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Urges socializing among people of different power

AHANA helps minorities attain American dream

By Philip Culbertson

Ben Cabildo came to the United States from the Philippines in the early 1960s in hopes of attaining the American dream. 

Ben Cabildo
Ben Cabildo

Applying what he learned in 30 years as a financial counselor, he established the African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American (AHANA) business and professional association to help others achieve their dreams, too.

Ben settled in Seattle in 1963.  After high school, he joined the army and served two years in Vietnam.   After Vietnam, he became a financial advisor. 

In 1999, he developed the idea of AHANA for the minorities—the main, but not exclusive, demographic the organization serves.  It is now spreading across the state to Seattle.

“We help everybody, not just minorities,” Ben remarked.

At first, he worked on his project from a home office. He paid his 13-year-old niece $20 to set up the first AHANA website.

After two years with funding and office space from Sacred Heart Medical Center, AHANA expanded its services and started a business incubation center.

AHANA supports people who lack access to resources for economic development. In 2002, it started a business incubation center for “small businesses on the fast track,” Ben said.

An AHANA monthly workshop series gives growth strategies to assist a business’ needs to develop “an innovative competitive edge in the global market,” to learn marketing and other concepts for starting a small business.

Last spring, AHANA was approved to manage a micro-lending program that loans small businesses up to $12,000, adding to the options it offers.  In such ways, this organization gives business opportunities to minorities.

By “building a stronger business community through diversity”—AHANA’s motto—Ben said “it contributes to our country.”

From their first meetings at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which Ben attends, the program has moved into an office at Fifth and Browne, then to downtown Spokane in the Regional Business Center and now back to Fifth and Browne.

AHANA expresses Ben’s commitment to follow the Christian calling to help those who are oppressed and to focus on and empower marginalized people, economically and politically. 

One goal is to “be involved in the stewardship the Lord has given us,” he said. His involvement with AHANA has also helped shape his faith, “I’ve grown spiritually.  Without guidance spiritually AHANA would not be successful.”

Faith is important for others involved in the program.  With so many different ethnicities involved, their faiths differ, but many rely on their faith to keep them strong, he said.

AHANA maintains relationships it has built with the businesses that participate, staying in contact with them from the conception of the business into ongoing operations, growth and development, in order to increase their long-term success.

“Our country is evolving.  For us not to realize this would be ignorance,” said Ben.

He understands that, as the nation’s diversity continues to increase, commitment must continue to help those in need, especially minorities.

When walls stand in the way of minorities, AHANA helps break them down, he explained.

Ben believes in the empowerment of all people, that “we all have something to contribute to society. The trick is tapping into that resource and learning how to make that contribution.”

Through dedication to building a stronger business community through diversity, Ben and those involved with AHANA help structure the Spokane region ethnically and help bridge gaps between mainstream businesses and small minority businesses.

For information, call 838-1881 or email ahana@ahanabusiness.org.

Written for The Fig Tree as part of a public relations class at Whitworth College

AHANA capitalizes on global community in region

Grassroots organizer Ben Cabildo fights discrimination because he wants people to be able to respect the American model.

That means Americans need to look beyond their back yards to realize that even in this region, “we live side-by-side with people  from around the globe.

“Do we capitalize on having that global community in our back yard?  Do we appreciate this asset?” he asked.  “Too often people talk of immigrants or indigenous people as a liability and do not treat our global neighbors well in the United States.  Too often they are marginalized, underutilized and violated, rather than welcomed.”

To unite the community to make the environment safe and welcoming to global neighbors, the AHANA—African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American—business and professional organization announced in November the Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurial Program to mentor and train youth to succeed in business.

Launched with a $25,000 grant from the Comcast Foundation, the program will identify and enroll motivated youth and young adults from 16 to 30 to give them a start in being self-sufficient and successful in business.

The Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurial Program will continue AHANA’s approach.

Meng Xiong, a graduate student at Gonzaga University involved in this program, said many youth do not realize there is life outside the pop culture of sports icons and superstars, whose success is impossible for most to achieve.

“Many see no future, so we want to give youth focus and vision to see another way.  What is not in front of youth does not exist for them,” he said.

Ben said the youth program will draw young people into AHANA’s process of helping them network with each other and the mainstream business community.

AHANA announced the program at an open house on Nov. 17 in its new office.  Ben expects that in three years AHANA will be in its own building.

In addition, Ben plans a state conference in May to draw people from other areas of Washington.

“We need to have ethnic members in decision-making bodies,” he said, pointing out that there are many educated and professional minority people, but “we fail to tap their unique creativity.  Historically, we used immigrants as cheap labor in sweatshops and fields, failing to build on their enthusiasm and hard work.”

As an immigrant who bought into the American dream, Ben found little support to help him fulfill that dream.  His mother left the Philippines in 1957 and came to the United States.  By working seven years in a Chinese laundry, she earned enough money to bring her children to Seattle when Ben was 14. 

If we practice indifference to our global neighbors here, how can we have a liberating agenda abroad?   If we don’t treat people well, how can people in their home countries trust us?

“It is to our advantage to understand the world population.  Americans are just five percent of the world.  If we don’t do business overseas, we will go bankrupt.  We need to do more than complain about losing manufacturing and technology jobs by outsourcing to India.”

Ben is optimistic that if Americans change what they do in this country and use the presence of the global population here, they can develop global connections that will improve their competitive edge and innovation.

He calls for understanding that equal relationships would mean there would not be haves and have nots, powerful and weak.

We celebrate our generosity in volunteering, providing homeless shelters, serving street kids and giving disaster relief, but we need to do more than help the poor,” Ben said.  “We need to socialize with them.  When we socialize with someone we consider of lesser power or who does not look like us, we lose power over that person and find opportunity to learn from people different from us.

“I rode water buffalo as a child in the Philippines.  At seven, I was an entrepreneur selling things in the street,” he said.  “Here, I have learned from other people.”

On that philosophy, he founded AHANA to bring people together as equal partners of equal value to build a healthy, prosperous Spokane.  AHANA brings more dollars to the region and has created jobs for people of all races, not just people of color.

“We must address economic inequities and provide tools for people to change the balance of power and the way people see people of color,” Ben said.  “For economic development, we need a robust minority business community.”

AHANA urges members to reach out to build friendships with each other and mainstream businesses.  Ben sees it as a temporary organization to bring people together until they are fully integrated into the business community.

So he helps struggling businesses write business plans, evaluate strategies, develop marketing strategies, find loan packages and address other issues.

AHANA also recruits members of the minority workforce for major corporations and promotes government contracts among minority businesses.

Ben takes the adage from development ministries, a step further:  “If you give someone a fish, you feed one person for a day.  If you teach people to fish, they can feed themselves.  If you own the pond you decide what fish to stock and control how it is run.”

For information, call 838-1881.



By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © December 2005