A recent paper co-authored by the John T. Gorman Foundation and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, “The Importance of Wealth to Family Well-Being,” concluded that in order to close the racial wealth gap and help economically vulnerable people break out of poverty, its critical to create programs that facilitate home and business ownership, and improve access to assets that become more valuable over time. 

The report said that in addition to seed capital to start businesses, entrepreneurs must have access to technical support to grow and expand.

I couldnt agree more. Over the past decade at ProsperityME, we have seen firsthand how truly empowering entrepreneurship can be for New Mainers, and how essential it is to provide exactly the kind of support that this report calls for.  

Our clients hail from more than 20 countries, mostly in central and southern Africa, and they struggle with a variety of economic inequalities. Nearly 93% of ProsperityME students meet the definition of “extremely low income” set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.   

Immigrant women of color especially mothers and female heads of households are particularly vulnerable. Despite high levels of education and relevant work experience, cultural differences, language barriers, sexism and racial prejudice frustrate their chances of economic success.

According to the American Immigration Council, 48% of immigrant women do not have work authorization and do not qualify for government-sponsored benefit programs. Of those legally allowed to work, 42% have minimum-wage jobs that pay between $11 and $13 per hour. 

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Those jobs barely cover the daily expenses and leave little room to invest in education and training to acquire a better-paying jobs, save for down payments on a home or build better futures for their children. 

Entrepreneurship breaks down so many of these barriers.

It allows for the scheduling flexibility many of them need to attend to childcare needs. It gives them the power to create jobs for other members of the family and the community. Most of all, it is so much more rewarding to put energy toward something that they feel connected to and passionate about, rather than working for someone else and earning a minimum wage. I have watched this dynamic play out over and again, watching New Mainers we have worked with open grocery stores, cafes, interpreter agencies, auto repair shops and other businesses, and within as little as two years, earn enough to buy their own homes. Its been amazing to see.  

Thats why, in addition to creating financial literacy and job training, weve been working to increase the number of women and immigrantowned businesses successfully operating in Maine.  

In 2020, in partnership with the Portland-based nonprofit In Her Presence, and with funding support from the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation, we launched Charting Your Course, a program to help immigrant women define pathways to achieve economic and professional success. For some, it means obtaining training or academic study to advance in a profession or change careers. For others, it means accessing the resources they needed to start their own businesses.  

With the help of grant funding from the John T. Gorman Foundation, were now building on that program to launch the Womens Small Business Empowerment Project, to provide more support for Charting Your Course graduates who want to start their own businesses. The initiative provides a year of business mentorship and technical assistance with services such as bookkeeping, marketing, advertising and web design, plus $5,000 in seed funding. 

While the project will initially provide capital for seven businesses owned by women who are Black, Indigenous and people of color in the Lewiston-Auburn area and Greater Portland, we envision expanding it to 20 women a year over the next three to five years. Whats more, we want to build a framework for a BIPOC womens small-business incubator program that can be replicated in other underserved populations. It has the potential to not only help them realize the dream of a better life that brought them to the U.S., but also to support the economic development of the neighborhoods and communities where they reside. More than that, it has the potential to make a meaningful and lasting impact on the wealth divide once and for all. 


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