Black Pound Day: Breaking financial barriers less than a year after George Floyd

Phoebe Dampare Osei
·7 min read
BPD’s founder, Swiss, at the Birmingham Black Pound Day Market Event. Credit Elijah Thompson
BPD’s founder, Swiss, at the Birmingham Black Pound Day Market Event. Credit Elijah Thompson

The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor shone a spotlight not just on police brutality, but also on systemic racism across the world for the Black community — permeating every facet of life, including work, and financial inclusion.

In order to battle against systemic racism, it means that initiatives need to be rolled out across every aspect of society, including pushing more people and businesses to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and financially support the growth of Black wealth.

June was a pivotal month for the equity for the Black community — just one month after George Floyd’s death, Black Pound Day (BPD) was launched, coinciding with the 72-year anniversary since the Windrush generation first arrived in the UK from the Caribbean.

BPD is when customers are encouraged to spend their money on products from Black businesses on the first Saturday of each month, showing their support to a demographic that is significantly impacted by the racial wealth gap in the UK.

The person who used his platform to help create this initiative is Swiss, the founder, a member of the So Solid Crew, a UK garage and hip-hop group from the late 90s and 2000s. He is now using his influence to empower the Black community in closing the wealth gap in the UK.

On the significance of BPD’s launch in 2020, he said: “We (the Windrush generation) came over as economic migrants and we were seeking a better life for ourselves, and the UK was seeking for us to help them rebuild the country. Black Pound Day is a way of us recognising that and saying, ‘We’ve got to continue that mission.”

“After the death of George Floyd, we needed to redirect the energy of the community. I wanted to turn social-political protestors into economic activists, and that would have given people direction and purpose beyond the marching for us to rebuild ourselves and get our allies to help- rebuild ourselves visionarily [sic] but also to rebuild our emotional outlook.”

On BPD’s website, customers are able to upload their receipts from Black businesses, allowing BPD to track the spending each month.

It has already been hugely successful — over the past eight months since the launch, around £100,000 has been spent on products and services offered by Black businesses listed on the directory.

On the first BPD alone, businesses such as Afrocenchix, ranked the top natural hair care brand in the UK in 2018, and Vitae London, a watch brand, made five figures.

Swiss added: “Loads of other businesses have come back to us and said they have sold out, it’s the best day they have ever had. It’s been really positive and we will continue to bring that type of positivity to our community going forward.

“You have some people that say, ‘Why Black Pound Day?’ but without the trans-Atlantic slave trade, White communities wouldn’t have the assets that they have now to keep their business and wealth endeavours going. So why can’t we, who were on the negative end of the slave trade, take back control of our stake in this society through the economy?

“Black Pound Day is sparking a lot of conversations about the wealth gap. The younger people definitely need to be aware of this as well.”

Swiss has said before that Black businesses are the least seen on the high street and online, and though drawing attention to this, BPD went on to do a campaign with Ogilvy Roots under Ogilvy and WPP, one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world.

BPD has also signed a partnership with Google for increased advertising space online after Swiss was asked to speak on a panel, and Timeout London partnered with Google to create its first ever edition featuring “Black businesses, Black voices and Black change makers.”

Black Pound Day and Soho Works, an international network of workspaces under the hotel and private members’ group Soho House, partnered up earlier in February in a year-long initiative where businesses from the BPD directory will engage with their facilities, including podcast rooms, presentation rooms, office spaces, and lounges.

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BPD founder Swiss on the new partnership with Soho Works. Credit Soho Works

Last year’s Unlocking-Opportunity Report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Aston University’s Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME) found that the BAME community contributes £25 billion to the British economy.

However, only 0.24% of total venture capital invested over the last 10 years was given to Black entrepreneurs, and 0.02% to Black female entrepreneurs in particular, according to Extend Ventures.

The Extend Ventures report mentions the Rose Review of female entrepreneurship led by NatWest Group CEO Alison Rose, commissioned by the Treasury and published in 2019.

NatWest Group also plans to create 50,000 new female-led businesses across the UK by 2023 with £1 billion of support announced last year and said 20% of those inspired and supported will be from the BAME community.

CEO Alison Rose said: “At NatWest Group our purpose is to champion potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive. It is a clear call to action for us all to break down barriers that hold people back, including those challenges that persist for people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. I believe we have a substantial role to play in tackling these inequalities. At our best, we are an open, inclusive, progressive organisation, but until that is everyone's experience, every time, we have more to do.”

Swiss pointed out that elsewhere in the world action is also being taken, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing a $221m business loan for Canada’s first Black entrepreneurship program last year.

“This is a specific initiative, the UK government can be really specific with the problems that we (as the Black community) have as well,” Swiss said.

Swiss hopes a similar BPD business model will expand beyond the borders of the UK.

He said: “We want to be the biggest Black directory and marketplace in Europe. We are planning to do work with other communities throughout Europe and the African diaspora.

“Our thing is to highlight Black businesses in the UK. On the first Saturday of every month we are asking people to spend with Black businesses, highlight Black businesses, leave a review and spread the word about Black businesses, and hopefully that has a trickle effect between those cycles.

“From a behavioural-economic standpoint, if you are going to spend with Black businesses once a month, you are more likely to spend on them throughout the month as well if you need something and you are happy with the service.”

Worldwide there has been a shift towards closing the gap, with JP Morgan Chase pledging $30bn to tackling racial discrimination and inequity.

Citigroup revealed in a 104-page report last year that racial inequality has cost the US economy $16 trillion over the last 20 years, and is committing $1 billion to fighting it.

This McKinsey report shows how companies with greater diversity and inclusion in 2019 had 36% more profits than companies which did not, and that inclusion in boards and executive teams since 2014 is slowly increasing at 1.1% each year.

Last year in the US, the online bank Greenwood was launched.

Each month they donate $10,000 to Black and Latinx businesses and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Black Pound Day started as a directory but Swiss said they are hoping to launch it as a one-stop shop, allowing people to shop directly from the website.

The Black Pound Day logo. (Pic credit: https://blackpoundday.uk/)
The Black Pound Day logo. (Pic credit: https://blackpoundday.uk/)

Swiss also created a music video, Can’t Breathe, which was released on YouTube at the end of May, the same month George Floyd died saying those same words.

In 2014 he made a tune also called Can’t Breathe, the same words cried out by Eric Garner during his chokehold restraint by members of the New York Police Department on 17 July 2014.

Swiss said, “This man (George Floyd), is saying the same thing six years later.

“These marches felt different, world-changing, unifying. My way of protesting was to do a video of this song. In the experience of recreating that scene that George Floyd experienced, it felt crazy. I’m acting but the way this man’s knee is on my neck, I feel very uncomfortable here. I can only imagine what George Floyd was going through.”

“That man’s death was not in vain.”

The next Black Pound Day will be Saturday 3rd April.