Small businesses employ millions of people, provide vital services, and contribute to the well-being of their communities. But what does their path forward look like in the wake of the current crises?
In our final webinar of the 2020 U.S. Pro Bono Summit Virtual Series, Rebuilding our Communities: Small Businesses, Geraud Staton, Executive Director of the Helius Foundation; Anne Wellde, VP, Office of Corporate Engagement at Goldman Sachs; and Saadia Malik, Manager of Employee Engagement at Johnson & Johnson, joined us to discuss the capacity-building challenges small businesses are facing now, and how immediate pro bono assistance could benefit them in the long run.
Why is pro bono for small businesses so important?
Small businesses deserve the resources they need to thrive, and often they don’t have access to them. While the founders of larger businesses typically have startup capital and a network of supportive connections from day one, a small business owner might not have anyone to ask for advice, or the money to pay an expert for a consultation.
Geraud shared two key insights for understanding small business owners and the disadvantages they face every day. First, that those who don’t start out with many advantages aren’t able to catch up to those who do despite hard work, and second, that those who’ve lived in sustained discomfort often stop seeking alternatives. These factors can be even more intense for necessity-based entrepreneurs who are more likely to be people of color, women, or people with disabilities.
These compounding struggles can result in accepting that running the business will always be difficult. That’s part of why pro bono for small businesses is so important, and so nuanced—small businesses need support from experts who understand the challenges they face.
What are some of the challenges small businesses face – in general and specifically in 2020?
There are short-term and long-term challenges to consider, particularly in light of the pandemic and the compounding economic and social justice crises.
In the short term, small businesses need to focus on:
- Ready access to capital (through gift cards, pre-sales, etc.)
- Smaller offerings they’re able to deliver on now
- Volunteers for small-scale tasks
- Virtual operations
In planning for the longer-term, small businesses will need:
- Online point-of-sale system that works for their customers
- Limited/reduced overhead
- Exposure outside their networks
Pro bono for small businesses: good for society, good for business
As Sadia noted in her closing statements, lifting up small businesses through pro bono is not only good for society, it’s vital for business. At Johnson & Johnson, our 2020 U.S. Pro Bono Summit Impact Sponsor, their commitment to small businesses is demonstrated through their buying power and through their service programming. She explained that they use their supply chain as an avenue for affirming the values in their credo and plan their purchasing carefully through a diverse pool of suppliers. They also established the VV100 program in partnership with Vital Voices and Taproot Foundation as a way to share their expertise pro bono. The program offers individualized capacity-building resources and the expertise of Johnson & Johnson employees to women-owned small businesses in the Vital Voices Global Leadership Network around the world.
Pro bono directly benefits everyone involved, from small business owners, to volunteers, to the companies that organize the programs. It also indirectly benefits the whole community—neighborhoods are stronger and more resilient when these essential employers and service providers can thrive in the good times and weather the bad ones. At Taproot we’re dedicated to finding innovative ways to solve critical challenges through pro bono service. Because small businesses are essential to the well-being of communities everywhere, supporting them is imperative for that mission. That’s why we designed this webinar and continue to work to provide more resources to explore pro bono for these community cornerstones.