Small businesses connect to create more equitable, resilient economy
Mariah McKay combines her commitments to community organizing, social justice and business equity in her work with the Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance (SIMBA), a nonprofit association she founded in 2017 to organize consumers, businesses and partners to create a more equitable, resilient local economy.
The vision is to pull together locally-owned, values-driven for-profit and nonprofit businesses that seek to measure their success based on their quadruple bottom line, meaning their impact on people, profit, planet and policy.
"We do not discriminate between for-profit and nonprofit businesses because we believe both corporate models create social impact," she said. "We seek to eliminate racial and wealth disparities in business ownership, distributing ownership throughout our economy, rather than having one entity or a few own most businesses.
"We seek to reform and change the current economy to one that creates more equitable and shared opportunities," said Mariah. "We would like to democratize the workplace.
"Too many businesses are run like tyrannies, but we promote a worker leadership-sharing model that unlocks potential for collective thriving, rather than a few thriving."
SIMBA has about 100 members—businesses and consumers. Individuals contribute at least $5, and businesses have a sliding scale based on three tiers of benefits in five categories: marketing, customer development, networking, technical assistance and advocacy.
"The benefit of belonging is clear in this COVID crisis. Many businesses thought they were doing fine or were stuck in a routine, but COVID disrupted their operations," Mariah said. "They realize if they do not organize collectively, it may diminish their ability to stay in business.
With funds from the CARES Act, SIMBA launched an education campaign on the importance of supporting local businesses when possible, rather than chain stores, online giants or monopolies. The part distributed in Spokane helps small businesses access e-commerce for online sales. Funds are also going for one-on-one consulting to troubleshoot on 12 topics, including accounting, human resources and grant sources, she said.
SIMBA made recordings on those topics, so businesses can listen to them online. It also hosts an online marketplace listing goods and services people can buy through PayPal, business websites or other means.
"It's an online Main Street, where customers can discover local businesses collectively marketing in competition with mega-businesses," Mariah said.
In September, the City of Spokane funded the Live Local Campaign. It launched Oct. 13. The campaign includes an online shopping marketplace, livelocalinw.com. Nearly 500 businesses that signed up include retailers, restaurants and service providers.
"We need local collaboration to respond to national monopolies and COVID, so local businesses survive individually and thrive together," she said.
SIMBA leads the Live Local coalition with the Inland Northwest Business Alliance, North Monroe Business District, Garfield Business District, South Perry Business Association, Spokane Arts and the Multi-Ethnic Business Association.
Mariah has a stake in Spokane, though she left after graduating in 2002 from the mainstream Mead High School and M.E.A.D. Alternative High School. Her great-grandfather moved to Spokane from Montana in the 1930s. Her father, an electrical engineer, married her mother, who moved to Spokane to study at Whitworth University and taught elementary school.
"In high school, I was part of a religious minority, the only Unitarian Universalist in either school," said Mariah, whose faith shaped her early commitment to community organizing and social justice.
In high school, she was president of the school diversity club, which promoted inclusivity and fought hate speech against LGBTQ students. She was a percussionist in band, on the speech and debate team, and in the environment club.
"I could not have stood up for issues without the backing of the Unitarian Universalist Church," she said. "It gave me the example of being human and living in community with a different world view."
Mariah decided to go away for college to study biochemistry at Reed College in Portland, graduating in 2006. There she found emphasis on a systems approach to understanding the world.
"I went to study science to understand human behavior, but gradually realized my passion for creating social change by challenging social, racial and economic injustice," she said.
In Mead, a suburb, she had not experienced Spokane as an urban culture, at least not like what she found in Portland. She thought it was unfair Spokane lacked the resources Portland had for a cosmopolitan urban life where young people could connect.
When she moved back, her mother had moved to downtown Spokane, and Mariah came to work with KYRS, where she discovered Spokane does have a diverse urban life.
"I could see myself living in Spokane and being a community member for the first time," said Mariah, who became involved in local political causes and community development. From 2008 to 2011, she worked at Community Minded Enterprises after the bottom fell out of the economy, "heisted by the one percent," she said. Programs to improve health care, youth concerns and other programs were de-funded.
"Potential work for improving the community collapsed because the economy was allowed to enrich a few at the expense of all," she said.
That propelled Mariah into state politics, where she found a stalemate between Republicans and Democrats. She was a legislative aide in 2011 with then Rep. Lisa Brown. She also worked three years with Washington CAN (Community Action Network), first in Olympia and after 2014 in Spokane.
She returned to Spokane believing grassroots change was necessary for political change. With CAN, she served on 17 local, state and federal campaigns for legislative reform on immigration, health care and tax policy.
She learned that people with less to lose—people of color, low-income and marginalized individuals—can work together to be powerful agents of change by sharing their stories and learning to employ effective community organizing techniques.
Seeing no path for advancement with CAN headquartered in Seattle, she worked three years with the Spokane Regional Health District in the health promotion division of the Healthy Communities Team on Walk-Bike-Bus and Safe Routes to School.
"At CAN, we lacked funds and relied on people power. At the health district, we had funds to create positive behavior change campaigns, but we weren't empowered to address root causes," Mariah said.
After the 2016 election, she realized she wanted to use her skills, not in local government but in building a values-driven business coalition in Eastern Washington.
In November 2017, she began interviewing local business owners to find what benefits and services they might want from a membership organization. She formed SIMBA as a nonprofit in March 2018.
For information, call 939-0015.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2020