Black Business Initiative gains momentum

The Black Business Initiative, a group that helps Nova Scotia’s black community start businesses, is just now hitting its stride, according to CEO Rustum Southwell, even though it has been operating for 15 years.

by Olivia Schneider

Administrative Assistant Beverley Parker holds Black to Business, from the Black Business Initiative's growth program (Olivia Schneider photo).

The Black Business Initiative, a group that helps Nova Scotia’s black community start businesses,  is just now hitting its stride, according to CEO Rustum Southwell, even though it has been operating  for 15 years.

“We’re finding our sweet spot more and more,” says Southwell.

The economic uncertainty of the last few years makes growing success gratifying for the organization, he says.

The recent growth of the organization is a key reason for its success.  Today, the Black Business Initiative employs more people than ever before exceeding its target number for company partnerships.

There is a growing level of success for businesses involved with the initiative, says Southwell.

The organization’s 2010 annual report says 172 businesses have been supported and more than 600 jobs have been created during the initiative’s 15-year history.

Jason Jackson, a volunteer with the program and business owner who was supported by the initiative,  says it fills an important need in the Black community.

The need was identified in 1995 by a government task force through what was then called the Department of Economic Development. The task force analyzed the factors limiting the success of people in Nova Scotia’s Black community.

The black unemployment rate was higher than the province’s overall unemployment rate, according to Brian Watson of the Economic and Rural Development Department.  Black employment was also concentrated in service, clerical and construction jobs, Watson says.

“The Black Business Initiative was felt to be a good solution to the issues.”

Jackson says people may not realize benefits of the initiative go beyond funding. He and his wife created their business, Arm Candy Handbags,  for people to host social events and purchase handbags in their homes. They didn’t receive financial assistance, but the initiative provided his business with publicity, such as being featured in an infomercial and the initiative’s quarterly in-house magazine.

Jackson says he is extremely impressed with the progress the initiative has made, especially when other Black organizations have failed in the same sector.

The Black community makes up three per cent of Nova Scotia’s total population, which represented 30,000 people when the task force was created. He says the task force identified a lack of information available on businesses owned by Black Nova Scotians.

Jackson says that despite the many benefits offered by the initiative, problems remain in the area of information flow.  Specifically, Jackson says there can be a lack of communication between levels of management and the clients.

The main issue according to Southwell is “there are never enough resources. It doesn’t matter what you do.”

He says the Black Business Initiative is always exploring different business models to combat this issue.

“There’s always room for improvement in my books,” says Jackson. “There are some challenges that need to be ironed out.”