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Harnessing The Power Of Business To Effect Social Change

By John J. Partridge/Opinion Providence Journal

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Rhode Island Attorney John Partridge shares his thoughts on how the business community can help dismantle systemic racism with a determined commitment to minority entrepreneurs. 

Providence

In these days of ongoing protests and civil unrest provoked by the killing of George Floyd, we all must do a better job of eliminating systematic racism and reflecting on how individuals and businesses in Rhode Island can support anti-racism efforts and foster social diversity.

Our business community has its part to play, as evidenced by national and local employment and wealth disparities among various minority groups.

I don't believe such inequalities can be explained solely as the result of racism. Rather, they result from a number of social deprivations and inequalities, including too few opportunities for social mobility because of disparities in basic education, housing, and personal security, and a lack of role models and mentors who can foster aspirations of personal growth among young people instead of giving negative feedback.

One thing the business community might consider is resurrecting the Rhode Island Minority Enterprise Corporation (RIMEC), established by civic leader and CEO of Citizens Bank George Graboys and supported by many other bankers. That entity had many early successes, but as time went on, it did not generate sufficient funding to continue its work of business training and investment to assist minority entrepreneurs. Also, its goals became too diffused for its expertise and, for one reason or another, it did not attract enough minority executives as mentors into its organizational structure. It was a great effort and it could have produced even greater results if continued by the various funding sources.

This time, I suggest that the effort be led by chambers of commerce, professional groups, and other businesses and business organizations that make diversity and social mobility a core part of their planning, to help develop an economy with growth opportunities for all stakeholders. It is not enough for businesses to simply consider such an effort a charity. Financial participation by businesses, not just financial institutions, would ensure a breadth of varied community participation and interest.

The business community could also help reorganize nonprofit and governmental services that are focused on entrepreneurship and diversity in economic policies. It's important that middle-level minority employees be encouraged to engage in such organizations as volunteers and mentors for the groups involved.

We hear the call from leadership in the financial community. Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, believes that the business community has stakeholders other than shareholders, according to published reports, and that sentiment has been echoed in policy statements by Bill Hatfield, market president of Bank of America Rhode Island.

It's important that businesses utilize their unique organizational and economic strengths to encourage business participation and support for social change, with the goal of economic betterment and justice for all stakeholders. If we do not make the effort now, then when?

John J. Partridge is senior counsel at the law firm Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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