diverse women office

Last year the coronavirus pandemic threatened many small local businesses. Health and safety protocols exposed vulnerabilities, among small businesses, exacerbating disparities among women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. Many were denied access to the Payment Protection Program (PPP) designed to provide relief to small businesses, creating direct incentives to keep employees on payroll during the pandemic. 

According to the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit group combatting abusive lending practices, 90% of minority and women owners were shut out of the program. Entrepreneurs of color and female entrepreneurs are denied the same access to capital as their white male peers. 

In response, Local First Arizona, a national leader in the buy-local movement, and YWCA of Southern Arizona, one of the oldest and largest multicultural women’s organizations in the nation, are working to introduce sustainable business practices while supporting women of color entrepreneurs at the same time. 

Local First Arizona and YWCA of Southern Arizona have launched a new strategic partnership to transform the House of Neighborly Service into a model of sustainable business practices. LFA and YWCA’s Women’s Business Center will also provide scholarships to women of color entrepreneurs in the region to also transform their businesses in similar sustainable ways.

The House of Neighborly Service building will be the first community facility to participate in all three Southern Arizona Green Business Alliance programs; Green Leaders, SCALE UP and Tucson 2030 District. The Southern Arizona Green Business Alliance was created to empower businesses and nonprofits, large and small, with sustainability strategies that strengthen their operations and make them more resilient in the face of climate change.  

• Green Leaders is an introductory sustainable-practices certification program open to all Southern Arizona businesses. Graduates of the program receive endorsement and support from the Southern Arizona Green Business Alliance, including placement within its Green Business Directory. 

• SCALE UP is a cohort-based series of workshops on sustainable and resilient project planning. Participants develop sustainability plans and access financing to implement green business practices. 

• The Tucson 2030 District—part of a national public-private network of 22 districts aiming to reduce building energy consumption, water use and transportation emissions by 50% by 2030—offers more intensive consultation and resources to help businesses reach those challenging goals.

YWCA’s House of Neighborly Service is embarking on a journey to build community resilience and become more sustainable by 2030 and beyond. The YWCA team will create a community green space for learning about environmental, economic, and community benefits, prioritizing equity and inclusion. House of Neighborly Service is the first Green Champion Program project supported by Tucson 2030 District, Local First Arizona, University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture (CAPLA,) Pima Community College, Mrs. Green’s World, Ecoblue and other partners.

The YWCA of Southern Arizona is also partnering with Local First Arizona to fund a scholarship program aimed primarily at supporting women of color entrepreneurs most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In recognition of the value of local and small businesses created and run by women of color, YWCA will create connections for scholarship recipients to which they have been traditionally denied access. The scholarship will provide 12 local entrepreneurs the opportunity to participate at no cost in the Green Leaders certification program and in the SCALE UP sustainability project planning program as part of the Southern Arizona Green Business Alliance. 

By offering these programs at no cost to impacted local businesses and nonprofits, there is an opportunity to receive significant support to retool business plans and differentiate business models to be more sustainable - both economically and environmentally.  The scholarship program will also include an opportunity to participate in a cohort group that will meet regularly to discuss resources related to the regenerative economy, climate change, environmental justice, and sustainable business planning needs.

Local First Arizona and Tucson 2030 District look forward to pursuing a long-term partnership with the YWCA of Southern Arizona to support more businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits to be sustainable in the way they operate, as well as to ensure that our community is addressing all goals of the City of Tucson’s Climate Emergency Declaration. The whole team will be sharing progress frequently with the community. 


Learn more about Local First Arizona’s sustainability programs at localfirstaz.com/environmental-action. 

Learn more about at the YWCA of Southern Arizona at


Learn more about Local First Arizona at www.localfirstaz.com. 


Michael Peel is statewide sustainability director for Local First Arizona. He can be contacted at mike@localfirstaz.com.