Kathleen Clark is committed to closing the racial wealth gap one new small-business owner at a time.
Clark is the senior director of community and economic development at $161 million asset Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca, N.Y. She aims to give small-business owners—especially people of color and indigenous populations—the help they need to succeed.
“I see small-business ownership as a means to combat the racial wealth gap, as well as the gender and racial wage gap,” Clark says.
She says Alternatives Federal’s small-business services act as “game changers” by helping members stuck in low-paying jobs create small businesses so they can build better lives.
Sitting down with current and potential business owners to share information is essential, even during a pandemic. In 2020, Clark and her team held 670 consultations with business owners, 71% of whom were women and 45% who were people of color.
“When the pandemic hit, most of them did not know where their next dollar was coming from and what the future of their business would be,” Clark says.
“They needed someone who understood the stress they were under, allowed them to be human, and problem-solved with them so they could pick themselves up and return to their businesses to be leaders for their staff, families, and community,” she says.
Alternatives Federal is a community development credit union focused on serving individuals and families with limited incomes, as well as other marginalized communities. Clark and her team build partnerships with community organizations that people already trust.
The new members who join through these partnerships are often surprised to learn Alternatives Federal can help them repair their credit, become homeowners, and build businesses.
“I’ve had more than one person break down in tears and say, ‘I can’t believe you can do this,’” Clark says.
She relies on “a lot of lists” to accomplish her goals and maintain progress, while still reserving time to work one-on-one with members and partners. As the mother of two girls ages 19 and 10, Clark believes in “trying to leave things better than you found them.”
“I feel pretty darn lucky to be able to focus my career on working to eliminate systemic racism in the financial services industry,” she says.