Susan Au Allen is founder, national president and CEO of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation. A graduate of Antioch School of Law and Georgetown University with an LL.M. in international law, Allen founded USPAACC with a group of business and civic leaders in Washington, D.C., and California. The organization was formed to bring the diverse Pan Asian American business and professional people together as one unified voice in business, commerce and trade.
Here, Allen discusses Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the supply chain and the impact of COVID-19 on these business owners, as well as challenges and opportunities in the post-pandemic environment.
What is the state of Asian American-owned businesses in the supply chain?
The speed at which COVID-19 turned into a global pandemic led to a massive shock to the status quo. It plunged most industry sectors into crisis mode. Many businesses of every size were ill-prepared for the distressing and disruptive impacts of the pandemic.
Asian American businesses were among the hardest-hit because of the sectors many are concentrated in — high contact services such as food services, accommodation, retail, personal care, nail salon and educational services. USPAACC’s members who experienced bottlenecks and steep declines in operations are in these businesses.
They have been adversely affected as pandemic
restrictions, lockdowns and social distancing protocols were enforced. Soon,
the ripple effect was felt where Asian American businesses have a strong physical
presence, most notably in large metropolitan areas in California, New York, Texas
and other major markets.
is USPAACC helping its members cope with these challenges?
The Asian American business community is fighting menacing battles on two fronts: the coronavirus pandemic and the pandemic of racism.
The public health crisis has exposed vulnerabilities and
dependencies in the production strategies and supply chains of businesses just
about everywhere. In supply-chain
management, a well-thought-out offense is always the best defense. Agility, innovation
and emergency preparedness should be the hallmarks of success for all
businesses, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.
At the onset of the pandemic last year, USPAACC leveraged the power of technology to virtually reach out to our members nationwide and to tap a new audience. Since then, we have held over 20 LiveTALK webinars on topical issues such as the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, cash flow management and how to do business with Fortune 1000 corporations in essential products and services industries. These webinars garnered over 90,000 viewers in the first nine months of the pandemic.
We also held seven virtual 1-on-1 Business Matchmaking Meetings among Fortune 1000 corporations, federal agencies and our Asian American MBEs regarding essential services and products. And our business executive coaching program — Business Express: Ready Set Grow workshops — took on new significance, as the pandemic posed new, difficult and important issues to our member entrepreneurs.
Our social media and email campaigns continue to inform, educate and share best practices to our members, so that they can plan, anticipate and evaluate risks, keep abreast of trends, spot issues early and take advantage of available financial aid programs and opportunities offered across the country. We help our members weather the storm, survive and thrive in the mainstream — becoming more resilient in future crises.
As regards the pandemic of racism, fear and trauma have arisen among Asian American business owners and the rest of the community. Tensions are high; emotions are even higher. Amid the surge in violence and wanton display of prejudice against Asian Americans, merely condemning heinous acts and other pernicious expressions of racism is not enough. We call for calm; go beyond rhetoric — especially talking into an echo chamber — and act. We ask all Americans to do more to repel racism on every level and protect the primacy of reason, diversity and inclusion, tolerance, dignity and mutual respect.
We have issued a public manifesto that spells out a five-point purposeful action plan to combat these racist acts against our community. We have asked our constituents, stakeholders and the wider public for support. And we will do more and continue to speak up to be heard. We have reached out to other communities to learn from each other. None of us should ever be complicit in our silence when faced with any form of hate.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for Asian American-owned businesses in 2021 and beyond?
This pandemic has significantly and permanently altered the rules of the digital game. It has underscored the value of innovation and the application of digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. Large corporations with existing digital solutions were able to immediately deploy their tech-based arsenal to mitigate the adverse effects of the disruptions. Small and medium-sized enterprises, meanwhile, had to adopt digital transformation to survive. Clearly, early adopters of digital technology gained the most and were better positioned to respond to the crisis. For the rest, however, the pandemic was a brutal wake-up call.
One of the challenges facing Asian American businesses and other small and medium-sized enterprises is that paradigm shifts — e.g., moving the human component to technology-based processes — are happening now and will continue well into the future. We are at an inflection point. Soon, painful transitions to the next normal will occur. For most — if not all — the recovery will be digital-based.
While the path forward for many Asian American and other minority businesses remain uncertain, one thing is clear: They must leverage new technology to survive and thrive. Adapt or be left behind. They will be better served by being strategic in their adoption of digital technology. Start small; then scale up. Be ambitious but pragmatic.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented time of disruption. But this is also the time of great innovation and opportunities. Going forward, businesses across industries will become more agile, resilient, collaborative and digitally networked with their customers, suppliers and stakeholders. New technology will be the economic game-changer as the world prepares for the great reset. Adopting advanced technology is no longer an option for enterprises; it is now a strategic business imperative. It will be the backbone of a smarter, robust business. The effects of digital innovation will ripple out across industries. The net impact is a brighter future for all.
What are USPAACC’s key plans and initiatives for 2021 to help its members succeed in the new normal?
Last year, at USPAACC’s 35th Anniversary Jade Jubilee celebration, we had to pivot and offer our members a monthslong virtual platform in place of in-person events. It has been a long and arduous journey for our organization. Despite the challenges, we have maintained a proud track record of opening doors to business opportunities for our members. One thing that remains constant is our commitment to evolving and adjusting our programs in response to the ever-changing needs of our members.
We will continue to offer our signature programs to provide more opportunities and fresh perspectives for the benefit of our members — Asian American minority businesses, corporations, government agencies and large nonprofits. The flagship programs include Chief Procurement Officers or CPO Forum, Chief Technology Officers & Chief Information Officers or CTO & CIO Forum, Doing Business with … series, Fast 100 Asian American Businesses, “What’s Your Pitch” Innovation Meets the Market, 1-on-1 Business Matchmaking Meetings, Supplier Diversity and Procurement Leadership Caucus, LiveTALK webinars, Employee Business Resource Group Leadership Caucus and many more programs in the pipeline.
This year, we will provide a hybrid CelebrASIAN Business + Procurement Conference — one virtually held in June [8-10], followed by an in-person event in November. Nothing is quite the same as being in the room with top-caliber business owners. There is something magical that happens when people connect in-person, and new opportunities arise.
We will also continue to shine the spotlight on success stories of our members. Many have participated in our CelebrASIAN conference in past years, building new connections and earning contracts from Fortune 1000 corporations and government agencies. We look forward to sustaining a wellspring of success stories arising from our events.