The ODP Corporation wants to help make small minority business bigger.
Intentions matter. But when trying to make a very real difference for small businesses, intentions are not necessarily enough. That’s why The ODP Corporation (Office Depot’s parent company and a leading provider of business services, products, and digital workplace solutions) launched Elevate Together™, a nonprofit initiative that looks to “accelerate the creation, growth, and prosperity of Black- and Hispanic-owned small businesses.”
Elevate Together is powered by Round it Up America®—a nonprofit that facilitates giving through the collection of donations received at point-of-sale transactions. Through partnerships with the National Urban League’s Entrepreneurship Centers and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Elevate Together provides support to Black and Hispanic small businesses that have five or fewer employees by providing access to powerful resources, including workshops, training, mentorship, and cash grants. And Sharu Goodwyn, manager of community investment for Office Depot, is right at the heart of it.
“I’m part of Office Depot’s Community Investment team,” she explains. “And our three focus areas are 1) empowering education, 2) championing entrepreneurship, and 3) strengthening communities. While we’ve always supported minority chambers and accelerator programs, our senior leadership team wanted to find an even more effective, authentic way to address racial inequity. Elevate Together made perfect sense, an effective way to strengthen the minority business community. But we didn’t just jump in.”
She adds, “We did a lot of consulting and had a lot of discussions with community partners that were already working with minority small business owners to gain their input and wisdom to ensure that our impact would be most beneficial to the communities we serve. And they really helped us develop the pillars that define Elevate Together, which are education, access, and aid.”
Launched in five locations—Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and South Florida—in early 2021, Elevate Together provides cash grants, mentoring, technical assistance, and other critical elements customarily missing, denied, or simply unavailable to minority business owners. In addition to the National Urban League and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Elevate Together also partners with other organizations that currently provide critical services, like the Venture Mentoring Team. For The ODP Corporation, this is all part of the company’s holistic approach through Elevate Together.
“I joined Office Depot about six months ago, when we were first starting to develop this initiative. In my role, I help to develop the program’s infrastructure— everything from assisting with marketing and fundraising to managing our relationships with our launch-market affiliates to our fiscal-sponsor relationship with Round It up America.”
In addition to the current societal unrest, Goodwyn also cites the pandemic and its disproportionate effect on minority business owners as another impetus for the creation of Elevate Together.
“So many Black and Hispanic small business owners suffered and closed their doors because of the pandemic. So, there was a clear, definite need to support this group. And it was an urgent need.”
With Elevate Together on track, where does The ODP Corporation look to take the initiative next? Goodwyn explains. “We want to grow in two ways. First, we want to expand the Elevate Together ecosystem in each market where we’ve launched. There are a lot of great accelerators and community colleges, for example, that do great support work for minority-owned small businesses. And if we grow our ecosystems over time, we can offer more comprehensive services to them as well.
“Second, we want to expand into other markets. We have a very local approach to philanthropy, and we really want genuine relationships with the community partners we choose. This isn’t a process about just writing checks. We want to make sure that we grow organically and provide the type of assistance that minority-owned small businesses really need and can use. We want it to be real and sustainable for them.”
Intentions matter. But when organizations like The ODP Corporation match those intentions with practicality, insight, and due diligence to create initiatives like Elevate Together, they make a very real difference in the lives of the people they look to help.
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