News: Black Lives Matter 'awoke many folks,' says Black business organization as it marks 25 years

November 25, 2021

The Halifax-based Black Business Initiative supports entrepreneurs with grants, advice and more

By Haley Ryan

BBI CEO Rustum Southwell

BBI CEO Rustum Southwell is pictured in his downtown Halifax office. (Haley Ryan/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created major challenges for businesses across the globe, but the head of Nova Scotia's Black Business Initiative (BBI) said there has also been positive change.

The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and Canada was unlike anything Rustum Southwell had seen in his time with the Halifax-based business development organization, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week.

"There was a strange set of circumstances that caused people to be at home for COVID, looking at TV and so on, to see ... the brutality that was happening in the U.S. And that awoke many folks who wanted to help," said Southwell, who has been with BBI since it launched in 1996 and serves as interim CEO.

Suddenly, in the middle of a pandemic, BBI was swamped with calls from people looking to support Black businesses, or companies looking for advice on how to become more inclusive.

Celebrating 25 years is a significant achievement, said Southwell. BBI's original goal of making sure Black entrepreneurs are supported in life, as well as in business, remains just as vital today.

The organization receives funding from the federal and provincial governments to deliver a huge range of training, grants, mentorship and other programs.

BBI also works with businesses and services to set up an online presence, often for the first time. Helping people move into the digital age ensures they will also be around for decades to come.

"The systemic challenges of racism and marginalization on top of that makes it a little bit more difficult for Black-owned companies to be hugely successful — but we've sustained. There's a lot of companies that have done well," Southwell said.

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