BER21: Supporting the Asian Business community through Covid-19

Asian Business Chamber of Commerce

This blog post was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2021.

The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 2 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2021, on Industry and Innovation: Pathways to Prosperity

Click here to read the Review.

In mid-2020 the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce (ABCC) Executive Committee identified a significant challenge facing the Asian Business Community. While many Asian business owners were being significantly impacted by COVID-19, the information on the support available, and steps they should take to ensure their businesses are COVID secure, was not cutting through to all areas.

Primary barriers included language, with most materials being in English; information on support and advice being primarily communicated through traditional business media, social media and news sources, rather than local Asian media and community channels; and a digital divide whereby exclusively online information was inaccessible to some business owners in the community. There were also some myths and misconceptions circulating within parts of the Asian community, suggesting, for example, that businesses would be required to pay back grant funding or have to pay a professional to complete their applications.

As a result, the ABCC launched a campaign to address these barriers and ensure Asian businesses have the information they need to survive and thrive through this challenging period.

Phase 1 of the campaign was delivered between 9th July and 28th August 2020. It was funded by the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and focused on connecting Asian business owners to grants, advice and support. We shared advertisements & resources in English, Urdu, Punjabi & Bengali and ran a community engagement and promotion campaign with local organisations and Asian media outlets to promote available support.

I also manned a multilingual telephone helpline, to answer queries in English, Urdu, Punjabi & Bengali – unexpectedly, an emotionally challenging experience. The local Asian business community is an integral and vibrant part of Greater Birmingham, and many established, previously successful businesses in this community were destroyed by the pandemic. Businesses calling the helpline were triaged to assess their needs and offered introductory advice on the government and GBS LEP backed schemes, support and grants available to them. Those requiring further support were then referred to either the GBS LEP Growth Hub or one of four volunteer expert advisors – SME Outsourcing, Wildings Solicitors and The HR Department – who provided 30 minutes of pro bono advice and guidance, with support available in a variety of languages.

The second phase of the campaign built on this, with funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham City Council, who – like the GBS LEP – recognised the urgent need to ensure Birmingham’s Asian community had access to the support on offer amid the ongoing crisis. This phase similarly focused on connecting Asian business owners to grants, advice and support. It was scheduled to run for 6 weeks from the 14th September to the 1st November, which was extended to the 20th November by the ABCC due to significant changes surrounding national lockdown and the tiers system at that time.

This second phase built on the first, to additionally include 4 professionally translated briefing papers on COVID-19 guidance – specifically on COVID secure business practices, social distancing, COVID-19 symptoms  in English, Urdu, Punjabi & Bengali, 12 briefing videos, featuring members of the Asian Business community in English, Urdu, Punjabi & Bengali, and a renewed social media campaign. It also continued the telephone helpline and community engagement and promotion.

Calls were primarily from West Midlands businesses, however, the campaign reached was unprecedented and we also supported businesses from London and Bradford.  Briefing videos received over 6000 views on Twitter and Facebook, and the campaign hashtag, #ABCCSupport is estimated to have reached 1.9million accounts. The campaign was picked up by six Asian media outlets, increasing awareness of key business support and grant programmes beyond those contacting the helpline, and received support from eight other, external institutions with direct connections to the local Asian community: the Nishkam Centre, Bahu Trust UK, CRÈME at Aston University, The Council of Sikh Gurdwaras, iSE, the Midlands business Leadership Academy, the National Sikh Police Association and Handsworth Forum.

We also shared communications toolkits with these supporters and other local stakeholders and 20 Public sector, media, community and business organisations and almost 100 individuals and businesses directly supported the campaign by referring contacts to the ABCC helpline or sharing content on social media.

Again, the helpline received calls from businesses in various languages, which were triaged to assess needs and offered introductory advice. Those requiring further support were referred to either the GBS LEP Growth Hub or our fantastic volunteer expert advisors, for 30 minutes of pro bono advice and guidance, with support available in a variety of languages.

Between both phases, this helpline received over 100 calls, with over 80 businesses receiving triaging and introductory advice and around half of these going on to receive further support from either the GBS LEP Growth Hub or 30 minutes of pro bono advice and guidance from our fantastic volunteer expert advisors, in a variety of languages. Over £27,500 of local Authority Coronavirus Discretionary Grants alone were secured by businesses as a result of this support (that we know of – we suspect that figure is in fact significantly higher).

Formed in 1987, the ABCC has a long history in supporting the vast variety of diverse, Asian businesses that operate in the West Midlands. We exist, as part of the Greater Birmingham Chambers, to champion their successes, be firm in the face of adversity, and supportive through tough times. Through this campaign, we hope to have equipped local Asian businesses to weather the storm of the ongoing pandemic, so that they can return to prosperity once again as we move out of restrictive measures.

Anjum Khan
Director, Asian Business Chamber of Commerce