, we realized we were really aligned with wanting to help small businesses, especially in underserved communities.

Our first collaboration was a community breakfast and I invited 30-40 small businesses from Watts, California to meet with Mastercard executives. They spoke to the business owners about their needs and identified resources they would need to have positive outcomes as they grew their businesses. It was so successful that we started talking about how we could bring Mastercard’s Digital Doors program to Los Angeles. From that, we created the Business Builder program fueled by the Digital Doors small business curriculum.

We are now into Cohort 2 of the Business Builder Program. Cohort 1 graduated about 25 businesses this past April and an additional 60 businesses on December 16th. Seeing the transformations of these small businesses have been incredible. For example, the Business Builder program provided a business with an updated Square mobile system to make itemized sales and tracking transactions easier, which helped increase sales by 78%.

What are a few of your goals in this partnership with Mastercard?

Stix: The goal is in a 12-month cycle, to help anywhere from 200 to 500 businesses receive the tools, education and support they need to strive. A lot of small businesses in low income communities don’t know anything about accounting, profit and loss statements, how to get access to capital, cybersecurity, social media marketing, taxes and more. The goal is to empower small businesses to achieve true success, even as simply as setting them up with Square readers to safely and securely accept online payments.

This partnership sounds like a great addition to the movement, but we know the work is not done. What’s next?

Stix: We are launching a “Watts’ Card” through Yiftee, which will be a closed loop community card for small businesses in their system. Building facilities where we could produce this curriculum year round, focusing primarily on empowering small businesses and teaching facilities. The goal is to scale nationwide, not just Los Angeles, but also New York in 2023, Chicago, Houston, and other cities where there are individuals who need the information and resources to thrive.

What’s one piece of advice you have for others who want to create this kind of impact and help their own communities flourish?

Stix: In the words of Nike, just do it. For me, I don’t think doing the work is difficult. Mentally telling yourself to do the work is difficult. We didn’t start off doing everything all at once. It started off with giving away turkeys, then turkeys and toys, then financial literacy programs. But the best advice I can give is to just start. Every human being is going through something, so it’s just about identifying what touches you. 

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Mastercard.