Inclusion and Collaboration: Keys to COVID Recovery for Local Businesses

by Malik Harris, Business Support Coordinator

Before the pandemic, women- and minority-owned small businesses had already experienced significant barriers to accessing opportunities for individual and community economic development. Not only has this past year highlighted the harrowing inequalities some Queens’ residents continue to face, but many local entrepreneurs are now tasked with having to manage yet another set of business challenges brought on by the end of coronavirus-era restrictions. Although Governor Cuomo has predicted that lifting the curfew will lead to increased economic activity and growth for struggling businesses, Urban Upbound’s Business Innovation Services team suggests that only a fraction of businesses will actually experience this.

Fortunately, with the Strategic Impact Grant from NYC Small Business Services, Urban Upbound is well-equipped to support local COVID-19 recovery. By conducting outreach and providing technical assistance to small businesses, we’re simultaneously increasing awareness of new City and State rules and regulations, and strengthening merchant relationships to foster collaboration.

Cira Carreno, a mother of two and the owner of The Learning Station, was ready to expand her business to a second location in early 2020. Unfortunately, after signing a new lease just before the pandemic, she was forced to put a halt to her daily life. Cira immediately applied for financial support to help her cover the costs for a business that was now closed, but like many, she was skeptical about the federal assistance programs. She questioned whether federal assistance programs could actually ameliorate the economic effects of the coronavirus, especially with hundreds of thousands of small business owners competing for the same aid.

The reality is that some businesses are still not prepared to open, let alone accommodate increased foot traffic. Fortunately, where relief funds and alternative resources fail, collaborative partnerships with Urban Upbound are proving to work. Our team works strategically to provide tailored experiences for any road to recovery. Nothing is the same, so it’s important that we innovate and rethink how to do business locally.

Additionally, opening up specific opportunities for minority-owned businesses makes it clearer that economic and social resilience are inseparable from economic and social inclusion. Carreno’s cooperation and trust in Urban Upbound’s guidance are symbolic of the idea that in order to protect jobs, you need to protect people first.

No one knows this better than Beatrice Ajaero, a local business owner who is also well on her way to becoming a community leader. During the pandemic, she was involved in initiatives aimed to feed her struggling neighbors. Inspired by sustainable food and community engagement, Beatrice is now working with Urban Upbound coordinators to add capacity to her team and interns for her recently opened boutique. A business still adjusting to new stressors, Beatrice’s West African cuisine and art spaces, Nneji and Ibari, have remained resilient and determined to give back.

Finding new ways to support the hardest-hit communities requires recognizing a diversity of issues. At Urban Upbound, we approach these problems from a holistic perspective. While our Business Innovation team assesses needs and provides solutions to businesses, Urban Upbound staff at large provide individual financial counseling, tax prep, credit building, and job search & placement services. You can support our cause by donating here and you can learn more about our impact and work by following us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube) and subscribing to our newsletter.

A collection of stories around NYC’s public housing communities curated by Urban Upbound, a non-profit organization with a mission to break cycles of poverty.