By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
For The Birmingham Times
Not only has Angela Abdur-Rasheed, Communications and Community Engagement Director for Prosper Birmingham long been a champion of connecting people with resources in her home city, she can best be described as a fixture in Birmingham’s non-profit and volunteer community.
Her latest efforts put her front in center in connecting Birmingham’s Black business owners with much-need funding, resources and partnerships for Prosper, a Birmingham-based nonprofit with a mission to foster an inclusive economy in Jefferson County. Her role allows her to convene and support hundreds of individuals, businesses, and organizations monthly.
Prior to that, she was Senior Director of Economic Empowerment at YWCA Central Alabama. For nearly 11 years, she helped lead Building Communities, Bettering Lives AmeriCorps program.
With a telecommunications and film degree from The University of Alabama and a certification in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from The University of South Florida, Abdur-Rasheed is regularly sought to train on topics like recruitment and retention, program management, social justice, media relations, women’s empowerment, etiquette, and workforce development.
Whether she’s planning and hosting ongoing meetups to connect business owners, sharing funding or career opportunities through her work and connections, or championing the work of entrepreneurs as a whole, passion is what she brings to the Magic City and Prosper Birmingham.
One such example is her latest work with Prosper, in which Black business owners – nonprofits, for-profit businesses and faith-based organizations – are encouraged to apply for funding for their business ideas.
As part of Operation Backing Black Business (OBBB), Prosper is hosting an RFP (request for proposals) process in which local business owners are asked to bring their best and brightest ideas forward to literally prosper Birmingham.
Some of the main tenets of these business ideas should include:
–A focus on growing a more inclusive and equitable economy in Birmingham.
–A data-defined problem and solution with measurable outcomes.
–A work plan, budget and complementary resources identified for any grant funding that could be awarded.
Business owners have until May 1 to apply online and can get on the calendar of a Prosper team member to talk through the specifics of their big idea before they submit their application.
After this RFP process is over and awards are distributed, there will be subsequent and ongoing workshops and meetups to help business owners continue to start or grow their business with dates set for May, July and October. There will be networking, key business introductions and panel discussions featuring business-building steps.
KSJ: What do you like most about working with Prosper?
AAR: Working at Prosper feels like the perfect landing spot for all that I’ve done professionally and all that matters to me personally. I most enjoy the opportunity to be a bridge builder for like-missioned entities who may not have ordinarily come together but, through Prosper, begin to build transformative collaborations around inclusive, economic development.
KSJ: With this latest RFP process, how is it different from any funding program or process you’ve worked with in the past?
AAR: One of the most unique aspects to Prosper’s RFP process is the opportunity to gain insight on how to apply. I’ve worked in the nonprofit space for nearly two decades and have not ever seen an organization take the intentional time like we have to make the application accessible to as many as possible and walk them through the process with hopes of having as many robust grant applications as possible, especially for organizations and groups who may not have been familiar with RFPs, but have wonderful, visionary initiatives and ideas.
KSJ: In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges with working with business owners?
AAR: One of the biggest challenges in working with business owners is the abundance of needs they have. We are a new and small organization. As we work to empower the nonprofit service providers who work with business owners and as we try to align others in this space, it seems as if it’s never enough because the needs of our small business community are so many, and they deserve all the help they are seeking.
KSJ: What do you see as common characteristics of successful biz owners?
AAR: One of the most uniquely common characteristics of a successful business owner is the forethought to seek help early, ongoing and often. The businesses we’re most proud of are the ones who participate in the various cohorts, build relationships through workshops and trainings and realize that they aren’t alone in their desire to want to succeed.
KSJ: What’s the #1 challenge most biz owners face?
AAR: Access to capital and the ability to structure and utilize whatever capital they do have in a way that establishes systems and support to truly grow and scale.
KSJ: What advice would you give to aspiring Black business owners to help them succeed?
AAR: I would recommend any aspiring Black business owner take advantage of as many resources as possible. There are great organizations offering services to businesses like Urban Impact, REV Birmingham, CARA, Birmingham Business Alliance, Birmingham Business Resource Center and others. The more aspiring entrepreneurs get the support and technical assistance they need the more their village expands and their chances for sustainability increases.
KSJ: Where do you see the business climate in Birmingham in the next 10-20 years for Black businesses?
AAR: In 10-20 years, I see Birmingham and Jefferson County as a best practice in Black business and small business. I see the fruits of the seeds being planted now by Prosper and all the others doing this work sprouting to produce a thriving, healthy Black business ecosystem fueled by data, funding adequately and providing goods and services to our area and beyond.