By: Billy Boucher, CEO, Desjardins Ontario Credit Union
Our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic starts and ends with business. In this blog series, we look at the different ways Canadian businesses have contributed to helping lead our recovery.
We’ve heard it countless times, but it bears repeating: small business is at the heart of every community and the engine of our economy.
Never has this been more evident than during a global pandemic where the success of our recovery will be dictated, in large part, by how they emerge from one of the most challenging periods of our lives.
Knowing this, what is our duty as organizations and as citizens to the business owners – and their employees – who keep the lights on running our neighbourhood shops, local restaurants, and community stores?
Out of economic survival but also by necessity due to closing of borders, the “Buy Local” movement gained significant traction since the spring of 2020, and the altruism behind it was palpable. For the common good, the “sacrifice” of having less choice, of waiting in line and of potentially paying a bit more, was worth it.
As a financial cooperative, we’ve always embraced the idea of betting on ourselves as a collective. Buoyed by the strength and resilience of our members, clients and employees, and working together to get us through the darkest days and investing in the economic health and sustainability of our communities.
At Desjardins, we responded to 2.5 million requests to ease the financial burden of our clients during the pandemic. We understood early on that there was no one-size-fits-all solution and relief measures were carried out with flexibility as our guiding principle.
No one had a playbook to navigate these unchartered waters, but we relied on each other to get to the other side. With the worst of it hopefully behind us, and as the economy slowly re-opens, what’s left of our willingness to “pay the price” to support local businesses?
A key theme that surfaced over the past year is self sufficiency. With the ongoing disruptions to supply chains worldwide, as well as labour shortages, our ability to come up with local solutions to global challenges has been and will continue to be crucial.
Our small business owners play a critical role in this. Their ability to adapt is uncanny, but we need to ensure they have the support mechanisms to move with the changing times so they can continue to flourish.
As entrepreneurs, they know going in things won’t always go smoothly, and that obstacles are inevitable. But a bump in the road shouldn’t mean the end of the ride.
Which is why we’ve decided, through our GoodSpark Grants program, to give 150 small businesses across Canada $20,000 – for a total amount of $3M – to jump-start their efforts to fund innovative ideas that will help modernize their operations, invest in their employees and work toward a greater emphasis on sustainable development. These grants will help businesses thrive and adapt for their future, so that they can continue to support the resiliency of our local economies.
We appreciate that access to capital remains a significant barrier to small business owners, but the power of cooperation is the ability and willingness to lift each other up during tough times and we’re proud to be able to do that.
Not knowing what tomorrow brings has always been part of life, but the pandemic has taught us that making contingency plans matter.
Financial institutions have stepped up admirably during the past 20 months to lessen the burden on small business owners. But the work is far from over.
Now, the burden of proof rests on all of us to apply the lessons we learned and carve out a new path toward a more inclusive and equitable recovery.