November 18, 2021
Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility and President of the American Express Foundation, American Express
Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Without successful small businesses, the economy can’t flourish. However, this past year has posed many challenges for small businesses, and some have needed help to stay afloat.
Madge Thomas, president of the American Express Foundation and vice president of corporate social responsibility for American Express, sat down with Marc DeCourcey, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, to discuss how small businesses are being supported by various philanthropic initiatives established by private sector companies like American Express and how these programs have impacted the growth and success of small businesses across the country.
Supporting Small Businesses With Lasting Initiatives
The success or decline of small businesses tremendously affects the economy, both domestically and abroad, said Thomas.
“Small businesses end up being the lifeblood of the economy in America, and globally,” she explained. “They’re critical to job creation. They’re critical to creating these vibrant thriving neighborhoods that we all live in.”
Because of this, the American Express Foundation created the nationwide initiative, Small Business Saturday, in 2010. What started as a push to drive sales has blossomed into a yearly commitment that puts an emphasis on shopping small and supporting businesses in local communities.
“We created it as a way to really help drive consumers to small businesses coming out of the financial crisis,” Thomas explained. “We've kept that going for more than a decade to coincide with Thanksgiving weekend. We have actually now built our commitment to small businesses into our environmental, social, and government strategy because of how important it is to our business values.”
Creating New Programs for Underserved Communities
To alleviate some of the financial stressors small businesses have felt throughout the past year, the American Express Foundation has come up with solutions and resources to help small businesses recover and prosper.
“When the pandemic hit, we doubled down,” Thomas said. “We lifted up small businesses that were disproportionately impacted, and those that had historically less access to capital, or that are more vulnerable to economic pressure. And since last year, we've .... committed almost $15 million over the next few years to support underrepresented or COVID-impacted businesses, during the pandemic and the recovery phase.”
Thomas also mentioned one of the foundation’s newest programs, Inclusive Backing, which was rolled out in partnership with Main Street America.
“[We’re awarding] $255,000 grants to support, and lift up and celebrate small businesses that are owned by underrepresented and underserved populations from the communities that are more vulnerable to economic pressures, like veterans, AAPI communities, Hispanic communities, people with disabilities, women, LGBTQIA, refugees, and immigrants, among others,” she explained.
Helping Small Businesses to Survive, Thrive, and Pay It Forward
During the past year, the American Express Foundation has worked to become a lifeline for some companies, allowing them to grow and generate economic activity within their community, even during a time when they didn’t expect they could.
“Small business owners everywhere have persevered, have pivoted, and have been there to support our community when we needed them the most,” Thomas said. “The economic effects of the pandemic really showed the importance of getting … those small businesses in our communities the funding when they needed it the most.”
According to Thomas, a staggering 72% of small business owners said American Express grant funding “would help them keep their businesses open another year.”
“The funding and capital that we give is … critical,” she added. “It's necessary and it helps companies survive and evolve ... during hard times. And sometimes ... that relief, even as little as it may be, may make all the difference between your local bodega or your favorite neighborhood bookstore shutting its doors. All of that helps generate economic activity for your community.”