Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR) and Pacific Island Business Alliance (PIBA) Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou joined us for an interview recently on StartUp SLC podcast. She talked about the roots of the organization, the power of community coming together, and how to get involved. Highlights here:
PIK2AR is a five-year startup Community Based organization 501 c 3 with 3 focuses – the Pacific Island Business Alliance is one of those areas of focus and was born out of the community need for help with their businesses.
Susi said, “What I first recognized was the cultural translation – the lack of system understanding of how each of these (business) systems work and how to make this work for Pacific Islanders, to understand where our cultural norms were.”
We held our very first gathering in 2005 and I believe we had like 7 people show up and only one was an actual business. Now, we have slowly grown to a quality-over-quantity organization with a much larger membership. This year’s directory has identified 200 Pacific Islander owned businesses in Utah. We are still in gathering mode and focused on driving membership and support.
We have a ton of restaurants and food-related businesses and non-profits. Pacific Islanders are about helping the community – everybody has a job and a village to make it work. Our values are God, community and family over ‘getting yourself rich’. So that’s why you see a lot of food and non-profits. Online business, startups, and micro business make up a large part of our growing membership.
What are the unique challenges facing Pacific Islander entrepreneurs?
#1 is how we look at loans. Loaning money and having to owe anybody money in our culture is a big ‘no-no’ but in America to grow a business you really need to leverage that.
Learning about financial literacy and credit score is huge.
There is a practice done in our communities and across many ethnic communities is to use your children’s social security numbers to establish credit. So as an adult you grow up and you’re trying to start a business and your credit is already not great to start with. It’s difficult to grow through that. You can get by as a micro enterprise but you need help to get to the next level. We want our community to know that there are resources to help.
The tool we use to overcome this is a Business Community Health Worker. This trusted person is somebody in the community who you are not ashamed to ask for help from. For example, there is no shame or guilt to walk through how to fill out your LLC. To thrive in business, we all need to understand the words that they were asked on this form and any financial application. You can learn about things you may not know exist, like micro lending.
I am not going to refer to an organization that’s going to shoot people down for micro lending. We work to find the appropriate partners align to help empower our people. Right now, we use Celtic Bank, KIVA program and Salt Lake City’s EDLF. Our Business Community Health Worker is available to guide through all questions.
This year I was tasked with to put together the first Pacific island National Pitch Competition in August 2021, hosted in Salt Lake City. We will have both a micro and small business category. We’re really excited about that. Follow our social channels for updates.
How did you pivot with the challenges of COVID-19?
We didn’t miss a beat. We moved everything online. We created the directory to stay connected. The work we did with Nourish to Flourish provided an amazing opportunity for a restauranteur to survive and endure the challenge. Now we contract to provide meals for Valley Behavior, five facilities that we are slowly growing into. We have just created a new social enterprise to support our community. What was a 12 week contract is growing into something more.
Covid has brought some terrible things to our community. We don’t want to minimize the havoc but there is also some sunshine with the rain. By moving our meetings online, we have grown a new following with Pacific Islander owned companies around the world.
What do you hope for the future?
We need an office. If other ethnic groups have strip malls, why don’t we? We would like a large space (4,000-5,000 sq ft) to help incubate more business. The idea is, if you have a micro business and you’re growing, we want to help make it a little easier to succeed and grow into a commercial space. Right now, we are renting space from Impact Hub and can support up to 8 entrepreneurs.
Anyone is welcome to come to a meeting, get involved, ask me anything. We want to express the fastest way to help people being powered is to have a mentor. We have an active network of mentors but always need help. If you have some extra time on their hands to help mentor, please reach out.
Thanks for the interview, Susi!
The Pacific Island Business Alliance, or PIBA, is a program comprised of socially responsible, socially conscious individuals and organizations who, while business oriented, hold the belief that people and profits are of equal importance. PIBA makes up one of the six Ethnic Chambers of Utah and is a proud founding member of Living Color Utah which aims to provide resources for Utah’s diverse populations. Get involved today, learn more at https://pik2ar.org/piba/.