Nonprofit Sector

It Doesn't Happen On Its Own

December 13, 2023

Where We Go From Here

Andrea Baker, Founder and CEO, En2Action

Since 2019, En2Action has been serving BIPOC entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay area through programs and workshops designed to help formalize, market, and promote their small and micro-businesses. “I have been an entrepreneur for forty years, and so I understand how lonely that can be sometimes,” says Andrea Baker, CEO and Founder of En2Action. Due to racist historical barriers, many Black entrepreneurs start businesses with less capital and business expertise than their white counterparts. So, for En2Action, empowering BIPOC entrepreneurs is a means to promote equitable growth and achieve transformative social good. 

In this conversation, Andrea shares what she’s learned from forty years of experience as an entrepreneur, how and why En2Action supports local BIPOC businesses, and the importance of co-designing with the community you serve. Joining her is Jennifer Kawar, Vice President, Investor Relations at NFF. 

In this video:  

  • Who En2Action serves (0:34) 

  • How entrepreneurship informs the work. (1:52) 

  • How En2Action takes care of its staff in addition to the community it serves. (2:48) 

  • Why small businesses are the backbone of local economies. (4:46) 

  • How En2Action connects and co-designs with its community. (8:17) 

Transcript

ANDREA: If we don't have to stop in the middle of what we're doing to try and figure out “how can we find the funds to keep this going?” That's just – that's time that we can spend with our clients, right? 

JENNIFER: Multiyear funding. 

ANDREA: Multiyear funding. 

JENNIFER: You won't get an argument from us. 

ANDREA: Oh, please! 

[LAUGHTER] 

[MUSIC] 

JENNIFER: It's a pleasure to speak with you. And I wonder if we could start by just asking you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about En2Action. 

ANDREA: My name is Andrea Baker, and I am the founder and CEO of En2Action. We unapologetically serve Black and BIPOC communities. We don't turn anyone away, and yet we understand that this is the community that at this point needs our help the most. We create programs and workshops that support small and micro-businesses that helps them to formalize their businesses, market and promote their businesses, and we create income generation opportunities for our businesses. Because, as somebody who started my own small business many years ago, we understand that many entrepreneurs start without necessarily having capital, right? And being able to leave their current job and sort of find themselves. So, a lot of us start out by doing that while we're trying to keep the lights on. 

JENNIFER: It sounds like what you're offering to entrepreneurs and small business owners is really that sort of supportive community so that they don't feel that they have to do everything themselves. 

ANDREA: Exactly. You know, being an entrepreneur is a lonely business. And I think that we lean in that direction because I have been an entrepreneur for forty years, and so I understand how lonely that can be sometimes. And then also in your journey, you're continually evolving, right? Because you're the boss, there's nobody to turn to and say, “What do I do now?” right? And so in a way, we want to be that support. And if we don't have the answer for you, we want to be the folks that help you find the answer for that. 

JENNIFER: You're working with people throughout the Bay Area. So you're there in the Bayview, but you've got people who are coming to you, or that you're getting connected with. I would just love for you to tell us a little bit about some of the communities that you’re engaged in. 

ANDREA: The city – San Francisco – has lost a lot of its black community. You know, when I moved here, we were almost fifteen percent of San Francisco. We're currently under five percent of the community. And so it's really, I think, important for those of us who remain to establish those models that helped to build income generation, but also send a signal to folks that that you can do this, right? You can create a business.  

It's really important as much as possible, especially in BIPOC communities, to have folks delivering the service that look like our clients. And it may seem like a small thing and like, “why is that important?” But especially at this time when we're trying to break some preconceived notions and attitudes and behaviors, we have found that it is easier and more effective for our clients. 

Everybody doesn't have to look like us, but there needs to be more of a mix. And so we work really hard to make sure that our team is as diverse as the community that we're serving. That, and trying to make sure that we offer a salary that is a living wage to folks. I'm really– that's really important to me. that we provide benefits just like everybody else has. I don't believe in this “starving artists, people who worked in nonprofits should expect to get paid less.” 

JENNIFER: The work that you are doing is you’re building– you're rebuilding the local economies in the neighborhoods of San Francisco. And the forces of change have been enormous over time, not just in San Francisco, but in communities everywhere. The local economies have largely suffered from the forces of the marketplace. And rebuilding local communities is really about rebuilding local economies so that the dollars, you know, the wages that people earn will be recycled in the local communities where people reside. And so much of those dollars now go to, you know, large chain stores, chain restaurants, you know, large multinational businesses who might employ people in the community but don't often spend in the community for professional services vendors, you know, all of those things. And you're building that again in Bayview and in the Fillmore [district]. 

ANDREA: We know. We all know. I mean, we know it intellectually as we live and walk through our communities, we can see this, that small businesses are really the backbone of the local economy. When you have a local business, local entrepreneur, they're more inclined to hire from their local community, right? 

JENNIFER: That’s right. 

ANDREA: And I think the models that those entrepreneurs set up for everyone in community. It’s not just about– the model is not just about owning and running a business, but how to be resilient, right? And how to be sustainable. And how to get up and go do something every single day when it's raining, when it's, you know, blustery, when there's nobody on the street. And still, right? I think that we all learn stuff from just going through that process and that it's a really important thing for all of us to experience. Entrepreneurism also in its own way, encourages community engagement on a baseline level, you know? You know your storekeeper, you know the guy at ice cream shop, you know "Yvonnes cookies and cakes” and you've been going there. There is a– I don't know. There's a something that that builds that I think gives all of us strength just through experiencing it. 

JENNIFER: If you don't shop locally, you may not have the option of shopping local in the future. 

ANDREA: That's right. And all those folks will go away. The folks that make our community what it is, you know? It’s like folks want that authentic community and it's like, “Okay, yeah! It can be, but you got to support it. It doesn't happen on its own.” 

JENNIFER: I'm just wondering, what advice would you give to other people, other nonprofits, that might be trying to do the same type of work in their own communities? Just some quick tips for people who might be trying to sort of build and rebuild local economies in their own communities. 

ANDREA: One is I think you’ve just got to get involved. You know, you have to be a part of that community. And when I say a part of that community, that means you’ve got to do all the celebrating with them. You show up for folks. And showing up is not just showing up for the celebrations and the festivals. It's showing up for the goodbyes and the, you know, the hard things that happen in the community that bring folks out. So, I've always felt like what's helped for us is that we are very much seen as being a part of the community. When you're in community, you have a much better understanding. It’s not a “them” and “us.” The work we do, even as we– everything is iterative for us and we are constantly co-designing with the people we serve.  

For many of us, happily so we are not facing the same challenges that our clients are. So it makes it very little sense to me to try to design solutions for those challenges without being actively involved with the folks who are facing the challenge and providing the opportunity for them to co-design with us. We want to set people up for success. So we always do sample applications. We do info sessions before the applications are due. We have office hours. We won't tell you what to write, but you can come talk to us and we’ll help try to– “yeah, no, this means that we want you to tell us about this.” So I think it's really being in community in that way and listening and not thinking that we have all the answers because we're smart. I believe yeah, we're smart, but that doesn't mean we have to answer for the problem. Co-designing solutions is a really important thing to me. 

JENNIFER: That's sort of the embodiment of your core values, you know, those being “people matter, communities need to be heard.” That's a real testimony to the work that you're doing and the ecosystem that you're creating. 

ANDREA: They're doing the hard work – these entrepreneurs and business owners – and we're making sure that we're there to support them. That we are really the wind beneath their wings, but they're out there doing it. And if they didn't get up and do it every day and stay committed, no matter how hard we tried, they wouldn't fly.  

[MUSIC] 

Watch more episodes of Where We Go From Here. 

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