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The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas has been awarded a $100,000 Women’s Funding Network grant to design and launch a Regional Women’s Economic Mobility Hub in six months and operate it over the next 18 months.
The hub will be a programming arm of WFA, not a physical space, said Executive Director Anna Beth Gorman.
Historically, women entrepreneurs have been at a disadvantage when it comes to social capital (knowing people who can help them start and grow businesses) and financial capital, she said. So the hub will focus on remedying that.
“Our goal is to build on what we learned in this pandemic environment, and it’s that there are a lot of resources that exist in Arkansas for business owners and there is a large amount of entrepreneurial support organizations operating in the state,” Gorman said. “What we want to do though, through our hub, is we want to get them to work better for women and particularly for minority women. We want to make sure that women are accessing these resources. We want to make sure that these ESOs are tailoring and designing programs to meet the needs of all women business owners, and particularly black women business owners.”
Gorman said the foundation will spend the next month figuring out how to launch the hub and how it will be run, but she believes partnerships with other nonprofits, public agencies and businesses like banks will be critical to accomplishing that mission.
“It’s going to only get accomplished if we have all the stakeholders at the table and so what we will hope is that the hub is putting all the right people at the table,” Gorman said.
The hub will connect women entrepreneurs to both traditional and non-traditional lenders, she said. Another goal is to offer grants to partners so that they can help women business owners, and particularly women of color who own businesses.
The hubs are a project of the Women’s Funding Network, a peer group of women’s foundations from across the country. Its members gather at conferences every year to learn from each other.
The hub project focuses on business ownership as a vehicle for economic mobility. Through it, hubs will provide and receive feedback from each other and learn best practices, Gorman said.
She said the WFA’s proposal got a boost when the pandemic provided the opportunity to invest in women entrepreneurs earlier than it had planned. The foundation established its $80,000 Women Owned fund in April to help women-owned small businesses experiencing hardship due to COVID-19 through $5,000 grants.
Before the pandemic, WFA had planned to host seminars for women entrepreneurs — on topics including how to access capital — by the end of the year. Gorman said the pandemic, along with the recent Black Lives Matter protests, have shed light on existing disparities.
For example, she said, the WFA wasn’t contacted about how to help those it serves navigate the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to businesses to help them retain employees.
Gorman said there were winners and losers with the PPP; those that had relationships with banking institutions or a CPA or a professional services firm had the advantage. Many women-owned businesses did not have that advantage.
She also said women and minorities have been more severely affected by COVID-19 and that the country is having conversations now about prejudice in economic justice.
“And so it is really important that we bring to light, not just the plight of our women business owners that have had challenges accessing social capital and financial capital, but the added challenge when you add race, so our black women business owners,” Gorman said.