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‘There’s been a disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black-owned businesses’: SAP North America Pres.

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DJ Paoni, President of SAP North America, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss SAP launching ‘Pro bono for economic equity’ program.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back. Our next guest has launched a new program called Pro Bono for Economic Equity. Now, that's an initiative that allows employees at SAP North America to lend their skills and talents to Black-owned businesses and help them address business problems.

We're joined now by DJ Paoni, president of SAP North America. So let's just start with how this program is really going to help close some of the disparities, some of the inequities that we see between Black-owned and other disadvantaged businesses with that of their white counterparts.

DJ PAONI: Sure. Thanks for having me today. You know, when you look at the statistics, there's been a disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black-owned businesses. And that's pretty clear. I think there's more than twice as many Black-owned businesses that have closed compared to their-- their white-owned counterparts. And a report by McKinsey stated that 58% of Black-owned businesses were at risk of financial distress even before the pandemic. So the numbers are great.

SAP has always been a company that's focused on, you know, helping our customers run better and build a stronger and more sustainable business. And so if you look at the-- the big picture here, you know, we have a very strong culture centered around D&I, right? We're very active in the communities that we serve.

And so we're always looking for ways to double down on our commitment to serve those who are underrepresented. So as you mentioned, we launched this Pro Bono for Economic Equity program. I know it's a mouthful. It's a volunteer program to really foster equity for Black-owned businesses and social enterprises in the US.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: DJ, I'd love to have some specific examples of how you are having your employees reach out and help these minority businesses on a pro bono basis. I know there was a story about an SAP partner in Chicago in the food industry. Tell us a little bit about what they did there.

DJ PAONI: Yeah, sure. Let me tell you first how we kicked this off. We kicked it off in four cities, Chicago you mentioned, Atlanta, New York, and Philadelphia. The criteria was you had to be a Black-owned business or social enterprise that was located in one of those cities, founded within the US, most of the operations in the US. And we thought it was important for the organizations not to be part of a large franchise brand.

So this is for startups. This is for small businesses. So when you look at examples, in Chicago, you had mentioned, we partnered with chef Darryl Fuery of Haute Brats. Right? They call him Chef D. He runs a restaurant. But he also started teaching and training for low-profit limited liability company to prepare unemployed young adults who are leaving the justice and foster care system.

So our volunteers are helping Chef D market the restaurant, which trains these young adults to, you know, better prepare them for careers in food service and at the same time, look to secure funding for teaching and training L3Cs. So it's-- it's a pretty great program in Chicago we have going.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm curious to know if there's any plans to expand the program. I know it is in only certain cities right now. But what do you see the future of this program?

DJ PAONI: Yeah, I mean, right now, it is in those cities. We are definitely looking to expand the program beyond-- beyond these certain cities. We're looking at kind of the whole ecosystem approach when it comes to supporting these businesses. And the projects right now are planned to be standalone engagements. But very often, you see these participants, they get involved in these businesses, and then they remain engaged because they see the-- the impact that they have on these organizations.

So for the second half of 2021, we're going to continue this. We're going to conduct additional rounds of engagements in the US, as well as we're going to expand the program internationally to Brazil, to South Africa, and the United Kingdom. So this program is just at the very beginning here.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: How do you even begin to choose, DJ, the companies that can participate in this, and what's the criteria?

DJ PAONI: Yeah, so how we select it is, you know, we thought it was important to reach as many people and as many businesses as possible. And so in this case, we worked with a program partner, Pyxera Global, to really get this implemented. They're a non-for-profit based in DC that we've worked with for almost a decade. And they helped us establish a number of partnerships with other organizations, such as Black chambers of commerce in each of the cities, so that we can cast a very wide net for businesses to apply to the program.

And at the end of the day, you know, Pyxera really made this happen. But as you-- as I was going down the path before, the criteria was you had to be a Black-owned business or social enterprise located in one of those cities, founded in the US. You had to be under 50 employees as well. So this was for, you know, the smaller companies that might not have the resources available to them to really get to where they need to be from a business standpoint.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, DJ Paoni, President of SAP North America, thanks so much for joining us today.