It’s a new year, and Nicole Obi has a new job: Leading the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, a small team working to uplift Black businesses across the Commonwealth.
Obi started as BECMA’s president and CEO Monday, succeeding Segun Idowu, who joined the Wu administration as Boston’s chief of economic opportunity and inclusion this week. (Five new team members are also slated to start at BECMA this month.)
A self-described “operator,” Obi will draw from over two decades of experience at multiple startups — Abuzz Corp., Body Shop Digital, Enterprise Advisors — and Fidelity Investments. In her childhood, she got her start slinging copies of The Boston Sunday Globe onto porches in Framingham. Those entrepreneurial roots made BECMA a natural fit when she began as a consultant there in May 2020, before eventually becoming its vice president of member experience and engagement.
Joining, Obi said, “was pretty easy math.”
“My focus now is going to be to get the organization built out with staff, with processes, with systems so that we can scale and sustain the work we’re doing,” she added.
On Wednesday, Obi chatted with the Globe about the future. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. What are your goals in your new role?
A. My biggest priority for the organization is to close the racial wealth gap using four pillars.
One is placement, which means getting Black people into the skilled workforce — whether life sciences, digital, or the clean economy — as well as management and decision-making roles on boards and commissions.
Another pillar is around ownership. The main driver behind the average net worth of Black households is based in part upon the low level of homeownership. We need for Black business owners to have a greater equity stake in the businesses that they run through a myriad of ways. One of them is by helping two of our members buy the buildings they’ve been renting.
Then, there’s purchasing [and] commerce. And the last pillar is entrepreneurship. Whether it’s startup entrepreneurs or existing entrepreneurs, how can we support them with getting the resources that they need?
Q. And the proudest moments from your tenure so far?
A. When I joined in May , we were just a few months into COVID as a nation. It was already evident that that even right here in Massachusetts, most of our Black-owned businesses were already on the brink of failure. So my first six months were focused on helping the Black residents across the Commonwealth get the COVID relief they needed to survive the downturn.
Once 2021 came, I wanted to pivot away from just surviving COVID and think about what’s next.
I redefined and rolled out membership. There’s no one-size-fits-all in our organization. We have individual members — these are Black folks who are professionals or residents looking to engage. But the majority of membership is comprised of different Black-owned businesses. And then I created a new type of membership for our allies. They are looking to discount or donate their goods and services, purchase and hire from Black-owned businesses, and support our advocacy efforts.
Q. Any other plans?
A. We’re interested in making sure that we’re representing the MA part of our name and expanding beyond the Greater Boston area. We did a tour of Western Massachusetts, Springfield, and Worcester this summer.
But the thing is to remember is we’re almost agnostic to whether people are members or not. If someone has needs that fall into an area where we feel that we can be supportive, we support them.