By Jamyra Perry
PHILADELPHIA — A regional task force charged with getting the Philadelphia area back on track in a post-COVID world. One of the main focal points of the plan is uplifting Black- and Brown-owned businesses.
Chris Gheysens, president and CEO of Wawa, said the group, the Philadelphia Regional Recharge and Recovery Task Force, is focusing on the long-term.
“This is not a plan for reopening,” Gheysens said. “This is a shared effort to stabilize, energize and prepare the Greater Philadelphia region for sustainable and equitable recovery. In the months and years ahead of us.”
The Recharge and Recovery Task Force’s short term goals for the region include COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, coordinated sharing of public health information, health and safety pledge for venues, reskilling for high demand jobs, skills-based hiring and pledging to buy from local Black and brown businesses.
The task force is comprised of Greater Philadelphia business and civic community leaders, in collaboration with the city of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and four suburban counties Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks counties.
The plan for uplifting Black and brown communities includes a number of initiatives such as Cheyney University partnering with the Wistar Institute, declaring racism as a public health crisis and providing venture capital resources to Black and brown entrepreneurs.
Task Force member Osagie Imasogie said that access to funds is paramount for Black and brown businesses.
“We live in a capitalist world, and therefore capital is required,” Imasogie said. “And if we don’t get access to that capital, how can we participate effectively in this capital-focused world?”
He said the life science subcommittee of the regional task force has offered up several solutions to close the gap.
“It’s clear that what we’ve been doing for the last several decades, for the last century has not worked,” Imasogie said. “We need to have a venture fund comprised of African Americans themselves, who can identify high opportunities, amongst entrepreneurs within the African American community and provide funding to support that.”
The entrepreneur said it’s hard to get access to capital when the people making the decisions all look alike with little to no diversity.
“So many times people of color get washed out in the evaluation process, because of the way they present, the way they talk, their ideas are not what those who are doing the evaluations are used to.
While the venture capital fund is in the idea stage, his committee has another project dropping soon.
“Launching this month, we have a paid social campaign that is targeting the venture capital community,” Imasogie said. “We’re extraordinarily excited about the potential to tap into a sector that has been starved of funding.
“If only 1% of capital has gone to that sector, can you imagine the interest? Our goal, ultimately, is to also increase awareness about what we’re doing, through targeted digital marketing and turn leads into real projects, who are actively looking to make an investment in our region.”
Jamyra Perry is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.