In this week’s Work in Progress podcast, I speak with Gregory Johnson, managing director of The Rockefeller Foundation’s U.S. Equity and Economic Opportunity Initiative.

The mission of The Rockefeller Foundation, says Greg Johnson, is to fight for vulnerable families who have been locked out of economic prosperity here at home and abroad. He says it crucially import now, as we work toward a post-pandemic recovery.

Through its Rockefeller Opportunity Collective (ROC), the Foundation is putting $15 million into the hands of a group of government, business, faith-based, and non-profit partners in 12 U.S. communities. Johnson says the money will be used to eliminate barriers to accessing capital and credit among low-wage workers and small businesses operated by women, Black and Latinx owners.

“We’ve been really focused on how to build public-private partnerships that bring capital into communities that have had a really hard time securing it,” says Johnson. “Minority-owned businesses are less likely to receive loans. They’re more likely to forego applying for loans for fear of rejection, and they tend to pay higher interest rates on business loans compared to the non-minority counterparts when they do receive those loans.”

Small Businesses are Job-Creators

According to ROC, by helping provide better access to capital, there is the potential to create more than one million new businesses, which will create nine million new jobs and boost the national income by more than $3 billion.

Creating new businesses will build stronger families and communities, Johnson adds. “We know that the research suggests that business ownership is associated with higher levels of net worth and that for black and LatinX small businesses, this also serves as a community stabilizer and is a highly visible example of economic mobility.”

The Rockefeller Foundation Opportunity Collective will include the following 12 places: Atlanta, Ga.; Boston, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; El Paso, Tex.; Miami Dade County, Fla.; Houston, Tex.; Louisville, Ky.; Newark, N.J.; Norfolk, Va.; Oakland, Calif.; Baltimore, Md.; and Jackson, Ms.

Johnson says, “The data drove us to where we are. Urban areas are minority and COVID centers. Black businesses and black populations are geographically concentrated in urban hubs. Forty percent of black business activity is focused in only 1% of U.S. counties. That’s 30 counties across the country. 63% of those 30 counties had the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., too.

“When we think about building back—when we think about the way forward—we would be fooling ourselves to think that we can get there from where we are without including low-wage entrepreneurs. When Black women are starting businesses at six times the rate of all of their peers, when Latinx women are starting businesses at rates that outshine most of their peers, when women are increasingly responsible for the finances of family and community and institution, we cannot do it without them. There is too much at stake.”

Johnson and I talk about the next steps with the investment, how it will be used to unlock these opportunities, in the podcast. You can listen here, or download the podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Download the transcript for this Work in Progress podcast here

Episode 176: Gregory Johnson, managing director, The Rockefeller Foundation
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan LynchMelissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts

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