Nova Scotia

New study examines barriers Black-owned businesses face during pandemic

Black-owned businesses in Nova Scotia have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and many haven't been able to access federal emergency funding, according to a new report.

Bias 'makes it even tougher for these businesses to survive,' says SMU prof

The Black Business Initiative commissioned a study into how Black-owned businesses are coping during the pandemic. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Black-owned businesses in Nova Scotia have been hit hard by the pandemic and many haven't been able to access emergency federal funding, a new study has found. 

The study by the Black Business Initiative in Halifax surveyed 59 entrepreneurs from across the province. Most run relatively new businesses in the service sector that employ fewer than five people, such as restaurants, salons and grocery stores.

The report's author, Prof. Harvi Millar, said biases against Black businesses have made it even more difficult for some of them to keep customers during a time when storefronts are closing and sales moving online.

"That perspective is typically not necessarily based on experience with that business, but just a perception because they are of African descent, an African Nova Scotian business, that somehow the service or the products might be inferior," Millar, a professor at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, told CBC Radio's Information Morning

"Superimpose on top of that a pandemic ... that makes it even tougher for these businesses to survive."

Hear about a new survey by the Black Business Initiative that looks at how the COVID pandemic has disproportionately affected African Nova Scotian entrepreneurs. 7:34

The majority of Black entrepreneurs self-finance their ventures because it can be a challenge to get bank loans, Millar said.

He pointed to studies from elsewhere in Canada that detail how difficult it can be for business owners to secure financing due to anti-Black racism, the fact many of them operate as sole proprietorships, as well as a lack of generational wealth.

Harvi Millar teaches operations management at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's University, and is a consultant and the author of the report. (Harvi Millar)

Banks require collateral, which often translates to owning property, Millar said.

"So if you don't have sufficient property, or you don't have generations of wealth that have been passed on in the form of property ... then it makes it rather difficult for Black businesses to get funding," he said. 

Many of the people surveyed in the Nova Scotia report also didn't get federal pandemic relief because they didn't make enough revenue, or they owned businesses that weren't mandated to close. Others didn't bother applying due to the complexity of the application process, the report found. 

In fact, 64 per cent of respondents said they used their own money to weather the COVID-19 storm.

For most, the major concerns over the last year have been a lack of revenue, delays with receiving goods from foreign suppliers and worries that they've lost customers for good.

Many of the businesses surveyed are owned by Black women, and the report called for gender-specific supports "that consider the intersection between gender and race."

The report also suggested creating a "comprehensive Black entrepreneurship sector strategy" that would involve the federal and provincial governments, and try to break down some of these barriers.

While there are programs in place to help businesses, Millar said they are often longer term solutions to a very immediate problem.

"The reality is that African Nova Scotian businesses and other Black businesses across the country need funding now to deal with the pandemic situation," he said.

"They need help in terms of being able to market their products and services, being able to move the services online because that was where demand migrated to during the pandemic."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning