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Minorities helping minorities: Two Caribbean-American women helming city’s minority business agency

Saba Debesu, is of Barbadian and Ethiopian descent and works as the deputy director of external affairs, at the Minority and Woman-owned Business Enterprise program.
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At the city’s premier agency to promote and sustain businesses owned by minorities and women, Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE), two Caribbean-American women are working behind the scenes to ensure that those goals are met. Formed in 2015, the mayor’s MWBE program was established to ensure that these businesses received the support they needed without going under the radar. One of the mayor’s goals is to award $16 billion to these start-ups by 10 years, certify 9,000 businesses by next year, and award 30 percent of them with contracts by 2021. And putting that work together to meet the mammoth task takes effort, said the agency’s director of programs.

“My current role is centered on achieving the goals set by the mayor, in which I collaborate with a strong team to identify strategy guides and implement accountability and make sure 42 agencies are facilitating access to MWBE’s,” said Suzette Bather-Taylor.

Her day-to-day job includes many partnerships with other organizations to ensure that finances for the program are attained. Last month a huge goal was secured from Amalgamated Bank, Bank of America, and TD Bank.

“A recent collaboration we had resulted in $40 million to supplement funding for existing businesses,” said Bather-Taylor. “At this moment we are working with these three banks in making sure these funds are possible.”

Coming from a background in real estate and finance, and a family with a strong entrepreneurial background — she said that helped her form a strong understanding of the business industry. Being a force in helping other people of color and women reach goals is second nature for her.

“I was exposed at a young age and this allowed me to engage with businesses and I live vicariously through them,” she said. “It feels refreshing to relive the experience from seeing my family being successful in Jamaica. Now being in this environment and as a Caribbean woman, I feel alive to be in this state and have the appreciation and opportunity to speak on their behalf.”

Doing the publicity work for the agency is another Caribbean-American woman, who oversees the promotion of the program. Saba Debesu, who is of Barbadian and Ethiopian descent, handles all media relations for the company and her job involves a lot of outreach on the local level.

“My job is divided into different categories, legislative affairs, thinking about policies, and advice for laws and rules in ways that improve access and opportunity for MWBE’s and doing a lot of engaging citywide and with the press,” she said.

Having previously worked in community-organizing, doing field work and fund-raising for city council races, her daily tasks include contacting legislators, community leaders, and informing them of the program’s mission and strengthening that relationship, she said.

“For us, it’s important that we do outreach in the community and improve what we are doing and what we aren’t,” said Debesu.

She also says that being able to assist other people of color and women in the business industry is something of immense pride.

“It’s an honor to be in this position and have the opportunity to do what I do because this is bigger than me,” she added.

Both Bather-Taylor and Debesu are also proud of the most recent bill the agency helped get passed and put into law — the Enactment of State Law Expanding Economic Opportunity for City’s MWBE’s — which will help increase the spending limit for minority and women-owned businesses.

And the man in charge — Jonnel Doris, the director of the agency, said teamwork and support helped get this advantageous bill passed.

“This is huge for us and one thing it does is raise the threshold without a long procurement process and that’s what we are looking for, and we’re doing fabulous and amazing work,” said Doris.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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