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Growing together

Black and immigrant women business owners provide mutual support

by Rebecca Zimmer

On International Women's Day black and immigrant business women got together to network and support one another. Photo Rebecca Zimmer
On International Women's Day black and immigrant business women got together to network and support one another. Photo Rebecca Zimmer

KJIPUKTUK), HALIFAX - The message is simple; build one another up, don't tear one another down.

That is the key to economic success, not just for female small business owners, but for anybody, says Ann Divine, founder of the Black and Immigrant Women Network (BIWN).

“When you think of some of the women that are importing and exporting stuff, it's incredible, it's amazing, it's inspiring.”

To celebrate International Women's Day on March 8th Divine organized a get together in downtown Halifax with women small business owners to talk about running your own business.

“It doesn't matter about our race, it doesn't matter about our sexual orientation. What matters is that we are all women together and together we are strong, we can do things. We can change the world.”

Paulette Jackson, an independent model who previous had her own daycare and cleaning businesses says the event was about coming together.

“Today, being here was all about coming out and saying I'm proud and I'm very much in the game just like anyone else,” says Jackson, who was part of the long list of women speakers for the event. “We're no different from one another, we're just doing different things.”

“We support each other and we definitely bring the other pieces of our lives into the conversation,” says Louise Adongo, business owner and fellow BIWN founder. “We share our stories, we empower each other, we nurture each other and we grow together.”

The main role of the BIWN is to get women to network and spread the word about their business.

Often women do not have the tools, the knowledge or the confidence to get their message out there through social media or traditional and expensive business practices, says citizenship judge Linda Carvery. So the number one skill women need to develop is networking.

Her advice, instead of sitting with familiar faces at an event like this, women should go to a table of strangers and introduce themselves.

Carvery know it is difficult the first couple of times but it will get more comfortable.

For most of the women at the event, starting their own small business was about having the personal freedom to look after their families while still financially contributing to their household.

“I was shopping for [my children] but I could never find items that looked like them, say a black barbie doll or a black storybook that had positive stories of black people,” says Bernadette Hamilton-Reid.

When Hamilton-Reid started ordering African-focused items from the United States, friends and fellow moms wanted to purchase the items as well. That is when she realized she had a small business on her hands.

“The business just escalated by bringing products in and most times I was just giving it to people for whatever I paid but then people said, you have a business to start.”

On a trip to Ghana and West Africa in 2003, Hamilton-Reid met many more female small business owners and saw that she could sell their products in Canada and send the money back to them.

It's been 20 years and her business is still going strong.

Family often remains the number one priority for these women but for many to show their children what any person is capable of is an important part of running their own business.

“Like one woman said, our first business is running our homes, balancing our budgets, our schedules with our children. So we're able to multitask those things so we can pass that on to another generation,” Hamilton-Reid says. “If we're doing well, you can see that escalating into other people benefiting from it, not just women.”

Hamilton-Reid belives there are barriers society puts in front of  women who try to run a business.

Women are not invited to the same events as male businessmen. Banks and other organizations that provide financial assistance often don't take women seriously either.

“[They] don't see us as self-sufficient ... Society still sees women as homemakers, teachers and those jobs, they don't see them as going out and starting their own business and being good for the economy."


To commemorate International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, BIWN is partnering with Ashanti Leadership and Professional Development and the YMCA to have a community conversation at the Keshen Goodman Library in Clayton Park, Halifax, on March 28 at 2:30 pm.

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