Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Two New Mexico organizations focused on helping Indigenous female entrepreneurs succeed have been awarded $10 million through a national competition.
Last week, Native Women Lead and New Mexico Community Capital announced that their project, “The Future is Indigenous Womxn,” was one of six winners of the nationwide Equality Can’t Wait Challenge.
The challenge, launched by Melinda French Gates’ investment company with support from other philanthropists including MacKenzie Scott, awarded $40 million to organizations aiming to help expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030.
Liz Gamboa, a board member for Native Women Lead and executive director for New Mexico Community Capital, said the money will be used to develop an investment fund for Indigenous female entrepreneurs, offer training courses on various aspects of running a business and help identify a permanent site for programming in the Southwest.
The goal, Gamboa said, is to not only help individual marginalized entrepreneurs, but to create systems that can build up waves of future entrepreneurs and close the ongoing wealth gap between Indigenous and white Americans.
“We just see that this will lift the Southwest area and help it rise up to be a strong Indigenous-led economic region, where businesses can grow and thrive,” Gamboa said.
Indigenous female entrepreneurs face a number of systemic challenges, including poverty, limited infrastructure and cycles of violence that prevent them from growing their businesses, according to the organizations’ project prospectus.
“Right now, Native (women) do not enjoy equitable access to capital, business development resources, financial capability, or financial career pathways,” the report reads.
The report notes that Native women made 60 cents to the dollar in comparison to their white male counterparts as of 2017, and Native Americans overall have the highest poverty rate among minority groups nationwide.
These factors, in turn, have prompted more Indigenous women to turn to entrepreneurship, making it more important to remove those barriers, according to the report.
“People are leaving the work they don’t want to do anymore, and they’re ready to take the leap,” Gamboa said.
The program is expected to help more than 3,000 entrepreneurs over five years, through microloans, technical assistance and training courses. Gamboa said the courses will cover topics ranging from financial literacy to digital media and marketing.
Gamboa said Native Women Lead is in the early stages of developing a retreat center that could regularly host workshops, networking events and other events, using funding from the award.
Additionally, the award will support a fellowship program for 10 Indigenous women who are interested in finance and social-impact investing. Gamboa said some details of the program are still being developed, but added the program will seek applicants from the Southwest, along with Oklahoma and potentially Alaska. â€‹Gamboa said the program has not yet begun accepting applications, but could beginning as soon as 2022.
The idea behind the program, Gamboa said, is to create a virtuous cycle of future Indigenous investors who can identify overlooked businesses, creating an investment network that will outlive the lifespan of the grant.
“I think that we’re building systems that hopefully will reflect an Indigenous worldview,” Gamboa said.