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This is how companies can meaningfully support Black-owned businesses

Five easy ways companies can drive significant change to boost Black-owned businesses all year long.

This is how companies can meaningfully support Black-owned businesses
A patron browses in the children’s book section at Frugal Bookstore, the only Black-owned bookshop in Boston, on Nov. 28, 2020. [Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images]
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2020 was one of those years that will “live in infamy” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it. And, with the first weeks of 2021 giving its predecessor a run for its money, there has been little time to come up for air, pause, reflect, and respond to any of the events we have endured.

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But, for those of us who are committed to change, it is imperative that we do just that.

One of the greatest inequities the last year brought to the surface in glaring detail, was the disproportionately negative impact of the economic downturn on Black-owned businesses. Because Yelp is in the business of helping businesses, this is where we felt we could be the most intentional and authentic in our response. From that starting point, our plan grew to encompass five strategies that we’ve observed have been put into practice by other companies to support Black-owned businesses.

Start small and close to home

Ask the simple questions:

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  • Who are your vendors?
  • Who do you buy goods from?
  • Are there ways to grow your support for Black businesses in the course of your regular day-to-day business?

Founded by New York City entrepreneur Aurora James, The 15% Pledge launched in 2020 to ask major retailers to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. Since its launch, retailers and brands ranging from Vogue to Bloomingdale’s have all taken the pledge and found ways to reevaluate how they can support Black businesses.

West Elm, one of the companies committed to The 15% Pledge, planned to increase its collaborations with Black designers, artists, and Black-owned brands to a minimum of 15%. Similarly, Sephora committed to doubling representation for Black-owned brands on its shelves as well as launch an incubator program to strengthen the pipeline for Black-founded beauty brands. At Yelp, we committed to highlighting Black-owned businesses to our millions of users as well as our employees in new ways.

Play to your strengths

The key to success is being authentic, and every organization needs to consider how it can play a greater role in creating change. Because Yelp helps people find great local businesses every day, it just stands to reason that we should use our platform in service of that. Searches for Black-owned businesses were up 2,400% in 2020, compared to 2019, and review mentions were up 232% for the same time period.

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In June, we partnered with the Black-led organization, My Black Receipt, to launch a new free, searchable attribute that gives businesses a way to opt-in and identify themselves as Black-owned, and make it easy for users to find and support Black-owned businesses on Yelp.

Grow your employee engagement power

Many companies were moved to make a difference through financial donations last year as were many employees. Venture firm Sequoia Capital matched employee donations to Black-led and Black-serving organizations during the month of June, as did Apple and Airbnb. Matching donations is a simple way to communicate the company’s values and harness the passion of employees.

Think outside your giving budget

A recent McKinsey article stated, “Exclusionary policies and strategies, from limited access to federal mortgage lending to geographic barriers to physical bank branches, have hindered Black economic well-being.” Therefore, a Brookings white paper observed that “Black families [are left with] fewer buffers to absorb economic shocks and contribute to Black households’ vulnerability due to the COVID-19 economic crisis.”

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Last summer, tech companies across Silicon Valley were inspired by Netflix’s move to support Black banks. In the weeks that followed, other companies moved quickly to determine how they could also meaningfully support the Black community. At Yelp, we allocated $10 million of our cash holdings into three certified Community Development Financial Institutions. Twitter committed 1% of its holdings to combat racial justice. For its part, PayPal invested in Black- and Latino-led venture funds.

Educate yourself and your funder networks

According to an article in Fortune Magazine, there’s a 24% gap between budgets for Black-led, Black-serving organizations and white-led organizations. Unrestricted donations that can be used for any purpose of Black-led groups are 76% smaller than those of white-led groups.

Armed with this information, we began to look at funding Black-led and Black-serving organizations, but we needed to educate ourselves on how to make the most impactful contributions and ensure they can grow beyond our input. We found that there are three simple steps to accomplish this:

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  • Get to know the leadership of the Black-led and Black-serving organizations you already support.
  • Ask for recommendations on other Black-led and Black-serving organizations they respect.
  • Share the names and work of these organizations with your funder network.

Fundamentally, inclusion is about making sure everyone has the same chance. When companies share their power—privilege, resources, and megaphone—we can all begin to seed growth in power on behalf of the Black community that can start to level the playing field.


Miriam Warren is the chief diversity officer at Yelp.