We’re shining a spotlight on the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), a non-profit, charitable organization formed in 1983 with the goal of addressing equity and opportunity for the Black community in business, employment, education and economic development. We chat with Ross Cadastre, President of BBPA, who shares their journey on advancing Black communities and the fulfilling moments that remind them of the impact they are making in developing and providing opportunity for Black communities in Canada.
Tell me about your business. What is the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), and why was it founded?
BBPA is a non-profit charitable organization, and we exist to address equity and create opportunity for Black entrepreneurs or Black business people in Canada. Our mission is to advance Black communities by delivering programs that support business and professional excellence, as well as providing higher education and economic development. BBPA was founded in 1982 by Denham Jolly, when he got a group of Black business people together. They had one meeting, and after a few consultations, they formed the organization the following year.
If you’re familiar with the radio station 93.5 then you’ll know Denham Jolly. Denham was an integral part in the opening of the radio station, which plays R&B and hip hop music. He really was a powerhouse within our community.
In 1983, the BBPA established the Harry Jerome awards, which recognized six Black athletes for their service. Harry Jerome was a Canadian athlete who was supposed to speak at the very first awards, but he unfortunately died before he could speak. So the following year, they re-named it the Harry Jerome Awards, and it has been our signature program over the last 40 years.
Can you tell me more about some of the programs and services that you offer at BBPA in addition to the Harry Jerome Awards?
The BBPA has 20 programs, but I will just mention a few! The Harry Jerome Awards is our signature program. We celebrate people who have been successful in the Black community, whether it be business, athletics, community service, or leadership. We recognize these folks, and it’s particularly important because Black youth see excellence at the awards and are inspired to become the next business person of excellence, the next leader, the next government official, and so on. It drives ambition!
The other big program is the Business Advisory Implementation Development Service – or BAIDS for short. This program provides wraparound services to Black-owned businesses. Businesses applying to this program are able to get support, whether it be from a marketing standpoint, a business plan, or any business service that they need. It’s part of helping and enabling capacity for Black-owned businesses.
One of my favorite programs is the Boss Women program. It’s a women entrepreneurship program, where we have Black women who aspire to have their own business or already have their own businesses, and we equip them with the tools and training to be more successful.
The next one is BACEL, short for Black African and Caribbean Entrepreneurship Leadership, which is a training program where we train Black entrepreneurs to become business people and to help them along that journey.
The last one I’ll mention is the scholarship program where we give education scholarships to Black youth. Over the last two years, we’ve probably awarded 150 scholarships. We also host a golf tournament where the funds support the scholarship program. I can talk about programs all day but these are some of the ones that create great impact in the community.
Can you share any impactful success stories from the BBPA programs?
One individual came to us right at the beginning of the BAIDS program. We helped her with her business plan, finances, and with building a website. She sells a hot sauce product and has gotten the opportunity to go into Loblaws within 12 months, which was a big win for her and by extension, us. We also heard other stories from the Boss Women program where the program helped Black women turn their ideas into businesses they wanted to start for a long time.
Last year, I spoke at Service Ontario at the start of Black History Month. A gentleman approached me and told me he had been a recipient of one of the BBPA scholarships 10 years ago. He said had it not been for the scholarship, he would not be where he was from a career standpoint.
It’s important work that we do and when we think about the challenges for Black business owners, it typically involves access to capital, networks, data, and to information. The BBPA touches all of these areas through the programs that we provide and we see it through the customer stories shared with us.
How did the COVID-19-19 pandemic impact BBPA and the support you were able to provide to businesses?
One of the first things that happened was that our former president (who is now our CEO), Nadine Spencer, opened up a hotline. It is important for us to hear from the businesses and the challenges they’re facing, directly. Even if we did not have an answer, we wanted to be there for them and with them. She managed that hotline 24 hours a day for weeks. We had a lot of calls, inquiries, and people just wanting to talk about how COVID-19 affected them personally. Our priority was to focus on the people.
We were able to pivot very quickly and be one of the first organizations in our space to go online. That meant, as a national organization, the cost of delivering our major, national programs was significantly lowered, which enabled us to expand outside of our regular programming. We could make all of our programs virtual, which meant we could access the whole country. That was a positive thing for us and some of the programming we created for COVID-19 to keep our communities engaged, connected, and learning still exists today as part of what we do.
Can you share stories or examples of how BBPA members pivoted or evolved their business during the pandemic? What tools and resources have been most helpful?
When the pandemic started, two things happened that had an indelible impact on Black people across North America. Firstly, COVID-19 impacted businesses and shut down a lot of small businesses. Secondly, George Floyd. The BPPA did a survey when COVID-19 started and we found out three things.
One, almost 85% of the businesses that were surveyed didn’t think that they could last one month without any help. Two, over 70% of the businesses could not apply or wouldn’t qualify for any of the government subsidies that were being handed out. Three, 90% of the businesses would be out of business in three months if they didn’t have help.
The good news is, we were able to work with some of the businesses to help them pivot. For example, thinking about the barber shop experience and getting them to use applications and technologies to book appointments and do mobile visits was key. A lot of the pivoting had to do around technology. For beauty salons, moving their client information to a database was another key thing to help them manage their data. Additionally, helping restaurants look into Uber and DoorDash as potential services they can use to continue to generate revenue. Further, we saw certain businesses in the service industry moving their service offering to the supply chain-type business to continue to grow.
What did you notice to be some of the biggest barriers to entry when helping businesses adopt new technology?
Many of the businesses that we saw did business through cash transactions. So a big barrier for us was figuring out how to transition those businesses to the use of technology. Our interventions were to help them understand how it works and how it improves their workflow. That’s where we would introduce software like Xero to manage their bookkeeping creating a more efficient business.
What are you most excited about for BBPA and its members in the months ahead?
You caught me at the right time because we just met with the federal government to discuss more efforts to help Black businesses, and helping them not because of COVID-19, but because it needs to be done. I think the lesson that Black entrepreneurs will learn from COVID-19 is to be better prepared. So what excites me is being better prepared as we move from the pandemic.
We’re not going to a new normal because we’re not going back to where we were. We’re going to the new-new, which will take us in a totally different direction. The Black businesses who had to make significant changes in operations to face the challenges that COVID-19 brought will not be going back to what they used to do before. They’re going to be taking their business to the next level because now they’re equipped with the information, the network, the advice, and hopefully the funding to be able to grow that and that’s what excites me!
What led you to partner with Xero, what are you looking forward to in our continued partnership, and how can Xero continue to support you?
When we reached out to Xero, we found that everybody was aligned and everybody was excited to want to do more to help us hit our goals. I was proud to host ‘A Day in the Life of Xero’, which is one of our programs that provides an opportunity for Xero employees to talk about what makes a great Xero employee and what it’s like to work in your environment. What I realized is that the company culture at Xero is great. Everyone we spoke to was so excited, so happy to be there, and to work for the company. I was also really impressed with the data, specifically around Black businesses that Xero had. That told me this community is something the organization thinks about. We would love to continue to partner with Xero and have Xero as the partner of choice when it comes to our accounting needs for our Black-owned businesses.
The Small Business Spotlight series helps us understand the mindset of self-made business owners or not-for-profit organizations. It is also a reminder of why Xero is in business – to support and help make life better for those owners so they have more time to focus on their business or organization.
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