New report identifies challenges faced by Black entrepreneurs in Alberta

Sharif Haji, executive director of the Africa Centre, said the findings will help guide the organization in supporting Black entrepreneurs. (Africa Centre - image credit)
Sharif Haji, executive director of the Africa Centre, said the findings will help guide the organization in supporting Black entrepreneurs. (Africa Centre - image credit)

A new report sheds a light on the experiences and challenges of Black entrepreneurs in the province.

The State of Black Entrepreneurs in Alberta, released Monday, details findings from a research collaboration between the Africa Centre and the Pan African Collaboration for Excellence (PACE) at the University of Alberta.

It is intended as a means to fill a knowledge gap in understanding local Black entrepreneurship, for which data is scarce or non-existent.

Philomina Okeke-Ihejirika, the director of PACE and lead researcher, said what likely underlines much of the findings is the systemic inequities that Black people face.

Submitted by Philomina Okeke-Ihejirika
Submitted by Philomina Okeke-Ihejirika

"Race is very, very crucial. We need to start collecting that data so that we know what is happening."

Twelve people were interviewed in the first phase and a questionnaire gathered input from 256 participants in the second phase for a snapshot of the experiences of Black entrepreneurs. Eighty-eight per cent of participants were immigrants from Africa or the children of immigrants from Africa.

A majority of respondents felt racial attitudes toward Blacks were impacting their ability to succeed.

Okeke-Ihejirika said one idea the survey reinforced was that Black entrepreneurs have limited social capital networks to start businesses.

"People who start businesses in our communities do not have a grandfather or grandmother who have left some wealth with them."

Financial supports

Participants started businesses in a variety of industries — from retail to agriculture. The most commonly reported was manufacturing (17.2 per cent), followed by service (16.8 per cent) and then construction (12.9 per cent). The most commonly cited reason for starting the business was increasing personal/family wealth.

Okeke-Ihejirika said she was surprised that many did not even approach banks to get off the ground — those that did, she said, were not very successful. The most common financial resource was personal savings (50.9 per cent), followed by family savings (46.6 per cent) and credit cards (39.2 per cent).

Africa Centre
Africa Centre

"That is not acceptable. That is not going to lead to actually making your business prosper," Okeke-Ihejirika said.

For both initial and current challenges, the most common answer was lack of availability of credit and loans as well as availability and cost of labour

Training and education

Only 22 per cent of participants said they had taken any kind of training or education for starting, running or managing a business.

One recommendation from the report was that organizations supporting Black entrepreneurs should encourage them to take courses on financial awareness when starting a business.

Black entrepreneurs are also highly encouraged to take training on both the technical and soft skills of running a business.

"I don't call it financial literacy because I think that's an insult to any marginalized population," Okeke-Ihejirika said. "It's not that they are illiterate, it's because many of them often do not have a chance to get that education."

Sharif Haji, executive director of the Africa Centre, said another concern identified in the report was around narrow customer bases. Only 51 per cent of the respondents identified the general public as their customer base while some businesses only targeted Black clientele, the report said.

"If you have a business and your customer base is small, and you're not thinking of expanding that, you will likely stay stagnant and you will not be able to thrive," Haji said.

He says the research helps fill the gap in data that parses out race — the research is a first of its kind in Alberta.

Haji said the findings will help inform the centre's programming going forward and will hopefully serve as inspiration for policymakers.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.