by Leilani Leach
Nourah Yonous didn’t expect to get the grant, thinking the fledgling organization she founded was too new. But then she checked her voicemail.
“I screamed,” the founder and Executive Director of the African Women Business Alliance said. “I could not believe it.”
On July 5, the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) announced $5.5 million worth of Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) grants to nine community organizations serving marginalized populations to combat gentrification and increase economic opportunity. Among these awards was a $75,000 grant to the African Women Business Alliance (AWBA).
The AWBA, now in its second year, offers quarterly courses on business development, holds culturally responsive workshops, and helps women access seed capital. AWBA initially focused on African immigrant women, but has since expanded to include all Black women.
“I’m very excited about what this grant can do for this organization,” AWBA Board of Directors member Evangeline Bundi said, adding that the organization has previously been funded mostly out-of-pocket by Yonous.
Immigrant and Black women feel there aren’t many organizations focused on them, Bundi said, and AWBA provides a platform for them to discuss issues together and learn how to navigate challenges ranging from business registration to credit issues to child care.
It also helps women realize they don’t have to sacrifice their jobs or careers to take care of their children, and may still grow their businesses while caring for their families, she said.
Yonous said a main goal of AWBA is to help existing businesses scale up and become economically competitive.
“We definitely have women who are starting businesses, but they stay stagnant, they don’t grow,” she said.
When AWBA conducted an initial feasibility study to hone their focus, they found the most requested needs were help with creating a business plan, obtaining permits, marketing, and accessing seed capital or financing. Many women wanted to run early child learning centers, open restaurants, or go into fashion sales.
But they face obstacles in opening their businesses. AWBA partnered this year with the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy to survey Black women entrepreneurs around Seattle. They found that access to capital, and experience in dealing with financial institutions, created challenges. Of the UW survey respondents, 9 percent did not have bank accounts, and many did not know how to get a loan, Yonous said.
Transportation can also be a challenge for many of AWBA’s clients. Yonous said she has sometimes provided rides to class herself to make sure students are able to attend.
With the grant from the city, Yonous said they’d like to find a permanent location to offer their business training in the South Seattle region. The classes are currently being held at community centers in SeaTac and Seattle.
AWBA also hopes to expand its small staff to include a program coordinator, and a multilingual instructor who can communicate with students who speak French, Swahili, or other languages, in addition to offering child care to for students who are mothers. They would also like to form more partnerships with academic organizations and financial institutions, and create a marketplace where women can sell goods.
Yonous said they’ve served nearly 500 clients so far, receiving positive feedback and growing by word-of-mouth recommendations. Students appreciate how AWBA continues to coach and support them after graduating their courses, she said.
Yonous said she almost didn’t apply for the grant, as she had applied to several before, and struggled to find the time as a mother working full-time at another organization. But because she believed in AWBA’s mission, she applied at the last minute, and found the application process “very equitable.”
“The folks reviewing did come from the community we’re serving,” she said.
Bundi said the grant will make it easier for AWBA to provide services and to continue building a platform where black women can learn how to surmount the obstacles in starting and growing businesses.
“These walls are not there, they can be conquered,” she said.