Out and About Magazine lauds the efforts and draws inspiration from the founders of a truly remarkable initiative that highlights economic change within the Black communities of the EMEAA region. Meet Diana Powell, Marcia Mcleod and Leanne Brackett, power-trio founders of The Black Economic Collective.
“We believe real wealth comes from building an economic family and community, mixed in with a real sense of moral cohesion topped off with a dash of empathetic care. If an active effort is made by each and every person to create the positive change we want in life, to be supported by people of the same vision and heart, the byproduct of this will surely be both spiritual and material wealth”.
Founders Diana, Marcia and Leanne
An African Diaspora Economic Movement
Black Economic Collective EMEAA (BEC) is a solution-based business networking initiative based in Dubai, UAE, founded by the desire to see equitable economic change within communities. BEC was launched in June 2020, as a direct response to the global protest, highlighting the realities of the systematic racism and disparity experienced by Black communities on a worldwide scale.
Founders Diana Powell, Marcia Mcleod and Leanne Brackett, coming from the African Diaspora, noted that many aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement resonate with them through their own experiences and the experiences of others. They wanted to see and spark change—to do something—being the women that they are. When asked if we want to see and experience real change within Black communities, these courageous women replied with a striking quote from Dr Claud Anderson: “We needed to have a new way of seeing, thinking and behaving.”
The idea of BEC was developed on the premise that sustainable, equitable economic solutions could be achieved through the development and nurturing of Black businesses and entrepreneurs. The vision is to create a collective economic ecosystem that will ensure the collective economic success of like-minded people who truly want to see and experience change throughout the African Diaspora. The founders of the Black Economic Collective (BEC). believe that the nurturing of Black businesses must be part of the solution that nurtures financial growth, job creation, community development, and empowerment of Black communities, leaving a legacy for the next generation.
The aim of this economic movement is to target like-minded micro-businesses and entrepreneurs of the Black African Diaspora located primarily within the EMEAA regions (Europe, Middle East Africa and Americas) who share the vision of these brave women founders. They, as one, see themselves as facilitators focused on connecting and cultivating their members by working together to promote a more equitable economy.
The Power Trio
Diana Powell is an International Development Consultant and businesswoman born in London, UK. She lived and worked in Saudi Arabia and now resides in the UAE. With over 20 years of experience in education, youth, business and community development both within the UK, Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean, she has supported hundreds to realise their passions and aspirations. As the founder and former CEO of the Global Institute for Entrepreneurship, she has provided consultative support and training for a number of UK private, local and central government organisations, as well as international agencies located within the UK.
With her extensive knowledge in supporting and developing social enterprises and businesses primarily targeting African and Caribbean communities, she has developed a number of programmes specifically for this group including developing community projects, and supporting groups to access funding in order to develop a number heritage and social business initiatives. She is also a presenter on Ari Ma’at on GKTV, Black Group Economic Show showcasing and interviewing entrepreneurs, alongside conversations on topical business current affairs affecting Black communities. She has participated in a number of events including the World Entrepreneurship Forums and African and Arabian International Women Business Conferences.
Marcia McLeod is an inspirational speaker and life coach who works with people, particularly women, to find the inner gems that will help them live the life of their dreams. She is the creator of the Powerful Purpose Philosophy™️, a life-changing self-development programme. The Powerful Purpose Philosophy™️ was developed following years of finding herself emotionally, mentally, and physically stuck, and after embarking on a mission to uncover the deep-rooted source of her insecure, negative, and self-limiting beliefs. While born in London, UK, she now resides in the UAE and helps women globally to discover their purpose.
With over 15 years of experience in education and business, she equips women with tools and strategies that help them realise their own amazing story of self-discovery, and cultivate empowerment for their greater good. Marcia is also the co-founder and co-host of Mind Over Matter Talks, a weekly podcast which focuses on mental health while challenging some of the taboos within the Black community. She is also an author, mentor and mother to three amazing children.
Leanne Brackett is a creative entrepreneur, host, entertainer and motivational author of self-help workbook, I Am What I Say I Am. Through her own personal journey of self-discovery, evolution and experience in business and music as a Black female, she uses her voice to serve the world and empower people to show up as their true selves as a proclaimed self-love advocate. As part of the UN's decade initiative to recognise people from the African Diaspora from 2015 - 2024, she was nominated for the Top 100 Most Influential People of African Descent in 2020.
Born and raised in West London, she found her passion and gift for connecting with people through her vocals and writing early on as an independent artist by the stage name Kai in the UK. Now based in Dubai, her contagious aura and business acumen can be seen both on and off the stage, serving her purpose to help women discover the best version of themselves, or empowering the Black community and businesses through the platform, Black Girl in Dubai.
Interview with the founders
We spoke with Diana, Marcia and Leanne regarding their take on different issues, and how The Black Economic Collective could help the Black community in the EMEAA region.
Has the rise in social injustice against African-Americans influenced your business decisions? If so, how?
The social injustices that we have witnessed in the mass media over previous months are only the tip of the iceberg. If we are to use the iceberg metaphor, we will understand that there are different elements—from the visible to the explicit, to the hidden and unseen. The African American experience is happening throughout the African Diaspora on a global scale. The media focus was ignited within the USA; however, we also saw protests globally highlighting the social injustices happening to other Black communities. Drawing from this, we initially thought about developing our network within the UAE. With a deeper understanding of the issues affecting our communities along with our own journeys and experiences as expats, we wanted to develop an initiative that would be more inclusive of our shared heritage and experiences—our common bond—rather than the country of birth. We decided that this “bond” would be nurtured with like-minded individuals who could connect with the Black African Diaspora experience within Europe, Middle East, Africa and the Americas.
The amalgamation of the global lockdown and global protests has enabled many people to rethink their lives, their purpose and what really matters to them. Only a few months ago, the conversation of racism, for many, was an uncomfortable reality. Today, those realities have “hit home” as truths for so many of us. As with the iceberg metaphor, many of those realities are hidden and unseen; we experience them but do not clearly understand them. We have had many conversations with businessmen and women who have had many challenges over the years and have struggled to find solutions—with many in silence—to their problems. So many Black businesses have come up against challenges and obstacles that are not always visual to the eye.
We are not saying that the Black Economic Collective (BEC) has the answers to everything. What we want is for this understanding to sink in: that we are now moving into a “New World”, a “New Normal” and a “different way of thinking”. BEC is creating a shift and new narrative, for those who are looking for a change. We are very ambitious in our ideas and thinking. We see ourselves as connectors and pioneers. We want to see Black businesses survive and thrive by providing solutions and making a contribution to collective liberation globally: a Black economic ecosystem which is the “blackprint” of group economics.
What is your take on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement?
For us, simply posting a black screen on Instagram or spending a few moments parading a Black Lives Matter sign probably won't help improve the lives of Black people!
BLM seeks to expose long-standing racial inequality for Black people globally and spark efforts to address it. Sadly, at times, it seems the movement has descended into partisan finger-pointing that labels everyone who doesn’t publicly express complete support as part of the problem. In our humble opinion, fundamentally little is achieved this way.
These cultural displays, be they posting on social media, aren’t what the Black people actually need to evoke change. Black people need to take actionable steps that will hopefully have long-term benefits. There is tangible work that needs to be done. Actually helping people is what supporting BLM means to us.
The more recent Black Lives Matter protests have led to increased support for Black-owned businesses on a global scale. One of the many ways that BEC is translating our support for Black Lives Matter into meaningful action is by highlighting and championing the success of Black-owned businesses through our flagship initiative called the BEC Booster.
What are the major challenges that Black businesses face?
As mentioned, there has been much support and interest in Black-owned businesses. However, the pandemic has also hurt, and some could say magnified, other existing challenges experienced by Black businesses. Facing racism and discrimination, whether overt or subtle, is very real for Black businesses. A recent study by Groupon and the National Black Chamber of Commerce highlighted that 80% of Black businesses face significantly more challenges getting their business off the ground due to race, while 85% said they had to overcome more obstacles than non-Black business owners. 59% reported being victims of racism or bias when starting their business.
UK research has also shown that almost a third of Black people in England want to start their own business, compared with just 9% of the white population. However, only 4% of Black people do manage to launch a start-up—a level lower than any other ethnic group. Accessing finance and advice are the key challenges for would-be Black entrepreneurs. According to one study, Black entrepreneurs are four times more likely to be denied a bank loan outright than white entrepreneurs, while the UK Survey of Small and Medium Enterprises shows that as many as a quarter of Black entrepreneurs report problems in accessing finance.
In terms of support, the study by Groupon and the National Black Chambers of Commerce also highlighted that half of the Black Businesses studied had a hard time building a support network while a further 27% struggled with owning their accomplishments which their non-Black businesses counterparts didn’t necessarily have to overcome when creating a successful business. Other challenges include securing funding and capital investment, access to various government and non-government programmes and access capacitive and growth initiatives.
How do you support Black businesses in the region?
Our two-step approach begins by facilitating a relationship network of our members, and secondly, raising the profile of members by developing strategies that promote their economic growth. As mentioned, research has highlighted many of the challenges businesses experience daily. So many of us feel that we don’t have the answers, but the truth is we already have many of the answers, and the key is to join the dots. Many amazing Black men and women are developing and growing fantastic brands by doing all the right things. We aim to leverage these talents within the Black Economic Collective (BEC).
We now live within a truly global community. Many Black businesses have been forced to rethink their business models and strategies. The pandemic has created many challenges, and yet it has also opened many doors for Black businesses—as we would say, “made the impossible possible”. More than anything, Black businesses have been forced to reevaluate their relationships on many levels. The Black Economic Collective (BEC). is about developing and nurturing those relationships and raising the profile amongst its members.
By listening and understanding the concerns of Black businesses, we aim to create a sustainable economic environment that will develop growth and wealth opportunities for members, creating an environment for collaboration and knowledge-sharing opportunities to evoke camaraderie and unity which may include fostering job creation.
During the last quarter of 2020 into 2021, we will be launching a number of initiatives, particularly targeting Black micro businesses, entrepreneurs and business start-ups within the EMEAA regions.
- Online bespoke and sector-specific business training workshops catering to both established and new business start-ups. These workshops will allow our members to access quality workshops throughout the EMEAA regions and beyond.
- Black Business Conference EMEAA, our annual flagship event. The theme for this year which will be held on Saturday 14th November “The New Normal - Surviving COVID 19 and Beyond” Black businesses. Due to the restrictions of social distancing, this event will be online via Zoom. Bookings can be made via the BEC website.
- the Black Economic Collective (BEC) Booster will aim to create innovative BEC Booster campaigns, particularly amongst smaller unknown brands that just need that extra “boost” of exposure
- International networking opportunities amongst our members within the EMEAA regions providing opportunities for its members to reach wider markets and tap into investment opportunities
- Ujima Mentoring Programme, where member mentees gain access to knowledge and experience of business people who value the meaning of Ujima
- We are currently refining our new membership programme to provide our members with more offers and opportunities.
We are always exploring new opportunities and developing affiliations with businesses and brands within the EMEAA regions, who also share our vision and can also add value to our BEC family.
How can we better support Black businesses individually and collectively?
There are many ways to support Black businesses. Aside from shopping or using products and services, when you find a good one, share your positive experience with others on and offline. Tag your photos and check-in your visits to their locations. Like, comment and share their content and promotions on social media. Collectively, hold meetings, networking, celebrations and other events in Black-owned venues and spaces. In any case, give feedback to the business so that they can grow and improve with customer reviews.
Tell us about a few stand-out Black businesses in the region.
Here are notable Black-owned businesses in the region:
Mokha 1450 is the Heart of Coffee in the UAE, a beautiful coffeehouse for serious coffee connoisseurs where you can even enjoy unique and exotic Caribbean flavours such as the famed Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. The place is very relaxed and warmly uplifting. Visit one of the two locations in Palm Jumeirah or Al Wasl.
Finchitua is an edgy modern streetwear brand with origins in tribal Ethiopia, winner of the 2020 Streetwear Brand of the Year. The brand is known for its unique apparel line, which also provides sustainable work for dozens of skilled Habesha weavers in rural Ethiopia. We love the fact that each purchase made means you support African tribal fashion while helping preserve the traditional Habesha art form. To check them out, Finchitua is based in The Westin Mina Seyahi, Dubai.
Scintillia Skincare is a luxury skincare facility based in the capital which prides itself on offering effective beauty treatments using a specific selection of some of the best luxury products. Natural ingredients and wellbeing are at the core of what they do. Boasting two branches across Abu Dhabi, you are sure to feel fabulous after a trip to Scintillia. Branches are located in Amaya Towers 2 Reem Island and Muroor Road.
Garvin Reid is an amazing photopreneur hailing from the Bronx currently based in Abu Dhabi known for depicting the world through his Galaxy and Canon, one to definitely check out if you are looking to create some photographic memories in the sandpit. You can find him at @reidtweendaline on Instagram.
What advice would you give to a Black person starting in business?
Starting a business can be an amazing yet overwhelming experience, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many areas to focus on and we would advise writing your ideas down and always asking for help and support at every stage! Two important areas we think need highlighting:
- Collaborate, join forces; we are stronger together. Find your tribe.
- Learn the numbers, get help if you don’t know, we must do better with economic power.
Tell us about your recent event, The BEC Booster.
The concept behind the BEC Booster is to encourage business owners and consumers to be part of a movement that has economic solidarity across the globe.
On a specific day of the month (e.g. 1st Saturday), a business is spotlighted to give them mass exposure driven to all their on and offline locations to raise awareness and increase sales within the Black community. On this day, the business will create a limited exclusive promotion for customers who shop with them as a result of the BEC Booster promotion. This will help to increase the buzz.
We were super excited to have officially launched recently in conjunction with UK Black History Month, where we went live with our media partner gotKushTV to introduce ourselves to the world and showcased our inaugural exclusive BEC Booster offer.