inResponse - Black Canadian Women in Action

"inResponse" is a program in partnership with What I Wish I Knew to explore how people, business owners and our communities have been impacted and how they’re handling COVID-19. We’ll interview local leaders and businesses to gain insight into how they cope with challenges like the current pandemic. 

We’re on the hunt for answers, information, and solutions and will look to share these so each of us can turn this challenge into an opportunity.

For this inResponse, Jodi Geobel chats with Jeanne Lehman and Anesu Buwu of Black Canadian Women in Action. BCW in Action is a bilingual non-profit organization, committed to making a difference in the lives of black Canadian women and girls living in western Canada. BCW In Action also promotes cultural activities specific to our communities, which gives a sense of belonging to black girls and women living in Canada.

How has BCW in Action responded to COVID19? 

“Once this hit, it changed all of our lives forever.” Jeanne, Anesu, and the team leapt into action when COVID struck. Meeting with local partners and other community leaders, they quickly made a plan to ensure programming could continue. “Engaging in those conversations early on, we were able to identify the needs of our communities quickly” BCW in Action saw a sharp rise in mental health concerns, as well as supports for small businesses and entrepreneurs. As families earned less, pressure started to build for younger families. BCW in Action developed a phased strategy of support, firstly helping simplify, translate, and explain the available government supports to their members and those they represent. Second, they focused on small businesses. As the quarantine has affected all of us, small businesses have been hit particularly hard. They created business development courses to help folks navigate the tough times and look forward to future planning.

What has the experience been like bridging connections with other organizations?

“This time shows us we need to come together, there is no choice” BCW in Action deals with complex challenges like immigration, small business, mental health, harassment, and discrimination. They need to be well connected in order to serve their members properly and safely. “We act as a bridge for the women that come to us” Jeanne hopes the experience of the BCW team will help pave the way for others who might have similar experiences and questions.

What should we be learning from the Black businesswomen that BCW works with and for?

“Many of the women we work with have created businesses and have been doing business before they have arrived in Canada”. BCW in Action helps these newcomers navigate the new system, giving them the information and resources they need to continue where they left off. BCW did a needs assessment with their members and learned that close to 90% did not enjoy their job and were looking for resources to help them start their own business. BCW helps create those opportunities for women to be able to find the opportunities and information they need to create a new business. 

Where do you see Black Canadian Women in Action in a year from now?

Both Anesu and Jeanne agree that the focus is going to shift to creating and strengthening mental health supports and programs moving into the future. “We want to continue to build a hub where women feel safe and at home”. BCW is continuing to plan events, conferences and programs for its members. They have responded quickly to COVID and the changes it has brought, and are optimistic about the future, furthering the BCW in Action mission. Check out their website and the programs they offer for girls and women as young as seven years old. Follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest information on their members, research and events.