Out of an abundance of caution, the 2020 Philadelphia Diversity and Inclusion Conference has been postponed until October 5-6, 2020. Visit www.diphilly.com for ongoing updates and new registration information.
Yasmine Mustafa is no stranger to lifting voices out of the shadows. The Palestinian-American and former undocumented immigrant spent years being invisible before finding her platform and her power.
Now Mustafa, the co-founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based technology company ROAR for Good, is working to make sure that the voices on the margins are empowered. Mustafa’s desire to turn Philadelphia into a hub for empowering diverse communities is one of the reasons she is the vice-chair of the Philadelphia Diversity & Inclusion Conference, which meets October 5-6.
Mustafa is part of a wave of minority women entrepreneurs who have combined business ownership with a mission for social good. Women-owned businesses now make up 42 percent of all businesses, with revenue nearing $2 trillion, and women of color nearly half of those businesses.
Highlighting the empowerment and entrepreneurship of diverse communities is one of the keystones of the Philadelphia Diversity & Inclusion Conference, which features CEOs and entrepreneurs who have integrated an emphasis on the social good and diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of their organizations’ ethos.
As a company founded upon the social good and empowering diverse voices, ROAR for Good has gained international recognition for its safety products for hospitality workers, including the platform AlwaysOn, which helps hotel housekeepers - many of whom are targeted for violence because of their own legal status - signal when they are being attacked.
Even with the accolades, Mustafa acknowledges that she continues to face challenges in drawing funders for her efforts.
“It hasn’t been easy, especially in the last couple of years,” she said. “The perception… is that it’s easier to raise money because there are so many new sources of funding available. My experience has been that because these groups are new. They are being conservative in terms of who they will fund.”
She also admits that for now, being located in Philadelphia isn’t as advantageous as being headquartered in the Silicon Valley or New York, where venture capital is more readily accessible. But that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to build ROAR for Good’s brand, and in the process, raise the visibility of Philadelphia’s social entrepreneurship sector. That includes the themes of social impact that will be discussed at next month’s conference, which features panels on intersectional approaches to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“For me, it’s all about the purpose,” she said. “It’s about what we do. There’s a grander vision. ROAR for Good gives voice to the voiceless. It’s easy to keep motivated because…I was undocumented.”
She added that protecting the “little Yasmines” who may be vulnerable keeps her motivated to do more. She believes Philadelphia is uniquely positioned to become a model for small and minority business growth.
“Philly has an opportunity,” Mustafa said. “Our poverty levels are terrible. Starting businesses is a channel to help people out of poverty.”
The Philadelphia Diversity & Inclusion Conference has attracted some of the top names in business and academia. (Courtesy Philadelphia Diversity & Inclusion Conference)
While nearly a quarter of Philadelphians live below the poverty line, numerous groups, including the Chamber of Commerce of Greater of Philadelphia, note that the city and region are becoming home to an increasing number of entrepreneurs, particularly those of color and immigrants.
The city and region also have an embedded advantage with the number of colleges and universities in the area, and the increasing number of college graduates staying after graduation. To address ways in which diverse pipelines can fill the local employment and entrepreneurship sectors, the Diversity & Inclusion Conference features sessions on young professionals diverse talent and employee resource groups.
“The talent pool here is a huge asset to Philadelphia,” said Mustafa, an alumna of Temple University, which - along with PHL Diversity and Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau Foundation - is co-sponsoring the conference.
Mustafa’s desire to turn Philadelphia into a hub for diverse entrepreneurs is another reason she has been involved with the Diversity & Inclusion Conference. She said she has been struck by the success of the conference and the desire by many stakeholders to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“More companies are realizing they need to make more of an effort,” she said. “The conference is also so action oriented that attendees come away with lessons learned.”
Some of the other takeaways conference attendees leave with include an on-site unconscious bias survey, and best practice action plans. Moreover, the conference emphasizes strong cross collaboration across sectors.
As the conference grows, Mustafa hopes the city’s reputation does as well, particularly in developing a strong social impact sector that emphasizes diverse entrepreneurship for the greater good. She envisions Philadelphia becoming home to more Certified B corporations (a certified social enterprise) like ROAR for Good, ImpactPHL, Untours Foundation, and Social Venture Circle.
Like she’s done for so many years on many levels, Mustafa is eager to take on that challenge and help to transform Philadelphia into the city that roars for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Murali Balaji is a former journalist and academic who works as a diversity consultant in the Philadelphia area.