Multi-Ethnic Business Assn. helps businesses start, grow, succeed
Ben Cabildo engages with 300 businesses through the Multi-Ethnic Business Association (MEBA)— aka AHANA (African Hispanic Asian Native American)—to help businesses start, grow, secure grants and loans, and access counseling to strengthen their place in the economy.
"With COVID, it has been a busy year helping businesses navigate the many applications for federal, state, local and private grants and loans," he said. "We have successfully helped about 200 businesses receive grants and loans, and distributed to them PPE like masks, sanitizer and thermometers. With a grant from the Department of Health, we are providing COVID-related safety instructions and information."
Collaborating with the Hispanic Business Professional Association, Refugee Connections, the Filipino American Association and the Vietnamese Association, MEBA has also informed businesses on employment mandates to protect customers and employers.
AHANA started in 1998 and 10 years later merged with Community-Minded Enterprises when Ben was on staff there. He retired last year and restarted AHANA as the MEBA, nurturing leaders who can carry it on.
Restarting AHANA as the Multi-Ethnic Business Association, his goal is to help start and build the capacity of businesses, give workshops, offer one-on-one counsel and advocate for access to capital and contracting opportunities.
Over the early years, he had previously worked with about 100 businesses, but expanded this year, especially with opportunities and funding available because of COVID.
"We are also working to have banks change their guidelines for lending to small businesses, so they are less strict and more equitable and accessible to minority businesses," Ben said.
He is exploring a new model with an organization in Seattle called Credit Lab to help multi-ethnic communities access capital with low or no interest.
"I am working to establish a lending program for multi-ethnic businesses to start up with no interest or low interest," he said. "Several banks are interested in exploring the idea."
MEBA also urges private businesses, and city, county and state governments to hire minority contractors for services in technology, plumbing, engineering, electrical, marketing and other fields.
"Government and private industry with contract opportunities need to open their doors and diversify their contracts and suppliers," he said. "Previously, I've known contractors who had to move to Seattle to have enough business. We are talking with various leaders from Avista and the City of Spokane to diversify their suppliers and vendors."
Ben is grooming others to lead MEBA so he can continue nurturing it, but step back a bit. He works from his home and visits people in their offices.
Ben immigrated from the Philippines where he worked from the ages of seven to 14, after his mother left in 1957 to come to Seattle to work and save money to bring her children. He, his older sister and older brother stayed with a friend and continued in school. Their father had died when Ben was a baby.
At seven, Ben started three businesses to have enough money to eat. Mornings before school, he went to the bakery and picked up bread, which he sold house to house and on the streets. After school, he sold cigarettes and chewing gum to some of the thousands of jeepney drivers who transported people in Manila. He also worked in the fields, riding water buffalos and hauling coconuts to the market.
In 1963, he and his sister came to Seattle. His brother stayed in the Philippines because of health problems. Ben started at junior high in West Seattle. After graduating from West Seattle High School, he joined the army, served two years in Vietnam and was honorably discharged.
While he was studying political science at the University of Washington, he began organizing in Chinatown. In 1970, he started an international drop-in center to help neglected Asian seniors who lived and died alone in hotels. Filipinos had come to the U.S. in the 1930s to work in farm fields, but women were not permitted to come, so the men lived alone.
The men could come to the senior center to socialize and connect with city services. He recruited medical and social service students to visit seniors in hotels, and recruited student journalists to connect them and share their stories.
After four years, he left that program, which continues today, and helped at a center for Asian youth to divert them from getting in trouble. He volunteered there for three years in the 1970s. Ben did this volunteer work while going to college, working as a diesel mechanic at Burlington Northern, then working at Providence Hospital and organizing a service employees union.
"I didn't sleep much," he said of youthful years working, organizing and volunteering.
Two other experiences informed his commitment to social justice: 1) In 1975 when he was involved in challenging white supremacists who opposed bussing, he was arrested and beaten by Seattle police and required to do 30 days of community service. 2) In the 1980s, he went back to the Philippines and participated in the student movement against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.
In the late 1980s, Ben moved to Oakland, Calif., to work with Kaiser Permanente as a litigation examiner and union leader, before moving in 1992 to Spokane, where his sister had bought some rental houses. She wanted him to live there to manage them.
"At first, I was hesitant about Spokane, but I fell in love with it because it was spacious, clean and had little traffic," Ben said.
"We could buy a house for $20,000 on contract. I did renovations and sold houses to buy more houses. I could buy the houses with no money down, because the houses needed repairs and people wanted to get out of them. We just wrote a contract."
Ben helped a woman by selling one of his houses on contract without a downpayment so she could open a day care for older people. She was successful and now owns a retreat center. He and AHANA helped others start businesses, like Victor Azar's restaurant business, Williams Seafood and Warrior Electric.
"Before AHANA, I did anti-discrimination work, building Unity in Action, which brought together human rights advocates to create a response to any violence against multi-ethnic community members," he said.
"We intervened when an African American youth was criminalized for being in a fight at the Fairgrounds, organizing an informational picket in front of City Hall in 1994," he added.
Unity in Action liquidated and joined anti-racism efforts at Gonzaga University that led to the Congress on Race Relations.
Committed to start an economic justice movement, Ben formed AHANA to help businesses start, get licenses, build websites and find funding. The Sacred Heart Foundation liked what he was doing. It funded AHANA for five years and provided office space, first at the former Maryknoll School and then at Fifth and Browne.
Ben was a volunteer director with AHANA at first, earning a living by managing rental apartments and houses. With the funding from Sacred Heart Foundation, the board hired him as the paid executive director.
"I was also involved with the NAACP Spokane, which was active in social justice under Eileen Thomas' leadership. She was a strong voice for black people and other minorities," he said. "Spokane has had many progressives working for justice."
Ben then began working with Community-Minded Enterprises (CME) on a Department of Health grant, traveling statewide to enroll children in the state children's health program. He managed Community-Minded TV for two years, expanding the media voice to bring in more minorities, before retiring and reviving AHANA, which he did sporadically under CME.
For information, call 999-5365, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ahana-meba.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2021